THE PRIMARY VERSE ABOUT MARRIAGE BEGINS IN GENESIS
AND IS REPEATED FIVE TIMES, CULMINATING IN EPHESIANS WHEN PAUL SAYS:
THIS MYSTERY IS PROFOUND,
AND I AM SAYING THAT IT REFERS TO CHRIST AND THE CHURCH.
Mike Mason, who wrote The Gospel According to Job, became known first for his book, The Mystery of Marriage. He tells of his fear on his honeymoon, that despite his love for his wife, the realization of his loss of independence frightened him. They toured a monastery together on the honeymoon, and Mike’s heart was heavy, and he was crying out to God. When they came out, two hawks were making circles in the sky, “dancing” together in beauty. They watched them together for an hour, and it was an answer from God to Mike.
Two are better than one, especially when they have learned to dance together in beauty. This is the mystery of marriage, and it points to a deeper mystery still.
When Christ was wooing me as a young woman, I had a great fear of giving up my independence, wondering if I would like what He would ask of me, for I did not yet know the amazing love of my future Bridegroom. I comprehend His love to a degree now, but I know I have not understood its height. The Song of Songs is helping me.
Whether you see The Song of Songs as being primarily about Christ and His Bride, with an application to marriage and the marriage bed — or as being primarily about marriage and the marriage bed with an application to Christ and His Bride, either way, you need to look at both applications. It certainly makes you realize that God believes sex is good, the marriage bed beautiful, and that we are to be released to enjoy it.
This week we will consider various views on The Song of Songs and the mystery of the marriage bed, and how it is related to our holy union with Christ. In a sermon on the seventh commandment, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” Tim Keller said:
God invented sex as a way for one person to say to another person:
“I belong completely and permanently and exclusively to you.”
Sex is an analogy of that ultimate unitive act by which the human soul cleaves to God in complete fidelity and complete faith, and as a result, the nature of God penetrates him.
Such a mystery. I have been pondering this passage from The Song of Songs:
A seal is indicative of a permanent covenant. Marriage is intended to be permanent, and divorce tears into both husband and wife, for they are one. Yet on earth God permits divorce when the covenant has been broken, for in His mercy He will not bind the victim of the hard-hearted acts of unfaithfulness or abandonment.
But with our relationship with the Lord, even when we are faithless, He is faithful. He will ever keep His covenant. Once we are His, we are always His. He has set us like a seal upon his heart, and His love cannot be broken.
In the same way, love within a covenant marriage is strong. I know that. I know in my marriage I don’t think either of us could have loved the other more, and yet there will still ways we failed one another. Our love also could not overcome death, though we tried with all our hearts.
Yet in our marriage to the Lord, there is nothing that can separate us: neither angels nor demons, nor persecution, nor nakedness, nor sword. His love is stronger than death. He proved that, and so we will forever be united to Him.
This wedding song, with verses from The Song of Songs, demonstrates a yearning we all have, that marriage may, in part, satisfy:
Yet the reality is we may come close if we are blessed, but our marriage on earth can never have the permanence that our marriage with the Lord has. Earthly marriage, even at its best, can only be a faint shadow of what is to come. So if you are single, if you are in an unhappy marriage — this is not the end of the story. Jesus has set you like a seal upon His heart, and nothing can separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
1. What stood out to you from the above and why?
2. If you haven’t listened to the tutorial from Anne Brestin Lano on this new website on the getting started page, please do. What did you learn?
MONDAY/WEDNESDAY REFLECTIONS AND ARTICLES ON THE SONG OF SONGS
Mike Reeves, to whom we have been listening, does not make a major issue out of which is the primary purpose of The Song of Songs, though he believes it is primarily about Christ and the Church.
Does it matter? In some ways it doesn’t, as we should look at both applications. But in some ways it does — for I think the primary way you look at it influences your interpretation of the book. So which is it? I think it is Christ and the Church, but godly men whom I respect like R. C. Sproul see it as being primarily about marriage and the marriage bed. I find his reasoning to be prevalent today. This is how his ministry explains his view:
In his teaching series Wisdom, Dr. Sproul says the church was embarrassed by the sensuous imagery of the Song of Solomon and read it allegorically to get around its approval of marital intimacy. This reflects Greek philosophical assumptions that matter and physical relations are evil. Yet Scripture does not say the spirit is good and the body is bad; our Father commands us to multiply and fill a world that was originally “very good” (Gen. 1:26–31). Sex within marriage is good and holy; thus, Solomon’s song need not embarrass us.
Nevertheless, Dr. Sproul says we may rightly apply the Song of Solomon “illustratively” to Christ and the church. Solomon’s song can indeed lead us to Jesus without violating the book’s content. But Dr. Sproul reminds us this is possible only if we first read it in its plainest, literal sense: “A spirit-inspired expression of love between a bride and her groom. A love that is not to be ashamed.”
2. Comment on Dr. Sproul’s point of view.
My thought is that while I absolutely know there are many Christians who are prudish, I also know that Christianity’s view of sex is unique, in that they saw the body as good, and the marriage bed as a gift from God, and throughout Scripture we are told to rejoice in it. And the the Puritans (despite the way we have thought of them) were robust in their view of sex. I believe, for example, that Richard Sibbes, who is called the Prince of the Puritans, was not embarrassed by sex but saw Scriptural reasons for the primary message being Christ and His church. Read this article (link) and then comment.
3. Comment on what your learned and thought of the above article.
We love Tim Keller here, and he, like many godly contemporary theologians, sees The Song of Songs as primarily a love song of marriage. If I could communicate with him, I would ask him to consider the viewpoints of two men from the past whom he calls his main mentors: C. S. Lewis and Jonathan Edwards. When Lewis was asked how valid a book like The Song of Songs could be, he replied:
“The great saints and mystics of the church have found tremendous spiritual truth in the ‘Song of Solomon.’ … we must remember that what is meat for a grown person might be unsuited to the palate of a child.” I see so much wisdom here and I also see how the immature can terribly distort The Song of Songs making it all about sex until it is perverted.
And Edwards, a keen intellect, was very certain it was primarily about Christ and the church. Though Edwards is challenging, oh, his mind is so rich. Read this (link) and comment.
4. What thoughts and comments do you have on the above?
5. What do you think is the primary emphasis of The Song of Songs — and do you think it matters? Explain.
6. How is The Song of Songs affecting your view of your relationship with God? How is it affecting your view of marriage and the marriage bed?
Thursday/Friday Keller Sermon
Though I hold a different view than Keller on the primary emphasis of The Song of Songs, I do appreciate the way he treats the subject of sex and I know it is absolutely true that there is an application to marriage and sex from The Song of Songs. You’ll hear him address Song of Songs briefly.
This is a free sermon from Tim Keller. Here is the link. Then go to Love and Lust
(Next week we will listen to a fascinating panel discussion Elizabeth found in which three men from The Gospel Coalition discuss preaching Christ from the Old Testament and they have a spirited discussion on The Song of Songs.)
7. What are your notes from the Keller sermon?
8. What is your take-a-way and why?