The Song of Songs: Love as God Intended
A Controversial Book
Throughout the decades, many attempts have been made to place the Bible into the forefront of American culture. The Gideons have been successful at putting Bibles in hotel rooms, many groups have argued for the Bible’s inclusion in public schools, and of course, many states have fought to keep the Ten Commandments in front of their courthouses. There has been such a fight to keep the Bible public that many people are often shocked to learn that at least one book of the Bible has periodically been banned.
The Song of Songs (alternately, the Song of Solomon) has been a fairly controversial book. At a glance, it seems out of place in the Bible. Some people believe that verses complimenting a woman’s lips and breasts belong in a rock song or poetry book, not in a Bible. While some groups have tried to completely ban the Song of Songs, others have tried to at least give it an “R” rating; not suitable for children. Still other groups have tried to explain the book away as an allegory. The two lovers in the book are symbolic of God and His love for humanity.
How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice! Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue.— Song of Songs 3:9
Song of Songs As An Allegory
Is the idea of the book as an allegory so far-fetched? As with the Book of Esther, the Song of Songs makes no mention of God whatsoever. It’s not a book of history, a letter to other believers, nor is it a prophetic book. This has led to some confusion among some believers. The book seems to serve no Godly purpose, which has led some people to try and shoehorn religion into the book of Songs. In the Book of Hosea, the titular Hosea marries a prostitute as a symbol of God’s continued love for His “adulterous” people. Therefore, the precedent does exist for such a parallel. Those who subscribe to this theory claim that hidden among the poetry of the book are clues that clearly spell out God’s love for His people.
In many places throughout the Bible, there is an analogy between God’s covenant and a marriage contract. So, the idea that Song of Songs is allegorical shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand. God does love His children and He asks that we love Him in return. In Songs the couple doesn’t have an easy road ahead of them, there are obstacles that they must overcome to be together. Similarly, being a child of God is not an easy route to take, the ‘path is long and narrow,’ as it were. As we grow in Christ and overcome those hurdles, God is waiting there for us. His love never left us, no matter how we have faltered on our journey.
His body is like polished ivory decorated with sapphire. His legs are pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars. His mouth is sweetness itself; he is altogether lovely. This is my lover, this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.— Song of Songs 5:15, 16
A Love Story
The Song of Songs as an allegory is a nice thought. God loves us. Truly, what can be greater than that? And while the unconditional love from the Creator of the entire universe is wonderful, we don’t want to be blind to the original meaning of the book: love is beautiful. The two poets in the book are unabashedly in love with each other. They can’t just say “I love you” to one another, because those words don’t adequately convey how they feel. No artist can capture the intoxicating love that they feel for one another. No song can do their love justice. They’re equals who take turns describing their emotions to one another. No silly games. No embarrassment, hesitation, or fear. Just true love.
In an attempt to effectively define their feelings towards one another they paint word pictures and rely heavily on metaphors. Many of those metaphors are lost on the modern reader. Few women today would find it romantic if their partner compared their breasts to twin gazelle fawns, or their neck to the tower of David. However, for the poets, as is the case with many artists, it’s not about what’s presented, but the emotion behind it. The woman’s breasts are as soft as the fur on a baby gazelle, and she evokes a similar emotional response that seeing wild infant animals brings. Who’s heart doesn’t skip a beat when they see a cute baby mammal?
When the man compares the woman’s teeth to a flock of sheep or the woman likens her man to a young stag on the rugged hills, or says that his eyes are like doves, it’s not the actual animal comparison, but the emotions that they pair with them. The Song of Song is sensuous but not explicit. It’s a tender, natural love between two people. Love is beautiful and as strong as death. Love yields to no one and, like a tidal wave, sweeps up everyone in its path. Yet according to chapter eight, its even stronger than that. Water is the most powerful force on earth, but even “water can’t quench love and rivers cannot wash it away.” (8:7) To the authors of Songs, love is the most powerful energy in existence. It is a mighty, unyielding flame.
Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like a blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.— Song of Songs 8:6, 7
God Delights in Love
God created humanity, He loves us, and He delights when we share that love with others. 1 Corinthians 13 is a beautiful chapter on love, verses 4-8: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” There are many types of love; love between a parent and a child, romantic love, love between spouses, love between siblings, friends love each other, family loves each other, people love their pets, and of course, there’s the love between the creator and the created.
God wants us to experience all the many kinds of love. He’s the expert in love He created love and He showed us the width and breadth of that love on a cross on Calgary. In the Garden of Eden, God deemed His entire creation “very good.” In the whole of the Garden nothing was “not good” until God saw Adam’s loneliness, and thus the first marriage was made. God intended people to be together ever since. It’s not enough that humans simply mate to keep the species alive. God wanted people to pair up and to be “one flesh.” (Genesis 2:24) Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame. Their love was pure. The Song of Songs follows that theme and expounds upon it. The book is a celebration of love. Pure, natural, and open; the way that love was intended to be.
© 2018 Anna Watson