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Valentine’s Day and the Song of Songs

The month of February is filled with advertisements for Valentine’s Day gifts. They focus on romantic cards, rich chocolate, overpriced flowers, diamonds (for some) and lingerie. While there is nothing inherently unbiblical about Valentine’s Day or the trappings of this holiday, believers may wonder what the Bible has to say about intimacy between a married couple.

Their curiosity can be satisfied by the Song of Songs (or the Song of Solomon). A wise couple will find in the Song that love between a husband and wife is not a one-day celebration on February 14 but a constant desire to be together no matter the obstacles.

While the Song was the most commented biblical book in the Middle Ages, it doesn’t get much airtime in our local churches today. Thus, there is some confusion regarding the message of the book.

First, what the Song is not:

  1. The Song is not about God’s love for Israel or Christ’s love for the Church. This allegorical interpretation was a common view held by the church fathers because of their uncomfortableness with the sexual subject matter in the Bible. They spiritualized or allegorized the Song. So the woman’s breasts (4:5) must represent a deeper or more spiritual meaning than simply physical. Since women have two breasts, some ancient commentators said that one breast was the NT and the other was the OT, from which the church received her nourishment! Jewish scholars would equate the two breasts with Moses and Aaron, who led Israel!
  2. The Song is not a narrative that traces the love between Solomon and the country lass named the Shulammite. One cannot outline the Song based on courtship, marriage and happily-ever-after pattern. The text simply will not sustain such a reading since there is physical intimacy in almost every chapter (e.g. 1:2; 2:3-6; 3:4).

Second, what the Song is:

Solomon wrote a song celebrating passion and desire between a man and a woman within the confines of a heterosexual marriage. This poem is not a narrative that traces an historical couple through the ups and downs of their love relationship. It is an artistic creation that places the two main literary characters into a lush and near perfect environment. In this garden setting, the characters reveal their longing for each other through their conversation. This sometimes erotically charged dialogue paints on the reader’s imagination the pleasure of fulfilled desire. For this couple, longing is only satisfied in the presence of the other. When absent from each other, they yearn for one another, and their desire drives them over every obstacle to be one. The movement of the book from her first voiced longing to her final wish is achieved by this progression of absence to presence. For this couple, presence produces shalom (peace); absence is always to be struggled against. No good comes from absence except a desire to be present with the other.

Voices of the Song

There are four voices in the Song: the female lover, the male beloved and a chorus of women known as the women of Jerusalem. This chorus functions to let us know the inward thoughts of the female lover when her beloved is absent from her. The fourth voice is the narrator who speaks for God. He pronounces his approval on sexual intimacy between the couple (5:1e,f). Solomon never speaks in the book. He is directly spoken to only once (8:11-12 ). Here he is the foil for the couple who enjoy monogamy while the king has his hordes of women. Solomon while the author, wrote better than he lived. He knew that one mutually exclusive love is better and wiser, than a harem full of lovely and willing ladies who were bought with his wealth (8:7).

Purpose of the Song

The Song of Songs is a love song between a couple who revel in their strong desire for each other. Through the use of intimate dialogue, this couple shares their yearning to be together when separated and passionately enjoy each other when they are in each other’s presence. While the garden motif reminds the reader of the Garden of Eden, this garden is post-Fall, and there are obstacles the couple must overcome. Through the use of highly charged sexual imagery that is clothed in Hebrew poetry, this fictitious couple invites every married couple who is wise to enjoy their own celebration of love. At the same time, the Song recognizes the intensity of sexual desire and cautions wise unmarried people not to arouse or awaken this emotion until marriage (2:7; 3:5; 8:4).

Structure

The Song is structured around four repeating themes: separation, desire, obstacle and physical union (i.e. presence) and a transition back to separation usually in this order. As you look at the whole book, something fairly interesting about the structure of the Song is evident. In the beginning the couple is separated—she talks about him in the 3rd person (1:2). The song ends with the couple separate but longing for each other (8:13-14). This reversal plays to the main theme of the book. It is a book that has no ending—there is always the desire for a wise couple to want to be together. While many state that the book is about sex—in reality it is about desire and the desperate wanting to be together (this echoes Gen 2:24).

This month, may I encourage you as you buy accruements of V-Day, that you also add the Song to your personal celebration. As you read together, ask each other: Does our marriage reflect the kind of celebration that is evident in this book? Do we enjoy each other as much as this couple? Do we want to be together as much as this couple? Do we sexually desire each other as much as this couple? This is how a wise couple celebrates Valentine’s Day.

by Mark McGinniss, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Baptist Bible Seminary

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