Asmile crossed the kingís face as he dipped his quill into the inkwell one last time. With firm, smooth strokes the final lines flowed freely onto the parchment.
Pushing back from his writing desk, he sighed with satisfaction. The project had gone very well. This was some fine work. Rising from the chair and lifting his hands to heaven, Solomon, the son of David, offered thanks to the Lord. Here, complete at last, was his greatest song, one of the most important pieces of writing he had ever done. With satisfaction he lowered his eyes to the finished work spread out before him. Today we call it the Song of Solomon (or the Song of Songs).
Itís about sex.
In his lifetime Solomon would produce three thousand proverbs and more than a thousand songs and hymns. The son of a legendary king, and a great king himself, he would be esteemed in Scripture as the wisest man who had yet lived. And his Song of Songs is nothing less than an explicit and unblushing celebration of sex within marriage.
To Solomon, this may have been simply a deeply personal reflection on love. But really it was much more than that. Because one day, as we know, it would be counted among the perfect and infallible words of Scripture, inerrantly inspired by the Holy Spirit and intended by God as a primary source of guidance for mankind until the return of the Son.
Thatís right, gentlemen. Solomonís Song of Songs is an entire book of the Bible devoted to the promotion of sexual intimacy within the covenant of marriage. Itís an eight-chapter feast of unbridled, uninhibited, joyous immersion in verbal and physical expressions of passion between a man and a woman.
Not a couple of verses. Not a chapter or two. God didnít consider that enough. He decided to give us a whole book! But can the Song of Songs really be about sex? Isnít the Bible about, well, spiritual stuff?
It sure is. And sexual intimacy within marriage has profound spiritual significance. In fact, in the next chapter weíre going to take a quick look at what the Bible says about marriage. Weíll see that, above all else, marriage is spiritual.
For now, though, letís put ourselves back in King Solomonís study. As husbands, we need to be clear about what this book is telling us. And when you want to understand what the Bible really means, you have to start with what the original writer actually meant. So I want us to take a moment to try to see through Solomonís eyes.
When Solomon was writing his Song, what do you think he had in mind?
The question is important because some Christians see Solomonís Song as a book of symbolism. Men more godly than Ió and a lot smarteróhave believed that this book of the Bible, if itís about marriage at all, is only about marriage in a secondary way. They understand the book primarily as an allegory or as typology. That is, they see all its talk of love and longing as symbolic of the relationship between Christ and the Church or between Christ and the soul of the individual believer.
Maybe thatís how you see Solomonís Song. If so, please understandówhile I donít share that view, Iím not attacking or ridiculing you or anyone else.
But I am going to take a few sentences to try to persuade you otherwise!
There are five reasons why I think the Song of Songs is exactly what it appears to be: a celebration of marital intimacy.
1) Solomonís topic was obviously sex. Just consider all the sensual and erotic language in this book! It certainly looks like itís about physical and emotional passions. It sure seems like this is the story of a real man and a real woman with real human bodies. When Solomon was at his desk writing the Song, do you think he had in mind some symbolic, spiritualized relationship between God and his chosen ones? I donít.
2) The Bible never suggests that this book isnít primarily about sex. No New Testament writer (or Old Testament writer, for that matter) suggests that this book, which seems so obviously to be about sex, ought to be understood primarily as an illustration of spiritual realities. This compels me to read Solomonís Song according to the plain meaning of the words.
3) Godís relationship with man is not sexual. The Song is full of erotic phrases; yet our relationship with God is never portrayed in the Bible as erotic. The Church certainly is the Bride of Christ. But although the marriage between Christ and his Bride will be many unimaginably wonderful things, it will not involve sexuality. Will it be extraordinarily and supernaturally intimate? Yes.Infinitely rewarding and fulfilling? Absolutely. But not physically erotic. When describing our relationship with God, or when communicating our passion for him in prayer or worship, itís right to use a vocabulary of love. But this language should never include anything erotic. ďGod is spirit, and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truthĒ (John 4:24).
4) Spiritualizing the book doesnít work. When many of the passages from Solomonís Song are viewed as symbolic statements, the results can get very strange. In chapter 1, verse 2, we read, ďLet him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.Ē Now that sounds an awful lot like a particular woman saying she wants to be kissed by a particular man. But some commentators say that this verse is actually about a spiritual yearning for the Word of God.
Verse 13 of that chapter says, ďMy beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts.Ē Some commentators find in this passage a reference to Christ appearing between the Old and New Testaments. Guys, Iím no scholar, but I donít think so!
Jumping ahead to chapter 7, verse 7, we find, ďYour stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters.Ē Again, one commentatoróa godly and sincere person, I have no doubtó suggests that in this passage ďbreastsĒ refers to the nurturing effect that sound biblical teaching has upon the Church. You know, that idea never occurred to me. When the man says to the woman that her breasts are like fruit on a palm tree, it seems to me heís talking about . . . her breasts!
Spiritualizing the Song of Solomon just doesnít make sense. Whatís worse, it denies to us the powerful impact that God intends for it to have on our marriages.
5) We need instruction on sexuality. If marriage is immensely important to God (and it is), and if sex is a marvelous gift from God to married couples (which it is), itís entirely appropriate for God to tell us in Scripture how to understand and enjoy it. In fact, how could God leave us, his most beloved creatures, on our own when it comes to something as powerful and universal as sexuality? Would he give us such a gift without also giving us guidance? Where is a Christian couple supposed to look for a model of God-glorifying sexuality? If not to Scripture, where? To Hollywood? Pop culture? Pornography?
We must not, cannot take our sexual cues from the sinful impulses of ourselves or others. And we donít have to. God has not left us in the dark. Scripture illuminates the path of marital intimacy. The Song of Solomon shines brightly, showing us the way to the best sex we can possibly experience.
Guidance . . . on sex? From the God who made us? From he who established marriage as an institution and came up with the whole fantastic idea of sex? Now that is guidance we ought to receive eagerly.
So I trust my point is clear. I donít believe the Song of Solomon is primarily allegory or typology. I donít believe it is drama. I do not believe it is an elaborate diary entry. I agree with this perspective offered by the biblical commentator Lloyd Carr: ďThe lover and the beloved are just ordinary people.Ē1
Tom Gledhill, in his commentary, puts it this way: ďThe two lovers are Everyman and Everywoman.Ē2 Thatís encouraging. The Songís about your marriage and mine. These eight chapters of Scripture can speak to us and, in doing so, make a dramatic difference in our lives, for the glory of God.
There are a few experiences in this life that seem to me to have been undiminished by that first sin in the Garden of Eden. Lobster with melted butter comes to mind. So does chocolate. But at the top of the list is having sex with my wife. When I am making love to Carolyn, itís difficult for me to imagine that Adam and Eve, prior to the Fall, ever had a better time than we can have right here in the twenty-first century.
Maybe they did have a better time; Iím not sure. But I am sure that sex itself, in the context of marriage, is not sinful. Because sex outside of marriage is so clearly sinful, itís easy to imagine that the purity of sex within marriage must also have been tarnishedóat least a littleóby the Fall. But it hasnít. Not in the slightest. Man in his sinfulness may distort it, but in the context of marriage, sex itself remains an unblemished, untainted gift from God.
When we are told that ďthe marriage bed,Ē an obvious reference to sexuality, is to be ďundefiledĒ (Hebrews 13:4), weíre reminded that sex in marriage is intended by God to be a pure and good thing. Even though itís intensely physical, it is not the least bit unspiritual. When a married couple is in the midst of enjoying sexual relations, they may not be experiencing holiness in the same way they experience it when praying or worshiping God, but make no mistakeóthat is a very holy moment.
It is Godís desire that every Christian couple, including you and your wife, regularly enjoy the best, most intimate, most satisfying sexual relations of which humans are capable. Weíre talking really, really good sex. Marital intimacy is Godís gift to those who enter his holy covenant of marriage. And what a gift it is! With the obvious exception of the gospel itself, this strikes me as some of the best news man (and woman) could ever receive!
The purpose of the book you hold in your hands is to lead us back into Godís ideal of joyful, unashamed, indulgent, loving sexuality in the context of marriage. If your marriage is lacking in the passion department, Godóever-loving, ever-mercifulóis eager to unfold for you and your wife new levels of intimate joy and satisfaction. If that area of your marriage is already cooking along quite nicely, donít think for a minute that youíve ďarrived.Ē No matter how romantic you and your wife are, there is more. Much more.
As husbands, it all starts with us.
Obviously, this book is directed primarily to men. As a man, itís not ideal for me to teach women on this subject. Even when Carolyn and I present this material in a marriage seminar, 90 percent of my teaching is directed to the husbands. Thatís because it is your role, not mine, to lead your wife into a fuller understanding of what Scripture teaches about your sexual relationship.
However, your wife is obviously a key player in all this! Clearly, she must be actively involved if this book is to make much of a difference in your marriage. So at the end of this book Carolyn has some vitally important things to say to your wife. When youíve finished reading these chapters, ask your wife to read Carolynís ďA Word to WivesĒ at the end of this book. You may also wish to review other portions of this book with your wife.
And, guys, the hard truth is that growth is only possible as we humble ourselves. One absolutely necessary path to humility is to ask your wife to evaluate you. So let me recommend that you invite her to help you in this area. Say to her something like, ďIf you knew that I would not react with sinful anger, how would you evaluate me as a husband and a lover? Please be completely honest.Ē
In my pride, Iím usually all too confident that in most areasóincluding my marriageóIím probably doing a fine job. Typically, reality only dawns when I bring my wife into the evaluation process. Throughout our almost thirty years of marriage, very little growth in godliness has occurred in my life without Carolynís encouragement, correction, and involvement.
Iíd be remiss at this point if I didnít add that the encouragement, correction, and involvement of many fellow pastors and friends over the years has also been invaluable for our marriage. You, too, will need the care and biblical counsel of your pastor and godly friends in order to benefit fully from what you read in this book. We all do. Growth in marriage, like growth in godliness, does not take place in isolation from the local church.3 Your involvement and participation in a genuine local church will be a unique and necessary means of grace in your marriage.
But most importantly, as you read through this book, let it initiate many helpful discussions with your wife on many vital topics. And may your discussions be regularly followed by the pleasures of application.
Before we look in some detail at the Song of Solomon, however, we must examine the ultimate purpose of marriage, and we must learn to love and lead our wives in the cultivation of romance. Only then will we truly be prepared to benefit fully from Solomonís wisdom in this area. As the two of you allow that unique book of Scripture to affect how you pursue marital intimacy, Solomonís Song can become your song too, bringing much joy to your marriage and great glory to God.
The Scriptures arenít sour on sex, you know. They view marital relations as a source of legitimate, godly joy and satisfactionó a holy gift from God. Since our wedding day in May 1975, Carolyn and I have been happily verifying that with repeated personal experience. No, sex in marriage is not merely to be tolerated, but actively celebrated! And Solomonís Song does exactly that.
Thatís what weíll be doing in this book, guys. Weíre going to learn what Scripture teaches us on this subjectówhat God thought was most important for us to know about sex within marriage. As we learn, weíre going to lead our wives into increasingly rich, erotic, holy, satisfying, God-glorifying encounters!