Song 7:1 How beautiful your sandaled feet, O prince’s daughter! Your graceful legs are like jewels, the work of a craftsman’s hands.

Song 7:2 Your navel is a rounded goblet that never lacks blended wine.  Your waist is a mound of wheat encircled by lilies.

Song 7:3 Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle.

Song 7:4 Your neck is like an ivory tower.  Your eyes are the pools of Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim.  Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon looking toward Damascus.

Song 7:5 Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel.  Your hair is like royal tapestry; the king is held captive by its tresses.

Song 7:6 How beautiful you are and how pleasing, O love, with your delights!

Song 7:7 Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit.

Song 7:8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.”  May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples,

Song 7:9 and your mouth like the best wine.  May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth.

Aspects of love - sermon notes

Text: Song of Songs 7:9b-8:7

The Song of Songs is a strange, unique, beautiful book.

Strange – partly because God isn’t mentioned from beginning to end.

Unique – because it is the one book of the Bible that gives a sustained and detailed celebration of love between a man and a woman.

Beautiful – because it does all of this in wonderfully imaginative poetry. It has every right to be called ‘The Song of Songs’, the greatest love song of them all.

I find in this passage three aspects of love. Three characteristics of God’s ideal for a relationship between a man and a woman. I want to speak to you about love’s delight, love’s devotion, and love’s durability.

1. Love’s delight

The Song of Songs is full of expressions of pleasure and delight. See, for example, 7:9, where the woman sings, ‘May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth.’

Truly, her kisses are ‘sweeter than wine.’

7:13 – She says, ‘at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my lover.’

One thing to notice before we go any further is that just about everything in our passage tonight is spoken by the girl.

Interesting, isn’t it, that the notion that a woman can enjoy making love is often assumed to be a 20th-century discovery. But here we have a vivid example, up to 1,000 years before the time of Christ, of a young woman delighting in physical intimacy.

Two things stand out as being particularly delightful:-

Dignity. Sex is not always dignified. Cf. Lot’s daughters, Gen 19 – “There’s no man around here that we can have sex with. Let’s get our father drunk and have sex with him.”

The lovers in the Song of Songs see one another as persons, not just bodies. Their desire is for one another, not just for ‘it’. They are interested in human dynamics, not just physical mechanics. They are committed to developing their relationship, not just practicing their technique. They are equally willing partners. When the woman takes the initiative 7:12 – it’s not, ‘let’s have sex’, but, ‘I will give you my love’.

Communication. Throughout the Song they are talking to one another! Now there’s a thought. Notice how in 7:11ff – she talks to her lover. They look into each others’ eyes and pay one another loving, lingering compliments.

So, part of God’s ideal for love between a man and a woman is that they should find delight in one another. There is delight in dignity and trust and mutual respect. There is delight in looking into one another’s eyes and talking: intimately, playfully, tenderly.

2. Love’s devotion.

According to 8:6, love between a man and a woman is like a blazing fire. And a blazing fire is a very good thing, so long as it stays where it belongs in the fireplace. Human love-making is very good too, so long as it stays within its own proper bounds and limits. It belongs in the context of a life-long devotion between a man and a woman.

A beautiful expression of their devotion is found in 7:10 – ‘I am my beloved’s and he is mine’.

But where is this relationship going? 8:4 repeats a warning first heard in ch 2 – ‘Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.’

There comes a time in the relationship between the lovers when they need to make a definite commitment.

This longing for commitment is expressed most clearly in 8:6 – ‘Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm.’

The seal over the heart expresses private commitment. The seal on the arm represents public recognition.

Private: We know that we belong to one another. Public: everyone can see that we belong to one another.

I think it’s important to emphasise the importance of public recognition of a relationship.

The idea that getting married involves ‘just a piece of paper’ is short-sighted. A marriage certificate is no more ‘just a piece of paper’, than are the certificates of your achievements and qualifications, or the deeds of your house, or a cheque for £10,000.

I do not say, of course, that marriage always works, or that cohabitation never works. But cohabitation will always be inherently unstable, because it is a private and provisional arrangement. Marriage, on the other hand, lends itself to stability: for it is public and permanent arrangement. It is both a private and a public seal of a couple’s devotion.

But, speaking of permanence, we come to,

3. Love’s durability

8:6. ‘Love is as strong as death.’

Let us fix it in our minds that God’s ideal for marriage is a life-long commitment.

8:7 – ‘Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away.’ This suggests that even life-long commitment can come under threat. The path of true love does not always run smooth.

Of course, many swear undying love, but do they really mean it?

On the day of their engagement, a young man gave his fiancée a rather expensive necklace. It came with a note which said, “My dearest Diane, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you for ever and ever. I am yours for all eternity.” Signed, “Tom”. P.S. “If we ever split up, I want this necklace back.”

To enter into marriage is to renounce the possibility of leaving it. Not ‘until something better comes along; ‘but, ‘till death us do part’.

It makes a huge difference when a couple marry thinking that it might not be permanent. When marriage is entered into with the thought that divorce is a possibility, this places an immense emotional burden on one or both of the partners. ‘Does/he still love me? Will s/he find someone younger or better than me’.

Think ahead. It has been said that all marriages are blissfully happy. It’s just the living together afterwards that causes all the trouble. Some couples grow so far apart that in the end the only thing they have in common is that they were married on the same day. Just as there are some women who want babies, but not children, so there are some men who want a bride, but not a wife. Here’s a simple test when considering marriage: Could you imagine being with this person in 10, 25, 50, years’ time?

There are many things that both partners can do to help keep the flame alive. ‘Romance comes and goes and comes again; it is…a flickering flame that constantly needs to be fuelled. The will to refuel and nurture is the true love that makes for survival. We need to fan the flames by little acts of kindness, springing thoughtful surprises that break the patterns of dull routine.’ (Gledhill)

In any church, there are likely to be married couples who have been together for 40, 50 or more years. And they still delight in one another. They are still devoted to one another. They are a joy and an inspiration.

Conclusion

Here, then, is God’s ideal for love, sex and marriage. Here is wonderful affirmation of the physical and emotional delight that is to be discovered. Here is a beautiful picture of the devotion between a man and a woman. Here is the lofty goal and challenges of working at durability.

Is it worth it? 8:7 – ‘If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.’ Such love is said to be ‘priceless’.

But I’ve kept referring to this as God’s ideal. After all, this is poetry, folks. It is always spring in the Song of Songs. The lovers are forever young. There are minor anxieties, but no concerns expressed about paying the mortgage, contraception, where the children will go to school. But love, in this life, is not like that. Maybe it is winter, in more ways than one, in your life, in your home, in your relationship.

Over the past week I’ve come across the following, just in my own circle of acquaintances:-

  • A woman in her thirties, married for ten years and with two children, blurts out: “I’ve just found out my husband has been having an affair.”
  • A woman in her forties receives a message at work, telling her that her husband has been rushed to hospital as an emergency.
  • An elderly mother shares that her son and daughter-in-law have separated, now that their children have grown up. They’re still good friends, and see one another several times a week, but they realise that have always been unsuited, and perhaps should never have married in the first place.
  • A Christian gentleman in his eighties has recently lost his wife of 64 years. He says he can accept it intellectually, because she suffered so much towards the end. But he sheds tears of sadness every day, because he misses her so much.

It’s good to have ideals to aim at, but we need to be realists as well.

And there are plenty of people for whom marriage is not on the horizon at all. In any Christian gathering there will be those who are not married, but might be one day. There will be others who have been married, but no longer are. There will be those who are single either through choice or circumstance. And there may be those who find themselves attracted to members of their own sex.

So let me conclude with a word to all, whatever our personal situation with regard to love, sex and marriage. According to the teaching of Jesus, even the most delightful, devoted and enduring of marriages in this life is not where it is all going to end up.

Lk 20: 34f “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage.”

The Song of Songs, in celebrating all that is best in human love, it points to something still more satisfying, still more enduring. In its very idealism the Song points away from itself to something else; from the human to the divine; from the love between a man and a woman to the love between Christ and his church. Quoting the archetypal marriage text in Gen 2:24, Paul says in Eph 5:31f “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.’

Here is an eternal love, a transcendent love. It will offer the same delight, the same devotedness, the same durability, only on an infinitely higher plane than the most blissful partnership between a man and woman can ever achieve.  And it’s open to every one of us.

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May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth – We now have the beloved responding to her lover.  ‘Go straight’ (cf. Song 1:4) meaning something like, ‘flowing smoothly’ (Gledhill).  The picture is of ‘smooth, silky, erotic kissing’.

Song 7:10 I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.

Belong is interpretative.  The slightly less possessive ‘I am my beloved’s’ is also more accurate (Carr).

The girl gives herself to the boy ‘eagerly, willingly and with gladness.’ (Gledhill)  She knows that she is the object of his desire.  This word ‘desire’ occurs in the OT only in Gen 3:16 and 4:7.

The two lovers are equally willing partners.  ‘If the language of of the boy seems domineering, that is only because of the strong natural urge for fulfilment once desire has been roused.  The urge for consummation is violent for both the girl and the boy.’ (Gledhill)

Song 7:11 Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages.

Gledhill points out that if the couple were already married there would be no need for this urge to ‘go to the countryside’.  But, then again, it is perhaps ‘a flight of fancy on the girl’s part, an expression of her deepest yearnings.’

Villages – more probably, ‘henna bushes’.  These grow wild in Palestine, and in spring are covered with fragrant whitish flowers.

Song 7:12 Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded, if their blossoms have opened, and if the pomegranates are in bloom—there I will give you my love.

‘The whole of nature seems to be sprouting and blossoming, and the two lovers want to be part of that.  Their love has blossomed and become fragrant, they are ripe for love.’ (Gledhill)

The motif of ‘love in the springtime’ seems to suggest ‘that there is a time and a season for everything.  There were times when restraint was necessary, but now it is a time to embrace (Eccle 3:1,5)’ (Gledhill).

‘Romance in the great outdoors is also a picture of untrammelled freedom and of closeness to nature.  The literary fiction reminds us of our creatureliness and of our unashamed delight in participating in the natural order of things.’ (Gledhill)

Song 7:13 The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my lover.

The mandrake, a powerfully fragrant plant, was regarded as a sexual stimulant.  Gledhill remarks that the girl is hardly in need of an aphrodisiac.  This is ‘a literary device to give a sexual frisson to the poetry.’

Our door – Again, this is not to be taken literally.  She has stored up for him an abundance of delightful treasures.  She has prepared a feast for him.

‘No Lady Hillingdon this, suffering in ungracious passivity!  Supremely confident of her capacity to satisfy him, she articulates all the delights she has in store for him and describes the circumstances where she will give him her love.  This kid of advance planning must drive her lover wild with frenzied anticipation.  Such psychological ploys are part of the game of love.  She is creating a mental and physical environment in which their union may be consummated with the maximum intensity and minimum of inhibition.  She even hints that she is able to teach him a thing or two.  All is fair play in the desire for a happy release of sexual tension.’ (Gledhill)

‘So what has this to teach us today?  Perhaps it may act as a stimulus to revive a flagging physical relationship by being more adventurous, more romantic and less mechanical.  Manuals of technique can give the mechanics.  But the human dynamics, the relaxed, playful fun of uninhibited romping with each other are the essential ingredients.  How we overcome our inhibitions is for us as couples to work out.  How to articulate our desires verbally is yet another matter.  We cannot all be acrobatic nymphs, and not all our fantasies may be realizable.  But what really matters is that it is her or him that we are concerned for in our mutual enjoyment, and not just “it”.  If the sparks fly and the earth moves, then well and good.  If they don’t, the tension may be released by dissolving into laughter.  For even some of the most carefully laid plans designed to lead to the giddy heights, may on occasion fall flat.  Of course, we should try again and be more relaxed about the whole thing, breaking up dull routines with spontaneous outbursts  of tenderness.  So shall we make room for the serendipitous enjoyment of our whimsical passions.’ (Gledhill)

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