Commentary by Walter Albritton
Song of Solomon 2:8-13; -12; 8:6-7
Key Verse: Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. – Song of Solomon 8:6
Most biblical scholars agree that no book in the Old Testament is more difficult to interpret than the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs, as it is sometimes called. My study of it leads me to agree; this small book is difficult to understand.
Some persons consider the Song of Solomon to be an allegory, a model of Christ’s love for the Church. With that theory in mind, I read it again this week to see if that seemed a plausible idea to me. It did not, although I can see why some see this book as a symbol of God’s love. Love, after all, is a God-centered word in the Bible, its meaning derived from God’s revelation of himself as love.
I am left then with a small book of beautiful poetry that describes primarily the romantic love of a man and a woman. Viewed in that light, the Song of Solomon becomes a helpful portrayal of marital love. Its inclusion in the canon of Scriptures may suggest that it is appropriate for us to celebrate the joy of sexual intimacy as a gift of God as long as it is reserved for the sacred bond of marriage. Our understanding goes beyond that of Solomon, of course, for we have the benefit of Christ’s teaching.
Scholar Hugh Kerr says the Song of Solomon “sings of a love that is all-consuming and overpowering,” a song of “an irresistible love, invincible and triumphant.” He calls it “a song of love, a love that transcends the boundaries of space and time, a love that overcomes and vanquishes all that stands in its way.” Even so, there is no mention of marriage, home, or the family. As disciples of Jesus, we understand that the expression of passionate, erotic love should be reserved for a man and a woman who are committed to each other and to standards of purity in holy matrimony.
It was common in ancient times for one to carry a “seal” suspended from the neck over the heart (see Genesis 38:18, 25), or worn on the right hand (see Jeremiah ). The seal was used to make a person’s signature in a time when few people could write. This helps us understand better our key verse, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm.”
In some verses there is a reference to love’s uniqueness,
as in – “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna
blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.” What was Engedi? It was an oasis west of
The Song of Solomon has value for us despite the fact that no mention of God is made in the book, and that is true as well of the Book of Esther. (The Living Bible, a paraphrase, does include a reference to God in 8:6 – “Seal me in your heart with permanent betrothal, for love is strong as death and jealousy is as cruel as Sheol. It flashes fire, the very flame of Jehovah.” I can find this reference to God in no other translation.)
If, however, this reference to Jehovah is justifiable, then it allows us to enjoy this writer’s observation: “The lovers are irresistibly drawn to speak of the quality of the love they share: its strength and its ultimate source. ‘True love is as strong and irreversible as the onward march of death,’ Shulamith says. ‘True love never ceases to care, and it would no more give up the beloved than the grave would give up the dead. The fires of true love can never be quenched because the source of its flame is God himself.’”
The writer, Ed Wheat, insists that a couple does not “have to live together in boredom or separate in misery.” His solution is to become lovers through the resources of “ultimate love.” Feel the passion in Wheat’s words:
“In marriage, the delights of all the human loves are mingled and made fragrant as a garden when ultimate love permeates the relationship. Even more important, the human loves are stabilized by the abiding presence of ultimate love. Feelings are momentary; ultimate love is lasting. The emotions of love are like those of other natural energies, always ebbing and flowing, even as the metabolic rate of the body incessantly changes, or the wind rises and falls. No passion endures on a consistent level. But your experience of love can be so reinforced by the tensiled strength of ultimate love that you will keep on loving and continue growing in love, no matter what your marriage must face in the course of a lifetime.
“The Bible teaches…that we cannot save ourselves by any method: the Son of God had to become the Man Jesus, to live a perfect life, die for our sins, and live again in order to save us. Equally so, we cannot truly love by our own efforts. Again, God who is Love intervenes by giving us the priceless gift of ultimate love to be poured out to others.
“Your own marriage partner should be the first, last, and in-between recipient of ultimate love. It is this that will save, restore, transform, and bless your marriage beyond your highest hopes.”
Wheat asks, “Do you want to love and be loved like this? God is the only source of ultimate love; His is the power supply that feeds the fires of true love between husband and wife. It will not be enough to learn about God and this love. You must learn from Him and become linked to Him in an eternal relationship through new life in Jesus Christ.”
There is a great need in our pleasure-seeking society to
learn to celebrate the joy of marital love as Christians.
When I counsel couples in preparation for marriage, I invite them to believe that God wishes for them to enjoy harmony in their marriage. Beautiful harmony, through hard work and the grace of God, can be achieved in four basic areas – relationships with in-laws, the use of money, sexuality, and faith in God. The absence of harmony in any of these four arenas can result in injurious discord that may disrupt the marriage. I am convinced that a husband and his wife should earnestly seek this harmony and not settle for merely “getting along.” God wants us to have it but he gives it only to those who hunger and thirst for it.
The key is self-giving. Harmony in marriage comes when we learn to practice the core principle of the gospel – unselfish love. It works in every area of marriage. When one puts the needs of his partner above his own, then God responds with the gift of harmony.
Ed Wheat’s excellent book, Love Life for Every Married Couple, is one of the best available. He offers four basic principles that can open the way for a couple to find harmony in marriage:
1) I can learn what love is from the Word of God. It is rational, not irrational. I can understand love and grow in the understanding of it throughout my lifetime.
2) Love is not easy or simple: it is an art that I must want to learn and pour my life into. I can learn how to love.
3) Love is an active power that I control by my own will. I am not the helpless slave of love. I can choose to love.
4) Love is the power that will produce love as I learn to give it rather than strain to attract it.
Begin with principles like these and there is no reason why you cannot enjoy and be inspired by the beautiful poetry of the Song of Solomon. + + + + (Walter may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)