Turn with me once again to the Song of Solomon. We are in the second chapter, and we're going to pick up the reading at the third verse of chapter 2. Let me remind you this book is a collection of songs or poems that's compiled in order to express the love of a man and a young woman. This young man and woman seemed to have lived somewhere in the country, although at one point, Solomon seems to feature in the young woman's dreams. The storyline in the progression of chapters in the Song of Solomon is a little difficult to discern, although I tend to be of the opinion that there is a progression and a storyline, and we’ll see something of that in the passage that we're going to look at this evening.
Some translations that you may have before you identify, or at least attempt to identify, who it is who is speaking. Sometimes it's the woman, sometimes it's the man, and sometimes we're not quite clear, so take those subtitles in the particular version that you’re using with a pinch of salt. I'm going to try and identify who is saying what as we read the passage together. Let's pick it up at 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. He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.”
She's obviously overwhelmed by the thought of this young man and it looks as though here she's now appealing to her friends.
“Sustain me with raisin cakes, refresh me with apples because I am lovesick. Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me.”
Now, speaking to what appears to be unmarried, single women–daughters of Jerusalem as they are sometimes identified–she gives this advice:
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you do not arouse or awaken my love until she (that is, love) pleases.”
Now she appears to be speaking in soliloquy once again.
“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 would be surprised if there isn't one young man engaged in this activity trying to hide himself from the one he loves. Verse 10:
“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.
It's springtime, you see and 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 speaking.
“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.”
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 like a young stag on the mountains of Bether.”
Now in chapter three and verse one, it appears as though this is the woman and she is dreaming.
“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. The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me, and I said, ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’ Scarcely had I left them when I found 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. 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 add His blessing to the reading of His Holy and inerrant Word. Let's pray together.
Father, we bow now in Your presence before this extraordinary book that You have caused to be written and placed within the cannon of Scripture that all has been written by the out breathing of God and is profitable for doctrine and reproof and correction and instruction in the way of righteousness, that the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good work. Bless it to us, we pray, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.
The last time, we were looking at what some identified as the first poem. There are thought to be six poems here in the Song of Solomon, which is a little irritating since there are eight chapters-, and I'm preaching a series of seven sermons. We’re going to double-dip in the last one. The first poem introduced us to what, in a play, would be called the dramatis persona, that is, the main principle characters, and they are: a young man who is described as handsome or beautiful– depending on your translation; and, equally, a young woman, who is also described as comely and beautiful. There are also some others identified here–the daughters of Jerusalem–and they appear to be single, maybe unmarried friends to whom, especially when she gets a little aroused, she says something very dramatic and poignant and practical to them. It's a love poem of magnificent and intense proportions. The two, the man and woman, are yearning for intimacy.
I read this week a warning from a one-time president of Fuller Seminary. This is what he said. “Preaching on the Song of Songs in most congregational settings is difficult. The language is so frank and the theme so specialized that the passages would probably not minister effectively to the entire church.” He goes on to list children, those recently divorced, older men and women, and the single–I'm not sure who is left after all of that–as examples of those who would be embarrassed or puzzled or offended. I'm very conscious of that; more than you imagine, I think. But you know, the Song of Solomon doesn't carry a warning label on it. Let's be fair about it. We are living in an openly promiscuous society and there is nothing here in the Song of Solomon that most of you have not seen or heard on television, or radio, or in the papers, and I think it is high time for the church to address some of these issues. If the church doesn't address these issues, who is going to address them?
Into the first poem, the two have expressed their love for one another. It's interesting that throughout this book, it's the woman who is taking most of the initiative. In the passage we have before us, although it talks about the man and she's dreaming about the man, it's from the perspective of the woman. After several scenes, that first poem ended in chapter two with the two of them alone and under an apple tree. And she says to the daughter of Jerusalem in 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.” Love can sometimes be ‘too hot to handle,’ and she's warning these young, single girls to be very careful.
Let's look at this second poem. It's made up of two halves; the first half ends at the end of chapter two, and the second half of the poem begins in chapter 3 down to verse 5. In the first half of the poem, he is pursuing her and in the second half of the poem, she is pursuing him. There are parallels. He is pursing her; she is pursuing him. I want us to try and elicit answers to three fundamental questions. First of all, “What form will a relationship that ends in marriage initially take?” Secondly, I want us to ask, “What form will a relationship that ends in marriage become? And thirdly, “What form will a relationship that ends in marriage find its culmination?”
I. What form will a relationship that ends in marriage initially take?
First of all, “What form will a relationship that ends in marriage initially take?” And, as this poem tells us, it will take the form of physical attraction–chemistry, if you like. The poem begins at verse 8. It's springtime; the flowers are blooming; the blossom is on the fig trees; the perfume and aroma of this blossom is everywhere. Spring is that time when a young man's thoughts turn to–well, if you’re about to say sinus medications–you need to read the Song of Solomon. Spring is that time when a young man's thought, and, in this case, a young woman's thoughts turn to love. She hears his voice. She seems to love the sound of his voice. She sees him coming towards her. She describes him as a gazelle leaping and skipping. These are country folk. I've just come back from South Carolina on a turkey farm where there were 70,000 turkeys. I didn't think people could get so obsessed about turkeys. Evidently here, this picture of a gazelle meant something enormously powerful to her. Perhaps, if you insert Chipper Jones instead–baseball–racing down the stairs and jumping into his car, perhaps that's the picture that you have in mind. Later she imagines him saying to her, “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.” There's physical attraction; there's chemistry here. She wants to be with him; he wants to be with her. They've seen something in each other. Even the sound of their voices–that's how it begins. But it moves from there to a desire to be together. She's utterly thrilled by his approach, charmed by his voice, entranced by his invitation; she's deeply in love. Four times in this poem she tells us so. She loves him! “Whom my soul loves,” she says. “This bud of love by summer's ripening breast may prove a beauteous flower when next we meet” Shakespeare says in Romeo and Juliet. There's a marvelously provocative moment when she's standing beside a lattice and I'm not sure it's because he can't see her, or she can't see him, or whether it's a bit of both–there are no words. They are both conscious that they’re there, but there's a lattice between them and it's a scene of one who is in love with another looking for another. He knows that she knows that he's there. She is, according to him, like a dove in the crevices cooing.
There's a wonderful modesty about all of this. There's a sense of intense propriety. There's a wonderful description of the garden blossoming and smelling wonderful, and he says, “Let me hear your voice.” They want to talk. They want those endless hours on the telephone. It's a beautiful picture of two people who want to be together. It's a courtship. They've seen in each other something that wants to be nourished. There's no out-of-sight, out-of-mind about this relationship–she's in love with this man, and evidently he's in love with her too.
I was reading this week the biography of Jonathan Edwards again, and came across this description, by Jonathan Edwards, of Sarah. This was an inordinately young girl. For most of you, it would be shockingly young, and I dare not tell you how young she was. I found it hard to come to terms with, but this is what he says, and Jonathan Edwards was a very godly man. Listen to the interplay here of his theology and high faluting philosophy, but at the same time, he's noticed something in this young girl. “When we behold a beautiful body, a lovely proportion, a beautiful harmony of features of face, delightful airs of countenance, and voice, and sweet motion and gesture; we are charmed with it. Not under the notion of a corporeal but a mental beauty. (Right. And off Jonathan Edwards goes.) His philosophy of ontology is getting in the way. But he's seen something of Sarah that he has obviously liked. He will eventually propose marriage at an inordinately young age, I hasten to add.
II. What form will this relationship, that ends in marriage, become?
Let me ask you in the second place. “What form will this relationship, that ends in marriage, become?” There's a sense in this poem that they want this relationship to grow, to blossom. There's a sense of the future about this relationship. She is actually thinking of the rest of her life with this young man. It's more than dating. There's a growing relationship here that begins with physical attraction and chemistry, to be sure, but there's much more to it than that. She calls him, “The one whom my soul loves,” in Hebrew. Every aspect of her being is in love with this man. It's not just physical; it's not just chemistry. There's a spiritual dimension to this relationship. As relationships that end in marriage will need to take cognizance of, to take the long-term view of things, you need to view it that way because the commitment of marriage is a commitment that lasts as long as we both shall live. To spend every day with this person, to spend every night with this person. In a world that encourages us to do the very opposite. In a world where commodities are used and thrown away. Here's a poem of the love between one man and one woman based on that covenant relationship that God establishes in the Garden of Eden between Adam and Eve that ends in marriage and a covenant that lasts until death us do part. You need to ask in relationships of this kind. “Can I spend the rest of my life with this person?”
It's a bit like what the Book of Proverbs does. In the Book of Proverbs, it's from the perspective of a father speaking to a son. That's the whole perspective of the Book of Proverbs, but you can reverse it without any difficulty. You remember them. (Proverbs 13:19) “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping.” (Proverbs 27:15) “A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day.” (Proverbs 21:9) “Better to live in a corner of a roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife.” Do you see what this father is saying to his son? “Son, a woman like that–you couldn't live with her forever.” It's absolutely vital that you take the long-term perspective.
Now, in this poem, in verse 15, she says, “Catch the foxes for us.” I remember listening to a sermon preached on the Song of Solomon by a very well-known preacher, and a friend of mine, but from another perspective. Seeing it as an allegorical representation of the love of Jesus for us, and he interpreted this verse as all of the problems and difficulties that come into the life of the Church. It was a perplexing sort of sermon.
What is she saying? “Catch the little foxes for us.” One renowned commentator and scholar on the Song of Solomon thinks that foxes here represent old age, and what she is actually saying is, “Let's get married before we're too old to get married.” I think the easier interpretation to understand is that little foxes would come in and they would eat the buds of the vine and spoil the vines, and in relationship between a young man and a young woman, there are always difficulties; there are always obstacles and tensions particularly between two people whose passions and emotions are aroused and particularly between two people who are not terribly mature. “Catch the little foxes,” she's saying. Work on the problems and difficulties. Let's work on this relationship. The mistrust, the jealousies, the selfishness, the pride, the egoism, the unforgiving spirit that can come into a relationship and spoil it.
You see what she's saying? She's saying, “I want to take the long-term view of this. I want the problems to be solved. I want the little foxes dealt with.” It's a call to commitment. To overcome the problems, the mutual resolve. Let us catch the little foxes.
A humorist, Dave Barry, once wrote of the reluctance of young men to commit. “If a man was a chicken breast and you put him in the microwave in July, he wouldn't be ready until Thanksgiving,” he said. In this whole dating thing there comes a point. Oh, I don't want to be legalistic. After two or three dates with someone, you need to ask yourself the question, “Can I spend the rest of my life with this person?” And if you can't answer that in the affirmative, end it. Don't go out with that person anymore. Be friends with them, sure. It's a call to commitment to work on the relationship.
Let me say to the young people, don't slide into relationships; multiple relationships with no end in view, with no goal in sight, no sense of direction, no accountability to each other. Here is a beautiful little poem of two people in love and there's a sense of commitment, a sense of direction, a sense of goal. There's a long-term perspective; they want to work on all of the little difficulties, all of the little problems.
III. What form will this relationship, that ends in marriage, find its culmination?
And that leads us to a third thing, and that is: “What form will this relationship, that ends in marriage, find its culmination? And look at verses 16 and 17. “My beloved is mine and I am his. He pastures his flock among the lilies.” This flock isn't in the Hebrew text. He pastures among the lilies, and the lilies are interpreted here by most commentators as lips. She's talking about kissing him. She's talking about intimacy. She's longing here for a marital relationship, and I stress that. There's no conflict between the Song of Solomon and the rest of Scripture here. There's an assumption. She's looking into her future. This hasn't taken place yet. This is in her future. This is what she dreams about with this young man with whom she's in love. She wants to be married to him, to be sexually intimate with him.
And she says at the end of verse 17, “Turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of Bether.” That's a little euphemism and it's thought by most commentators that it's a reference, and let me put it as delicately as I can, to the curvaceous nature of this woman. Let me put it in twentieth century language. She wants to wake up in the morning and he's right beside her. That's what she's saying. When the shadows flee away in the morning time, she wants him to be there. Now, if you find that offensive, I think the problem is with you. I think that's fair to say because this is a beautiful picture. There's nothing sordid, illicit, or pornographic here. This is the beauty of God's gift to a man and a woman in marital relationship coming together in intimacy and in union. She's dreaming about it; she's thinking about it.
There's another scene in chapter 3, and it's all part of the same poem. She's now pursuing him, but she can't find him. She's lying on her bed and she's dreaming. She's walking through the streets, but she can't find him. She's asking people, “Have you seen him?” When she finds him, she grasps hold of him and won't let him go. “I called, but he gave no answer.” He hasn't been responding. She's longing for him. She wants to take him to the room where she was conceived. She's dreaming of her wedding day. That's what she's talking about.
And then, things are hard now. And you notice whenever it gets like that in the Song of Solomon, she turns, in verse 5, immediately to the daughters of Jerusalem and says, “Don't store up these emotions until you’re ready for it.” That's what she's saying. Because these are only appropriate in the context of marriage, and it's the blessing of marriage; and it's the fruition of marriage; and it's the culmination of marriage. She's overcome by it all. She's almost fainting with love. “What is this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense?” (verse 6). She seems to be totally overcome by it all.
Let me quote Jonathan Edwards again. This is about a year after that little quote I just gave you. He's still thinking about Sarah; she's still inordinately young. And he's writing his diary; he kept it all of his life and it's dated June 6, 1785. This is at the height of the courtship, and he observed in himself. “I'm sometimes in a frame so listless that there is no other way of profitably improving time, but conversation, visiting, or recreation, or some bodily exercise.” It's the way Jonathan Edwards would say, “What you need is a cold shower.” And it's what she is saying to the daughters of Jerusalem. Don't arouse these passions, these emotions, until you are ready.
My friends, this is a beautiful, beautiful book, and I'm ashamed that I've left it until I'm fifty to preach my first series of sermons on the Song of Solomon. I think it's a wonderful gift that God has given to us in the Bible of something that's extraordinarily beautiful. I think it's something that we should read in our marriages.
Let me speak to those of you who are married, just for a second. And maybe at least a part of the remedy for a relationship that has grown sour. Maybe to read together this beautiful book. Let me say something to those of you who are not married. Let me say something to the young people, and maybe not so young, but you’re still not married and you long to be married and you long for the kinds of things that this book speaks of. And there's nothing wrong with that. It can become wrong as Jonathan Edwards knew all too well in his own personal strivings with physical lust. It can become wrong, but in itself it isn't wrong. And let me say to you, you must learn to trust in the providence of God. And some of you are trying to learn that and you’re still waiting and you’re a little impatient, but that is exactly what you’re trying to do. You’re waiting on God to provide.
Maybe for some of you, your calling is to be single. Maybe through the conversation of friends, coming to terms with your own gifts and personality; coming to terms with the particular vocation that God has given to you and the sense of usefulness that you now have, maybe you've come to terms with the fact that singleness is what God has called you to be. You can enter into this book, too, by praying for your friends, for your brothers and sisters, for the marriages in this church, for the witness that the marriages of this church give to the community, because there's a sense in which the church ought to be different from the world. As we go through this book together, we're going to watch together and enter in together to this on-going loving, romantic relationship that exists between this young woman and this young man. And may God use it in our own marriages, in our own church, for His glory and for Jesus’ sake. Let's pray together.
Father in heaven, we thank You for Your word. Bless You for this particular book. Thank You for this beautiful picture of intimate love and affection. We pray that You would write it upon our hearts, and may the pattern of this love be reflected in measure in the love that we have for You. That we might love our spouses with the degree of passion and commitment revealed in this book, that we might love Jesus Christ to the same degree and more. Indeed, Lord, we pray, help us to remember that unless we love Jesus more than our wives or husbands or children or parents, we are not worthy of Him. Hear us Lord; forgive us our sins for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
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