The Song of Solomon is Wisdom literature in the form of love poems. That could mean nothing to you, so let me explain: first, what is wisdom? Wisdom is knowing God’s Word, and practicing it in your life. As Jesus would always explain, it is founding your very life on the rock of God’s Word. Wisdom is also explicit – it is not general – when wisdom appears it will address specific situations at specific times in specific ways. The Book of Proverbs is the obvious wisdom Book in the Bible – it is easy to see the instructions and practical advice it gives on life. The Book of Job is a wisdom narrative, exploring the question of why there is suffering in the world (Ecclesiastes, also, has this deep kind of wisdom). But the Song of Solomon is also a Book of wisdom though, unlike Proverbs, it is in the form of poetry. You have to kind of feel the wisdom in your heart before you know it in your mind. My hope is that you read the Song of Solomon, and feel the words for yourself – perhaps God will speak to you by way of your own emotions, and how you engage with Him in this blessed Book.
But, in the spirit of applying specific wisdom to a specific life situation, I’m going to address one question with three aspects to it: how do you know when it’s the right time for dating, for marriage, for love?
I did not make that question up out of thin air; it is a topic very appropriate in the Song of Solomon. In fact, it’s one of the subjects most repeated in the Book – “Young women of Jerusalem, I charge you: do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.” – This charge is expressed in Chapters 2:7, then 3:5, and finally in 8:4. It is a recurring point and, therefore, we must pay attention to it as an important instruction for life. In order to find the answer to our question, we must first understand the Book.
This is a book with many different interpretations and applications throughout the history of Israel and the Church. Some have taken it as allegory, saying it is a picture of God’s love for His people. There is some warrant for this because God has often described His people as His bride. However that interpretation is secondary at best. Primarily speaking, the Book portrays a real man and a real woman in the intimacy of love, dating, marriage and sex.
Now before we get too excited, on the one side we have the reading of this book as analogy – and that’s not right – but on the other end of the spectrum we find something just as off base: in our day, it has become normal to picture all of the symbols and all of the metaphorical language as being code words for sexual activity. And this simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s a poor reflection of our time that even preachers are finding explicit acts where there aren’t any – revealing how much the world influences the thinking of the Church. When this happens, Scripture and women are degraded instead of being upheld with the value, beauty and love they really deserve.
Some of the words in the Song of Solomon do have sexual meaning – you can’t really get around that – this is part of the beauty that God is revealing about sex. But it’s not a beauty God wants the entire world to see. It’s beautiful, we know it’s beautiful, but it’s private beauty. What God is doing here is revealing what marriage looks like on the outside, without taking us inside. He doesn’t need to take us inside the marriage – the outside reveals enough.
So, then, what do we see on the outside? We see a garden.
If you picture the Song of Solomon as a mountain, you will hit the mountain peak at Chapters 4:9 - 5:1. So from the beginning of the Book, you climb, and climb, and climb and you hit the peak at this passage. And, remember, this Book is a series of feelings that are expressed in love poems – with more of a general story rather than constructed plot. The general story begins with this young girl, who then finds herself in love with this young man, who then weds her. And, not surprisingly, the mountain peak of the Book, Chapters 4:9 – 5:1, is the wedding night. Now, remember, it’s not about sex – though sex is involved – it’s about a garden. This is the Word of God:
“You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
Your lips drip nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a spring locked, a fountain sealed.
Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
with all choicest fruits,
henna with nard,
nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
with all choice spices--
a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon.
Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
I came to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.
Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!” – Song of Solomon 4:9 – 5:1
The word, garden, appears eight times in this Book and it first appears here – on their first night as a married couple. What would such an image be reminding the people of Israel? Usually when this word appears in the Old Testament, it is referring to one thing: the first garden – the Garden of Eden. This is where the first marriage took place and, according to the Song of Solomon, this is where every marriage ought to be – a kind of Paradise. It’s where perfect love is found. If we examine Genesis 1 & 2, what are the elements of perfect love found in the Garden of Eden?
1) Genesis 1:27 – “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” Perfect love abounds when both man and woman are recognised as made in the image of God, with equal value.
2) Genesis 1:28 – “And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it…” Perfect love abounds with a healthy sex life, with an eye towards children as a blessing.
3) Genesis 2:15 – “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Perfect love abounds when the man isn’t lazy to work.
4) Genesis 2:23 – “Then the man said, ‘This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.’” This fits perfectly with the Song of Solomon, because here Adam is literally singing over Eve. In many ways the Song of Solomon is a continuation of this first song. Perfect love abounds when the man rejoices in the woman – when both lovers rejoice over each other.
5) Genesis 2:24 – “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Perfect love abounds when the man and woman actually leave their original families, cling to each other and become a new one.
If you examine these elements in light of our original charge – how do you know when it’s the right time for dating, for marriage, and for love? – you are forced to ask yourself the following questions:
1) Do you uphold and value the opposite sex as being made in the image of God, with equal value? Do your actions agree with this? If you answer yes, it might be the right time.
2) Do you value sex as a gift from God for marriage? Do your actions agree with this? If you answer yes, it might be the right time.
3) For the men, do you have a strong work ethic? Do your actions agree with this? If you answer yes, it might be the right time. If you are lazy, it is not the right time.
4) Will you be able to rejoice over your lover? Do you have the capacity right now to rejoice and praise the opposite sex? If you answer yes, it might be the right time.
5) Will you be able to leave your family to become a new one? If you answer yes, it might be the right time. Some people are very emotionally attached to their own families… of course you are connected with your old family, but when marriage comes you are starting a new one.
These are some of the elements of perfect love found in Genesis 1 & 2, but there is another one there and, in fact, it is the crucial element – you see it everywhere in the Song of Solomon: