The greatest love song ever written: Growing love

In the last article from Song of Songs, I said that the Bible has a great deal to say about love, and there’s no better place to go for this than Song of Songs. The Song tells the story of Solomon and the Shulamite woman. The whole song follows their meeting (1:1-15), courtship (1:16-3:5), wedding (3:6-11), and honeymoon (4:1-5:1). It then shows us some of the problems that can occur in a relationship (5:2-6:3), and the way these problems can be worked out (6:4-8:4). It finishes by wrestling with one of the biggest issues of all – how to continue to love in old age (8:5-14).

This little series is too short to trace the whole of that story. We’re concentrating only on their courtship. Rather tantalisingly, last time around, we left them in the middle of their first date (2:5)! I suppose that’s a bit like those TV programmess that cut to the adverts just as the hero and heroine are about to kiss. We pick the story up in 2:6. It will be useful for you to follow this in your Bibles.

Do not awaken love

In 2:6, at the end of the first date, Solomon plucks up his courage and according to the woman, places his ‘left arm … under my head, and his right arm embraces me’. Unsurprisingly, this sets her heart racing as touch so often does to women. So the woman immediately shares something with other young woman that she thinks is of vital importance: ‘Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you… Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.’

She’ll repeat this chorus twice more before the Song is sung, always at crucial points in the story: here when Solomon first embraces her, in 3:5 when she realises she wants to marry Solomon, and in 8:4 as she’s reflecting on their re-discovered love after a difficult time in their relationship.

The woman is recognising the power that being in love can have. She’s telling herself as much as anyone, that she needs to be careful. Her heart may well be fluttering as a result of Solomon’s embrace, but she needs to keep her feet on the ground, and she needs to ensure that love is not awakened too quickly. She needs to take her time. She needs to wait.

Enjoying courtship

The scene then changes in 2:8-13. Solomon has come to visit her, to find her at her home (2:9), and invite her on another date (2:10). He takes the initiative to take her out (lads, take note!). He speaks to her with love. He tells her ‘the winter is past; the rains are over and gone. Flowers appear on the earth’. You know in those cheesy romantic films the sun is always shining and the flowers are always growing, and the bunny rabbits are bouncing around the countryside. Well it’s a bit like that here! But Solomon is not too concerned with flowers and fig-trees. He’s got one thing on his mind – her (2:14-15). Sadly, nowadays, men often have one thing on their mind – themselves, and their own satisfaction – but not Solomon. He wants to see her face, to hear her voice (2:14). What a wonderful encouragement to his girl, to know that Solomon who has so much, desires these very simple things!

Then in 2:15, he asks her to ‘catch the little foxes’. What does that mean? The song tells us. The foxes could ruin their vineyard – they symbolise the little problems that can creep into any relationship. And Solomon asks his girl to catch them – to deal with the little problems. Why does he ask her to do it? Because as every couple knows, blokes are pretty useless at even noticing them! An elephant could be wandering through some men’s vineyards, and they’d barely bat an eyelid. But women tend to be much more sensitive to the little things – the lid of the toothpaste not being put on, the toilet seat being left up, the car not being cleaned. But the little things need to be dealt with. And if men tend not to notice the little things, women tend to notice, but not to do anything. I know I’m generalising, but often ladies can get upset about little things, but not tell anyone. We men know there’s something up, but for the life of us can’t work out what it is. Then, trying to guess what the problem is, we usually guess wrong and make everything worse! So Solomon is simply saying: ‘tell me about the little things before they become big problems’. Catch for us the little foxes.

Then suddenly, it seems that the woman realises it’s very late, and Solomon shouldn’t be with her then (2:17). He must run away, ‘flee’, far way to the hills, and not come back ‘until the day breaks’. It’s a deliberate contrast to 4:6, which describes the honeymoon where Solomon is exploring her body ‘until the dawn breaks’. But here in 2:17 they must be separated. The word translated ‘rugged’ in the NIV actually means ‘divided’, ‘cut in two’. It’s the word used for the two halves of the sacrificed animal in Genesis 15. That’s what it feels like to the woman, they’ve been split apart, but it’s night, and he must go, and mustn’t come back until the dawn breaks.

All alone

So Solomon has gone, temporarily at least, and the woman goes to bed (3:1). But ‘all night long on her bed’ she is looking for him. There’s a real sense of lack here, isn’t there? This is the man, she says, ‘my heart loves’, but ‘I did not find him’. What she wants more than anything else is for him to be there with her. So what does that drive her to do? Well it doesn’t drive her to go and find him and bring him back into her bed. It doesn’t encourage her to go and get into his bed. It does cause her to go and search for him (3:2), and in 3:4 she finds him! But what does she do with him – with this man that she desires so much, with this man whom she’s been missing all night as she has lain in her bed? What does she do with him? Chapter 3:4 gives us the answer. She did not let him go until he took her to her mother’s house. Why would you take a girl home to see her parents? Well, in two verses time, we’ll find their wedding day! That’s why he’s taking her home, to ask permission to marry her. That’s what she wants.

The vital lesson here is that she knows she wants to marry him, but not because she’s tried living with him and he seems a decent sort of chap who helps with the washing up and puts his clothes away. No! She wants to marry him because she’s been without him. She’s missed him because she’s waited for him. And as she lies on her bed, on her own, she realises that she can’t carry on like this, she must have him, they must be together. And at this point she reminds us again of that important phrase: ‘Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.’ Love needs time. Love shouldn’t be rushed. And it is the forced absence of Solomon – even if just for a night – that awakens love in the woman’s heart. Waiting is always better.

Consummated love

There’s not room here to look at their wedding in 3:6-11. But it is worth noting in passing that there are two chapters on their courtship, five chapters on their marriage, and only six verses on their wedding. There’s wisdom there. Weddings are incredibly important (as these verses show), but they’re not more important than the marriage. What a tragedy when couples spend months planning their wedding, but barely think about their marriage! And there’s only room for the briefest of glances at their wedding night in 4:1-5:1. But we need to compare 2:14-17 (their first date) with 4:1-5:1. Just look at the difference! The most obvious difference is that, for the first time in the Song, there’s a sexual element, and a strong one. And that, of course, is appropriate now they’re married. But let’s explore the differences in a bit more detail. In chapter 2, Solomon describes his girl’s eyes and face and voice. Now they’re married in chapter 4, he describes those same things (4:1), but also her mouth (4:2), neck (4:4) and breasts (4:5). He’s enjoying far more of her than he was before. There’s far more detail too, he’s intimate in a way he’s not been before. And just as both passages (2:14-17 and 4:1-5:1) started with ‘doves’, now both end with the phrase. ‘Until the day breaks and the shadows flee’. In chapter 2, Solomon was to run on the ‘divided hills’ (note the plural) separated from his lover. Now, after the marriage he will go to the ‘hill of incense’ (note the singular), referring of course to her. Before they were separated, now they’re together. And whilst 2:17 was followed with the girl feeling all alone, 4:6 is followed with Solomon’s cry ‘All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you’. That’s the difference marriage makes. That’s what Solomon and the Shulamite woman have been waiting for. That’s why they were careful not to arouse or awaken love until it so desired.

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