This is part one in this month’s preaching series on biblical wisdom. We’re covering three hot topics in turn: sex, money, and power.
What is biblical wisdom?
Wisdom in the Bible is rooted in “the fear of the Lord.” Fearing God indicates a concern for God’s law, God’s will, God’s authority. As such, biblical wisdom is really about decision-making: knowing what course of action to choose that’s most in line with God’s will. Thus, a lot of classic wisdom literature (like much of the book of Proverbs and a few Psalms) is all about contrasting “the way of the righteous” and “the way of the wicked.” That’s called prudential wisdom literature. There’s another genre of wisdom literature, though, called speculative wisdom, which focuses instead on contemplating the bigger questions of life, the universe, and everything. It is in this genre of wisdom that we will find our first exploration into the topics of love and sex.
What is the Song of Songs?
I have written before on the basics of what this book is about. Basically, the Song of Songs is first and foremost a collection of love poetry celebrating the bond between man and wife. Secondarily, it can be read as a typology for other relationships, most notably between Christ and the Church. Some people argue that it’s inappropriate to describe a human’s love for God in sexual language like in the Song of Songs; perhaps that’s true. But if we take it as a typological picture of the divine-human love relationship, then the sexual imagery would be subject to interpretation anyway.
As far as the wisdom content of the Song of Songs goes, the book is special on account of its uniquely positive teaching about human sexuality. There are plenty of “thou shalt not’s” throughout the Bible, such as prohibitions against incest, adultery, bestiality, and the like, and there’s also Paul’s theological “your bodies are Temples of the Spirit” admonition to behave, but the Song of Songs is the only place in the Bible is really positively celebrated. Because it is so celebrated, we can see what God wants marital love to look like!
A Few Examples
Don’t awaken love before its time. (2:7, 3:5, 8:4) This is, in part, a warning against pre-marital sex. There is a proper time for the full expression of love: after marriage! The context of 3:1-4 illustrates this pretty well: pursuing your true love is wonderful and good, but don’t provoke the sexual relationship until the right time. On a similar note…
We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for? If she is a wall, we will build on her a battlement of silver, but if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar. (8:8-9)
The lesson here is to protect your children from sexual exploration too soon. I’m not about to lay down a “proper age” for sex education, nor do I have any suggestions as to how to go about this yet. All I can do is point out the biblical imagery: if we liken this young girl to a wall, her protection will be a silver battlement, and if we liken her to a door, her protection will be cedar wood. These are images of beauty, not cruel restraint. So too our protection of the young from indecent sexual exposure should be gentle, loving, and beautiful. Turning “sex” into a dirty forbidden word probably is not in the right spirit of things.
My beloved is mine, and I am his. (2:16, 6:3) This type of language highlights the exclusive nature of a godly love relationship. You can also see this in the beginning of chapter 3’s constant repetition of him whom my soul loves. Although we know that God tolerated polygamy with many of his people like Abraham, Jacob, David, and especially Solomon (ironically), the intent for marriage from the beginning was the union of one man and one woman. And that union isn’t only for making babies, inheriting land, and gaining social status, it’s also for cultivating love! Furthermore, with the images of searching for one’s lover in 2:8-3:5 and 5:2-6:2, we see hints of the need for maintenance of that love relationship. Marriage is not as easy as signing a contract, constant pursuit of one another keeps the relationship fresh and alive.
I delight to sit in his shade. (2:3) Images like this describe the relationship context in which a sexual relationship can thrive. If a ‘relationship’ is just about having sex with someone, then there is a great deal of intimacy that’s missing. Simply delighting in the company of one another is a beautiful way to describe that loving relationship context.
Your ____ is like ____. (4:1-7, 5:10-15) These passages are kind of humorous to the modern reader, since the style & imagery is so foreign to us. If a man today were to tell his wife “Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes,” she probably wouldn’t even be certain if he was complimenting her or not! But all it takes is a quick tour of the song You’re the Top to get an idea of what these passages are trying to do: use known cultural images of cool things to heap compliments upon the lover. It’s a far cry from the chorus of, say, Teenaged Dream, where the compliments are almost entirely sexual. Again, not that sexual attraction is bad, but it’s only part of the mutual attraction that lovers ought to have.
Summary of lessons
If you’re into one-sentence summaries, here are a few things we can learn from the Song of Songs in contrast to the culture around us:
- True Love is exclusive, not promiscuous.
- True love is lasting, not temporary.
- Love love includes words & intellect, and is not purely physical.
- Love is romantic (other-focused), not self-centered.
- True love is mutual & kind, otherwise it frequently ends up cruel.
A good prayer to close this study is this Prayer for Marital Commitment from the Church of England’s book Common Worship (2000).
we offer you our souls and bodies,
our thoughts and words and deeds,
our love for one another.
Unite our wills in your will,
that we may grow together
in love and peace
all the days of our life;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.