I confess the Song of Solomon has always intimidated me as a preacher. Its vivid and excitable statements of marital sexual intimacy and the penchant of commentators to interpret it allegorically have combined to make me cautious. Even the ancients recommended that a young man not read the Song of Songs until he was either married or age 30. Yet, “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable…” (2 Tim. 3:16).
The Song of Songs is presented as a dramatic narrative that includes Solomon’s bride, the never-named Shulammite, secondly Solomon, thirdly, the daughters of Jerusalem, and fourthly, the brothers of the Shulammite. It could be the Shulammite is Naamah the Ammonite, Solomon’s first wife; the mother of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:21) who was born one year before Solomon became king, which probably occurred around age 20. Thus she would be his first love. It’s possible that Solomon met her through one of his father’s mighty men, Zelek the Ammonite who might have lived in the rural Ammonite town of Shulah. Now, how can a pastor use this “profitable” book? Let me recommend five ways.
First, this book celebrates marital, sexual intimacy enjoyed as God’s good gift. It elevates erotic love with dynamics of care and tenderness, associated with the depths of transparency, intensity, and delight between husband and wife. When read, one quickly recognizes the God-designed, benevolent, and powerful instrument of sexual intimacy within marriage. This explains Hebrews 13:4, which declares the marriage bed is to be held sacred and honored by all.
Second, it extends and promotes intimacy within marriage by affirming recreational and ministerial sexual intimacy and not only procreational sexuality. In 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 Paul emphasizes the husband and wife are to give themselves to each other with this ministry mindset. They do not come together to take from the other but to give – the sexual relationship is not hierarchal but reciprocal. The husband/wife relationship and the gift of sexuality is not for personal gratification but for the joy of giving gratification knowing that it is “more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). In other words, giving actually heightens one’s experience, and taking diminishes one’s experience.
Third, the Song of Songs is countercultural. It powerfully presents sexuality to be enjoyed within a relationship that is defined by God. It is covenantal, monogamous, and heterosexual. Any other definition of marriage will destroy a society.
Fourth, it attacks today’s resurgence of neo-paganism, which declares the spiritual as good and the physical as evil. When God made man – male and female – and the marriage covenant, He declared that both the spiritual and physical are “good.” The fall brought death to both. Therefore, redemption renews both. We are not only born again spiritually, we are renewed so that our bodies become “temples of the Holy Spirit” anticipating the new body, the new heavens and new earth. This includes God’s good gift of sexual intimacy within marriage as renewed and by grace properly enjoyed. Any other use of sexuality is idolatry and is destructive.
Finally, while one must refrain from allegorizing the text in its entirety in order to promote spiritual meaning, it is valid to see how Christ is being presented. Ephesians 5, while defining the marriage relationship between man and woman, also declares that the marriage covenant is a proper way to understand the relationship between Christ and His bride, the church. In 1859 the great Presbyterian preacher James Henley Thornwell had the opportunity to announce the wedding of his daughter, Nancy. In the weeks leading up to this event, the hundreds traveling would end up at a funeral, not a wedding as she took ill from cholera typhoid and began a rapid demise. Thornwell, overcome, came to his daughter’s bedside in her waning moments and said, “Oh my dear daughter, such tragedy!” She replied, “Father, do not weep. I know my Savior.” He said, “But this was to be your wedding, your whole life now before you.” She, the youth, yet with greater maturity said, “Father, but I now go to a greater Groom that I am prepared to meet.” Nancy Witherspoon Thornwell was laid to rest in a wedding gown, and the tombstone reads: “As a bride prepared for her Groom.”
The Song of Solomon obviously has much pastoral use in the issues of marriage and biblical sexuality. Yet, its glorious and ultimate use is to point the people of God as the bride of Christ to our glorious, majestic, and intimate relationship with the Bridegroom, Jesus Christ. Our gown is spotless, our relationship pure by His blood, righteousness, and promised presence. With Him there are more than ten thousand joys.