Song of Solomon: Love’s Commitment(s)

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 24, 2003

Song of Solomon 8:5-7

Hear the word of God in the Song of Solomon, chapter 8, beginning at verse 5:

“Who is this coming up from the wilderness leaning on her beloved?" Beneath the apple tree I awakened you; there your mother was in labor with you, there she was in labor and gave you birth.

Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised.”

Amen. This is God's word. May He add His blessing to the reading of His holy and inerrant word.

“Wilt thou have this man to thy wedded husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the estate of matrimony? Wilt thou obey him and serve him, love, honor, and keep him, in sickness and in health, and forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as you both shall live?”

Those, of course, are the words of Thomas Cranmer, in the Book of Common Prayer, first published in 1545. “Keep thee only unto him.” And, of course, there's a similar one, “Keep thee only unto her.” Many commentators on the Song of Solomon point out that verse 6 is the most important verse in the entire book. Whereas, elsewhere love is described, here we are told what it is. She's leaning on his arm, in verse 5, and recalling how she had, well, awakened him. Maybe she's thinking of the apple tree she refers to, maybe it was the place where they did some of their courtship, perhaps and more probable, is that this is poetic euphemism for the union that they enjoyed after they were married.

She has thoughts about his mother. No, not those kind of thoughts. But the sense that she has born him, for her. It's a sort of statement about destiny, “there your mother was in labor with you, there she who bore you was in labor.” It's the thought that she had given birth to the one who would be her husband, that there was a destiny to it, or more properly, a providence to it. God was in this. God had planned this. This isn't just some happenstance. This is ordered of the Lord. This is how it should be. This is how it has turned out, but it has turned out according to a plan, a purpose, there's wisdom behind this.

I. Keep me as a seal upon your heart.
And now, in verse 6, she says, “Put me like a seal upon your heart. Put me like a seal upon your arm. For love is as strong as death.” Marriage is like a seal. The seal was the signature of authenticity, of ownership. If you’re going to purchase, oh what is it Mrs. Bouquet says on Keeping Up Appearances? “A piece of Royal Doulton with painted periwinkles.” If you’re going to purchase one of those on Ebay, you’d better make sure there's a picture there with the seal underneath, on the cup, or plate, or saucer or whatever it is. It's the sign of authenticity, signifying that it's the genuine thing. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit as God's seal, God's mark of authentication, that it's the genuine thing in our hearts.

Now, she's saying several things here. And, yes, it's in the form of a request, but I think we can safely say that this is what she thinks marriage is. Three things. She talks, first of all, about the seal of the heart. She wants him to place her as a seal upon his heart. She wants to be loved by him, she wants his affection, and she wants all that affection entails. We often quote it, often attribute it, of course, to Matthew Henry, but actually it was first written by Peter Lombard in the Medieval Period, about how Eve was formed from the rib of Adam. “Not out of his head to rule over him, not from his foot to be trampled under him, but out of his side, to be cared for by him, near to his heart to be loved by him, under his arm to be protected by him.” She wants to be loved by him. She wants the loyalty of his heart and his affections. That's what she's saying.

It's one of those moments, you know, they come along every now and then. They’re unpredictable, but they come along, and she says, “Do you love me?” Men, you've got to answer that question. Don't stand there dumb when she asks that question. You've got to reassure her that you love her. And she's saying, “I want you to put me as the seal on your heart.” She didn't want to be married to a man with a wandering eye.

Men struggle with lust. Some men fall prey to it a great deal. Job was one of the holiest men in the ancient near east, and yet even Job says in chapter 31, that he made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully after a girl. John, the Apostle John, talks about the lust of the eyes. Origin, in the third century, was so offended by this in his life, how can I possibly put this delicately. I can't. That he emasculated himself using two bricks. Jonathan Edwards, I've been recently reading his biography by George Marsden, how offended he is, in Puritan New England of all places, how offended he is that it's a place of inordinate lust.

This is the place, I think, to talk about pornography. Forgive me. We need to talk about it. There is no place for pornography, anywhere, anytime, for any purpose. You challenge me on that and I’ll take you to Leviticus 18, which is clear, absolutely crystal clear, that to look on the naked body of someone who isn't your spouse is not only to lust, it is also to commit adultery. Nothing is more demeaning to a woman, or for that matter to a man, than pornography. And nothing is more crippling to you, in your relationship with her. “Do you love me?” she is saying. I want you to place me as the seal on your heart. I want your undivided affection.

Let me talk about chat rooms. Some of you are blissfully ignorant of what I'm talking about. May it long continue. If you belong to a chat room, I think you need therapy. That's my opinion. If you engage in a chat room using a name other than your name, I think you have crossed some serious boundaries. If you engage in chat with a member of the opposite sex, I think you've crossed some significant boundaries. Sexual fulfillment comes in a relationship between a husband and a wife. It isn't meant to be between you and a picture. It isn't’ meant to be with you and a virtual mate at the other end of a modem. Lust is never satisfied. It always craves for more. Its power is intense, and it is addictive.

Listen to Paul. He's talking to members of First Presbyterian Church. He had them in mind when he wrote this: “But among you there must not even be a hint of sexual immorality.” Not even a hint of it. What if you’re in bondage to it? I can't imagine in a congregation of this size there mightn't be somebody among us here who's in bondage to this. And you know who you are. And you better do something about it. Because it's going to cripple you, and it's going to cripple your relationship with your spouse. You’d better confess it to a brother whom you trust and ask for prayer and be accountable. Perhaps you need to terminate that modem and that cable and that internet access. Maybe, as some good friends of mine do, you keep your computer in such a way that anybody has access to it at any time, because there's nothing there that's going to offend. Nothing. And maybe you need to talk to God about it, because at root here is a spiritual issue, a relationship with God, a relationship with Jesus Christ, and maybe what you need most at this moment in time is fresh, dealings with Almighty God. She's saying to her husband, “I want your affections, and I want them all.”

Do you notice what she says here about jealousy: “Love is as strong as death. Jealousy is fierce as the grave. It flashes fire, the very flame of the Lord.” Let's talk about this for a moment, jealousy. Is there a place for jealousy in a relationship, between a husband and a wife. Surely, jealousy is a bad thing. You speak of a jealous wife or a jealous husband in a pejorative sense. In the 16 things that Paul lists as the works of the flesh, one of them is jealousy. Jealousy can express itself in righteous ways and in unrighteous ways. The wrong kind of jealousy is suffocating.

I was reading this week the biography of Gustav Mahler, perhaps one of the greatest composers who has ever lived. But that's my opinion. When he married Alma Shindler, she too was a composer in her own right, but he couldn't cope with the applause and plaudits she was getting. And he wrote a note to her on the day of their wedding. “From now own,” he said, “there will only be my music. Not our music but my music.” As all the biographers seem to point out, it was an occasion of incredible jealousy. The marriage was rocky and didn't last. But God is jealous, my friends. God is a jealous God.

Do you remember in Exodus 34, God says His name is “jealous.” When it comes to the worship of Egyptian deities, in the context of which Moses is writing the book of Exodus, God is utterly intolerant. He will not share that worship with another. He is a jealous God. And a spouse is equally intolerant of the inappropriate affections and liaisons given to someone else rather than to her.

Now, I understand there are occasions when you need to speak to a counselor or a minister. And you talk about some fairly discreet matters. That, too, can become inappropriate. That, too, can cross some significant boundaries. That's why ministers at the church leave their doors open when they counsel. They post a secretary at the door. They put glass in the door so you can see what goes on inside. That's the day and age in which we live. If your spouse is signaling her dreams and aspirations to someone of the opposite sex, there may well be reasons for appropriate jealousy. If you eat alone with someone else of the opposite sex, you are skirting danger. Marriage was meant for two, and only two. I want you to place me as the seal on your heart, she says. And she has every right to ask that.

II. She asks to be placed as the seal on his arm.
That's a little more difficult. Tattoos came to mind. You know, a heart with “Jane” written on it. Those trucks with “Bob & Jane.” You've seen them. More likely what she's saying is, “I want you to be my protector.” I want you to take charge. I want you to take ownership of this marriage. Let's pursue that for a minute. If the Bible doesn't teach this kind of thing, about the roles of men and women in a marriage, then let's take Margaret Howe, Women and Church Leadership, as an example which proposes an egalitarian view. And we're left confused at the end of the day as to what the proper roles in a marriage are. It's all very well to stress the negatives. There is an inappropriate way to express leadership in a marriage, that's true. We know there are pitfalls of domination and servility. But if you ask the average man and woman today who has been bombarded by feminist theology for the past 15 years, “What is distinctive about a God-intended role of a husband, and a God-intended role of a wife?” There's a great deal of confusion. That's why we're having this wonderful series on Wednesday evenings this summer, identifying these very issues of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.

She's saying here, “I want you to place me as the seal on your arm, I want you to be there for me, I want you to take the lead, I want you to take charge, I want you to be the head,” that's what she's saying. During the radio broadcast last week, Ligon said, “Again and again in counseling, something like 99 percent of women are crying out for men to take the lead.” I spoke to someone this morning in the hall after Sunday School, and he said something like this, and I’ll be vague so it won't be identifiable. “It's time,” he said to me, “to stop complaining and to take the lead.” He was talking about his marriage. He was talking about his life. He was talking about where he was in his relationship with God. It's time for me to stop complaining and it's time for me to take the lead. Women, are doing that in your homes and in your marriage? Are you enabling him to do that? Are you encouraging him to do that? Are you rewarding him for doing that?

III. The seal that binds.
She says, in verse 7, “Many waters cannot quench love, neither than flames drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.” Seals in the Old Testament are always associated with covenants. We have examples that survive to this day of seals, either in the form of a ring that was impressed upon clay, or perhaps from Mesopotamia in the form of cylinders that would be rolled and an impression made as the cylinder was rolled on wet clay. This signified ownership; it signified authenticity. And what she's saying is that love, just like death cannot stop it, so in a marriage there is something about love that can't be stopped. Many waters cannot quench love. Love is as strong as death. Nothing can stop death. We've seen that in Ecclesiastes chapter 9. Nothing can get in its way. Nothing can nullify it. You can't cancel it out. And love should be like that. She's saying, “There's something about love, and there's something about marriage, and there's something about covenant vows that we exchange together that's irresistible, that's unchangeable, that's irrevocable, that's resolute, that's permanent; many water's cannot quench it.

Marriages, you see, made on this basis, can withstand the greatest forces; sickness, disease, and the loss of children. In the twentieth century, the divorce rate in the United States has risen 700 percent. Four out of every 10 children are born to single parents. According to Barna Research, almost 50 percent of adults between ages 18 and 34 have cohabited. If you raise the bar to age 49, it's still one-third. According to a popular author, the question children used to ask the most frequently was, “What does your father do?” The question they ask now is, “Are your parents still together?”

I have a text for you, Malachi 2:16. It's the last book of the Old Testament. God is speaking, and He says, “I hate divorce.” Let me give you some background as to what God is saying here. In the previous few verses, God has refused to accept the offerings of the people, and the people have asked, “Why? Lord, why have You refused to accept our offerings?” And the answer that God gives is, “Because the Lord has been a witness to the covenant that they had made with their wives, and they have become faithless, and they have divorced their wives.” And divorce in ancient Israel had kindled the wrath of God. The Lord had been witness, Malachi says, to the covenant that they had made with their wives.

God Himself is present at your wedding. That's the solemnity of a marriage. God is there. “We gather together in the presence of God and this company to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony.” In the presence of God. And vows are made, a covenant is made, words are exchanged, in the presence of God. It's a joyful occasion, but it's a most solemn occasion, when two people stand here and exchange those words to each other, looking into the very eyes of each other.

Well, what can happen? Let's get back to the Song of Solomon for a moment. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house. John thinks that the way to please his wife and improve his marriage is to earn more money. And sometimes that may well be necessary–sometimes. So he's out of the house 17, 18 hours a day; sometimes he never comes home. He's away on more business trips than he can even recall himself. The job has consumed him, and he kids himself; “It's all for the sake of his marriage.”

I've been watching the reruns of The West Wing. I never saw them the first time round, and the thought of a democratic president didn't fill me with any glee–so I never watched them. But I've watched them this time; they’re actually quite interesting. There's a man called Leo McGarry. He is the president's chief of staff and he's played by the actor John Spencer, an actor that I like. There's a moment early on. I think it's in the first or second installment and he's in the White House in the president's presence in the Oval Office, in an office just beside the Oval Office–he's there 18, 19, 20 hours a day. He's there when the President goes to bed; he's there when he gets up in the morning. There's a scene in which he goes home; he opens the front door, and his wife is standing there and there are suitcases. And she says to him, “This job isn't more important than our marriage.” And he says without a pause, “It is more important than our marriage, for now.” But he's lost her, and out she goes into a cab and she's gone.

No job is worth losing your wife over. You want to earn an extra hundred thousand dollars? Who doesn't? But it's not worth losing your wife over. And wives, don't make him do it, and turn around and blame him when he does. Don't whine that you don't have enough money, and when he goes out to try and earn some more money you turn around and blame him for destroying your marriage. What you are pursuing isn't worth losing what you have. Hold on to it. My friends, the devil is working overtime. He's in another office 18, 19, 20 hours a day, and he's after your marriage and mine. One of the best ways to destroy the Church of Jesus Christ is to destroy our marriages; I'm convinced of it.

Be a Promise Keeper. Be strong in your marriage; be loving in your marriage; do nothing to call your marriage into question; make wise choices and wise decisions and be resolute in keeping them. Establish a commitment to be a biblical spouse, a strong husband, a submissive wife, and together to build the Kingdom of God. Show your children what love is in the way that you relate to your spouse. Show your children what Jesus is like. That's the challenge.

Could any of our children say, “Jesus is like the love my father has for my mother.” Because that's the model. How do I do this? Grace, and grace, and then some more grace.

Today is Saint Bartholomew's Day. It's August the 24th. In 1572–depends on which account you read–some say 10,000, some say 70,000, some say over 100,000 Protestants were murdered one evening in Paris. There was a royal wedding between a Henry and a Margaret and there was a mother-in-law bent on revenge for past things which we don't need to go into now. Why am I saying this? Because of a hymn that emerged out of that Huguenot period in France. There was a family that escaped those persecutions, and several generations later from that family was born Edward Perronet who wrote that wonderful hymn “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!” Ye seed of Israel's chosen race, ye ransomed of the fall, hail Him who saves you by His grace, and crown Him Lord of all, and crown Him Lord of all!

Men, will you crown Him Lord of your marriage, whatever the cost, whatever the repentance, whatever the changes you may need to make? Wives, will you crown Him Lord of your marriage whatever the cost, whatever the changes, whatever the repentance you may have to make for the sake of Jesus, for the sake of the Kingdom of God? Will you be that Promise Keeper? Because that's the only way. This is a beautiful, beautiful little picture of a woman looking into her husband's eyes and she says, “Do you love me?” What's your answer?

Let's pray together.

Our Father in heaven, these are solemn issues that we've dealt with this evening. You know our hearts; you know our marriages. You know the marriages that are broken; you know the marriages that are in trouble. You know the husbands and wives who are not speaking to each other. You know the husbands and wives who are not relating to each other as husband an wife. And O God, we pray by Your Spirit, come down in mercy. Help us, we pray. Strengthen us, we pray. Give us grace to be servants and give us grace to be strong, and help us to model Jesus and to crown Him Lord of all in our homes, in our marriages, with our children. We pray that you would hide this word in our hearts that we might not sin against you. For Jesus’ sake, Amen.

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