Song of Solomon: And Finally…Lessons

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 21, 2003

Song of Solomon 8:8-14

We've come to the final section of chapter 8:8-14. In verse 7, we've just read, “Many waters cannot quench love nor will rivers overflow it. If a man were to give all of the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised.” “Money can't buy you love,” sang the Beatles. Well let's hear now the Word of God as we find it in chapter 8, the Song of Solomon, beginning at verse 8.

And now it seems as though some members of the family–brothers of the wife, of the woman in the story seem to be speaking–and, as we’ll explain in a minute, this is a sort of flashback to the beginning and before the beginning. This is how the two of them came together. So the brothers are speaking:

“We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day that she is spoken for? If she is a wall, we shall build on her a battlement of silver. But if she is a door, we shall barricade her with planks of cedar.”

So now the woman interjects and boasting of her chastity,

“I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers. Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.”

Now in the next two verses, it's unclear who's speaking. It may be the woman; it may be the man. The best commentators differ. Solomon had a vineyard at Baal Hamon. He entrusted the vineyard to caretakers. Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit. Now the woman seems to be speaking:

“My very own vineyard is at my disposal. The thousand shekels are for you, Solomon, and two-hundred are for those who take care of its fruit.”

Verse 13, it seems to be the man that's speaking:

“Oh, you, who sit in the gardens, my companions are listening for your voice–Let me hear it!”

And, finally, in verse 14, the woman:

“Hurry, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.”

Amen. May God bless to us the reading of His holy and inerrant Word. Let's pray together.

Father, we acknowledge that every word of the Bible is given by You. You inspired it. You cause it to be written and for our instruction. And we pray just now for the help of your Spirit. Cause this Word to come alive in our hearts, in our souls, in our very beings for Jesus’ sake. Amen.

There's a difference between love poetry and pornography. There are, in the course of these eight chapters, some anatomical allusions. And they’re only allusions. They are, in fact, so poetic and wistful that even the best commentators disagree as to precisely which part of the anatomy it's referring to. I won't tell you which commentators to go and read tonight. Let's stay with the poetry. When Ligon this morning was referring to Ecclesiastes 12 and “the almond tree blossoming” or “the grinders ceasing,” I thought to myself, “How utterly unoffensive that is. How beautiful that is.” He was talking about old age. There's nothing beautiful about some aspects of old age, but how beautifully he put it. He may have been a non-linear thinker, but he had a way with words.

There's a reason why a great deal of this is poetry: it's meant to be evocative. It's not meant to be crass and pornographic. That's why, I think, it would be wrong to get into some of these details-perhaps in a different context, but here it would spoil the mystique.

Now, in chapter 8:8 there is a sort of flashback asking the question, “How did these two ever find each other?” They are deeply in love, and their love has now been consummated on at least two occasions as we've read through this together in a union that has been described for us in beautiful poetry. We have heard the Song of Songs say, “Money can't buy this kind of love.” But how exactly did it come about? How did they meet? What influences went into the formation of the life and the character of this woman, this man? I want us to examine these closing verses and to give what I want to call “The Seven Marks of a Godly Relationship.” Sounds like a book.

I. Let your family help.
Number one. Let Your Family Help. In verse 8 we're introduced to brothers–brothers of a sister, a young sister–and we're talking very young here. She's not mature enough to make her own decisions. How can I be discreet here? She has no breasts. She's a young girl. Do you understand? I say that because in the PCA there are folk who actually use this verse to apply some kind of Mafioso, you know, the mafia, the brothers whose consent is required, even for a 25-year-old or a 30-year-old or a 40-year-old sister, before you can date this person. This is a young girl we're talking about here. Now I don't know where the father is. Maybe the father has died. Maybe that's the explanation. But they are having an input into the life, growth, maturity, life decisions of their sister.

Some of you have seen my “Application for Permission to Date My Daughter” form. It asks all kinds of questions: Do you have one male and one female parent? Do you own a truck with oversized tires? Do you have an earring, nose ring, belly-button ring, a tattoo? In 25 words or less, what does “late” mean to you? In 25 words or less, what does “don't touch my daughter” mean to you? In two words, what does “abstinence” mean to you? And so on.

Let me pause right here. There are families who, well to put it bluntly, are a little weird. Not every parent makes wise choices for their children. Some parents are not Christians. Some parents have bad marriages that are imprinted on their children. And some are Christians but want their children to be so socially acceptable…they don't want their children to be misfits…that they push their children into situations that are not good for them. I'm not talking here about arranged marriages or anything like that. I'm talking about the things you do in order to prepare your children for maturity. This woman, this beautiful woman, is in part at least the product of the input of her family.

There's been some talk this week about modesty, issues of modesty. I'm not gonna go into it. It's the lion's den. And if you put your head in a lion's mouth, don't be surprised if occasionally he’ll bite. I love my dog. Sometimes I play a little game with him. When he's eating, I get down on all fours, and, you know, I’ll pretend…he eats my food…so I’ll pretend to eat his food. But he growls. It's a friendly sort of growl. I check the tail. If the tail is going back and fore, I think I'm fine. But sometimes, just occasionally, the tail stops, and I back away. I love my dog. I think I trust him, but he could revert to type. What input are we giving to our children? For some of you, as we were hearing this morning, social acceptability is everything. And there will be a cost, and it will be too great. You see, these brothers, they had an input into the raising of their sister where certain boundaries were erected, certain rules were erected. Let your family help. Let your family help.

II. Virtue matters.
Secondly, virtue matters. Virtue matters. This is one of the things that this family tried to do and as a team, for this girl, and it could just as easily be in the reverse. This is told from the perspective of a man, of a Solomon-like figure, and it's her virtue. But we could just as easily make it out to be the man's virtue. “If she is a wall,” they said. “We’ll build of her a battlement of silver. But if she is a door, they would enclose her with planks of cedar.” Now Robert Frost says somewhere that “good hedges make good neighbors.” In today's urban landscapes, you know, there are no hedges around our properties. People walk from one property to another right across your yard because there's no boundary there.

What's the Song talking about here? It's talking about a girl who is either virtuous or, forgive me, a hussy. If you don't know that word, look it up in the dictionary. It's, I think, appropriate. If she's an open door…do you understand the metaphor? If she's loose; if she's open to whatever advances come here way; if she's swept overboard by the good-looking senior high boy with his hair down to here and driving a Mustang with the catalytic converters taken off and roaring down the street; if she's swept overboard by that–by a guy who has one thing on his mind; these brothers are going to apply some restrictions. Do you understand? They’re going to block her in with planks of cedar. They’re going to lock her up. The issue is virtue. Actually it's an issue that this young woman has been speaking to her friends about on three occasions in the course of the Song of Solomon at points of great, romantic tension, she's said to those young women, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”

You've got to be careful. When hormones are coming out of your ears, you have to be careful with the issues of love and romance. It's about being chaste. It's about being a virgin when you marry. My wife and I can say that tonight. It's not something I'm personally proud of. It's something I'm grateful to God for. Young people, there is nothing more romantic than that. I mean it. There is nothing more romantic than that–that your wife is the only woman you've ever known; your husband is the husband is the only man you've ever known.

You see I'm not certain that all of you see it that way. I know I'm speaking at First Presbyterian Church, but I'm not certain that we all see it that way. I'm not certain that we see it that way for our sons. We may see it that way for our daughters, but I wonder if we see it that way about our sons. And I wonder what decisions that will mean in terms of colleges and fraternities and sororities. You can tell this is the last sermon. Listen to this woman in verse 10. “I am a wall,” she says. She's boasting about her chastity. She's boasting about her virtue. She's boasting about the stand that she has taken.

I know the college kids are not here tonight. Some of you are here, but lots of them are away. I know that. But, you know, through this wonderful medium of technology, it just is possible that you will listen to this on a tape. So I'm gonna speak to you even though you’re not here because I want you, as I come to the end of Song of Solomon, to seriously consider that issue, my friend. Are you a wall or are you a door? Am I going to save myself for my future spouse? What would Jesus want you to say in answer to that question? Really. Truly. Then if you answer that question, and you say, “I want to be a wall here. I want to be chaste. I want to be a virgin when I get married.” Then promise it, but be careful. Be careful what you promise. Be careful what you vow because there are consequences if you break it. You young men, you’re listening to this tape now, you young men, how would you want your sister to answer that question? I know how you want your sister to answer that question. You want your sister to say, “I am a wall. I'm not an open door. I'm not available. I'm not some revolving door.” Then remember that the girl that you date is someone's sister. Remember that the girl that you date is someone's daughter. And remember that when you have daughters of your own.

III. God's timing is perfect.
Thirdly, God's Timing Is Perfect. God's timing is perfect. Take a look at verse 10. In the second half she says, “I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers. She's grown up now, you understand. Then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace.” And the “then” in the Hebrew is very emphatic. She has just said that she was a virgin, that she had kept herself pure. That is a stance that she had taken. She hadn't slept around. She hadn't engaged in any kind of premarital sex, and then…and then she found him. And then he found her. The implication–Do you understand?–is that she was doing what she was supposed to do, and then God did something. God in his wonderful, extraordinary, marvelous providence brought the two of them together. “And then.”

There are young people and not so young people in this church who are desperate to find a partner. Maybe…maybe you are so desperate that you are ready to compromise for it. I want those of you who are married in this church to pray for our single folk. It's not easy to be single when God hasn't given you the gift of singleness…when God hasn't given you that peace that passes all understanding about that condition. We've got some wonderful folk in this church who have been given that very peace, and their ministry to us is extraordinary. They can do things that married people could never do. They can give of their time and energy that married people could never do. Thank God for them. But we've got others who long every day for a partner, and the partner never comes.

You see, the temptation is to run ahead of the providence of God. You know, that's what Naomi did. Bless her. Oh, her deepest motives were good. She loved her daughter-in-law; and in the society that she lived, there was no great future for Ruth as a Moabitess in Jerusalem, and as a widow to boot. Do you remember what she does? I've read the commentaries. I've read all the contextualization that commentators can try to bring to that situation to sort of play it down. But when she goes in the middle of the night to uncover his feet and lie there wearing ‘midnight allure’ danger and danger and danger was written all over it. And the response of Boaz, godly, godly, godly man that he was? He saw the danger. “Don't tell anyone what you've done here,” he says.

This woman in the Song of Solomon now. She met her husband at work. In verses 11 and 12, they’re a little complicated, but let me break down the complication just a little and suggest that what she's saying is that she was working in a vineyard gathering grapes. And this vineyard belonged to Solomon, and there she met him, this Solomonic figure, the husband. God brought it about. The Lord was in this. God's providence was in this, the ordinary providence of God.

I'm saying to you, single folk, maybe this summer series has been difficult for you. I understand that. Trust Him with this issue. “I've been trusting him,” you’re saying. I hear you. Don't stop trusting him. Keep on trusting Him. Keep on taking this issue to the Lord. “Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart.”

She's implying a pun in the second half of verse 10. “I was in his eyes as one who finds peace.” The Hebrew word, of course, for peace is shalom, and the Hebrew word for this man is shalamo. Actually that's a special word she's using, an expression that's often found in the Bible. We read, for example, of Noah finding grace in the eyes of the Lord. In this case, it's peace in the eyes of the Lord. When the two of them met, there was a sense of peace. There was a sense of “this is how it ought to be.” There was a sense of fulfillment. There was a sense of the providence of God in it. “It was worth the wait,” she said. “It was worth the sacrifice” is what she's saying. What a beautiful way to start a marriage: waiting patiently on God's time. There were no issues, no baggage, no skeletons in the cupboard to deal with.

Isn't it interesting that men will sleep with all kinds of women! But they don't want to marry these women. And they don't want to bring those women home to meet their mothers. But this man met the girl of his dreams. That's a beautiful thing. That's a beautiful thing. There she stood before him. But perhaps this pun is meant to be taken a little more, and that leads me to another point.

IV. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.
Number four: The Whole Is Greater Than the Sum of the Parts. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts. He was called shalamo, and he found himself in her, or perhaps she found herself in him and perhaps both of them found themselves in each other. They completed each other. They found peace in each other. Do you remember how in the book of Genesis Eve is described as Adam's helper? In the sense that she enables Adam to enjoy a relationship with each other. Together they will enjoy intimacy and deep companionship. Here is this woman, and she brings to this relationship something that is far greater than the individual parts: together as husband and wife, as a unity, they are far greater than they would ever have been individually. That seems to be what she is saying here, that the combination of them is greater than the sum of the individual parts.

You know, incidentally, that's the greatest test of a marriage. Is this someone in whose companionship I will grow and become something that I could never be on my own? The Christian psychologist, William Kilpatrick, says, “We are” and here he's quoting C.S. Lewis, “one vast need.” Our intuitive feeling when we are in love is that we're only half-living up to the moment we fell in love. We realize then how much our wholeness depends on someone outside of ourselves. Take away our love and we feel reduced to almost nothing.” She meets him…or he meets her…and she brings a peace, a wholeness to the relationship.

V. Marriages are built on communication.
Number five: Marriages Are Built on Communication. At the end of the Song in verses 13 and 14, the reminiscences are now over, and they’re speaking to each other in real time. And he says to her, “I want to hear your voice.” Verse 13: “You who dwell in the gardens, my companions are listening for your voice, let me hear it!” You've waited, haven't you? Before I was married, I would lie awake at night, thinking of all that my fiancй had told me that evening. Now that I'm married, I fall asleep before my wife has stopped talking.

What's the reason why men and women engage in extra-marital affairs? Adultery, that is. What's the reason? And time and time again the reason can be traced back to the fact that they have found someone who listens to them, someone who understands them, someone who hears their pain because they've long-since stopped talking to their spouses. They've stopped listening to each other. He longs to hear her voice.

Men, when you’re on that journey, business journey, you’re going up the Natchez Trace, or you’re going up I-55, or you’re driving along I-20. The issue of whether it's wrong or right to speak on a cell phone and drive not withstanding. Let's get past that one for a minute. Does it occur to you on that journey – I want to hear her voice. I want to talk to her. That's a good sign of where your marriage is tonight. And maybe where this Song has brought you. Maybe there's some self-examination to do; maybe there's some repentance to do; maybe there's some work to do because communication in a marriage is vital.

Oh, some of you husbands will say, “But that's the way I am.” But that's not the way that you were when you were courting your wife. You longed to hear her every word, but maybe there are patterns of responsive behavior that need breaking. Let me ask you, how often do you sit down and just talk? How often do you say to yourselves, “Put the TV off for a minute or two.” Do you know how our lives can fall apart when there's a power failure? You know when there's no light and there's no radio and there's no television, there's no noise in the background? You've just got each other. “I long to hear your voice.”

VI. Good marriages need nurturing.
Good Marriages Need Nurturing. She says something incredibly romantic in verse 14: “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.” “Hurry home” is what she's saying. She wants him to come home. This is 3,000 years ago, but men still need to hear the words, “Come home.” There's more here. We’ll bypass all of that. But good marriages need nurturing.

VII. Relationships grow in proportion to our love for Jesus.
And seven: Relationships Grow in Proportion to Our Love for Jesus. I haven't interpreted the Song of Solomon as some of you understand it. That is, as an allegory. I think the interpretations can get just a little zany and bizarre to be honest. I've interpreted this book as it stands, as a song…a love song…between a man and a woman, about romance, about sexuality, about marriage, about growing and growing in love for one another.

But, you know, the best marriages are marriages that put Jesus first. Do you know Barbara Hart's hymn, Weddings Trinity Hymnal. “Oh, Lord our God, our homes are Thine forever. We trust to Thee their problems, toil and care. The bonds of love no enemy can sever if Thou art always Lord and Master there. Be Thou the center of our least endeavor. Be Thou our guests, our hearts and homes to share.”

We've touched on some sensitive issues over the last weeks on the Song of Solomon. You may never hear another series on the Song of Solomon–ever. You probably won't from me. But those points that hurt, those areas that hurt, those areas that have been touched on and need work and need attention: let Jesus be the Master there. Let Him lead you. Let Him guide you there. Let Him direct you there. Let Him teach you there. Let Him uphold you there so that in this church we might build marriages that are strong and lasting and honoring to God. Let's pray together.

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