Song of Songs Introduction II

Marriages go through high points and low points.  Dating is diminished over time.  Divorce within marriage occurs and couples end up leading separate lives.  Some couples are never intimate and form a cold alliance where the main objectives are financial or for the children’s sake.  Song of Songs is a challenge.  It is full of erotic passion.  The church has reinterpreted the passion to clean it up and traditionally recast the book as a love between Christ and the church.  The truth is more simple, God created erotic love and passion.  God created the desire in men and women to be intertwined both physically and emotionally.

The Skinner Small Group has been trying to retrace a path to both physical and emotional intimacy which is why one of the group members chose this book.  How do we get there?  Nancy and Ray Kane ran a bootcamp for us at my house which will be in two parts.  The first part has revealed things to the group that have been breathtaking.  One thing that they did was empower the men to take the initiative.  This is sexual and emotional leadership.  Passivity kills relationships.  It creates a cold isolation.  It is a heart that battles through its own pain to reach out to the beloved that wins out in the end.  We all have emotion.  The sharing of emotion creates intimacy and desire.  The desire is not compartmentalized into sexual and emotional – healthy desire within a marriage encompasses both aspects.

My mother told me of a survey in England which asked sexually active teens about their partner.  The truth was revealed that they did not know them.  The strong sexual desire had been confused with intimacy.  There are others who have friends that they would tell anything to and who they would cry with and laugh with.  This is beautiful but it is not necessarily erotic.  There is room for Eros in God’s range of love.  The term for love frequently used for God’s love is agape.  This love is not a special ‘God-love’ or a term exclusive to God.  It is just the broadest term in the Greek for love.  It is all encompassing in that it contains all other loves.

Song of Songs Introduction II

Theme and Theology

In ancient Israel everything human came to expression in words: reverence, gratitude, anger, sorrow, suffering, trust, friendship, commitment, loyalty, hope, wisdom, moral outrage, repentance. In the Song, it is love that finds words — inspired words that disclose its exquisite charm and beauty as one of God’s choicest gifts. The voice of love in the Song, like that of wisdom in Pr 8:19:12, is a woman’s voice, suggesting that love and wisdom draw men powerfully with the subtlety and mystery of a woman’s allurements.
This feminine voice speaks profoundly of love. She portrays its beauty and delights. She claims its exclusiveness (“My lover is mine and I am his,” 2:16) and insists on the necessity of its pure spontaneity (“Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires,” 2:7). She also proclaims its overwhelming power — it rivals that of the fearsome enemy, death; it burns with the intensity of a blazing fire; it is unquenchable even by the ocean depths (8:6-7a). She affirms its preciousness: All that one possesses cannot purchase it, nor (alternatively) should it be exchanged for it (8:7b). She hints, without saying so explicitly (see the last NIV text note on 8:6), that it is the Lord’s gift.

God intends that such love — grossly distorted and abused by both ancient and modern people — be a normal part of marital life in his good creation (see Ge 1:26-31; 2:24). Indeed, in the Song the faithful Israelite could ascertain how to live lovingly within the theocratic arrangement. Such marital love is designed by the Creator-King to come to natural expression within his realm.

Literary Features

No one who reads the Song with care can question the artistry of the poet. The subtle delicacy with which he evokes intense sensuous awareness while avoiding crude titillation is one of the chief marks of his achievement. This he accomplishes largely by indirection, by analogy and by bringing to the foreground the sensuous in the world of nature (or in food, drink, cosmetics and jewelry). To liken a lover’s enjoyment of his beloved to a gazelle “browsing among lilies” (2:16), or her breasts to “twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies” (4:5), or the beloved herself to a garden filled with choice fruits inviting the lover to feast (4:12-16) — these combine exquisite artistry and fine sensitivity.

Whether the Song has the unity of a single dramatic line linking all the subunits into a continuing story is a matter of ongoing debate among interpreters. There do appear to be connected scenes in the love relationship (see Outline).

Virtually all agree that the literary climax of the Song is found in 8:6-7, where the unsurpassed power and value of love — the love that draws man and woman together — are finally expressly asserted. Literary relaxation follows the intenseness of that declaration. A final expression of mutual desire between the lovers brings the Song to an end, suggesting that love goes on. This last segment (8:8-14) is in some sense also a return to the beginning, as references to the beloved’s brothers, to her vineyard and to Solomon (the king) link 8:8-12 with 1:2-6. In this song of love the voice of the beloved is dominant. It is her experience of love, both as the one who loves and as the one who is loved, that is most clearly expressed. The Song begins with her wish for the lover’s kiss and ends with her urgent invitation to him for love’s intimacy.

Questions

  1. What do you associate with the word ‘love’?
  2. What do you associate with the word ‘sex’?
  3. How are sex and love related?
  4. In your opinion how does God relate to erotic love?
  5. Do you speak or write words of love to anyone?  Why?  Why not?

Going Deeper

I asked Dr. Gerry Peterman how Eros and Agape are related.   Isaid that I thought God’s love was broad enough to encompass many different kinds of love.   Here is his reply:

This is a very interesting question. I’ve pondered it only a little, and am by no means sure I have an answer. Further, I’m not sure of the content of any previous communication we’ve had about this subject. But I have a few ramblings which I hope will be slightly helpful.

So, if I may, I start with ἀγάπη, noting that the LXX uses it at times to translate what looks to be romantic and/or sexual feeling and/or action (Gen 34.2-3: And when Shechem saw her…he took her and lay with her by force. And he was deeply attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the girl [καὶ ἠγάπησεν τὴν παρθένον] and spoke tenderly to her; 2 Sam 13.1-19, especially vv. 1, 15: Amnon’s rape of Tamar. After he assaults her, he hates her more than he loved her [ἠγάπησεν αὐτήν]).

Philo uses ἔρως forms (ἔρως, abstract noun; ἐράω, verb; ἐραστής, personal noun) extensively. It does not appear that these are inherently negative or ungodly or merely visceral. For example:

1. Alleg Interp 2.55-57: The soul that loves God (φιλόθεος), having disrobed itself of the body and the objects dear to the body and fled abroad far away from these, gains a fixed and assured settlement in the perfect ordinances of virtue. Therefore witness is borne to it by God that it loves things that are noble (ὅτι καλῶν ἐρᾷ).

2. Spec Laws 1.59: Great principles are taught “by the most holy Moses, who is a lover (ἐραστὴς) and teacher of the truth which he desires to engrave on his disciples…”

I’m not sure I understand what “broad” means regarding the love of God. If by broad we mean that it is logically and exegetically appropriate to speak of God having kinds of love or different objects of love, then I’d agree (as D. A. Carson in The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God, where he delineates 5 loves). But I’m not so sure that if we assert that God’s love is broad that the assertion is equivalent to saying that each exact kind of love humans experience is a type of love that God experiences. Likewise, I’m not so sure that each type of love which both experience is experienced the same way.

By way of illustration: If by ‘God’ we mean the Trinity’s essence (as opposed to the Incarnate Son and his  physical experience), then I’d say God does not love the taste of strawberries. But the enjoyment of them is designed by him. Further, he completely understands their enjoyment. He knows pleasure (e.g., he has pleasure in his Son, Mark 1.11).

One might response with an experiment regarding Hebrews 4.15 (For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin). I do not come to this text saying the following:

1. “There is a temptation which is temptation to feel guilty about past forgiven sins. There is a temptation to feel ashamed of how sinful we are and think that God does not love us. Both these temptations are based on past sin. Jesus has no sin. Thus, Jesus could not have faced this temptation. Therefore the first part of the verse is false. Jesus was not tempted in all ways as we are.”

2. OR “I am constantly tempted to waste a lot of time playing video games. Video games did not exist in Jesus’ time. Thus, Jesus could not have faced this temptation. Therefore the first part of the verse is false. Jesus was not tempted in all ways as we are.”

So how exactly or how narrowly do we define a ‘kind’ of temptation? How exactly or how narrowly do we define a ‘kind’ of love?

So, to come back to love…. I can talk about God loving in all the ways that humans love, but I am not so sure we need to assert this. Similarly, if we talk about God loving in all ways that humans love, we do not need to assert that the love is experienced the same way. Finally, we need to establish how finely or how exactly we will define the ‘ways’ or ‘kinds.’

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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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