Songs of Songs, or Song of Solomon, is a book that many people have not quite know what to do with. It is mainly filled with poetry between lovers. exception that it is in the context of marriage, or at least in parts, a bride and groom about to be married or on their wedding night.
Sex in the Bible, of course, is reserved for marriage. And in that sense, Song of Songs presents a different picture of sex. While sex is portrayed everywhere in culture, rarely is it portrayed in a husband-wife relationship. Hot, passionate sex between husband and wife--it does not exist, culture says. Only affairs are portrayed in this way.
So, in that sense, by showing that sex between a husband and wife is good and can be passionate, Song of Songs redeems sex. Many Christians get the idea that sex is bad. Any song on the radio that speaks of sex is automatically bad. Even Christian adults in a marriage relationship can think that those are bad songs. (Some Christians even grew up with the idea that dancing in one's own bedroom is bad as well.)
Take for instance the following passage from Song of Songs 7:7-12. If you did not know that this were from the Bible, what would be your first reaction if you heard the words to this song on the radio?
This is beautiful poetry, but it is pretty explicit. It shows that sex is good, enjoyment of one another's bodies--and heart and emotion and spirit--is good. The physical, sexual relationship in a marriage is good. By not presenting a good, biblical view of sex at age appropriate times, and only speaking of the negatives of sex, we leave people to be shaped by the culture or to have negative views of sex even within Christian marriage. Both views are not good.
There is much sexual brokenness today. This is true outside of marriage. But it is true even within Christian marriage. Why? Because of sin and the fall. When God created Adam and Eve, it says that they were naked without shame. But when sin entered into the Garden, Adam and Eve realized that they were naked and felt shamed.
Today, of course, there is still sin--sin that we commit, and sin that others commit against us. Those who have been emotionally or physically abused may find it difficult for them to be vulnerable or "naked" with their spouse. Sin damaged the earth physically, and age and decay and cancer entered into the world. These can interfere with a good sexual relationship. Spouses sin against one another with selfishness and biting or hurtful words and actions. Emotional and physical affairs cause much damage.
But in Song of Songs, we see what God intends for sex to be like in a marriage. It is no coincidence that the height of the sexual expression is found in the middle of the book of Song of Songs--and that this lovemaking happens in the context of a "garden." Song of Songs 4:12-16 says this:
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 . . .
15 You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.
16 . . . Let my beloved come into his garden
and taste its choice fruits.
Clearly, this is the sexual relationship that God intended for Adam and Eve to have for one another in the Garden of Eden, where they were made to become "one flesh." In this Song of Songs, God shows us the type of sexual relationship he wants for Christian husbands and wives--passionate, overflowing, wild, and loving--with nothing, no sin, between them to hinder the relationship.
The more that couples put aside the sin of selfishness that is inside us all, the more that the sexual relationship will blossom. And Paul encourages Christian couples to continue to have sexual relations in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5.
The tiredness of the world, sins committed against us, sins of spouses against one another, can all make sexual relations difficult. And yet, withholding sex, except by mutual consent, because their is sin and hurt, is not an option for Christian couples. Paul even says something totally radical here, that one's own body is not one's own. That is a radical kind of oneness that goes beyond just a metaphor. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but must yield it to her husband! Even more radical for that time--the husband does not have authority over his own body, but must yield it to his wife! That is radical stuff. It means that the offer should, in general, always be open unless there is agreement by both parties to abstain--and only then for a time. Of course, Christian love will temper this demand and take into consideration the spouse's state. But this is still radical. It is far different from the occasional offer when the time and circumstances are just right. It may require a change in lifestyle to make this possible in a marriage to allow time and energy for this relationship. It may require a change in attitude. It may require many things that may be hard, but it is still what God calls Christian couples to do.
Again, sin and selfishness messes all of this up. That is why the more that spouses seek to be like Christ, the better the sex will be. (And Paul says that sex itself protects against sin and affairs.) Song of Songs gives us a glimpse and understanding of the type of sexual relations a Christian couple ought to strive for in their marriage. Marriage and sexual relations can be difficult. But it can also be incredible, with God's help and blessings and a Christ-centered marriage.
What do you think of the image of sexual relations and marriage found in Song of Songs? What challenges do you see? What hope do you draw from this?
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Dr. James Nored (Doctor of Ministry, Fuller Theological Seminary) is a preacher, evangelist, church consultant, writer, and missional leader located in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.
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