by J. D. Watson
Let's take a brief look at this love story and compare its model with our own marriages. In the opening words of the Song (1:2-4), it's instructive that the physical side of love that is mentioned first. The physical does matter. The maiden speaks of her desire for the Beloved's physical affection and lists the physical features that attract her to him. The desire for physically intimacy is clear. Yes, while marriage must be based on much more than just physical attraction or it will indeed fail, such desire is not only allowed, but is considered good and healthy.
In verses 5-8, the maiden speaks of herself as being "black." The Hebrew here (shecharchoreth) refers to "skin that is swarthy, darkened, in context because of the sun's rays."1 She, therefore, feels that the sun has marred her complexion because she worked so much outdoors, in contrast to the ladies in the palace. But here is, in fact, a key to her character-she's not afraid to work. Nonetheless, in her insecurity, she needs the beloved's reassurance.
Another key to her character is found in the words "why should I be as one that turneth aside?" (v. 7). As Young's Literal Translation phrases it, "For why am I as one veiled?" Unlike Tamar (Gen. 38:14-16), this girl values purity and rejects the veil or any suggestive of the wandering prostitute. So important is propriety, in fact, that she insists on specifying a particular place and time for them to meet.
Solomon's reassurance comes in verses 9-11. He calls her "my love" nine times, starting here in verse 9. He compares her to "a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots." Girls of that day would appreciate such a comparison, because no animal was considered more beautiful and graceful. Being poor, she doesn't have jewelry, but he compliments her further that her "cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, [and her] neck with chains of gold." In other words, "You don't need jewelry. You are already adorned with natural jewels." Husbands, when was the last time you complimented your wife? Billy Sunday is quoted as saying, "Try praising your wife, even if it frightens her at first."
In verses 12-14 the maiden speaks of the smell of her perfume that will reach the king as he sits on his throne. Scent plays a powerful role in physical attraction.
In verse 15, we see the couple looking into each other's eyes and talking, a key to intimacy. The king compliments her eyes, calling them "doves' eyes," as doves are known for their tranquility and purity. Verses 16-17 reveal that they are lying beside each other on the grass with the forest surrounding them. What a romantic setting! "The Bible actually talks about romance?" we might ask. Indeed, It does.
Turning to chapter 2, in verse 1, as mentioned earlier, the maiden thinks of herself as only common flowers, a rose and a lily. What a contrast that is to today's vanity and immodesty. In verse 2, however, as far as he is concerned, the king views all other women as thorns and her as the lily among them.
Staying with a nature metaphor, in verses 3-6 she likens him to "the apple tree." Most men today would frown at that comparison, but not in that day. The metaphor graphically pictured three aspects of love that are important to women. First, she says, "I sat down under his shadow with great delight," which is a picture of protection. In contrast to her working in the brutal sun (1:6), in him she found rest. Second, she says, "His fruit was sweet to my taste," which pictures provision. At the very foundation of a marriage is the husband's providing for his wife's needs, and she was totally secure in that. Third, she says "He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love," which pictures proclamation. I love the picture here! He took her to the banquet hall to "show her off." In essence he put a "banner" over her proclaiming that he was not ashamed of her or embarrassed to proclaim his love for her.
Today's macho philosophy that says men are weak if they show affection is not only unbiblical but, if I may be blunt, is also pretty stupid. She was so taken by his affection and his demonstration of it, in fact, that she was "love sick" (v. 5), a common theme in Near Eastern love poetry. She was so weakened that she needed both physical strength from food (the Hebrew word translated "flagons," actually means raisin cakes) and "apples") and also emotional strength from his intimate embrace. Fellow husbands, be reminded that our wives thrive on such intimacy.
In light of the emphasis on the physical attraction that we have seen, verse 7 provides an essential control: "I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem... that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please." The point here is a warning against the arousal of uncontrolled sexual passion before the right time. Marital and premarital chastity are elsewhere encouraged in the Song (4:12; 8:8-12). Indeed, the most important thing a young lady can do to prepare for her future marriage is to stay pure.
The same is true, however, for a young man. In Proverbs 5-7, Solomon writes of what immorality will do to a young man, and it should be read often as a reminder. In 6:32-33 we read, "Whoso committeth adultery with a woman lacketh understanding: he that doeth it destroyeth his own soul. A wound and dishonour shall he get; and his reproach shall not be wiped away." There's no double-standard in God's law, as there is in our society. Both young ladies and young men should stay pure and wait for God to sanction intimacy with their spouse. It will be worth the wait.
In verses 8-14, the maiden describes Solomon as a "roe or a young hart" (that is, a gazelle or deer) as he approaches. He's attractive, strong, and agile, and is moving quickly because he can't wait to see her. It's springtime and they go for a walk. Everything they see-the flowers, birds, trees, and vines-stimulates the senses and reminds them of the beauty of their love.
Verses 14-15 are very special: "O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes." What beautiful poetry! Doves hide in the clefts of the hills to avoid detection. Solomon requests, then, that she come out and show her entire self to him and hold back nothing. "I want to know you," he says, "I want to know everything about you."
Solomon also mentions "foxes," which is extremely important to the rest of the story. Foxes are always a sign of trouble, so anything that would spoil their relationship should be dealt with, brought out into the open and addressed. How important the "doves" and "foxes" are in a relationship! And how vital it is that couples receive adequate premarital counsel! Tragically, however, very little such counsel occurs in churches day.
Verses 16-17 declare the very foundation of marriage, that each owns the other: "My beloved is mine, and I am his" (cf. 1 Cor. 7:2-3). They look forward to their marriage when they can embrace "until the day break."
J. D. Watson is pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church in Meeker, Colorado.
1. Baker and Carpenter, p. 1124. The Complete Word Study Dictionary-Old Testament.