In my younger days, when this book was known as the Song of Solomon, there was a tendency for the Christians I mixed with to understand it as an allegory for Christ and his Church. Apart from the fact that marriage is frequently used in scripture as an analogy for the covenant relationship of God with his people and Christ with the Church, there is little reason to interpret Song of Songs that way. There is no internal evidence and the New Testament doesn’t refer back to it.
No, quite simply this is a poem about the exclusivity and richness of two people in love, delighting in one another. As a part of Scripture and the body of Wisdom Literature, it reminds us that love and sexual attraction are God’s gift, to be thoroughly enjoyed within the bounds that God has set for us.
The spontaneity of love is hinted at, with Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires (2:7 and 3:5). It has to do with giving and responding from the heart.
Catch for us the little foxes
the little foxes
that ruin the vineyards
our vineyards that are in bloom
…suggests an attention to detail in the relationship, whether presenting attractively to one’s spouse or dealing with the everyday small things that could mar the relationship. It is obviously expressed here by a couple in the prime (bloom) of life.
Elsewhere there are the poetic (if somewhat quaint to our ears) compliments expressed one to the other, which keep the romantic love alive:
Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
with choice fruits,
with henna and nard,
nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon,
with every kind of incense tree,
with myrrh and aloes
and all the finest spices.
You are a garden fountain,
a well of flowing water
streaming down from Lebanon.
We might feel awkward expressing ourselves exactly like this, but you get the idea.
A NOTE ABOUT LOVE
You frequently read, “All you need is love,” or something similar. It’s used in all sorts of contexts to justify various ideas and lifestyles. But it’s not true and at its worst amounts to superficial sentimentality. I think I know what people mean when they say that though. They are appealing to the idea that love covers a multitude of sins and that if you do what is loving and good for the other person then you will be doing the right thing – fulfilling the spirit of good laws and transcending bad ones.
But, love needs guidance and wisdom. For example, sometimes parents can love their children by giving them everything they want and bailing them out whenever they get into trouble of their own making. And in doing so they can ruin the ones they love. Love can be misdirected from one’s spouse to another, with painful and prolonged results. Love can lead people to make bad choices in a partner, or to enter a sexual relationship without a commitment to marriage. Statistics have long shown that people who live together before marriage are less likely to stay together when they get married than those who waited. De facto relationships often leave an “out” in the minds of the participants, which can often leave the woman literally carrying the baby. Remember, this is a generalisation, but an important one. Just ask the church organisations, which attempt to give aid in a huge number of broken relationships.
God (who is love) has given us ample instruction in the Old and New Testaments as to the boundaries in which love is to be most enjoyed and practised. Those boundaries are the safeguards for a love which may at times be tough in its administration but which ultimately has the long-term good of the other person in mind. Amongst Paul’s writings about purity in relationships 1 Corinthians 13 has served couples well on their wedding day. Would that we read that New Testament chapter frequently alongside the beautiful Old Testament Song of Songs to experience the love of God permeating our relationships in all its fullness.
…and now I should go and help my wife and tell her how wonderful she is – which she is of course! 🙂