Honoring Love

I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine (Song of Solomon 6:3a).

I am my beloved’s; And his desire is toward me (Song of Solomon 7:10).

What are we to make of the Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s (cf. Song of Solomon 1:1)?

All of the New Testament books are about Jesus and how to live in His Kingdom. The “history” books of the Old Testament tell us about the Israelites and God’s work among them, the books of prophecy present the messages of God to His people, the Psalms give voice to the one who would honor, praise, and glorify God, and Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes grapple with the realities of life, how to live wisely, and why people should serve the LORD no matter what their circumstances. Well and good; we understand why these books are in the Bible. Yet the Song of Solomon is unlike all of these.

For years many justified the Song of Solomon as Scripture, not on the basis of its literal meaning, but as an allegory: among Jews, as a love song between God and His people Israel, and among Christians, as a love song between Christ and the church. Yet such an interpretation seems quite forced: the lovers are clearly a young man and a young woman, and their descriptions of each other and their desires is the language of youthful, desirous love. While it is true that Israel is often portrayed as God’s wife (cf. Ezekiel 16:1-63, Hosea 1:1-3:5), and the church is portrayed as the Bride of Christ (cf. Ephesians 5:22-33), the metaphorical images describing those relationships are not taken as far as we see portrayed in the Song of Solomon.

The best understanding of the Song of Solomon is to understand it at its surface level: it is a song expressing the love and desire of a young man and a young woman toward each other, giving voice to lovers for each other. Love songs were common in the ancient Near Eastern world: we have many similar songs preserved from Egypt as well. For that matter, love songs have been popular throughout time: expressing love and desire for one of the opposite sex has been a primary theme for musicians and songwriters to this very day.

The presence of the Song of Solomon in Scripture demonstrates that the “secular” and “spiritual” divide which marks much of modern thought does not reflect reality. The God of the Bible remains God in terms of secular interests and matters as much as in spiritual interests and matters.

In the Song of Solomon, God honors the love and desire between the young man and the young woman. When love, desire, and sexuality are discussed in Scripture and among Christians, it is very often in negative terms, prohibiting all sorts of sexual behavior. Many people focus on the negative and have come away with the impression that romantic love and sexuality are intrinsically impure and “dirty,” and cannot imagine that such things can honor or glorify God. Such negativity is a distressing distortion of what God is trying to communicate in the Bible, for all of the sexual prohibitions and guidelines are actually meant to honor and sanctify the proper exercise of romantic love and sexuality in marriage.

So the refrain goes in the Song of Solomon: the woman declares that she belongs to her beloved, and her beloved is hers, and his desire is for her (Song of Solomon 6:3, 7:10). This is the relationship which can honor God: marriage is honorable, and its bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4). God, in fact, made man so that he would cling to his wife and the two would become one flesh (Genesis 2:24; cf. Matthew 19:4-6). For generations, the Song of Solomon has given a voice for young men and women to express their love for one another, finding an opportunity to see their own love story in terms of the young man and young woman of the Song.

What makes the Song of Solomon more “interesting” or scandalous for people today is different from what made it distinctive in the past. In modern American culture we tend to take marrying for love for granted; in the ancient world, the decision of who would marry whom was most often left to parents trying to make family mergers that made good social and economic sense (as is done in many parts of the world to this day). Marrying for love did not happen as often; most couples would have to learn to love each other after their commitment and consummation.

The Song of Solomon has always been somewhat scandalous and a stumbling-block for some, but it need not be. God is able to glory in pure love and romance between a young man and a young woman. In fact, it is when “my beloved is mine” and “I am his/hers” that this love and romance can truly blossom. All married couples are called to find enjoyment in each other, for a man to “rejoice in the wife of his youth,” and his wife likewise rejoice in her husband, no matter what the circumstances (cf. Proverbs 5:18-19). Such lasting love honors and glorifies God who is love and who is one in relationship within Himself. Let us then understand the value of the Song of Solomon, and for those of us who are married, share in love and romance with our spouse!

Ethan R. Longhenry

Helping the Defiled

And a woman having an issue of blood twelve years, who had spent all her living upon physicians, and could not be healed of any, came behind him, and touched the border of his garment: and immediately the issue of her blood stanched.
And Jesus said, “Who is it that touched me?”
And when all denied, Peter said, and they that were with him, “Master, the multitudes press thee and crush thee.”
But Jesus said, “Some one did touch me; for I perceived that power had gone forth from me.”
And when the woman saw that she was not hid, she came trembling, and falling down before him declared in the presence of all the people for what cause she touched him, and how she was healed immediately.
And he said unto her, “Daughter, thy faith hath made thee whole; go in peace” (Luke 8:43-48).

Here we have a unique example of a story in a story– a healing taking place as Jesus is going forth to heal another (the daughter of Jairus; Luke 8:41-42, 49-56). It is a story of a woman desperate for healing– a circumstance that is no less touching today. It also strongly features the power of God that proceeds for those who have faith– even without a direct verbal appeal the woman was healed on account of the power in the Son of God and her faith in Him. Surely the power of God is to be praised from this story.

And yet there is another theme that is within this story, even if it is not explicitly addressed. Consider what the Law has to say about a woman in this condition:

And if a woman have an issue of her blood many days not in the time of her impurity, or if she have an issue beyond the time of her impurity; all the days of the issue of her uncleanness she shall be as in the days of her impurity: she is unclean. Every bed whereon she lieth all the days of her issue shall be unto her as the bed of her impurity: and everything whereon she sitteth shall be unclean, as the uncleanness of her impurity. And whosoever toucheth those things shall be unclean, and shall wash his clothes, and bathe himself in water, and be unclean until the even (Leviticus 15:25-27).

This woman is ritually unclean and has been ritually unclean for twelve years. Anyone who comes into contact with her or with anything that she has touched contracts the ritual defilement. By necessity, when she touches Jesus, she passes on the ritual defilement.

We must remember that it is not inherently sinful to become ritually defiled– after all, ritual defilement also comes on account of the natural menstrual cycle (Leviticus 15:19-24), touching the dead (Numbers 19:11-16), and for many other reasons. Nevertheless, ritual defilement was a big deal to many people, especially those involved with the Temple service. This woman would have experienced tragic discrimination because of her illness since many would be afraid of contracting ritual defilement.

It may be for this reason that the woman is reluctant to come forward and speak clearly regarding what she has done. She is certainly afraid of receiving a rebuke or chastisement for her conduct. But Jesus is not like the religious leaders of His day. He recognizes that defilement is a matter of the heart and conduct, not a matter of foods and illness (cf. Mark 7:14-23). He is willing to bear the ritual defilement so that the woman can be cleansed. He just wanted her to declare to all around what God had done for her so that He would receive the praise and glory.

The lesson of Jesus here is critical even to this day. While people today do not put stock into ritual cleanliness or uncleanliness there still remains the feeling that certain people in our society, for various reasons, might as well be “unclean.” There are people with whom the “good, moral, upright citizens” are not expected to come into contact, and many people who are reckoned as “defiled.” It is tempting to avoid such people so that we are not “tainted” with their “defilements.”

Yet consider what Jesus did. He healed those who were ritually defiled. He was willing to eat with tax collectors and sinners (cf. Matthew 9:10-11). He did not shun those whom His society branded as “defiled” and “unclean” either for ritual or moral reasons; instead, He preached the good news to them. They, after all, knew they were sick, and needed help.

It is true that Christians must be conscious of many concerns. They must watch themselves lest they get tempted to sin and to fall (cf. Galatians 6:1-4). They must give due consideration to their example and influence and not cause others to sin by the exercise of liberty (1 Corinthians 8). But none of this gives an excuse for not loving and not showing compassion on those whom society considers “defiled” and “unclean.” Yes, people are sinners, but Christ came to save sinners and to die for the ungodly (Romans 5:5-11). Even if “we” were never “as” dirty as others, we all were defiled and ungodly before we were redeemed, and our redemption is not based in our own righteousness (Titus 3:3-8).

It is always easier to shun the “defiled” and “unclean.” Yet just as Jesus showed mercy, we should show mercy. Let us strive to love the “defiled” and the “unclean” as Jesus did, and reflect His image to the world!

Ethan R. Longhenry