Thursday, May 18, 2017

Reading Through the Song of Songs

JobThis week I am reading through the Song of Songs accompanied by the commentary, Cornerstone Biblical Commentary – Song of Songs, by Tremper Longman III. This is a very difficult book to interpret. I wrote my dissertation on this book, but have changed my mind on several issues since then. One thing has not changed, and that is my opinion that the Song provides wisdom about human love. It is a wonderful gift from God but very dangerous and damaging when when not lived out as God intended. I have been posting quotes from the book on my Facebook page on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday (NT is Mon-Wed-Fri) and we can discuss comments and questions about the passage there. As usual my comments are in black and quotes from the commentary are in blue below…

The Song of Songs is about love (23 love poems acc. to Longman) between a man and a woman and needs to be read in context with Genesis 2-3, Ephesians 5.21-33, 1 Corinthians 7 along with other relevant passages. Married love, both physical and spiritual, is a beautiful thing created by God for a man and woman to enjoy within the marriage relationship. Love is a very powerful thing and must be treated with care and wisdom. Misuse of this powerful gift can cause great pain and damage and has destroyed many lives. 

The Song makes a statement about the redemption of sexuality. A good relationship is possible, even this side of heaven. However, the negative passages remind us that it cannot be a perfect relationship. 344

Chapter 1 is a series of 6 short intimate poems in which the lovers express physical and romantic desire for one another. 

Love in the Song has a very physical side; it is expressed unabashedly through the union of two bodies. Song of Songs 1, 348

Chapter 2 consists of two love poems. In verses 1-7 she compares herself to a common flower, but he counters that she is a "flower among thorns." She then compares him to a fruit tree with especially sweet fruit. In 8-17 the lovers remind one another that it is springtime, a time for love. However, she does have concern about the "little foxes" that complicate love and she has warned her friends (6-7) not to indulge in love before the proper time.

They have just heard her speak of a beautiful, wonderful relationship filled with sensuality. She warns them not to jump into this type of relationship. As we will see elsewhere in the Song (2:15; 5:2ff), love is beautiful, but painful as well. It is not to be treated lightly. Song of Songs 2, 355

The first part of chapter 3 (1-5) is a dream sequence in which the girl expresses her loneliness and fear in finding her lover gone. She takes the initiative to go out and find him and takes firm hold on him. The second part (6-11) describes the wedding procession of Solomon and his carriage. Marriage is to be celebrated, but again there is some hesitancy and danger expressed. Marriage is never to be entered into lightly.

The mood is ebullient; the talk is about a wedding. This is indicated by 3:11, which refers to Solomon’s wedding day. Reading this reference back, the entire poem seems to be a happy remembrance of Solomon’s wedding. The opulence and grandeur of the occasion reflect the honor and glory of the institution of marriage. Song of Songs 3.6-11, 360

I call 4.1-5.1 the "honeymoon section" of the book. In this poem the man praises the beauty of the woman in a very intimate way, not just visually, but including the smells of her perfumes and taste of her lips. He invites her to come closer for lovemaking and she opens herself to him completely. 5.1 comments on the beauty and rightness of married love.

The poem encourages us to utter our own poetry of love. We may not be as articulate or as powerful in our imagery, but that is not what is important. What is important—and it is something that most of us need to be reminded of—is to find those points of beauty in the one we love and to express them. Song of Songs 4.1-5.1, 365

The next poem is another dream sequence reflecting the increasing insecurity of the bride. In her dream her lover comes to her bed, but she responds too slowly causing him to leave. She searches for him in the city but is abused by the city guards. She then enlists the female chorus to help her find him and gives a very intimate description of her lover.

This fourteenth poem tells a story of misread signals. However, it also attests to the power of love to break through obstacles and achieve a desired relationship. Love is hard; but in the end, at least in this poem, the lovers are victorious. Song of Songs 5.2-6.3, 370

What is the poem saying? It is saying that not even social custom and the culture’s idea of what is “right” will stand in the way of her pursuit of love. Song of Songs 6.3-12, 372

This poem is another intimate descriptive praise of the bride. There is a lot of repeat from chapter 4, but this poem adds the idea of being "overcome" by her beauty and sexual attractiveness. This could be positive or negative depending on how the woman responds to it. It is difficult to interpret this section and depends on how much the reader wants to bring the Solomon back-story into it. This kind of "overcoming" love can make a man vulnerable to the woman, just as male power can make a woman very vulnerable to the man in this sinful world.

As Adam felt Eve looking at him, he became aware of his imperfections and sought to hide them from her. Perhaps as the poem reflects the common human experience of being uncomfortable in another person’s gaze, it picks up on this idea. However, we should not miss the main, positive point the man is making: her beauty is so great that he needs a break from it so that he does not faint from overexposure! Song of Songs 6.1-12, 375

6.13 begins with the chorus asking the bride to dance. Her dance elicits another round of praise from the man, even more intimate, proceeding from the feet to the head. He ends the praise with another invitation to love which the woman responds with enthusiastic consent (7.10-13) and wishes she had more freedom to publicly express her love to him (8.1-4)

Both Solomon and Shulammite are names derived from the Hebrew root shalom, meaning “wholeness” or “peace.” It is no accident that these names contain the meaning of the word that expresses the consequence of the union between the man and the woman. In their intimacy, they achieve a wholeness that brings great peace or contentment. Song of Songs 6.13-7.9, 381

8.5-7 express the conclusion to the Song. Marriage is a matter of committed love in which each partner submits to the mutual ownership of the other (the seal). This kind of love overcomes the chaos (stronger than death) of this evil world and must be protected by a holy "jealousy" to protect the relationship. Love is the "flame of YHWH," a fire of passion which is amazingly good when used as God intended, but very dangerous when misused.

Modern men and women sometimes find this image of “ownership” objectionable because it treats a man or a woman as an object. This is not the woman’s perspective. She rejoices in the thought that she might belong to the man, most likely because she understands that his desire is to be equally owned by her. That the seal would be pressed on heart and arm is surely a way of saying on his whole person, both inner and outer—thoughts and actions. Song of Songs 8.6-7, 387

The epilogue begins with a humorous exchange between the wife and her brothers (8.8-12). The brothers are concerned about protecting the honor and purity of their little sister, but she responds that she is a woman now and has protected her own honor. She now has "shalom," wholeness with her husband. The Song ends with the woman's assertion that love, "her vineyard," cannot be bought. It must be freely given and she responds to his request to "come away with me" by doing just that. She is willing to take the risk of this love commitment and she becomes the example of how to love wisely in this world. 

The final poem makes a very important point about love. It is never satiated, never completely fulfilled. If the Song wanted to say otherwise, it would end with a final love scene where the man and the woman would melt into each other’s arms and feel perfect contentment and satisfaction. But that would not be honest or true to reality. Nowhere this side of heaven do men and women reach the point of ultimate and complete fulfillment in relationship. Song of Songs 8.13-14, 390

Love is a powerful emotion, a potent physical act. At first, we are surprised that God has guided his people to acknowledge such a book—one that celebrates the joys of the flesh—as worthy to be included in Holy Scripture. On further reflection, however, we find we must rejoice and thank God for the good gifts he has given us on earth, which, in a shadowy manner, anticipate the utter bliss that we will have in heaven. Song of Songs 8.13-14, 391

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