Against ‘Settling Down’ (Iain Provan)
Eros calls us to affirmation, but it also calls us to respect. The most noticeable feature of 4:1-5:1, after the strong implication of female powerlessness in 3:6-11, is the way in which the man goes out of his way to emphasize that the woman is a person in her own right with boundaries that must be respected. He may be her intimate, but he is only by invitation. He does not own her, nor can he control her. If he is to enjoy her, it must be at her summons. Throughout our passage there is a recognition, in other words, that even though the couple remain in a marital relationship, each remains as “other” to the one who loves. There is, consequently, much wooing in the passage. The man accepts that the relationship can only be good if it is mutual, and he pursues his beloved with passion. He recognises his beloved as a person before he regards her as a woman.
There is an enduring message here, too, for those who are married. It is an all-too-common root of marital trouble that one or both parties “settle down” in a marriage and begin to take the other person for granted. The legal contracts are signed, and all wooing in due course ceases. Too often there is in fact no ongoing sense of the other at all – a separate and unique person with whom it is an enormous privilege to spend one’s life. The transgressions of boundaries and the invasion of space become legion, and ownership and control become the governing categories of the marriage. sexual interaction, which can only ever express what is already there in the relationship, becomes humdrum and predictable and is no longer about the union of two free spirits but about the slow expiration of two souls in bondage.
Eros calls us (back) to the constant recognition of the other – the one who befriends us not because he or she has no choice but out of self-giving and committed love. It calls us to make wooing an ongoing feature of our marriages, not just a prelude to them. Eros thus constantly pushes beyond the legal institution of marriage to the hear of it, insisting that what is respectable is not necessarily good and that what has been accepted as normal is not necessarily to be accepted as what is right.
Eros calls us, finally, to intimacy. the natural and good end of affirmation and wooing is unrestrained and joyous sexual, emotional, and spiritual intimacy. The woman in 4:1-5:1 welcomes her lover with open arms into her garden, and he comes to feast.
Song of Songs 4:1-5:1
1 Behold, (A)you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
(B)Your eyes are doves
(C)behind your veil.
(D)Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down (E)the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your (F)teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
3 Your lips are like (G)a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is (H)lovely.
Your (I)cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
(J)behind your veil.
4 Your (K)neck is like the tower of David,
built in (L)rows of stone;[a]
on it (M)hang a thousand shields,
all of (N)them shields of warriors.
5 Your (O)two breasts are like two (P)fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that (Q)graze among the lilies.
6 (R)Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will go away to the mountain of (S)myrrh
and the hill of (T)frankincense.
7 (U)You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no (V)flaw in you.
8 (W)Come with me from (X)Lebanon, my (Y)bride;
come with me from (Z)Lebanon.
Depart[b] from the peak of Amana,
from the peak of (AA)Senir and (AB)Hermon,
from the dens of lions,
from the mountains of leopards.
9 You have captivated my heart, my (AC)sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one (AD)jewel of your necklace.
10 How beautiful is your love, my (AE)sister, my bride!
How much (AF)better is your love than wine,
and (AG)the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11 Your (AH)lips drip nectar, my bride;
(AI)honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is (AJ)like the fragrance of (AK)Lebanon.
12 A garden locked is my (AL)sister, my bride,
a spring locked, (AM)a fountain (AN)sealed.
13 Your shoots are (AO)an orchard of pomegranates
with all (AP)choicest fruits,
(AQ)henna with (AR)nard,
14 nard and saffron, (AS)calamus and (AT)cinnamon,
with all trees of (AU)frankincense,
(AV)myrrh and (AW)aloes,
with all (AX)choice spices—
15 a garden fountain, a well of (AY)living water,
and flowing streams from (AZ)Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my (BA)garden,
let its spices flow.
- How is the woman’s free will to withold her ‘garden’ affirmed?
- How is the willing surrender of her ‘garden’ emphasized?
- How is the love in this passage contrasted with the ‘lovemaking’ on the bed of Solomon?
- Can a man and woman be prevented from marrying by force but secretly be married?
- How can praise and conversation be more central to your lovemaking?