Sunday, 21 September 2014

(264) September 21: Song of Songs 1-3 & 2 Corinthians 12

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider the impression given about marital love.

To ponder:
In the structure of the book 1v1-3v5 seem to reflect the passion between king Solomon (see 1v4, 12) and one of his wives. It may describe them when only engaged, but the strong sexual language suggests marriage. First, the beloved longs to be kissed, delighting in her husband’s love as more intoxicating than wine and his name as carrying a recognisable pleasure like his own perfume. She longs to enter his chambers (1v2-4). He is admired by other women, and her friends rejoice in her love for him. Speaking now to her lover, she affirms how right they are to adore him and, as if defensive of the fact that he would love her, acknowledges that she is lovely despite her dark skin, brought about by working outdoors. (The ancients esteemed pale skin). At this point her longing moves her to seek a rendezvous. Her request to know where he rests his sheep is probably a metaphorical way of asking where he will pause at midday, undistracted and so with time for her. She wants to know this so that she doesn’t have to go out searching amongst his friends. The friends (or perhaps the lover) advise the woman on how to find him, and the tension mounts (1v8). We should note here that one interpretation is that the man is not Solomon at all, but a shepherd. This is possible, but less likely when the whole book is considered.
            Now the lover, speaks: He delights in his beloved’s beauty (1v9-11). With her jewellery it is akin to the beauty of the stately and heavily adorned horses that draw Pharoah’s chariots. And, perhaps to draw out and display it all the more, he determines to make her more ear-rings. Without denigrating modesty, the Bible affirms beauty and the appropriateness of dressing beautifully too. The woman describes her attractiveness (or literal smell) as like a perfume smelt by her king, when at his table. And she sees him like a perfume between her breasts, perhaps longing for him to be there! With this in mind, she and he declare how attractive they find the other (1v12-17). Eyes as “doves” may imply they are round or peaceful. The verdant (lush) bed and house of cedars and firs, may speak of her longing to sleep with him outside amongst nature. Sexual desire is being celebrated, and the expressing of it commended.
            Modestly, the woman describes herself as only one amongst many flowers, but her lover counters that she is a lily amongst thorns, standing out in her beauty amongst women (2v1-2). Likewise, she describes him as an apple tree in the forest – ie. the most delightful tree, giving shade and tasty fruit, which is no doubt a sexual metaphor (2v3). 2v4 may refer to the intoxicating nature of her beloved’s love. Faint with love and desire, she longs to taste the fruit of his that love, seeming to imagine him caressing her. Yet, as if shocked by the strength of her desire, she charges other women, by the beautiful and feminine looking gazelles and does, not to awaken love “until it so desires” – probably meaning, until the right person to marry comes along (2v5-7). These are wise words. The power of desire is such that loving people until the time is right can be both dangerous and deeply painful.
            Now she hears her lover and describes him bounding to their home with the noble and athletic beauty of a male gazelle or young stag. He looks through the window and invites her to come with him, wonderfully describing how spring has arrived. This may be an invitation to enjoy walking with him in the blossoming beauty of the season; but more likely in context, to make love amongst nature (see 1v16-17). At first, however, he is unable to find her, as he describes her as like a dove hiding in the cleft of the rock, and longs to hear her sweet voice and see her lovely face. The meaning of 2v15 is uncertain. It may be a metaphorical way of asking her to deal with whatever is keeping them from enjoying each other’s fruit. And it seems she does, as she declares how they are then each others, and he “browses amongst the lilies” (ie. enjoys her, see 2v1-2) until daybreak. Her call for him to be like a gazelle or young stag on the hills may be a call for him to enjoy her breasts. So 2v8-17 describe the thrilling joy of the husband coming to take his wife for a night of love-making in the spring countryside.
            3v1 seems to move to a different time, and stresses the woman’s longing. She lies awake all night waiting for her husband. As it was such a shocking thing for a woman to roam the streets at night, this section has been interpreted metaphorically or as a dream. But it is a literal reading that most stresses the power of desire. Longing for her husband, the woman does what was socially outrageous in order to be with him, even being prepared to face the shame of being seen by the watchman (3v1-3). Having asked if they had seen her husband, she found him and would not let him go until bringing him to the room of her mother’s house. This may be noted to stress she took him to the closest house they could stay in, because she so longed to be with him. Again, in the light of such powerful love she charges women not to awaken it until it is right (3v4-5).
            3v6-11 portray Solomon coming to marry the woman. He is fittingly perfumed, accompanied by his noblest warriors in battle array, seated in a richly adorned carriage he made especially, crowned by his mother for his wedding, and rejoicing in what is to take place. If the book was written for this marriage, 1v1-3v5 may be intended as a portrait of what the couple’s married life might be. Alternatively, if the book was written later in the marriage, the middle section might simply be to recall the wedding.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for the joy that can be found in marriage. If you are married, pray you would delight in your spouse. If you are not, that you would be cautious with love.

Thinking further: Song of Songs    
Most likely, the primary intent of this love song is a celebration of marital love, free of stoicism and full of delight. However, as marriage is intended throughout scripture to picture God’s commitment to his people, it is legitimate, whether intended by the author or not, to also see the book as a celebration of their love for one-another through Christ. Moreover, in the context of the wider wisdom literature where the wise are those who embrace the woman wisdom, we may see something of the joy to be found in wisdom here too. In being titled “Solomon’s,” the book may be by him or simply about him.

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