A perfect royal wedding…?
Congrats to Kate and William, and thanks to them for providing an ultra-tangential opportunity to write about the Song of Solomon. One of the most neglected books in the Bible – well, how many sermons have you heard on it? – and all about a perfect royal wedding… Or is it?
Seriously, what is going on in Song of Songs, and why did God include it in the Bible?
The traditional view has been that this song between two lovers is an allegory for the relationship between God and his people – first Israel and now the church.
It’s true that the relationship between God and his people is pictured elsewhere in the Bible as a marriage, but if you read through Song of Songs with that idea I think it gets a bit weird. Nowhere does it hint that we’re to think about God and a group of people. Instead there’s a lot about Solomon the king, a beautiful woman, and a very physical relationship.
So it’s become popular more recently to see Song of Songs as a celebration of physical love in marriage, with Solomon and his bride as the supreme example. But there are a couple of question marks about that.
First, some interpretations end up being pretty graphic about the sex. We’re in a very over-sexualised culture where our tolerance of sexual content has increased. But I don’t think God thinks that’s a good thing.
And secondly, our experience of relationships in this broken world is that we’ll never find perfect happiness, and the Bible teaches that we need to look to God for ultimate security and faithfulness and love. So why have a whole book of the Bible celebrating an idealised version of sexual love and not really mentioning God?
Here’s another suggestion. I challenge you to read Song of Songs and tell me what you think! The key is in the identity of the male lover.
In the central sections it’s very clearly the king, but if you ignore the editorial headings in your Bible, then elsewhere it’s a bit more puzzling. The lover has a flock of sheep, goes leaping and bounding over the hills, and seems at one point to be on the outside peering in through a lattice. Not very kingly.
There’s also a plaintive tone in parts that doesn’t fit with the celebration idea. So, perhaps Song of Songs is expressing the pain and loss of romantic love gone wrong. The story is of a beautiful girl, deeply in love with a shepherd boy, who is then married off to King Solomon.
That would mean the repeated refrain, “I adjure you… that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” is not a stern injunction not to have sex before marriage, but rather a plea from a hurting heart to avoid loving someone too soon when you’ll end up married to someone else.
Most of us won’t have arranged marriages or marry kings, but doesn’t it make sense that God is teaching us not so much about celebrating sex, but more about the imperfection and hurt that so often accompanies love in this world?
Sex in marriage is good, but we’ll never find our complete satisfaction in a human relationship.