Song of Songs: Questions asked

Below are pastoral questions that were asked during this teaching series on Song of Songs. [Article]

Michael Flynn

For further thought

Given the woman often takes initiatives in the relationship in Songs, what does this say about teaching on male ‘headship’ in marriage relationships?

In Songs, the woman and man describe each other in different terms and meet different needs in each other. This is consistent with the New Testament, for example, when the apostle Paul requires different types of submission from men and women in a marriage relationship (Ephesians 5.21). Paul says that a man is to offer the submission of sacrificial love to his wife and the wife a deep and considered respect to her husband. These virtues are not pre-made but are good works for a married couple to mature in. The different responses inspire and reinforce each other. Here is how, in the mini-Church of marriage, a husband and wife shape each other in Christ-likeness, who is the true image of the invisible God. To put that another way, a wife is asked to submit to sacrificial love not to dominance or bullying. To put that another way, a man is to submit to deeply considered respect and not to manipulation or threats. When Paul tells us that the husband is head over the wife as Christ is head over the church we must then ask: How is Christ head over the church? Is it through intimidation or sacrifice? Through getting his own way or emptying himself? As master or as servant? As the ‘tie-breaker’ in family decision making or as a facilitator of spiritual growth? (Ephesians 5:25-27)

How can I be the best that I can be whether I am married or single?

What makes the couple attractive to each other in Songs is who they are apart from each other. Their covenanted love is not ownership but a seal of relationship between two equal but different, free but committed people. This example encourages single people and couples alike to be the best versions of themselves they can be. For those who are unattached this means working on our gifts, developing in godliness, growing in Christian understanding, being fit spiritually, mentally and physically to enjoy life and serve the God who gives us life. We can do this for ourselves quite apart from whether it leads to a relationship or not. For couples, it is good to remember that it was our independent life that attracted us to each other in the first place and we should not ‘let ourselves go’ but maintain our interests, our spiritual, physical and mental health and causes. Couples can also help each other to find time for separate interests when the demands of work and family life make that necessary. Stay fresh, stay interesting, stay interested.

If the image of God in Genesis 2 is a relationship, why did Jesus say there would be no marriage in the Kingdom of Heaven?

In the New Testament, Jesus is the perfect image of the invisible God (Colossians 1:15, Hebrews 1:3, John 1:1-4), the second humanity (1 Corinthians 15:44-49) which means when we are joined to him as we entrust ourselves to his covenant death and resurrection for us (Romans 6:3-5), we become part of his Bride – The Church (Matthew 9:14-15; Revelation 19:6-8) so that on the day he returns to claim his own, seeing him we shall we like him (1 John 3:2) – together, the perfected image of God drawn up into an eternal relationship with the God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit (2 Peter 1:3,4; John 17:20-26). There is a bride and bridegroom in the Kingdom of Heaven, the one marriage of Jesus, the perfect image of God, and those who have entrusted themselves to him.

Marriage is a gift for this present time and Jesus, along with Songs, teaches us that it is to be lived out under the aspirations God intended for it in the original creation (Genesis 2; Matthew 19:4-6). Marriage is also, to quote the marriage service, “a symbol of God’s unending love for his people”, an analogy of the deep and jealous covenanted love God has for his people. We all love a great love story so, through the lens of a brilliant marriage, we should be able to relate to and to love this story of God pursuing his promises for his fractured people down the ages with unflagging passion. It is beautiful.

How does Songs relate to different experiences of love we encounter today?

Songs meditates upon Genesis 2 where a man and woman are created naked and unashamed before each other and before God. The poetry plays on the unity of differences driving the unique passion, longing and satisfaction in this love. In the wider Biblical revelation, the analogy of marriage is writ large to help us understand the love-life within the triune God (John 17), His deep care of his people in history and His ultimate purpose for the human race (Revelation 21). The unfallen heterosexual marriage of Genesis 2, and Songs meditation on that state, is both a metaphor for what God means by love and a metaphor of the future. 

Therefore, simply by contrast Songs is a comment on marriages that aspire to these joys, or broken marriages, and broken hearts, minds and bodies as well as different forms of sexual expression. Though many in Melbourne would disagree with the Bible’s hetero-normative depiction of sexual love, at the last it is God’s purpose in our creation and in our restoration and therefore it is our health. The Biblical concern is that we will not be left with the loves we chose instead (Romans 1:18-32).

What are the differences between what Songs teaches young people about intimacy and how our culture teaches the young about intimacy?

The study on Premarital Sex in America already referred to in these notes demonstrates that most American young people now learn about sexual relationships from the internet. The contrast with Songs is painful. Songs was written to educate the young. The virgin daughters of Jerusalem, the friends of the male lover; the families of both lovers all look on and applaud this example of sensuality and patient lovemaking. In these songs the promise of quick gratification without commitment is not worthy of a human soul. Instead there is covenant writ on the inner being and outer action; there is waiting, longing, exploration and creativity, patient skilled wooing, teasing, intensity, touches of insanity and danger, the hope of a heritage and home, adventure and wildness, a love that stares down death, a fire lit by God. That is what Songs teaches the young about intimate relationships. Would that we could do this as well.