Turn with me to the Song of Solomon. We’re in chapter 5 and we’ll just go into the first three verses of chapter 6. Last week we held our breath and closed our eyes as we went through chapter 4; it was the couple's wedding night and the delicacy of the description was breath taking.
Now, another scene opens up before us, and one in which the woman has awoken in the morning to find that he is gone. And something is wrong; we're not quite sure at first what it is. We don't know how long after the wedding night this is. It may be several weeks; it may be several months. And it may just be a dream, but there's some tension in the air. Some of those marital tiffs have arrived. He's knocking at the door, and she is playing hard to get. Before the end, they’ll be together again and we’ll have to shut our eyes and think about something else toward the end of this passage. But for now, she is distraught and looking for him. Let's pick up the reading in chapter 5, verse 2. This is the woman speaking:
"I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking:"
Now, it's not clear whether she is being awakened by the knocking at the door, or if she's still dreaming this, but there may be more to this than there first appears:
"Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my perfect one! For my head is drenched with dew, my locks with the damp of the night."
Now she's being a little bit difficult:
"I have taken off my dress, how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again? My beloved extended his hand through the opening, and my feelings were aroused for him. I rose to open to my beloved; and my hands dripped with myrrh, and my fingers with liquid myrrh on the handles of the bolt."
Well, I'm not going to comment on any of that. That's aromatherapy, and then some:
"I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and had gone!"
There's been a spat, and this is their first encounter of it:
"My heart went out to him as he spoke. I searched for him but I did not find him; I called him but he did not answer me. The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me, they struck me and wounded me; the guardsmen of the walls took away my shawl from me."
Now this is terrible. She's been wandering in the streets and looking for him and in the process— she's being abused. It sounds like some kind of attempted assault, but she manages to flee. You may ask, "What is this woman doing out in the streets late at night and alone, but let's leave that for a minute. She's talking now to the women of Jerusalem that we've encountered before.:
"I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved as to what you will tell him for I am lovesick."
Now the women reply:
"What kind of beloved is your beloved, O most beautiful among women? What kind of beloved is your beloved, that thus you adjure us?"
It seems a perfectly reasonable question to ask, if not terribly wise or sophisticated or even helpful. What kind of man leaves his wife? After all, she thinks he's the best thing since sliced bread, and then she begins to describe him. This is her Romeo. Verse 10. Hold your breath:
"My beloved is dazzling and and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand. His head is like gold, pure gold; his locks are like clusters of dates and black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, and reposed in their setting."
She may have all her teeth but he has beautiful eyes:
"His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, banks of sweet-scented herbs; his lips are lilies dripping with liquid myrrh. His hands are rods of gold set with beryl; his abdomen is carved ivory inlaid with sapphires. His legs are pillars of alabaster set on pedestals of pure gold; his appearance is like Lebanon choice as the cedars. His mouth is full of sweetness and he is wholly desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem."
Now the women of Jerusalem in verse 1 of chapter 6:
"Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women? Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?"
"My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of balsam, to pasture his flock in the gardens and gather lilies. I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine, he who pastures his flock among the lilies."
And you will agree with me that this is an account of an historical nature. These two need counseling. Let's see if we can't make some sense of it. Let's pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we pray now for a sense of Your presence; for the blessing of Your Spirit. We pray for those who are married that what we encounter here in these pages might prove to be helpful, that we might better reflect something of Jesus in our marriages. We pray for those who are single who perhaps, aspire to be married. Some who are single and content with your providence, and we pray that they too, this evening, might find something here to pray for others in this church. We ask that as a church, we might glorify You in a world that has become dirty. Hear us for Jesus’ sake, Amen.
"And they lived happily ever after." Isn't that the way Shrek ends? Well, not quite. Because problems now seem to arise in their relationship. This is not, I think, the next day; if it is, they definitely need counseling, but this is probably maybe weeks or possibly even months later. This is not so much the next day, but the next scene. You've turned the page and here is ‘Mr. and Mrs. Beautiful’ sometime later. Realism is the word that comes to mind. The bliss of marriage has turned to the humdrum of surviving those difficult days when one or other has gotten a sense of unfairness, or maybe it's hormones.
In any case, there's a delightful scene. She wants passion, sweet talk and chocolates, and he, well, he's gone to work. He's not there. There are some delicacies here. Ligon said this morning I was walking through the Song of Solomon. It's more like tiptoeing through the Song of Solomon. Let me say this at the outset. Many of you, like myself, have listened to some debates on CNN or FOX news or something on the events that have transpired in the Episcopalian Church this past week. I guarantee you that nothing that I will say tonight will be as offensive as what you've heard on the television. We live in an age, in a world, in a church, in which a measure of realism is necessary. Perhaps it wasn't when some of you were growing up, and it probably wasn't. And oh, for such days again. But those are not the days we live in, and we need to turn to this book that God has given to us, and that the Holy Spirit has inspired, in the very center of our Bibles to say that there is something pure and there is something beautiful about a man and a woman who are married and they are engaging in the most intimate of relations together. There's something astonishingly beautiful about that.
I. Marriages experience strife.
It all begins with a husband knocking on the door. He's been at work and he's knocking on the door. It's meant now to be a rerun of chapter 4, but things are not going his way. Here's the picture. It's nighttime; she's gone to bed. She's tired of waiting for her husband to come home. He's been at the office; he's working. There's a big case tomorrow. He has a file, a dossier to prepare, a report; and it's really late. Actually, he's been with sheep but you wouldn't get the picture. He finally finishes his task. He's been drinking coffee by the gallon and he's wide awake, and he's driving home and gets out of his car; let me put it so delicately in a mixed audience. He's got conjugal rights on his mind. He jumps out of his car, puts the key into the door, and it's bolted from the inside. He cannot get into his own house. "Wifey, oh wifey!" He's shouting, knocking on the door, "Let me in." Now, some commentators with a penchant for double entendre make a whole lot of this word "door." We’re not going there. Let's keep it straight forward, shall we?
Let's just go with this picture for a moment. He can't get in. Sweet talk, he thinks. That should do it; a little poetry. Nora Jones playing in the background. "My sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one." Well, isn't he the romantic. But she is seriously miffed. Her feelings have been hurt. He should have been home hours ago. He never called. The dinner's in the dog, and she's playing, "I will show him who's in charge here." So listen to what she says. "I've taken off my robe and how can I put it on?" It's winter, perhaps. It's cold; the door was far away. She needed to put something on. "I've washed my feet. How can I defile them?" I'm not going into that at all. Work it our for yourselves. "I've got a headache," is what she's saying.
The implications. Look, she's bolted the door; he's going to have to sleep outside with the dog who is sound asleep because he's eaten his dinner. There's a sign above the door now, and it dings and it says, "Turbulence ahead." Isn't this a wonderful scene? This is in the Bible. It sounds like something out of Hollywood—it's in the Bible.
Isn't it a wonderful scene? He's got his hand now through the wooden door. Think of an old-fashioned lock; you know, wooden doors, a wooden lever that goes up and down and you have to put your hand in to push the lever. Just think along those lines for a minute. He's trying to get in and he's saying, "Darling, let me in." But she's still stewing; she's still cross. And she's saying to herself, "I need to wait a few minutes because he needs to be taught a lesson." And then she relents, and she gets up, opens the door, and she says, "I'm sorry!" But he's not there; he's gone. You see, two can play at that game. Let's see who can sulk the most. He's been tender. Well, he's been a cad, too, for not coming home, but he's also been tender and she's been stewing–maybe for hours, and she's determined to give this rehearsed speech. She gets dressed; she starts looking for him. She goes out into the streets. She's wandering in the streets and well, she's set upon. She's assaulted; part of her clothing is torn away from her. Things have gone from bad to worse now. Perhaps this is all just a bad dream. I doubt there's anyone here in a marriage that can't relate in some way to this scene. Let's keep it general, shall we? There are shades here of 1 Corinthians 7:3 and in another setting, I'd let Ligon take you there. If you are not Navigators and you don't know what 1 Corinthians 7:3 is, furtively take a look at it, but come back to me. But I'm not going there.
What's it saying? That marriages experience strife. Yes, the best of them; the most glossy of them, the most glamorous of them experience some strife. It's all too obvious to need underlining. And they begin with things like selfishness, and inconsideration, and greed, and the "me-ism" that marks so much of our existence. One writer puts it like this. "Me, me, me. I love myself. I have a picture on my shelf." Hurt feelings. Now, I know that you can't relate to hurt feelings but try. He perhaps, never imagined that he was doing anything bad, and certainly not as bad as she was making out. Men are from Mars, and women are from Venus; they’re different. And who is to blame here? The one who causes the hurt feelings, or the one who takes them?
OK, guys. You’re thinking, "I'm working all the hours there are to provide her with what she needs, what she wants." You know, the SUV, the lunches at Nick's, the membership in the Tennis Club, the beach house, and this is what I get. It's so unfair. She ought to be grateful, but no, she always wants more. She's never satisfied. She ought to have the dinner waiting for me when I get home and be grateful when I come. She's a selfish so-and-so.
OK, ladies. You’re thinking, "I need to teach him who's the boss around here. All I'm asking is that he come home at a reasonable time. All I'm asking is that he come home and sit down for dinner like my mom and dad used to do. He's thoughtless; he's a brute. I have every right to be angry, and I'm going to be angry."
Well, something like that. We’re into a chapter on the management of anger. Do you see what's happening here? There's what I might call the lack of gnosis. Right. I'm hiding behind a Greek word; I need to hide behind something. Gnosis, in one form, was a heresy in the second century. Gnosis is a Greek word. It occurs as a verb in a passage in Philippians 2 when Paul is discussing a problem in the church at Philippi. And what does Paul do with that problem in the church at Philippi? He goes to Jesus and he says, "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who being in the form of God thought it not robbery to be equal with God, but he made Himself nothing." In some translations "he emptied Himself"–that leads to the heresy. He made Himself nothing. He didn't stand upon His rights; He didn't stand upon His dignity; He didn't always insist upon His entitlements; but for the sake of our salvation, He denied Himself. It's the principle of gnosis and it can be applied anywhere, and it can be applied in marriage. What's wrong here is that both of these–the husband and the wife–have failed to apply the gnosis principle. They've failed to apply self-denial.
How does that work in marriage? It means that when you love someone, you don't always stand on your dignity. You don't always insist upon your rights. You deny yourself for the sake of the one you love. That's what Jesus did for us; that's what the cross is all about. Listen to some Proverbs.
Proverbs 16:32. "Whoever is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city." Proverbs 17:1. "Better is a dry morsel with quiet than a house full of feasting with strife."
Proverbs 25:23-24. "The north wind brings forth rain, and a back-biting tongue, angry looks. It is better to live in the corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife." Now, it's a man writing that, you understand, but you can turn that over.
Proverbs 26: 20-21. "For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife." Something relatively minor has escalated now into something really major. The desire for revenge; the desire to "get even" in a marriage has gotten this woman into a heap of trouble, and has gotten this husband into a heap of trouble. He has put her in a place of vulnerability by his stupidity.
II. But spouses who are friends can overcome marital strife.
But let's move on in the story to the second scene of the poem. And she is recounting now why she married this man in the first place. It's all a little over the top, as romantic thoughts can be. She's more handsome than a thousand men. She talks about his head, his pale skin, his red cheeks, his black hair; his eyes are like doves. The white of his eyes can be seen. I think she means he's clean living–no evidence of alcohol abuse maybe. She mentions his lips and the words that emerge seem to be like dripping myrh. All that poetry he's fond of using. His body, well, here's someone who's on a Bowflex. And his legs–this is Tom Cruise. Interesting as all of this is, and some of you are thinking of your idealized man. Well, before hamburgers got ahold of him.
I want to focus on one word here. Do you notice what she says about him? She says at the very end of this description, "He is my friend." Do you notice that? At the end of this description of her husband she wants him again. She can't find him and she's sorry. She's describing him in this effulgent poetic way, but "He's my friend." Marriage is a friendship. Do you recall Genesis 2? You know, that Dr. Doolittle type passage where Adam is naming all the animals. It's about companionship, and you know, here's this four-legged hairy creature and it's "dog," and here comes this swanky thing, and it's "cat," and this is a funny-looking thing is "Chicken," or "Armadillo." It's a beautiful passage. But you know, after all that, at the end, there wasn't one that was a helpmate to him. You can have a relationship with a dog. I love my dog; don't mess with my dog. But you know, at the end of the day he doesn't like Wagner. He leaves the room when I put Wagner on my CD player. He leaves the room–every time. And in this fallen world, you understand, there are some people who have been so hurt by fellow human beings, they are closer to animals than they are to human beings. I fully understand that. I'm often tempted. But you understand that that is not the ideal. That's not the way it will be in heaven. And there will be dogs in heaven.
Let's get back to Genesis 2 again because there's that wonderful moment when God takes that rib out of Adam, forms that rib into a woman as a helpmeet for him–a companion, a friend, a soul mate. Now, however much this passage, and if you haven't got it yet you’re not reading the Song of Solomon. This is all about physical intimacy and sexuality and there is a whole lot of double entendre in this passage and we haven't even gone into it. If you haven's got that; that's fine, but on another level marriage is about companionship and friendship. I don't want to upset all of my counseling friends, but I'm convinced that the linchpin of a lasting marriage is friendship; couples who have a mutual respect for, and enjoyment of, each other's company. I think there's a book in that, Couples Who Know Each Other Intimately. You know exactly how they’re going to respond. You know what every little gesture means. You like being in their presence; you like their company; you like their personality; you like the odd things, the quirky things about them; their hopes, their dreams.
Friends forgive each other's failures. You may not be the greatest romantic in the world; you may not be able to meet this guy here, but you can be a friend. I like to be with you. I miss you when you’re gone. I have this urge to get on the phone just to talk to you, just to hear your voice. I like the things you like. I like it when you put up with the things you don't like because I like them. Too many married couples treat their spouses one way and their friends another way. You don't have to answer this out loud, but if you treated your friends like you treat your spouse, would you have any friends? What tone of voice do you most often use with your spouse? She says, "He's my friend."
Now, mushy stuff coming now. Five ways to know what a friend is. What might she mean by saying that he is her friend? First, friends accept each other for what they are. That doesn't mean to say you don't aspire them to be something better and greater. Some folk need projects. They aren't happy unless they've got something to fix. They bring home stray animals. They adopt needy people. They get into marriages on the same premise. I understand that, but friends accept the way that they are. Friends like to spend time with each other–solitary time. You know, you can tell if you are a friend whether you like to be together and actually say nothing. Those long periods–I don't mean those long periods when you've just had an argument and you’re sulking or not speaking to each other. I don't mean that. That's another chapter. We’re in the chapter where you just like to be together, but you’re not necessarily talking.
Friends have a deep affection for one another. Affection is more than touching, more than kissing, more than cuddling; it's more than sex. It's romance; it's smiles, it's good manners, it's "please" and "thank you." Affection makes requests rather than barking orders. Married friends are kind to each other. You can give that little knowing wink—that gesture in the middle of a crowd—in the middle of another person's conversation, and you know exactly what your spouse is thinking. And you can share that private little joke between each other sometimes, because there's affection, a bond.
Friends laugh a lot. She's not here tonight. I can say anything I want about Rosemary because she's in Belfast. There's a side of Rosemary you don't know, but there are certain things; I know what they are and my son knows what they are, that can make her completely lose it. Just the giggles and they take maybe fifteen minutes to get over and once they start, there's no stopping it. It's friendship.
Friends trust each other. They trust each other with their deepest secrets; they trust each other with their failures; they trust each other with their sins. Friends are trusted confidants. Friends take up for each other and take sides together against the world. That's what she says about him. "He's my friend."
Can I ask you that question tonight about your marriage? Maybe that's an area through the Holy Spirit, through this book and this chapter–weird and wonderful and magnificent and strange and beautiful as the Song of Solomon can be, let me ask you tonight. Have you forgotten what it is to be a friend to your spouse?
The poem ends a little strangely. She knows where he is all along. "Typical," you men are thinking. I know, but there's double meaning here. The scene has changed and they’re together. "My beloved is mine and I am his and he's among the spices and lilies." I don't need to spell this out to you; you've guessed it. They've kissed and made up. They've found each other; they’re embracing again. And you know, in the old movies, this is the point when the camera would veer away from the couple and the camera would focus on the wallpaper and the couple would fade out of the picture and the music would rise and "The End" and the credits would roll. That's where we are. This couple have kissed and made up, and it's none of your business now what goes on after here. Let's pray together.
Father, we thank You for this book. Many of us have found this book odd and strange and embarrassing and sometimes difficult. But we know that You have given this book for a very, very special purpose. It is our heart's desire and longing and prayer that You would help us love our spouses in a way that we have never done before. And we know that the place to learn that is at the feet of Jesus, because it is His love for the Church that must be the very ember and flame that might fan our love for our spouses. So grant it, we pray; begin tonight. Begin in broken and marred relationships even in this congregation, and bring glory to Yourself, we pray. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.
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