Turn with me to the Song of Solomon, or the Song of Songs, as it is sometimes called. We are going to pick up the reading in the second chapter beginning at verse 3, and we’ll be reading through into the third chapter. The Song of Solomon comes just before the Book of Isaiah and just after Ecclesiastes, and I can believe that there are many of you perhaps, who have never heard a sermon on the Song of Solomon. I've been preaching for somewhere in the region of 25 and some years, and I have never ever preached a series on the Song of Solomon..
There are many reasons why I haven't preached on the Song of Solomon, not least because for many years I wasn't sure what the Song of Solomon was really about. I held a view held by many of the Reformers and by a large number of the Puritans, and indeed, the view held largely up until the middle of this last century that this was allegorical in nature and typified the relationship between Christ and the Church. That gave me hives as to how to preach it.
The book, of course, is a collection of love poems, of songs compiled by Solomon and reflecting the love between a young man and a young woman. The young man and woman seemed to have lived somewhere in the country, though at one point, Solomon seems to feature in the young woman's dreams. The storyline is their love for one another; their longing for each other; some of the difficulties that prevents them from coming together and the story ends happily ever after. If you’re reading this in the New International Version, for example, there are some almost choreographical headings in that rendition that are, I have to say, pure guess work. We’re not absolutely sure as to when it is that the woman is speaking and when it is that the man is replying, and I'm going to venture some king of interpretation of one particular poem this evening. So let's turn to chapter 2, verse 3. Hear the Word of God.
"Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, So is my beloved among the young men. In his shade I took great delight and sat down, And his fruit was sweet to my taste. He has brought me to his banquet hall, And his banner over me is love.”
She is obviously overwhelmed by the thought of this young man, and it looks as though she is appealing to her friends here:
“Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples, Because I am lovesick.”
When you’re feeling faint, one of the best things that you can do is perhaps to eat something:
"Let his left hand be under my head And his right hand embrace me."
Speaking now to unmarried women, she gives this advice:
"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, That you will not arouse or awaken my love Until she pleases.”
Now she appears to be speaking once again in soliloquy:
"Listen! My beloved! Behold, he is coming, Climbing on the mountains, Leaping on the hills! My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he is standing behind our wall, He is looking through the windows, He is peering through the lattice."
I'd be surprised if there wasn't a young man in here engaged in this kind of activity. Perhaps trying to hide himself from the one that he secretly loves:
"My beloved responded and said to me, 'Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, And come along.For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; The time has arrived for pruning the vines, And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.”
The saying goes, “In spring, a young man's fancy turns to love.”
'The fig tree has ripened its figs, And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance. Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, And come along!'"
Possibly now the man is replying:
"O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,In the secret place of the steep pathway, let me see your form, Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet, And your form is lovely. Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom."
They’re so taken up in their love that all interest in caring for daily duties of keeping out the foxes from the vineyards has been forgotten. Now she continues:
”My beloved is mine, and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies. Until the cool of the day when the shadows flee away, Turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle Or a young stag on the mountains of Bether."
And now a dream sequence seems to begin:
“On my bed night after night I sought him Whom my soul loves; I sought him but did not find him. ‘I must arise now and go about the city; In the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves.’ I sought him but did not find him. I must arise now and go about the city; In the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves.’ I sought him but did not find him. The watchman who makes the rounds in the city found me, and I said, ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves; I held on to him and would not let him go Until I had brought him to my mother's house, And into the room of her who conceived me.”
And then she repeats again to the unmarried women as she did in chapter 2, verse 7:
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, That you will not arouse or awaken my love Until she pleases.”
Amen. May God bless the reading of His holy and inerrant word. May we pray together.
Our Father, as we turn now to an unfamiliar part of Your word–at least unfamiliar to some of us; we pray for the help, the ministry, and the illumination of Your Spirit. For Jesus’ sake, we ask it. Amen.
This book is one of the wisdom books of the Bible and this means that this book is designed to give instruction, to give advice on how to live a life that is pleasing to Almighty God. The sage in the Book of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing. And the question that we want to ask ourselves tonight is a simple one. How can I know that the time for embracing has come? How do I get from where I am now to that time where I am to embrace?
Now that's not as straight forward a question to ask the Bible as it sounds. And that's for several reasons; not least because you and I live in a very different culture from the culture of the Bible–particularly the culture of the days of Solomon. If you were to ask that particular question in the days of Solomon, the answer that you might receive would be one that would be difficult for you to accept. Because by and large, in the days of the Bible, how I move from a single person to a married person, is answered in the way that it still is in many parts of the world. Your parents would help you. Now, the idea of arranged marriages may send shivers down your spine–not your parents, you understand. I'm speaking to young people at this point. And for those of you who have read the bulletin and you've buckled your seats; that's not why you need to buckle your seats. This evening I'm not going to speak about arranged marriages. But we do have to understand and we need to appreciate the wisdom of Bible times and the influence that parents have even in this entire process of ascertaining the time to embrace in the lives of our children. I want us to try and elicit answers to three fundamental questions. Question 1: How do I prepare myself for that life-long relationship? Question 2: How do I decide? Question 3: How can I be sure?
I. How do I prepare myself for that life-long relationship
So the first question: How do we go about preparing for the possibility of giving ourselves to some one with whom we will spend the rest of our lives? I want us to focus on the book ends of our reading together this evening, because twice in the course of our reading this young woman speaks to what is apparently young women who are friends of hers, perhaps in Jerusalem, and she says in verse 7, “I adjure you, O Daughters of Jerusalem,” and she repeats it again in verse 5.
The first thing I would say that the Scriptures teach us in general, and universally applicable, is that we must learn, you and I, to trust in God's good provision. That the way we prepare ourselves in order that we might spend our lives with someone else is that we must trust in the provision of Almighty God. It's the theme of this young woman, and she seems to turn to it again and again in the course of the Song of Solomon. She seems to be saying to these daughters of Jerusalem, single woman with perhaps no immediate prospect of a young man, unlike her own experience, and she gives them counsel from her own experience, as it were. Verse 7, “Do not arouse, or awaken love, until it so desires.” And I can't tell you how practical that is, how full of wisdom that is. Because to play with love is to play with fire. And let me put it in this way, to run ahead of God's providence, to second guess God's providence, is a very, very dangerous thing indeed. And this young woman is giving her friends some counsel, “Do not awaken love until the time is ready. Until God has provided. Until all of the circumstances have come together. Don't play with it. Don't awaken it.” And that leads to the second thing.
She seems to be saying, “You will need to take the long term view of things.” You need to take that in view because the commitment of marriage is a commitment that lasts as long as you live. It may last 20 years, it may last 30 years, it may last 70 years. When day and night you will company with one person, and in a world in which we are encouraged to do the very opposite, namely, to take the short term view of things, to take the view of a few years or perhaps a few months or even one night, and to take the gains of one night as opposed to a life time view, this young woman is giving sound and solid advice. She's saying, “Don't play with love until love is ready, until the circumstances are ready, until providence has so come together.” Don't look at just one day or one month or one year; think of a life time.
If you seek short term profits you are in real danger. It's a bit like what the book of Proverbs says, albeit from a masculine point of view, and that's because in large part, the book of Proverbs is the advice of a father to a son, but you can reverse the proverbs without any difficulty whatsoever. “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.” A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day. Better to live in the corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” I'm quoting the book of Proverbs, you understand. And you see what the book of Proverbs is saying. “Look, when you enter into this relationship, be prepared for the consequences.” That the short term view of things may entice you and may even excite you, but you've got to take cognizance of the long term view of things, because you have to spend the rest of your lives with this person. And she is saying, this woman, “Don't arouse love, don't awaken love, until love is ready.” This woman, you see, is trying to keep these other women, she's trying to keep them from making a terrible decision, a decision with consequences. Better to struggle now than a life time of regret. Better to wrestle now, she seems to be saying, than realize later on when it's too late, that the one to whom you've committed yourself is unable to help you commit yourself fully to the Lord and to His service. She seems to be saying, and let me put it in New Testament terms, “I would rather have what Christ gives, and what Christ holds, than to snatch it and enter into a life that brings barrenness and fruitlessness.” It's a matter of trusting god. It's a matter of waiting on the providence of God. That's how I prepare myself.
Young men, young women, and maybe not so young men and maybe not so young women, and you’re struggling in this area. And I say to you, “Wait upon the Lord, wait upon the Lord, don't run ahead the Lord.” The Lord will provide.
II. How do I decide?
Secondly, how do decide whether this man or this woman is the very person that God has led me to? How do I decide whether this man or this woman is the very person that God has for me. How did she know? How did this woman know that this young man, about whom she seems to be head over heels in love with, how did she know he was the right man for her? And there are several principles I want to try and tease out of this passage, and one or two that aren't quite in the passage but I need to say them anyway.
Life long companionship in marriage is not for everyone, and I need to say that. We are to be clear about that. God gives to some Christians the gift of singleness in order to enable them to commit their lives in the service of Jesus Christ and in a way that married folk cannot. They are free from some of the responsibilities that encompass marriage, and they are able to give themselves without any reservation to the service of God, and such people are to be treasured. And they’re not to be teased. And we do a disservice as Christians when we constantly tease people who are not married, as though there's something wrong with them, as though they are second class Christians. God has so ordered their lives to be in that condition, and we need to respect that. And I think in churches, and this one isn't any different from any other church, but I think in churches we often transgress at that point, and we do those who are single sometimes a disservice.
Some find themselves in that condition by a deliberate choice, perhaps by a vow they have taken; perhaps because that's what they have discerned what God's providence to be for them; and some find themselves in that condition reluctantly and they are chafing at the bit. And if you’re in that latter category, then do what this woman is telling you to do. Wait on the providence of God. That is very good advice.
The second principle I want to mention is this. It is perfectly healthy and biblical to want and to need the companionship of another. She says in verse 3 of chapter 2. “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. In his shade I took great delight and sat down and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” She is deeply in love. We are told in the opening chapters of Scripture, in the Book of Genesis, that “it is not good for man to be alone.” You remember those wonderful words of Matthew Henry as he was commenting on the second chapter of Genesis, “God made woman out of man; not out of his head so that he might dominate or trample over her; not from his feet that he might tread on her; but from his side to be equal with him; and under his arm that she might be protected by him; and close to his heart that she might be loved by him.” You remember how the Book of Proverbs puts it again, “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives the favor of the Lord.” That is God's provision for us and in our mixed world and emotions and passions, we can so easily become confused here. God made men and women for companionship for each other.
And then there's a third principle. And more than simply companionship, but to know that companionship in a physical way. Do you notice what she says in verse 4 of chapter 2? “He has brought me into his banquet hall and his banner over me is love.” She is saying about this one that she loves that he is making an open declaration of his love for me. There's nothing hidden about his intentions. His intentions are open and honorable. Everyone can see them. There's nothing clandestine about this relationship; it's not going on behind locked doors in secret motels. It's a public, open, observable relationship. His banner in the banquet hall says “love,” and he's telling everybody that he loves this girl. She's overcome by it; she's almost fainting by his love. She desires its consummation in physical form . “Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me” (verse 6). She's beginning to think about her lover and what it might be like to live with him and sleep with him. There's nothing illicit about that. She hasn't transgressed at that point. She's thinking about the consequences of marriage, and it's all within the context of finding a life partner and marriage.
And the next words tell us, in verse 7, that the time for that is not yet. And she tells her women friends that the time for that is not yet though she longs for it. And I say to you young women tonight, don't let a young man rob you of what you want to keep for your marriage day. And I say to you young men, don't you dare take away from a young woman what she wants to keep for her wedding day. And you make a solemn vow that you will not transgress at that point. And young men, I say to you that if you honor God in this area, God will honor you.
And there's another principle here. It's fundamental for us that we recognize the necessity of committing ourselves only to a Christian believer; that's fundamental. And the whole context of the book of Song of Songs contained, as it is, within the Scriptures as a whole, is telling us that. The relationship between this young woman and young man is a relationship of two people who are in the Lord. “Be not unequally yoked together.”
Now, some of you find yourselves having, in God's providence, having been converted after you were married, and you find yourselves now married to someone, perhaps, who isn't a believer and with whom you cannot share in the most intimate spiritual things. And Scripture has some things to say to you, and Peter especially has some things to say to you, but we're not talking about that situation here. We’re talking about situations where you are entering on marriage and you dare not make the mistake of marrying outside of the Lord. And there's another principle. As we are drawn to other people, it is vital for us to ask this question: “Is this person going to help me grow spiritually?” In fact, as you think about finding a life partner, one of the things that you need to ask yourself is this. Does this person, this man, this woman, love Jesus more than they love me? Now, if the gospel wasn't true, that would be crazy, wouldn't it? That is the kind of question you need to be asking yourselves as you think about embarking upon a lifetime in companionship with one other person. Does that person love Jesus more than they love you? As you enter into this relationship, you want to enter into it in such a way that the product of the two of you will enable you to grow in grace.
And there's one more principle that I think I can tease out of this passage, and that is this. Listen to the advice of others. In a real sense, that's a part of what this poem is about. This young woman is giving advice to other women, and they are to heed this advice. Don't enter into a relationship, and don't let that relationship blossom and flower and don't take that relationship to its ultimate conclusion until God's providence has so ordered that you can get married. Do you see what this young woman is saying to these other women? Listen to the advice of others. The moment you become willful–and what sound advice she gives them. If you awaken love, if your passions begin to grow; rationality and thought processes go out the window. And she's saying, “Don't awaken love until it is ready.”
III. How can I be sure?
But there's a third question I want to ask this passage this evening. How can I be sure? How can I be sure that this young man or this young woman is the one for me? How can I be sure that this is the one that God has chosen? How can I be sure that this marriage, this union, was made in heaven? How can I be sure of that? And there are two passages of Scripture that come to mind.
James 1:5-8. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God who gives generously to all without finding fault and it will be given him.” If it's wisdom you’re looking for tonight, then take it to the Lord. Take this matter, this issue, take your life–the whole business of courtship and marriage–take it to the Lord and lay it before Him in prayer. Tell Him all of your problems and all of your fears and all of your anxieties and your frustrations and tell Him how fragile you are, and let Him provide for you, and let Him strengthen you, and let Him minister to you, and let Him show you the one He has chosen for you.
And the other passage that comes to mind is Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct your paths straight.” This evening maybe I'm speaking to just a few people whose hearts are burdened and heavy, and you’re making a commitment. You have promised to make yourself pure; you want to find a partner, a companion that meets biblical requirements. You want to find someone who will help you grow in the Lord, that will help you use your God-given gifts to the extension of the kingdom of God. But for that, you have paid a price; for that there's been a cost. You've taken up a cross and you've born a price, and men have passed you by, and perhaps women have passed you by. But, my dear friend, trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean not to your own understanding, and in all of your ways acknowledge Him and He will make your paths straight.
Now, you see, you really didn't need to buckle your seat belts for this sermon, did you? This is a sermon and a passage that is just full of practical down-to-earth common-sense wisdom. And my prayer, young men, young women, parents, is as you are burdened about your children, burdened that they won't make a mistake in this area, that they won't fall in this area, my prayer is that the principles that this woman is giving here will be yours. And oh, that you might find the joy of a companion with whom you are head over heels in love with, and you want to spend the rest of your lives with that person to the glory of God. Amen.
Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we do thank you for your word, and we ask for the help of Your Spirit to apply it in all of its practical details to our lives. We ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.