The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
3 your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.
4 Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
5 I am very dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
beside the flocks of your companions?
8 If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your young goats
beside the shepherds’ tents.
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make for you ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of Engedi.
15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.
Our couch is green;
17 the beams of our house are cedar;
our rafters are pine.
Song of Songs and Genesis 1-3
In his commentary on Song of Songs 1 Iain Provan writes:
It is … fierce self-determination, however, that makes the Song of Songs such a remarkable piece of literature when set in the context of ancient Israelite culture. The world that is dominated by men certainly lies in the background of the book, but in the foreground stands a woman who will not be dominated and who exercises her freedom in extraordinary ways. She initiates love with her man of choice, announcing her intention right at the beginning of chapter 1 (1:2) and pursuing her lover (1:7) even while resident in the contexts that society has successively forced on her (vineyards and court).
She undoubtedly takes risks in doing so, for society will look askance at her course of action (1:7; the theme returns in 5:7 and 8:1); yet she persists. There is in this relationship with a man, at least, no male domination or ownership, but only the meeting of equal persons in dialog with each other, verbally and physically. It is as if the curse of the Fall has been nullified, and we are now back in the Garden of Eden, where it is accepted that male and female are indeed created equally in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) and stand together in partnership as they relate to the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26, 28). It is as if, in the fertile, outdoor space where the lovers meet, they have once again captured the democratic intimacy of the first Garden, where woman is “woman” who corresponds to “man” (Gen. 2:23) – one flesh, naked, and never ashamed – and not simply “Eve,” who is defined by her role as mother (Gen. 3:20) and destined only to relate to her man as a powerful superior.
It is striking, indeed, that female initiative in Song of Songs results in restored intimacy and joy. Female initiative in Genesis 3:6 (at the invitation of the serpent) results only in guilt and alienation – the first instance in the human story of men and women blaming each other for reality, as Adam accuses Eve, Eve the serpent, and the serpent (as it has been well said) finds himself without a leg to stand on.
the Song of Songs thus reminds readers of the Old Testament of something that we ought to have realized without its help, especially as Christian readers of these Scriptures, but have frequently missed. It reminds us that we are called not simply to live in the fallen world and accept its constraints, injustices, and horrors but rather to live out the kingdom of God in its midst. It reminds us of God’s creation purposes as they are so wonderfully described in Genesis 1-2, and it rebukes us for forgetting so often throughout church history to keep these chapters in mind when we read Genesis 3 and the rest of the Bible.
When the legal and narrative sections of the Old testament are read in the context of these opening chapters of Genesis (as Jesus himself invites us to do, (Matt. 19:3-8), they are clearly seen only to tell us, first, of the realities of the fallen world and, second, of the ways in which God has provided laws that might mitigate only the worst of human wickedness. they do not provide us with any excuse for living contentedly with the world as we find it rather than seeking to live out God’s rule in our lives, and they certainly do not provide us with texts that can be used to legitimate the world order as we currently find it in its fallen state.
Law and narrative, and indeed prophecy and other forms of Old Testament literature, must be read in the context of the whole of God’s plans for the world in creation and redemption as they are revealed throughout the Bible, if they are not to be misunderstood in their particularity. The Song of Songs helps us to see this by presenting us with a male-female relationship that evokes Genesis 1-2 rather than Genesis 3 and many other parts of the Bible.
May men and women find a return to the Garden of Eden. May we stop fighting for domination. May we give up our manipulation. May we embrace a cooperation that opens our hearts to each other without fear. May we work together once more as equals to bring about the Kingdom of Heaven.
- What words in the passage describe where the lovers meet?
- How is Song of Songs reminiscent of Genesis 1 and 2 according to Provan?
- How do you think male dominance is portrayed after Genesis 3 in the Bible?
- Taking a complementarian perspective, how would a man assume a leadership role and still encourage female initiative?
- Taking an egalitarian perspective, how would men and women work together in the ‘democracy’ Provan describes? For example, the classic example is that they have a ‘tie’ if they disagree (one vote each). How does an egalitarian decide the tie-breaker in godly relationships?