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:
This is what it’s like to be in perfect love: naked and not ashamed – physically naked before your lover and not ashamed, spiritually naked before your lover and not ashamed, mentally naked before your lover and not ashamed, emotionally naked before your lover and not ashamed. To throw your body, your spirit, your mind and your emotions before your lover and not be ashamed is love. All of these things are typical of the lovers in Song of Solomon. This is what love is. Love is being vulnerable and not vulnerable at the same time, because there is a person with you who you love and who loves you. You can only achieve this perfect love within a marriage – it is found nowhere else. That is what we learn from the garden in Song of Solomon:
1) In the Song of Solomon, marriage is described as a garden.
2) Garden is best understood as the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2, where marriage was instituted.
3) Eden, before the sinful fall of man in Genesis 3, was a place of paradise.
4) In this life, God describes marriage as the place where that glimmer of paradise can be found again – where a perfect love is possible. And, when we head back to the Song of Solomon, we see this everywhere.
In Chapter 3, we see the mental state of someone in love. In this chapter she is dreaming about her lover:
“On my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not.
I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her who conceived me.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until the appropriate time.” – Song of Solomon 3:1-5
Being in love attacks your mental state – and I do mean attacks. Yes, when things are smooth, you’re perfect, they’re perfect, everything’s perfect. But I know of times when it ain’t perfect… when there’s drama… this fits wonderfully with Chapter 3, as I know people who literally couldn’t sleep because of the mental state loving someone put them in – particularly when the person didn’t love them back.
I’ve often said there’s no logic to love. Did you know that comes from God? We don’t see any logic when God loves us… He just does. Deuteronomy 7 says, “For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it’s because the LORD loves you…” He loves you because He loves you – even God doesn’t think straight when He loves, so what hope do we have?
Importantly, it’s in this passage that we find the first charge we’re studying: you don’t want to stir up or awaken love before understanding how it affects your mind. That’s a clear warning from the girl in Song of Solomon: she’s saying woah, this is intense. Make sure you don’t awaken love until you’re ready for this! So, is your mind up for it? Now if it’s not, that doesn’t mean you can’t be in love and you need to wait – I’m not saying that. But it does mean this: can you lay your mind bare before the one you love and not be ashamed? Maybe he or she will shame you if you do that? Maybe they won’t love you anymore… I’ve seen that before too. But the alternative to not revealing your true self can only be keeping who you truly are to yourself… I always wonder, with some people, what their plan is: because when they’re dating, they never show who they really are. What’s the plan? To try and be another person for the rest of your life? That’s not love… it’s more a reflection of your loneliness because, really, you’ll just do anything for a relationship… even hiding the person you truly are. That’s really depressing… it happens a lot. As we’ve learned, over and over again, perfect love is laying your true-self bare for the other person to see… and true and perfect love will receive you and cherish you, in spite of what’s been seen.
In Chapter 7, we see the physical:
“How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O noble daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
encircled with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are pools in Heshbon,
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon,
which looks toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
and your flowing locks are like purple;
a king is held captive in the tresses.
How beautiful and pleasant you are,
O loved one, with all your delights!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters.
I say I will climb the palm tree
and lay hold of its fruit.
Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
and the scent of your breath like apples,
and your mouth like the best wine.
It goes down smoothly for my beloved,
gliding over lips and teeth.
I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me.” – Song of Solomon 7:1-10
Just a quick comment – forget naked and not ashamed. If you can achieve naked and not awkward, I give you a pass. That’s gotta be awkward, right? ‘Cause there’s nothing else… if you’re standing naked in front of someone you’re basically saying, this is it… this is pretty much what I’ve got going on. I think it was Jerry Seinfeld who joked that the naked person really ought to have pockets, ‘cause at least you could try and look comfortable and casual. When you’re naked, that’s it.
And in Chapter 5 we see the emotions of love, as the bride searches for her lover, is questioned by others about her toubles, but still praises him in the midst of it. This is love:
I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking.
“Open to me, my sister, my love,
my dove, my perfect one,
for my head is wet with dew,
my locks with the drops of the night.”
I had put off my garment;
how could I put it on?
I had bathed my feet;
how could I soil them?
My beloved put his hand to the latch,
and my heart was thrilled within me.
I arose to open to my beloved,
and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
on the handles of the bolt.
I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
The watchmen found me
as they went about in the city;
they beat me, they bruised me,
they took away my veil,
those watchmen of the walls.
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
if you find my beloved,
that you tell him
I am sick with love.
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
O most beautiful among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
that you thus adjure us?
My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
beside streams of water,
bathed in milk,
sitting beside a full pool.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
mounds of sweet-smelling herbs.
His lips are lilies,
dripping liquid myrrh.
His arms are rods of gold,
set with jewels.
His body is polished ivory,
bedecked with sapphires.
His legs are alabaster columns,
set on bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.” – Song of Solomon 5:2-16
To close up: it is impossible to be blasé and careless about love when you realise your whole person, your very soul, who you are, your nature, your emotions are on the line. Weirdly, though, we are blasé about love. We write millions of songs, poetry, plays and movies about love. Everyone has an opinion; only some of them are good. Every Facebook meme about love has a picture of Jay-Z & Beyoncé on it… really? That’s the picture of love? Sadly, for some people, it really is. And for all of us, we can draw into our lives a false notion of what love is. We need to have the Song of Solomon on our minds and in our hearts. Read it. It’s a really short book – read it all the time. Feel the poetry in your soul. Feed the poetry into your soul.
We don’t realise what’s at stake with love: it’s like taking your heart, placing it in someone else’s care, and hoping they do nothing to damage it. When people talk about the “right time,” they usually say things like: “Well, the right person will come at the right time.” That’s only half the equation, and it’s not even the important half, and it’s not even supposed to be any of our concern. Are you ready to be naked and not ashamed: to bare your true self, your emotions, your nature, your soul to whoever it is that might appear at the “right time?”