Tag Archives: Song of Songs

Q&A with J: How Is Solomon the Expert on Marital Love?

This is a question that landed in my inbox a while ago, and I wrote back a quick answer. But re-reading through emails, I decided I wanted to tackle the question of Song of Solomon here. Because I suspect many of you, especially women, have wondered how a rampant polygamist seems to be the Bible’s expert on sexual intimacy in marriage.

One thing I’ve been wondering about for a while now, is how frequently you and other marriage bloggers reference the Song of Solomon to cite evidence of how God is sex-positive. I fully understand that sex is a beautiful God-given gift that unites my husband and [me]. I just don’t get why Solomon is the Biblical expert on marital love when he had 1000 wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3). This doesn’t support the sort of fidelity that I sense that God wants from us.

blog post title + illustration of king's crown

Okay, I’m about to say something potentially shocking, but here it goes anyway: I don’t think Solomon wrote Song of Songs.

He might have, but it wouldn’t surprise me to someday be introduced to some other guy in Heaven who says, “Hey, I hear you’re a big fan of my book!” And then I’m all like, “Oh yes! Will you sign my copy and take a selfie with me?”

That’s my opinion based on my study of the issue. But there are three main positions on whether Solomon was the author of this erotic book in the Bible.

1. Solomon’s favorite wife

King Solomon had a special affinity for this one wife, so he wrote about how that special relationship. Scholars say this was likely early in his youth, perhaps his first wife, before he was tainted by the many wives and concubines he took throughout his reign.

Song 6:8-9 does say:

Even among sixty queens
and eighty concubines
and countless young women,
I would still choose my dove, my perfect one—
the favorite of her mother,
dearly loved by the one who bore her.

But as a woman and wife myself, I’m rather distressed by this idea. If I was such a peach of a wife that this beautiful book of love was penned about me, why would my husband go marry and bed 139 other women? And calling me your “favorite” among 140 women sounds like reaching into the Dove Dark Chocolate bag, eating one, and saying it was the best. How can I trust that statement when you plan to eat the whole bag?!

Image result for reverend fun marriage

All that said, it really was a very different time. So applying our cultural standards to the time in which Solomon lived and the position he held (e.g., some of those marriages were politically motivated for kingdom peace) isn’t likely to give us a full understanding. If Solomon did write the book, we should place this story in the context in which he existed.

2. Solomon wrote from observation, not experience

Solomon wrote the poetry to describe passionate love he observed among two lovers he envied. This view says that essentially Solomon saw what another had, noted it was beautiful relationship, and creatively captured the essence of it to celebrate godly, sexual love.

At first, I thought, Well, that’s creepy. So he was enviously stalking some couple and writing about their sex life? But then I realized that I also write fiction, and I kind of did that with my book, Behind Closed Doors: Five Marriage Stories. My stories aren’t nearly as erotic as Song of Songs, but storytelling authors always put themselves in the shoes of someone else (fictional or nonfictional) and convey the message from that point of view.

And most of the time, envy isn’t the motivator; rather, the author wants to tell a story they find intriguing and useful to others. Perhaps that’s what King Solomon did — tell a story he liked, hoping it would inspire others to greater love and intimacy in their marriages.

DESCRIPTION: Guy hitting on a girl using Song of Solomon for inspiration CAPTION: YOUR HAIR IS LIKE A FLOCK OF GOATS

3. Solomon didn’t write the book

Rather, Song of Songs was written by someone else in his kingdom about his own marital love. Indeed, some ancient texts bear the name of the person to whom the writing was dedicated rather than the author itself, as a way of giving the work greater weight.

Back then, they didn’t look at plagiarism the way we would. You writing something and attributing it to a well-known figure could be viewed as praise and honor of that person. It was more like ghostwriters these days, who share the glory or even give it to the person whose name appears on the book cover, but they get a book out and get paid.

For recent examples, Donald J. Trump’s The Art of the Deal was actually written by Tony Schwartz, while Hillary Clinton’s popular It Takes a Village was written with the (uncredited) help of Barbara Feinman. And if you think all those celebrity memoirs were written by the celebrities themselves, think again.

Mentioning King Solomon within the book and attributing it to him would have been seen as a compliment or a gift. Certainly, this book was embraced by the people and Jewish scholars, and perhaps Solomon himself.

Does it really matter who wrote it?

It’s uncomfortable being unable to verify biblical authorship. It’s so much easier when you have a letter from Paul directly saying, “I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand, which is the distinguishing mark in all my letters. This is how I write” (2 Thessalonians 3:17). Well, there’s no doubt there who’s talking.

Instead, it’s possible Solomon didn’t write Song of Songs, but it’s quite possible that he did. We just don’t know for sure.

Regardless, I feel confident that Solomon wasn’t sitting among his harem penning this book as a hypocritical act.

Consider this: If you traveled back into my past and said, “Hey, that girl is going to have a lot of good stuff to say about Christian sex,” a lot of people would have laughed, including me. The idea would have been preposterous! Who was I to say squat about godly sexuality? But at this season of my life, God seems to be using me to do just that.

However, I know people who had great stuff to say about God earlier in life and got off track later. You can find plenty of examples of those people in the Bible. Didn’t God still use them? Perhaps that’s where Solomon fits. 

But whoever wrote it—and the most prevalent, traditional view is Solomon—God made sure it was included in our canon. Song of Songs is part of the inspired Word of God.

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Additional reading: Insight.org (Chuck Swindoll) – Song of Solomon; ESV.org – Introduction to The Book of Song of Solomon

Q&A with J: Why Doesn’t the Church Talk about Song of Songs?

Today’s question is a rather theological one. But it definitely impacts how the Church has viewed sexuality and thus how we in marriage have viewed sexuality. Here’s what the reader asks:

I am really curious to read your thoughts on the Church’s often, if not total, blatant omission of Song of Solomon from any kind of preaching and teaching. Even on the level of targeted group studies, I find it gets ignored.

Part of me believes that it’s just a stubborn belief that we should hang on to the guilt and discomfort that twisted beliefs and ideology about sex over millennia have brought us, but at the same time, I have heard my own pastor proclaim the joy and blessing of sexual union within marriage, usually with reference to Paul’s NT writings, and yet he has never to my knowledge even come close to using a Song of Solomon text to preach on, even from the allegorical/metaphorical standpoint.

I don’t know about you, but I feel the Church has done a lot of damage in this regard, and I really have a bone to pick. Why a gap, and why this particular one? Because Solomon dares to get frisky and then write about it? Keeping our mouths shut about sex (particularly in a godly, Biblical context) is one of my personal grievances with Christianity today, and I suppose I just want to understand why leaders persist in encouraging it.

Why Doesn't the Church Talk about Song of Songs?I believe there are several reasons why churches have ignored the Song of Songs, or Song of Solomon, in the past. Now since I’ll be talking some about the Church’s historical position, I’m going to use the King James Version of the Bible quite often — since it was the primary English translation used from 1611.

Romans 8:1,5-9 says the following:

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit…. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.

Got it: Spirit, good, Flesh, bad.

But here’s the thing — you can’t make love without using your flesh. I mean, the whole point is flesh pressed against flesh, right?

And doesn’t sex seem a bit “carnal”? Especially since Oxford Dictionaries defines carnal as “Relating to physical, especially sexual, needs and activities.”

So when a book in the Bible seems rather dedicated to fun, fleshly stuff, some Christians dismissed it. Indeed, they treated the book like it was either (1) an allegory, or (2) in the Old Testament so not nearly as important as the enlightened viewpoint we received after Christ’s coming — that is, the New Testament.

I don’t have an issue reconciling the Spirit and flesh when it comes to sex. Because Galatians 5 clarifies what’s really meant by the flesh:

For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance: against such there is no law (v. 17-23).

Clearly, the flesh about which the apostle Paul speaks is sin. Sexual sins like adultery and fornication are mentioned, but sexual intimacy in marriage isn’t on that list. Of course not! Godly sex is in line with the fruit of the Spirit, with such traits as lovegentleness, and goodness.

Sex as God designed is a lot like charity: to help the hungry, you use your hands to prepare and serve food; to help the poor, you work with your body to earn money and deliver resources into their hands; to help the sick, you tend their wounds and tenderly care for their bodies. Our God-given bodies are used in service of our spiritual goals.

But this misunderstanding of flesh caused some in our Church history to reject nearly everything focused on your body. Ascetism, the practice of avoiding of all forms of physical indulgence, took hold among some — and sex landed on that list of physical indulgences to avoid.

It led to the insistence of celibacy among priests and monks, which was not practiced from the beginning. And some church leaders preached that sex was only necessary for reproduction and should be avoided in marriage at other times, because it seemed to be enjoying this body too much and the spirit not quite enough.

Now I’m not trying to argue with my Catholic followers and friends whether celibacy should be practiced among priests — you can certainly make a case for it given what the apostle Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7:6-9; nor am I wanting to attack the Catholic perspective of every sexual act having the potential for human life (a noble goal in many respects). But this history illuminates how sex and religion were sometimes viewed as natural enemies.

And in this context, the view of Song of Songs as an allegory of Christ and the Church was particularly appealing. After all, Jesus called Himself the bridegroom, so this isn’t really a stretch, is it? Even non-Christian Jews viewed this book as allegory of the relationship of God’s people to Jehovah Himself.

All the way back to the 3rd Century, the allegorical interpretation of Song of Songs is mentioned in a Jewish religious text. And that view is covered several times over in the Middle Ages. So I guess we weren’t the only ones having issues reconciling a book about the ecstasy of physical love with the salvation-based message of the Bible itself.

Look, the question scholars and religious folk have to ask is: “What’s erotic poetry doing in a theology book?”

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It almost seems like there should be a warning at the beginning of Song of Songs. Something like Monty Python’s famous line: “And now for something completely different…”

But here’s where scholarship has actually improved. Because of our modern-day resources, we can share information like never before; we can compare texts and commentaries throughout history; we can look into the culture of the times to determine context. And if we use these tools wisely, without confirmation bias, we can do an even better job now of figuring out what an author intended as he wrote the biblical book.

In the case of Song of Songs, scholars now largely agree it’s a book celebrating marital love.

Yes, there’s an analogy we can draw about Christ and His church, just as the analogy of God as our groom and His people as His bride is drawn many times over in Scripture. But the primary theme of Song of Songs is “here’s what it looks like to be intimately connected to your spouse.”

The good news is more and more Christians are willing to speak up about godly sexuality, study Song of Songs in churches, and write about how this beautiful book from our generous Father impacts marriages. I’ve used Song of Songs many times on my blog, and it appears often in my devotional book for wives, Intimacy Revealed: 52 Devotions to Enhance Sex in Marriage. It plays a key role in a new video study for wives from Awaken Love. Song of Solomon features prominently in the title or subtitle of several Christian books on marriage and intimacy. And if you do an internet search for “Song of Solomon sermon series,” you’ll see some pastors are preaching on this subject.

For me, the question has become not only Why don’t we apply the Song of Solomon to our marriage beds, but Why don’t we apply all of Scripture to our marriage beds? This division between spirit and body is a false one. Jesus came to us in a human body and showed what it is to live through that flesh as a God-focused, Spirit-filled person.

And I, for one, want to be Christ-like in every aspect of my life, including the bedroom. I’m grateful that God outlined what that looks like, in many passages of the Bible and by dedicating one particular book just to us married people. Like a love letter to our marriages.

Two Important Aspects of Sexual Intimacy

I cite Song of Songs a lot on this blog. Because it’s the one book in the Bible devoted entirely to the romantic and sexual love between a husband and wife. It’s chock-full of fascinating passages that demonstrate God’s blessings for sexual intimacy in marriage. It also provide excellent examples of how husbands and wives should treat each other when it comes to sex.

Having read this book many times over now, I’ve come to have a few favorite verses. Easily in my top three is this statement from Song of Songs 7:10: I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me.”

Marriage Memory Verse 6-25-16As I was pondering this simple verse today, wondering why I loved it so much, I homed in on two words that capture important aspects of sexual intimacy with my husband: belong and desire.

Merriam-Webster’s simply definition of belong is “used to say that someone or something should be in a particular place or situation.” When I’m in my husband’s arms in our marriage bed, I know that’s the particular place and situation where I should be — with him specifically, fitting together just so, sharing our pleasure.

Yes, of course I feel that sense of belonging at other times in our marriage, but this whole-body experience of making love involves a deep sense of belonging. There’s exclusivity, vulnerability, and intimacy in those moments. They bring to mind the sentiment that you are mine and I am yours.

Then there’s the concept of desire. Merriam-Webster’s first two simple definitions of desire are: “to want or wish for (something) : to feel desire for (something)” and “to want to have sex with (someone).” I believe that desire in a healthy marriage bed involves both wanting something and wanting to have sex with someone.

The thing we want is affection, connection, and devotion with our beloved. I want to know my husband at a deeper level than anyone else in the world does or can. And yes, I want to have sex. Because it feels good, because I have a natural drive for that release, and because it’s a bonding experience. I’m 99.9% certain my husband feels all of that about me.

Do you feel these two important aspects in your marriage too? Belonging and desire.

If you don’t, maybe it’s time to nurture those feelings, to invest in sexual intimacy as a priority, to express to your husband what would make you feel desired and connected. And maybe you can start by committing Song of Songs 7:10 to memory. Even recite it as a prayer.

LORD, HELP ME TO BELONG TO MY BELOVED, AND FOR HIM TO BELONG TO ME. AND GIVE US DESIRE FOR ONE ANOTHER. - AMEN

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The Lover & the Beloved

Bible open to Song of Solomon

By Jonathan Thorne via Wikimedia Commons

I often quote from the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). It is a relatively short book in the Bible, found in the Old Testament, and tells the story of a husband and wife experiencing attraction and physical intimacy with one another.* Today is something of a blog vacation for me, as I am occupied this week with another ministry opportunity. Since I bet you don’t often think to open up to that book and read its inspiring passages, I decided to provide a passage for you to read today.

I suggest that you even read this aloud to your mate. Remember that the relationship in Song of Songs is blessed by God. Ask how your own marital intimacy can become filled with this kind of passion for one another.

Note: The Lover is the husband; the Beloved is the wife. These labels do not appear in the original text; however, passages have been thus ascribed by scholars looking at the message and the feminine and masculine pronouns used.

Song of Songs 4:8-5:1

Lover

8Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Descend from the crest of Amana,
from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon,
from the lions’ dens
and the mountain haunts of the leopards.
9 You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have stolen my heart
with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How delightful is your love , my sister, my bride!
How much more pleasing is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice!
11 Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride;
milk and honey are under your tongue.
The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon. 
12 You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.
13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
14 nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.
15 You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.

Beloved

16 Awake, north wind,
and come, south wind!
Blow on my garden,
that its fragrance may spread abroad.
Let my lover come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride;
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice.
I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey;
I have drunk my wine and my milk. 

Friends

Eat, O friends, and drink;
drink your fill, O lovers.

I second that sentiment from the Friends. May all of you drink your fill this weekend! Blessings.

*Some have suggested that this book is an allegory for God and His people (or Christ and the church). While I agree that analogies can be drawn between marriage and our relationship with Christ (see Ephesians 5:32), I concur with scholars who say that this book is about marital love itself and is more literal.