The Story and Glory of True Love

William H. Smith
Friday, September 5th 2008
Sep/Oct 2008

There is a book of the Bible from which ministers seldom preach. Though I have lived nearly sixty years, been a minister for thirty-five and married for almost forty, I am one of those who have avoided speaking on this book-the Song of Solomon. Then one day I chose to use it for a wedding ceremony.

The love of a man and woman in a fallen world is both pain and pleasure. We know that from experience. But we know it also because God tells us so in this ancient book. I want briefly to summarize what it has to say about this love.

First, this love involves the intense desire to possess and be possessed. Listen as the betrothed woman speaks to the man she loves: "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine…. Draw me after you; let us run" (1:2-4). She tells him she longs for the time when she can show her affection in public without shame: "Oh that you were like a brother to me….If I found you outside I would kiss you, and none would despise me" (8:1, 2). She speaks to her friends about him: "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" (6:3). "I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me" (7:10). In the book the woman has a dream and, as often happens in our dreams, one of her anxieties is expressed-the fear of losing the man she loves. In her dream he comes and knocks at her door, but she protests that it is late and that she is already in bed. Soon, however, she gets up and goes to the door but finds he is no longer there. Her heart is broken, and she tells her friends to find him and "tell him I am sick with love" (5:8). Listen to the man as he speaks to the woman who will be his bride: "You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes….How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine" (4:9, 10). "Turn your eyes away from me, for they overwhelm me" (6:5). It would not be too strong to say that these two are obsessed with each other. Nor can we avoid saying that this love is sexual, for the book reveals that it is intensely so; and none of it wrong-indeed is as good as good can be. In the innocence of the Garden of Eden, when God made Eve, Adam responded, "This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23). He meant something like this: "Finally! Now this is what I was looking for and couldn't find." And God's own words after giving the woman to the man confirm that Adam is right: "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24).

Second, this love includes a joyful delight in each other's physical attributes. The young man says of the one he loves: "Behold, you are beautiful my beloved, behold you are beautiful" (1:15). Again, "Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful" (4:1). "You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you" (4:7). Now, don't get squeamish, but as he praises her beauty he mentions teeth, mouth, nose, cheeks, neck, eyes, lips, head, hair, feet, breasts, thighs, belly, and navel. Needless to say, he likes all of her! But she no less delights in his attractiveness. She says, "Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful!" (1:14). Though he is but a country boy, she thinks of him as a king as handsome as Solomon himself. Her friends ask, "Why is your beloved more than another beloved?" She answers, "My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand" (5:9, 10). She goes on to describe his head, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, arms, legs, mouth, and his body in general. She concludes, "He is altogether desirable" (5:16).

What are we to make of these statements each makes about the other being superior in appearance to all others? Is this the truth? No and yes. No, in the absolute sense that the woman is the most beautiful woman ever and he the most handsome man ever. But, yes, it is the truth in that what they see is exactly what they see and should see through the eyes of love. Perhaps you are thinking that this kind of thing "runs its course" and then goes away. But this is not just a wave you ride till it crashes on the shore of reality. It is something you choose to do the rest of your life. The proverb tells the man who is no longer newly married: "Rejoice in the wife of your youth…be intoxicated always with her love" (Prov. 5:18, 19). Appreciation and praise of the beloved's physical attractiveness is not all there is to married love, but it is surely a part. No doubt it may be more exuberant and intense when love is young, but this part of love need never go away. Don't let it.

Last, this love waits. The couple desires each other and praises each other's attractiveness. They both even imagine what it will be like when at last they marry and fulfill their longings for one another. But they do not act on the desire and attraction until the marriage itself takes place. Three times the woman says something important to her friends, "I adjure you that you not stir up or waken love until it pleases" (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). The relationship is given time to develop and move forward. There is an aspect of their love not emphasized in this book, but which would not develop if they did not wait for the appropriate time to act on their desire. It is friendship. The woman calls her man not only her beloved, but "my friend" (8:4). Unlike desire, friendship takes time, and it is important to allow it the time it needs. All the desire in the world cannot take the place of friendship in marriage.

Marriage is more than satisfying one another's desires, holy as it is to do so. Marriage means that two people genuinely care for and are committed to each other. They are friends who will walk through all of life together, who will experience the joys and sorrows of life, the good times and the bad, as inseparable companions. There will be a time when it will be appropriate for the Song of Solomon to express their love for one another unrestrained and with exuberance; but that time is not now, no matter how great their desire or how certain they are of their love. That time will be when they are wed and officially acknowledged as husband and wife. Then they will be free to enjoy their love with the approval of God, family, and community. There was a time when the beauty and innocence of this kind of love could be acknowledged even in a secular song. In 1966, The Beach Boys released an album that included the song, "Wouldn't It Be Nice?"

Wouldn't it be nice if we were older,
Then we wouldn't have to wait so long;
And wouldn't it be nice to live together
In the kind of world where we belong?

You know it's gonna make it that much better,
When we can say goodnight and stay together.
Wouldn't it be nice if we could wake up
In the morning when the day is new,
And, after having spent the day together,
Hold each other close the whole night through?

Happy times together we've been spending,
I wish that every kiss was never-ending.
Wouldn't it be nice?

Maybe if we think and wish and hope and pray it might come true.
Baby, then there wouldn't be a single thing we couldn't do.
We could be married,
And then we'd be happy.

Wouldn't it be nice?

I know it's not great poetry, but wouldn't it be nice indeed if the love that waits for marriage was more common? How different this is from the cheap, demanding desire portrayed in so much movie and television comedy and drama where people squander and abuse the gift that should be experienced in the context of married love. How different is the love that allows the bride to say to her groom on the day of their wedding, "Set me as a seal upon your heart" (6:6) and know that he already has, because they have waited. This is the love that lasts. It is as strong as death. Many waters cannot quench it.

Friday, September 5th 2008

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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