The ancients forbade the reading of the Song of Songs before the age of thirty. But was that because it was just about sex? Or might they have feared the young would see only sex, tittering like school boys, trampling upon the pearl of great price? That seems to be where the world is today, and we as believers cannot help but be impacted by this pollution. Images of sexual promiscuity have so flooded our land that many believers can no longer imagine how God could use this metaphor to communicate a deep truth to us. We miss what God longs to impart to us.
(This next part is tricky — and I welcome input for the upcoming book. How do I show the problem without becoming part of it? Have I said enough to be clear? Too much?)
Exacerbating the problem are the preachers who have treated the Song as soft porn. They interpret everything in The Song to be just about sex, and treat it as a prescriptive sex manual endorsing practices that would make many women uncomfortable and telling them God commands they do it. As one preacher of a mega-church said, “If you feel like you’re being dirty, your husband is pretty happy.” John MacArthur responded:
That approach is not exegesis; it is exploitation. It is contrary to the literary style of the book itself. It is spiritually tantamount to an act of rape. It tears the beautiful poetic dress off Song of Solomon, strips that portion of Scripture of its dignity, and holds it up to be laughed at and leered at in a carnal way.
With pollution seeping from the world to the church, it has indeed become more challenging to imagine that God would use marriage and the marriage bed as a metaphor for something so sacred. But the fact is, He does.The prophets, the poets, and the parables all rely on this most intimate of metaphors. Jeremiah equates idolatry with adultery; Hosea is a mural of a broken-hearted bridegroom loving a faithless bride; Isaiah tells us that God rejoices over us as bridegroom rejoices over his bride; Psalm 45, the Song and the Parables all point to a great wedding day of the King’s son and his bride. Revelation speaks of a holy city, a “new Jerusalem,” coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. Both Revelation and the Song close with the bride calling to the beloved to return. “Make haste, my beloved” and “Come, Lord Jesus!”
Likewise, the central verse about marriage, stated first in Genesis at the wedding of Adam and Eve, and then drumming through Malachi, Matthew, Mark, and 1 Corinthians, finally culminates in Ephesians where it is clearly revealed that earthly marriage is intended to illumine a deeper mystery:
“Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife,
and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound,
and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.
Ellen F. Davis, in her Westminister Commentary, says we need to see both earthly and spiritual marriage in the Song, for the pictures are “mutually informative” when held side by side.
We’re going to spend three more weeks looking at overall themes in the Song, and then, when Lent begins, get directly into a verse by verse study.
In the next two weeks we are going to consider five qualities God ordained for marriage, and see how they illumine the mystery to which marriage points.(This is a division of one chapter, which I’m struggling to title!) I’ve gone from “The Song is Sacred,” to “It’s Not Just About Sex” and “A Metaphor Not Just a Marriage Manual” Input or other ideas welcome.
God ordained purity and passion for for marriage and they point to a deeper mystery.
THE PROTECTION OF PURITY
THE NECESSITY OF PASSION
Decades ago I was speaking in California on Mary and Elizabeth. I talked about how challenging it must have been for newlyweds Mary and Joseph to abstain from intimacy until after Jesus was born, but God helped them to do it. In the same way, it is challenging for young couples today to abstain from intimacy until marriage. It is rare that they do it. But if they do it, God has a gift waiting for them. If they have both managed to be pure, if they have both managed to protect their “garden locked up,” then for at least that first challenging year of marriage, God gives them that tremendous sexual excitement like a “balm,” like a jar of ointment to soothe on one another at night.
They need this balm for the first year of marriage is challenging as they realize they married a sinner, and as they adjust to their natural differences. But if they have dipped into that balm repeatedly before marriage, they come to that challenging first year with an empty jar.
Afterwards a darling little white-haired lady made her way up to me in her walker with something to tell me. Her eyes aglow, she said enthusiastically: “I LIKED YOUR POINT ABOUT THE BOMB! i REMEMBER — IT WAS A BOMB!”
I was confused and then I realized she heard “bomb” instead of “balm.” I began to laugh but thought, I don’t need to correct her. The protection of purity gives you both a balm and a bomb!
But how does that illuminate our relationship with God?
That’s where we will start this week.
You have been so helpful to me with your comments for the upcoming book. Feel free to keep it up — on anything you read here.
1. What stands out to you from the above and why?
MONDAY-WEDNESDAY BIBLE STUDY
Let’s get started with the first: The Protection of Purity
Though purity before marriage is increasingly rare today, it was and is and always will be God’s best. Ellen Davis writes: Our world is groaning under the weight of instantaneous contacts and temporary relationships…too many souls are stunted, arrested in adolescent development. Could it be that the cultivation of real intimacy is the greatest social and spiritual challenge of out time? …The images of the Song underscore throughout the lushness of sexual exclusivity. “I come to my garden, my sister, my bride…my dove, my perfect one, is the only one.” (5:1; 6:9)
There are earthly reasons why purity is wise. Not only does purity protect our bodies from disease, but also our hearts and minds from a corruption that hinders entering fully into intimacy with just one person for life.
2. On an earthly level, what do you learn about God’s desire for purity from:
A. 1 Corinthians 7:1-4
B. Hebrews 13:4
3. If you can give a testimony on why you are glad you waited until marriage, we’d love to see it here! Or, if you are willing to share your sadness in not waiting, that too speaks as a testimony. Be brief and give us the reasons you are glad or sad.
If we failed, Christianity alone gives us hope, for He can make us clean. Watch this clip from Paige Benton Brown and summarize “the grammar of grace.”
4. Share your summary and thoughts on the above, perhaps with a sentence of praise to your Redeemer.
5. How do you see the beloved’s delight in his love’s purity in Song of Songs 4:12-15?
6. Purity is not just for before marriage, but throughout. Give several ways, besides not having sex with other people, that God calls couples to purity within marriage.
The Song has some similarities to pagan love poetry, but there is a crucial difference. Pagan love poetry is vulgar, whereas in the Song, there is only beauty. God has reformed and raised the language, for marriage is to be honored, and the bed undefiled for it points to a precious mystery.
7. Give an example from the Song of how God speaks of the mystery of sex in beautiful rather than graphic or vulgar language.
8. Let’s consider some ways this parallels our relationship with Christ.
A. What analogy does Paul use for the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 11:2? What could rob them of their purity? How does this apply to you?
B. What are some ways to identify false teachers according to:
1) Matthew 7:16-20
2) Galatians 1:6-8 (You may need to investigate why this was a “different” gospel.
C. If you are a mother, you are also exhorted to be a “guard” over your childrens’ hearts and minds. The word “keeper” in Titus 2:5, which may be translated in various ways, is from a Greek word meaning guard.
If you have children still at home and have found effective ways to guard the purity of their minds, please share.
D. John closes his letter with, “My little children, keep yourselves from idols.” How does running to an idol compromise your purity and quench the presence of God in your day? Be specific.
E. In David’s penitential psalm after his adultery with Bathsheba, he prays to be cleansed and then lists four results of that restored purity. Find them in Psalm 51:7-13. Comment on each.
F. Have you experienced a correlation between having purity in your life and any of the above results? If so, share.
Sing this to the Lord in your “closet,” making it your heartfelt prayer to Him.
Now let’s consider the necessity of passion.
I told “Samantha” I’d pick up for our Christmas tea. I asked her, on the way, to tell me her spiritual background. She smiled, knowing where I was headed, and wanted to reassure me she was okay with God even though she didn’t go to church. “Oh, Dee, I did that. In one foster home they were Baptists and I went forward and said the prayer. So I’m good. I know where I’m going when I die.” I held back for we were at the tea, but am praying for another change to come back to her with the analogy of marriage. I hope to ask: “How do you think you’d feel if “Mike” said to you. “I married you. We’re good. We don’t have to spend time together. We don’t have to talk, walk, or make love. We’re good. We did that.” 9. Only Christianity among the worlds’ religions has a robust view of the marriage bed. Find it:
A. Proverbs 5:18-19
B. Challenge Question — here is a verse that links purity to passion. Song of Songs 8:10. What do you think it means?
The closest we come on this earth to understanding love and intimacy is in the love of a man and a woman in marriage. In fact the word translated “know” in Scripture refers to both sexual intimacy and to a genuine relationship with Christ. The euphoria of falling in love, the ecstasy of sexual intimacy as intended, and the continual repentance and devotion to the other person that a good marriage requires is, indeed, a window into our relationship with Christ.
10. Counselors say that a lack of passion (either negative or positive) is the surest sign they are headed toward divorce. What correlation might you see with Christ, and how does Revelation 3:15-16.
11. If the passion is gone in your marriage or in your relationship with Christ, here are three things Christ tells you to do. Find them in Revelation 2:4-5. Then pray them.
12. Describe how God feels when he sees his bride’s passion has dissipated. How does he know? Ponder Jeremiah 2:1-8.
Thursday-Friday. Finish (or start and finish!) Sermon by James Hamilton.
If you are married, you could listen to this with your husband. He does address husbands frequently. But he also, unlike most preachers today, takes it deep into our relationship with Christ.
13. Share your notes and thoughts.
13. What is your take-a-way and why?