I know we’re supposed to love Song of Solomon because it’s the Bible book about sex and all that.
But has anyone else ever felt a little weird about it?
I speak about sex and at marriage conferences throughout North America (if your church is interested, let me know!), and one thing that Keith and I used to do a lot during FamilyLife Canada marriage conferences was to read humorously from the Song of Solomon to show that sex–and even rather steamy sex–is definitely a part of Scripture. So we should be able to talk about it!
But Song of Solomon has still always bothered me as a woman.
Here is the bride, talking to her bridegroom, but she is obviously part of a harem, and she is worried that he’s going to go back to the other women. How can that be true love? How can this really represent the kind of intimacy that we long for? In fact, to tell the honest truth, I’ve always found it rather creepy. We know that Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines, so this wasn’t exactly the love story that theologians often try to make it out to be (any more than Esther is a love story; spending a night auditioning to be queen is rather disturbing. But that’s for another day).
Anyway, recently I was reading Song of Solomon in my devotions and a thought occurred to me that I think is consistent with Scripture and with God’s intentions.
We believe Scripture is God-breathed, so God is responsible for this book of the Bible. And what if He wrote it to be a wake up call to Solomon?
After all, it was his wives that led to his downfall later in life. He had too many and he followed after them. What if God wanted to tell him that true love wasn’t found in a harem? It was found in one person. And that’s why this book is focused on a relationship between one man and one woman. It’s not just focused on sex; it’s focused on the totality of the relationship, and hence the multiple references to “my sister, my love.” (He wasn’t advocating incest; the “sister” part was about celebrating a relationship that wasn’t only sexual).
Like C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves, I think this refers to two kinds of love: both affection and eros, or even friendship and eros. Such a thing rarely occurred to ancient Middle Eastern men. Friendship was with men (think Jonathan and David); women were only good for eros. Yet in Song of Solomon they refer to the bride as a sister, meaning that the relationship goes beyond eros. And perhaps that is what Solomon needed to see.
I don’t think Solomon ever truly understood that. But the book remained in Scripture as a reminder to us of two things: Eros is beautiful and God created it, but it is meant to be expressed beautifully only between one man and one woman. And when it is, the relationship will grow much deeper.
I sometimes think we try to force the stories in the Bible too much into pretty packages, all wrapped up with bows. Most stories are pretty ugly, and God was not asking us to emulate the people’s lives in the Bible, or even to approve of them necessarily. He was just showing us how He works, even through imperfect people. We do not have to accept the total person in order to accept the message from God.
I am bothered by Solomon, to tell you the truth. I doubt he ever knew true love, as much as we may want to say that The Song of Solomon describes it. He likely yearned for it, and God did show him a picture. But he himself was too busy with his harem to fully understand.
There aren’t a lot of pictures of wonderful couples in the Bible, and I think we do everyone a disservice when we try to force stories into perfect bows. Solomon and David both had harems. Rebecca and Isaac may seem like a love story, but it is clear that both parents were emotionally enmeshed with a child (though not the same one), rather than being on the same page together. Jacob may have loved Rachel, but he was still married to Leah. Abraham took Hagar when Sarah couldn’t give him a child.
In short, life is really, really messy.
But even in that mess, God shows us truth.
And in Song of Solomon, God whispered to Solomon, and to us, there is something better. There is something richer than just possessing someone’s body. There is true love, that encompasses more than just eros.
That’s what God is telling us today, too. In Solomon’s day, sex was just sex because women were looked down upon and not seen as true partners. So they became more objects. Today, sex is just sex because we’ve made it all about the physical, and not about the spiritual or about real intimacy.
So maybe we need that reminder, too. There is so much more than just the physical side of sex. As I showed in The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex, my surveys revealed that when couples feel more emotionally intimate, the physical aspects of sex work better!
That’s what God was telling Solomon, and that’s what God is telling us, too. And our culture needs that message more than ever.
What do you think? Do we have trouble seeing sex as both physical and spiritual? Why do you think that is?