Song of Songs 1 and Genesis 1-3

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
    your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
    therefore virgins love you.
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.

I am very dark, but lovely,
    O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
    like the curtains of Solomon.
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!
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?

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.
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.

Prayer

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.

Questions

  1. What words in the passage describe where the lovers meet?
  2. How is Song of Songs reminiscent of Genesis 1 and 2 according to Provan?
  3. How do you think male dominance is portrayed after Genesis 3 in the Bible?
  4. Taking a complementarian perspective, how would a man assume a leadership role and still encourage female initiative?
  5. 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?

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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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16 Responses to Song of Songs 1 and Genesis 1-3

  1. Maelynn says:

    5. Men and women must use scripture to balance other parts of scripture out, of that makes sense. Thus, when given the example of a “tie breaker” both men and women must remember that love is selfless. They must remember what rhe Bible says about putting others’ needs before their own. In a case of a tie breaker, both a husband and a wife should strive to put the other’s wants first.

  2. Jung Kim says:

    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. —Yes, I agree with this statement wholeheartedly. It’s interesting that the Idea of garden of Eden has come up to me for the second time today. In American literature class, Mrs. Brown also talked about the Oversoul by Emerson’s work how we are a God. We are living in a energy field (force). It reminds me again that God is the One and Only God who is all-powerful and without sin.

  3. Molly says:

    My spirit really resonated with the prayer given above. “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.” Such a good reminder in my own marriage to continue to lay down my life for my spouse and ’embrace a cooperation’ that opens our hearts to each other!

  4. Megumi says:

    1. Pasture, couch of green, beams of cedar, rafters of pine…
    2. According to Provan, the natural setting of Song of Songs is like the Garden of Eden, there the lovers are free and equal.
    3. How do you think male dominance is portrayed after Genesis 3 in the Bible?
    4. Taking a complementarian perspective, the man may have the role of leader, but it is also his responsibility to consider the woman’s desires.
    5. Taking an egalitarian perspective, when a husband and wife disagree, it seems that decide on a course of action one will have to defer to the other, or convince the other of his/her perspective.

  5. Kimberly W. says:

    I’m not sure I agree with what Proven writes. Yes, Genesis 3 dramatically changes the relationship between man and woman. However, I’m not sure that the Edenic relationship is the egalitarian relationship he seems to be describing. Further thinking and reading on my part is needed to know what to think about these passages.

  6. Michael McCardle says:

    Just as the Triune God is one, man and women were created to be one together, doing the will of God and living in holy relationship with him. I have been single for a long time and it has been hard at times for me to accept that reality, especially at Moody. But the night before I came out to school, I lay in my bed a prayed that Jesus would fill me and be intimate with me and this love would be all that I need. He has answered my prayer and has filled the brokenness inside me with his love. Love and intamacy is a beautiful thing. We were all made for it. That is why we need to seek out the depressed in our community and love them.

  7. 1. It seems to be somewhere outside.
    2. I am not sure I agree with his comparison between Genesis 1 and 2 and Song of Songs at least not in its totality. When I read the beginning of the book it seems to me that the woman has already been with her lover and that their relationship has been established prior. It doesn’t seem like she is standing up and initiating something. I do think the unguarded intimacy between the woman and her lover definitely picks up that tone from Genesis 1 and 2. I am also a complimentarian even from Genesis 1. I believe God created the woman to compliment the man in his needs and suited her to have needs fulfilled by the man whereas Proven definitely comes across as egalitarian.
    3. I think it portrayed especially throughout the culture’s lens of woman at the time.
    4. Men can do this by leading and having that direction and final say, but he needs to encourage and respect his wife’s opinion enough to ask what she thinks and be reedit sincerely consider it rather than asking just to ask for politeness sake.
    5. I think the man and wife coming from the egalitarian position would have to be practicing humility and conceding or graciously proving their opinion or point.

  8. In my relationship I realize that when either of us want to break a tie, we usually end up more estranged from the “point”, than we were before. It only happens that when we both decide to give it to God and seeks his answer, and also lay down our own agendas to serve one another do we find resolutions. There were many times where we both wanted something different but after disagreeing and being nasty toward each we realized that we were fools in trying to win the tie-breaker , and not consider God in all of it.
    I just pray for myself and others that we come back to the source. Who is God in your life if you do not consider Him in all of your ways?

  9. Maria T. says:

    Question 4 caught my attention. As I read the commentary, I was stubbornly thinking that this was a wrong view because it was egalitarian and I have a high opinion of my own opinion. However, this question reminded me that female initiative is still something that can be encouraged and possibly even should be encouraged, even if one is operating from a different philosophy. Now I need to see what it would look like for a man to be assuming leadership and encouraging female initiative. I am not very good at putting theory to practice before I see it. Even if I can’t answer the question, it gripped my attention and made me realize that I would still have the responsibility to initiate in a relationship, even though I am a woman. That sounds simple, but it is something I haven’t thought about before now.

  10. Emmy R says:

    It’s so easy to get caught up in different views of men and women’s rights, especially in the church. While it is important to wrestle with these ideas and study them for ourselves, may we never forget the example that was set for us, and may we always “return to the Garden of Eden.” For it is in those beginning days of the Garden where we see what God originally intended for us.

  11. Olyn says:

    I really like the perspective you took on this passage-I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone write about it in this way. Its interesting that the woman took initiative-something that is usually taboo/discouraged among Christians, and I probably wouldn’t do. But when taking into context how direct she must have appeared to people in her culture, it makes me rethink what I’ve always assumed regarding men and women’s roles in a relationship.

  12. Christa says:

    1. What words in the passage describe where the lovers meet? Draw me after you, let us run
    2. How is Song of Songs reminiscent of Genesis 1 and 2 according to Provan? According to Provan, this passage of Song of Songs describes the woman and man seeking each other out in a relationship that shows an equality of worth between them
    3. How do you think male dominance is portrayed after Genesis 3 in the Bible? I think that the central focus on male characters is one way that it is seen in the Bible
    4. Taking a complimentarian perspective, how would a man assume a leadership role and still encourage female initiative? The man could take the position of leadership and guidance while still respecting and appreciating all that the woman has to offer and valuing the initiation that she provides
    5. 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? In a tie-breaker situation, I think that it would be crucial to examine the decision they are making and to make the best choice that would be beneficial for them as a whole; each one looking selflessly to the good of the other

  13. Christina W. says:

    “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.” I found this to be really interesting and very true. We are to be living in a way that is reflective of the kingdom of God and not succumb to the patterns of the world.

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