Song of Solomon 1, 2
9 I picture you, my dearest,
as a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots!
10 Lovely are your cheeks, adorned with ear hoops;
your neck, with beads.
11 Let’s make hoops of gold beaded with silver for you!
12 With my king close by,
my perfume filled the air.
13 A sachet of myrrh is my love to me,
lying all night between my breasts.
14 A cluster of henna flowers is my love to me
in the desert gardens of En-gedi.
15 Look at you—so beautiful, my dearest!
Look at you—so beautiful! Your eyes are doves!
16 Look at you—so beautiful, my love!
Yes, delightful! Yes, our bed is lush and green!
17 The ceilings of our chambers are cedars;
our rafters, cypresses.
2:1 I’m a rose of the Sharon plain,
a lily of the valleys.
2 Like a lily among thornbushes,
so is my dearest among the young women.
3 Like an apple tree among the wild trees,
so is my lover among the young men.
In his shade I take pleasure in sitting,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
4 He has brought me to the house of wine;
his banner raised over me is love.
Song of Solomon 8
[Daughters of Jerusalem]
5 Who is this coming up from the wilderness
leaning against her lover?
Under the apple tree I aroused you—
there, where your mother labored with you,
there where, laboring, she bore you.
6 Set me as a seal over your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is as strong as death,
passionate love unrelenting as the grave.
Its darts are darts of fire—
7 Rushing waters can’t quench love;
rivers can’t wash it away.
If someone gave
all his estate in exchange for love,
he would be laughed to utter shame.
How comfortable or uncomfortable did reading today’s Scripture passage make you? (Other parts of the Song are even more erotic—though some of them in ways that fit that time’s ideas of beauty, but perhaps not ours!) This bold Hebrew love poetry frames the strong pull of sexual attraction in a way that points to God’s intention that the union of bodies will bond souls together. Can we misuse sexuality in hurtful ways? Yes. Is our culture sometimes uneasy and embarrassed, and at other times brazen, about sex? Yes again. But none of those errors should obscure the reality that our sexuality is one of God’s good gifts.
• How did these poetic passages link sexual allure with the even stronger, lasting force of committed love? A popular song some years ago used the seductive line, “We’ve got tonight/Who needs tomorrow?” How did the biblical Song show lovers enjoying “tonight” not as an end in itself, but to fortify a bond that reached way beyond “tomorrow”? “These insights about love, human and divine, explain why …the great Rabbi Aquiva (1st century CE) said that, while all of scripture is holy, the Song of Songs is the most holy of all.” * How does the inclusion of this book of Hebrew love poetry in the Bible show that God is not ill at ease with sexual attraction, but meant it as a force for good?
Lord Jesus, thank you for the gift of being able to love, through physical affection that creates bonds that go way beyond just physical. Guide me in this area of life that’s so often distorted or misused. Amen.
* Brent A. Strawn, introduction to Song of Songs in The CEB Study Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2013, p. 1075 OT.
(Jennifer, one of our most tireless Insights contributors, first wrote this blog post for us in 2020 after Bishop Michael Curry preached at Resurrection.)
My great-great grandmother, Sara Jane McLintock, is legendary in my family. My grandmother and my daughter were named after her. She was a woman of great faith and stories of her trust in Jesus and absolute certainty that God was guiding and protecting her are still blessing her descendants today.
There is another story, though, that has always been a favorite of the generations that followed, especially the granddaughters. She married very young (16 or 17) by eloping with an Irish blacksmith named Frank McLintock. Eleven years later, in Emporia, Kansas he died suddenly from a burst appendix, leaving her a very young widow with two little girls and a baby boy “under her apron.” The social views of the late 1800s put great pressure on her to find a new husband as soon as possible. The stories say many family members tried to “marry her off” to various suitors for years. She turned them all down and remained a widow for the rest of her life-–seventy-plus years. My mother told me that, even into her 90s, Sara Jane’s eyes twinkled when she talked about Frank McLintock. I have one of her Bibles, a small one my Mom said she kept at her bedside. If you turn to Song of Solomon 8:6-7, you can see the imprint on the page of some kind of flower that must have been pressed there for years. The actual flower is long gone, but it’s obvious she thought the verses were special.
Other stories make it obvious that Sara Jane knew the permanence and staying power of love. The memory of her too-brief time with the love of her life lasted for more than seventy years, but, even more important, the permanent love of God sustained her. My mother said that she always talked about Jesus like he was in the room. “Jesus says we should do this…,” she would say, quoting Scripture. She ran a boarding house for other women who were alone in Territorial Oklahoma, sold Bibles door to door, and made “beautifier” cream to sell and support herself and her children. She knew great romantic love, but she also knew an even greater love. Bishop Curry talked about that when he summed up this text, saying, “The message of God is very simple. Love one another, Take care of one another. Take care of creation. And while you’re at it, love me – love God. Do that and you will find your way. That is the core of the gospel.”
Sara Jane’s story is fun, but it reminds us that even the best human romantic stories don’t always end in golden anniversaries or long lives shared. When we read about the divine flame, and love that can’t be washed away by rushing waters, we can know that love is available to all of us forever, through God’s love for us and our love for God. We also know we can pass that love along by loving one another, no matter our circumstances. My great-great grandmother’s love for her husband and for God blessed the generations that followed, and continues to do that today. We all have the opportunity to pass on that kind of blessing-–to our families, our neighbors, and the generations to come!