Week 91: Song of Songs Part 3
Why should we read this book?
There are two reasons why we should read it and study it. First, at the heart of Christianity is a very personal relationship. Being a Christian is not going to church, reading a Bible or supporting missionaries; being a Christian is being in love with the Lord. The only point of singing hymns is that we are singing love songs. If we miss this, we miss everything.
So at the heart of the Bible is the very intimate, loving relationship between Solomon and a country girl.
The book adds a wider dimension to the portrayal of the relationship between God and his people. Sometimes in the Bible, God is spoken of as a husband and Israel as a wife. He courts her and marries her at Sinai when the covenant is established. When Israel goes after other gods, she is described as an adulteress.
This theme underlies the prophecy of Hosea. The Lord asks the prophet to find a prostitute in the street. He protests and asks God why. He is told to marry her, and she will have three children. She will love the first child, but not the second, and the third child, who won’t even be Hosea’s, is to be called ‘Not Mine’. God tells Hosea that she will return to life on the street in her old profession, leaving the three children with him. He is to find her, buy her back from the pimp who is controlling her and bring her back home, and then he is to love her again. Finally, God tells him to tell Israel that this is how God feels about them.
In fact, the whole relationship in the Old Testament between God and Israel is that of a husband whose wife behaves appallingly. He woos her, wins her, loses her, still loves her, and wants to get her back home again.
When we move to the New Testament, this same theme continues. Jesus is depicted as the bridegroom looking for a bride. On the last page of the Bible the bride is eager for the wedding and says ‘Come!’ She has made herself ready with white linen, which is righteousness. So the whole Bible is a love story from beginning to end.
The Song of Songs expresses this relationship. The words of the young man to the bride are the words that God says to us. Her replies are the sort of responses we can make. So it’s not an allegory, nor is it full of hidden meanings. ‘Pomegranates’ means ‘pomegranates’ and ‘breasts’ mean ‘breasts’. God means what he says, but it’s an analogy of the relationship that we can have with God.
We need to be careful in our interpretation. Our relationship with the Lord is not erotic, but it is emotional. Even though the song includes sexually explicit language, there is appropriate restraint. It doesn’t enter into the physical details that modern literature would.
Nevertheless, it is an emotional relationship. The story reminds us of the conversation between Jesus and Peter in Galilee after Jesus’ resurrection. Peter had denied the Lord at a charcoal fire in a courtyard, and the only other charcoal fire mentioned in the New Testament is a few weeks later, in Galilee. So Peter sees the fire and he remembers those awful moments. Yet Jesus doesn’t say how disappointed he is with him, nor does he exclude him from future service. No, he tells Peter that he can cope with him, provided that he is sure of one thing – that Peter loves him.
In the same way, the Lord doesn’t ask us how many times we have been to church or how many chapters of the Bible we have read this week. He asks us: ‘Do you love me?’ Jesus said that the law could be summarized as: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love really is as important as this.
Secondly, not only is your relationship with the Lord a very personal one; it’s also a very public one. Most people falling love with the Lord because they see him as their Shepherd, the One who will be with them in the valley of the shadow of death, the One who will lead them by the still waters and the green pastures. But at some stage after we have fallen in love with Jesus as our Shepherd, we discover that he is also a King! He’s the King of Kings, and we are his bride. We are going to reign with him and become his queen. So we are in very public view, which puts an extra responsibility on us. It would be nice if we could keep it private and return to the forests of Hermon, keeping our relationship with the Lord secret. It would save a lot of unpleasantness, criticism and exposure. But he wants us to remain in the spotlight, forever pointing to him as the source of our life and sharing with him the responsibility of reigning over the earth.