As we read through the second half of Song of Songs, we should take a diversion and consider how the poem should be interpreted. Is this a story of two lovers? Or is this a love story of Christ and his church? Or God and Israel? In other words, is this an allegory that depicts God’s great love for his people and therefore the church or is this a book that simply honors sexual relations within the bounds of holy matrimony?
There are lots of resources available, this one appealed to me most: link. I especially like the concept of this being an ancient musical in which the beauty of intimacy in marriage is both honored and used to teach young couples. It’s impossible for me to understand a woman’s perspective, but it is reasonable for me to know that hers is different than my own.
I was surprised to see such an array of interpretations as I searched for answers. One one extreme, the appeal of the allegory is rather safe. By taking this approach I don’t have to talk about sexual intimacy and I can safely discuss Song of Songs 5:2-8.
I slept but my heart was awake.
Listen! My beloved is knocking:
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
my dove, my flawless one.
My head is drenched with dew,
my hair with the dampness of the night.”
I have taken off my robe—
must I put it on again?
I have washed my feet—
must I soil them again?
Song of Songs 5:2-3
As an allegory, this would be interpreted as Christ stands at the door knocking and by disregarding the knock, the subsequent withdrawal is painful:
I opened for my beloved,
but my beloved had left; he was gone.
My heart sank at his departure.
I looked for him but did not find him.
I called him but he did not answer.
Song of Songs 5:6
Interesting, yes? While this might be the right approach, it seems to me that a more literal view is in order. There are many lessons to be learned about intimacy in marriage. No matter how I want to approach the subject it’s awkward. Do I sit down with my daughters and exposit this text? For pre-marital counseling, do we ask the man and woman to write their interpretation and guide them along? Can we use this text to explain the copulation of virgin bride and groom?
We would do well to learn when and how to properly address the subject in a safe environment, but not to shy away from a more literal perspective. Young couples who are committed to honor a marriage covenant, seeking to maintain their virginity for their marriage, would benefit from mature and wise counsel.
They would learn that it’s ok to be excited about their spouse and find comfort in expressing their love in words:
You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
as lovely as Jerusalem,
as majestic as troops with banners.
Turn your eyes from me;
they overwhelm me.
Song of Songs 6:4-5
While I might not say my wife’s hair is like a flock of goats, or teeth like sheep, the words here provide a prompt: say something man! Somehow we have to erase the Hollywood version of lust and sex and enter into a place of love and intimacy. In our culture, this is a stretch, but the reward of a lifetime of love between one man and one woman is worth the struggle.
I belong to my beloved,
and his desire is for me.
Song of Songs 7:10
Simply said, these words are incorporated in our marital vows in one way or another.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned.
Song of Songs 8:7
Perhaps we need to be reminded that love is truly precious, we can’t buy love. We may know this intellectually, but love is not an cerebral commodity. The very nature of love is emotional and these emotions are a gift from God, deeply wired in our DNA. We were meant to love and the pleasure that is found in marriage should not be understated.
How amazing is our God that he would wire us this way. How wonderful and glorious is our Lord:
Come, let us bow down in worship,
let us kneel before the Lord our Maker;
for he is our God
and we are the people of his pasture,
the flock under his care.
I prefer to read Song of Songs as a literal love song between husband and wife. It reminds me to show my wife affection and encourages me to enjoy our time together. When we’re apart for days or weeks, the anticipation of reuniting is better by reading these words.