God’s Rules for Romance

January 29, 2023

Father in heaven, give us now ears to hear just what You want us to hear, whatever stage of life, no matter where we are, what we’ve been through, what we have ahead, just to hear what You want us to hear from Your Word. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

I have been looking forward to preaching on the Song of Solomon ever since we established this schedule a few months ago. It is a much neglected book and it is immediately interesting and relevant. There are few topics in our day more important and more confusing than sex and sexuality. You would be hard-pressed to find any issue where the world is telling us one thing so different from what God’s Word tells us. So I’ve been very much looking forward to this message.

I have to say on the other hand, as I was studying this week, I had several moments where I thought, “What am I doing? Why did I sign up for this?” My wife and my teenage children were thinking the same thing. I preached on this just one time before in my ministry six years ago and it’s amazing how it sounds different as all of your kids get six years older.

But it is God’s Word, of course, and all Scripture is breathed out by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.

Let me make just a preliminary comment as we get started and that is to set your mind at ease. As I said this morning in announcing the sermon topic, I’m not going to get into graphic descriptions of these romantic scenes. They are quite earthy, racy even. There are very physical longings described in this book. Clearly, it’s a book of sexual metaphors, innuendo, euphemism, and I’ll point those out and you’ll be able to see the connections and sometimes they’re right on the face of the text. But I’m not going to draw the connections any more elaborately than that because that’s not how poetry works, and that’s not how the Bible normally talks about sex.

Yes, the descriptions here are evocative, but they are not graphic, and pastors or preachers would make a mistake if they went from poetry which communicates truth in a certain way, it’s sort of, it’s there, it’s in the periphery, it’s off to the side, and without ever being graphic.

Paul refers in 1 Corinthians 12:24 to those parts of the body that are less presentable, so we don’t have to use our imagination to know what he’s talking about.

So this sermon is not going to give a clinical/medical description nor an R-rated description of what these euphemisms are describing, but the innuendo will be quite enough on its own.

So here’s what I want to do in these next 35 minutes. First, I want to orient us to the book by answering three questions, that will be the shorter half, and then the longer half, the main half, I want to look at three principles for marriage from this book, or three rules for romance. So two halves with three.

So first the shorter half here, just to make sure we know what sort of book we’re reading. Three questions.

Number one – Who is the author? I hope you have your Bible open. It’s right in the middle there, after Ecclesiastes is the Song of Solomon. If you look at the very first verse, it says, “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”

You know in the Bible that that repetition, they don’t have, of course, bold or italics or underline, and so they repeat. King of Kings, Lord of Lords, holy of holies. That is to say, this is the songiest of the songs. This is the greatest hit. This is an amazing song. So sometimes it’s called “The Song of Songs,” older commentaries would call it canticles, meaning songs. Here in the ESV it’s entitled, “The Song of Solomon.”

It could be that the author is not Solomon. The song which is Solomon’s could mean it’s concerning Solomon or attributed to him or dedicated to him or in the spirit of Solomon. But I take the most common and natural reading to be correct, the traditional understanding that this is one of Solomon’s 1005 songs. That’s a reference 1 Kings 4:32, 1005 songs and this evidently was the best of the best.

It is similar to Egyptian poetry of this period that is right before Solomon, some of the same kinds of metaphors and pictures. There is in this song an atmosphere of luxury and wealth, which would make sense for Solomon and for his kingly period. Solomon puts himself as a poetic symbol of a kind of quintessential, Eastern monarch.

Now if Solomon is the author as traditionally understood, you may have the question in your mind, “Well, that rings a little hollow. How could Solomon, the man with 700 wives and 300 concubines, write this poem about marital love?”

Well, some have argued that he wrote this song when he was younger, before he turned astray and accumulated all of these wives and concubines. Don’t know if we can prove that or not, but it’s a nice thought. There’s an old tradition that says Solomon wrote the poem when he was an old man and it was an act of contrition. This was a medieval Jewish scholar named Rashi who postulated this theory. Again, I can hope that that might be true.

Even if neither of these are true, he wrote it before he turned away or as an act of contrition at the end of his life, even if that’s not true and we can’t really know for sure, he wouldn’t be the first person to write true things about romantic love without living up to those ideals. Almost any pop station you listen to, your favorite love song, your first dance, your prom, your wedding dance, almost any of your favorite pop songs just about guarantee the man or woman who wrote that song and performed it probably did not have an ideal marital relationship.

So it is with Solomon. He’s the author, most likely.

Second question, just preliminary – What is this book about?

You may know that there’s a long history of interpreting the book allegorically. That is, to read this almost entirely as being about Christ’s love for His people, and sometimes those allegories get very fanciful. There’s nothing in this text to suggest that it’s meant to be read as an allegory. We should not go on a treasure hunt trying to figure out how each bit of imagery is somehow related to some aspect of Christology. No, this book, as we’ll see in a moment, is very obviously about romantic love.

Now in saying that, it doesn’t mean that it has to be about romantic love exhaustively. So allegory, no, but analogy, yes. That is to say the Bible often describes the love between God and His people as akin to a husband and a wife. So though we don’t want to press all these metaphors into service, how could we not see that there’s something here not only of a celebration between husband and wife, earthly marital love, but some of these expressions speak to God’s great love for us, His people.

The couple here is likely the creation of a literary imagination. That is to say they may not be real people, just like most love songs are not about real people, but it’s about every man and every woman falling in love.

Now interestingly, still here under this category “What is the book about?” some commentators have made the point that Song of Songs is a girl’s book. You’re saying, “Oh, really? No, I had to come. He made me come for this message.” Well, think about it. In Hebrew, now we have the same Bible books in the Hebrew Bible but we have them in a different order. In Hebrew Scriptures, the order goes Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs. How does Proverbs end? It ends with Psalm 31, the famous, sometimes discouraging, but meant to be edifying, inspirational, Proverbs 31 woman, and then what book comes next? Ruth. Because Ruth is the personification of that Psalm 31 woman, followed by Song of Songs.

So Proverbs 31 is this picture of this strong, godly, capable woman. We have a real-life example in Ruth, and now we have a song about strong, godly woman to emulate.

In fact, you could say that Proverbs is for boys and Song of Solomon is for girls. I say because Proverbs is constantly directed, a father as if he’s speaking to his son, “My son, my son, what sort of woman you should marry.”

Now this may seem strange to think Song of Solomon is a girl’s book considering our normal stereotypes that a book all about sex would be a book for men, and yet, as you’ll see in just a moment, the main singer is a woman. The audience, as there’s an aside, is the woman speaking to other women, to the daughters of Jerusalem, to her bridesmaids, as it were.

We’ll see in this book a number of what you might call traditional assumptions about men and women are confirmed, but we’ll also see that this woman breaks some of our traditional stereotypes perhaps, most notably that she is a woman longing for a man. She longs for the body of her husband.

Just look at verse 2, how it starts out, right to the point: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth.” Verse 4: “Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.”

So this is a book about romantic love.

Third preliminary question – How is the book structured?

We could get deep into the weeds. Maybe next to Revelation, Song of Solomon is the book that has the most wildly different structures that affect the way you understand the book. Some have argued for a shepherd hypothesis. That is, a three-part drama where you actually have a king who’s wooing a woman and then this ruddy, homely shepherd boy intersects and he becomes the hero who wins the girl’s affection. If you put those three parts in, it can make sense, but it seems a little forced. It would be strange that in that configuration, Solomon, the king, ends up the bad guy, which would be strange for a book if Solomon wrote it.

So what you see is the ESV is the best guess, and I think it makes sense of the text, not only the context, but at different points the Hebrew syntax, which can indicate whether a male or female speaker. So you’ll see in the ESV that there’s these headings. These are not inspired but they are given by the translator to help make sense of it.

So you have before verse 2 “she,” and then in the middle of verse 4 “others,” and then back to “she,” and then you’ll see verse 8 “he.” So it goes back and forth between “she,” so this is the bride singing her song; then “he,” the groom singing his song; and then intermixed are the “others” as the chorus coming in with its song. It is, in fact, a wedding song, and it’s a song with no particular historical reference, but a man who is at once a king and by another angle a shepherd, or a gazelle, and a woman who is a queen, or a young virgin, and they are singing of their love to each other.

Three principles then. That’s a lay of the land. Three principles then, God’s rules for romance.

Number one – Romantic love should be protected. Romantic love should be protected.

One commentator puts it like this – Sex is not an evil thing made permissible by marriage, but a good thing protected by marriage. Sex, or romantic love, is not an evil thing, and sometimes in the Church you think bad, bad, bad, evil, evil, stay away, and then you’ve got marriage all of a sudden comes and then in a moment, in a night, you have to think this is good. No, it is a good thing protected by marriage.

We’re going to jump around to look at different texts along these themes. So look at chapter 2, verse 3. Here’s the woman singing:

“As an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
so is my beloved among the young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with raisins;
refresh me with apples,
for I am sick with love.
His left hand is under my head,
and his right hand embraces me!
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.”

Do you see that description in verse 6? “His left hand under my head, his right hand embraces me.” This is the embrace of romance. Not only are they in a romantic pose, but the description here speaks to the woman as she feels secure, protected, cared for. His left hand is under my head, his right hand is embracing me. Their physical embrace is an expression of emotional, spiritual, physical protection. She feels secure.

You see verse 7. This is the bride. Not turning aside, having described something of this physical embrace with her not-yet husband, the wedding’s coming later in the book, she now speaks to these bridesmaids, these daughters of Jerusalem. “Oh, daughters, I adjure you,” and this is a refrain throughout the book, “do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” The Bible understands that you have hormones, and the woman, notice it’s the woman saying to other women, “Girls, this is good, but you gotta wait. Do not make yourself this hungry when it’s not time to eat.” That’s what she’s saying.

Look later in verse 17. So she continues as she adores her beloved and then she says in verse 17, after extoling the love and the loveliness of her husband-to-be, she says, ” Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains.”

That turn is saying turn away. She’s madly, passionately in love. She sees who he is and she’s had an embrace and she wants more of her man. But she says, “Don’t stir up love until it’s time. Don’t get the car engines fired up when it’s not ready to be put into drive.” This romantic love is to be protected, and so she says now to the man, “We better stop. Turn away. Turn away like a gazelle.”

Look down later. Chapter 3. You see the heading in the ESV is her dream, so she’s said on the one hand, “Turn away from me. Not yet, it’s not time to stir up love. We’re not married yet.” But now she’s going to have quite a dream:

“On my bed by night
I sought him whom my soul loves;”

So she’s turned him away but now she can’t help but think about him in sleep.

“I sought him, but found him not.
I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.
I sought him, but found him not.
The watchmen found me
as they went about in the city.
“Have you seen him whom my soul loves?”
Scarcely had I passed them
when I found him whom my soul loves.”

So this is in her dream.

“I held him, and would not let him go
until I had brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her who conceived me.”

And she says now again:
“I adjure you,” for the second time, “O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.”

She’s having a dream and it is a passionate dream. She wants to bring him to bed. Verse 4: I held him, would not let him go until I brought him into my mother’s house, into the very chamber where she was conceived. It might seem awkward but that’s what she wants. This activity is to take place in the bedroom.

Now notice, too, there is a connection here to children. She says we’re going to go into my mother’s room, my mother’s bed, the very place where I was conceived. She has understanding which has been lost in our culture that sex and children are related, that the act that she longs for with her fiance, soon to be groom, is the very act which can bring forth children. Just one reason why fornication, sex before marriage, is wrong, because you haven’t yet given yourself fully in every way, spiritually, emotionally, physically, so that now you are in the position where this union can produce children.

It’s also one reason why homosexuality is wrong, because a homosexual union, by definition, is not the sort of union from which children can come. Now, yes, it happens in marriage between a man and woman, that because of age or infirmity or the plumbing is not all working, that children do not always come, but yet there is that latent possibility. They are, a man and a woman, are the sort of persons whose bodies are meant to come together for children.

We hear this refrain in verse 5, the same we heard in chapter 2 verse 7, addressing the daughters of Jerusalem, “Wait.” Now think about this. This is a young woman. In this culture, this is probably a teenager who’s getting married and she is speaking to her girlfriends. This is not a message from a celibate prophet or even from the pastor or from her mother or father, but it is from a young woman who’s saying to her friends, “This is good but you gotta wait. We gotta wait. We gotta know the right time. Not yet.”

This is one of the fundamental, ethical messages of Christianity that sex belongs exclusively in the covenant of marriage between a man and a woman, and that is out of step with our time, and given human sinful nature, it is actually out of step with every time.

Phil Ryken, he has a very nice book, a set of sermons that he preached at Wheaton, he’s the president at Wheaton, came out a few years ago and from this book Song of Solomon, and he notes this line from C.S. Lewis. Lewis said the Christian sexual ethic “is so difficult and so contrary to our instincts that obviously either Christianity is wrong or our sexual instinct is wrong, one or the other.” That is absolutely true and it has always been true. The human sexual instinct is to want sex and to want it on your own terms and to want it now. Christianity gives a fundamentally different message. It was radically different in the Roman Empire into which Christianity was birthed and it is incredibly different now. Lewis is right. It’s so different that either your natural sexual instinct is right and to be trusted or Christianity is right. Many in our day, perhaps some of you or beloved ones you know, have faced that same dilemma, and though they wouldn’t put it in these terms, they have chosen their sexual instinct over Christianity.

Phil Ryken says, “Young people often ask where the line is.” Maybe young people here, you’re wondering that, where is the line? How far is too far? He goes on: “They want to know how far they can go in a physical relationship before breaking God’s law for physical or sexual intimacy. This is the wrong question to ask, of course. A better question is, ‘How can I protect the purity of the person I say that I love?’ But if a guideline is needed, here’s a simple one to follow. Two people who are not married should not touch the sexual parts of one another’s bodies.”

That is a good, simple rule. Easier to say than, given hormones, always to follow, but it is a good rule, and Ryken is surely correct. The most important question to ask is not, “God, how much could I do without making You really mad?” but “How can I protect the purity of the person that I say I love?” If you’re engaging in any romantic activity with someone and you don’t really love them, then why are you doing that in the first place? But ostensibly, say this is someone I deeply love, then if you love them, you’re thinking, “How can I protect the purity of this person that I love?”

I’ve never counseled somebody or done a wedding for someone who gets married and the two of them say, “You know what? Our biggest regret is we just didn’t do more sexually before we got married.” Never heard that regret.

Romantic love is to be protected.

Turn to the end of the book, chapter 8. This is at first a strange euphemism, but it makes sense when you understand it. Chapter 8, verse 8. So this is the chorus, the others:

“We have a little sister,
and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day when she is spoken for?
If she is a wall,
we will build on her a battlement of silver,
but if she is a door,
we will enclose her with boards of cedar.”

What is this about? It seems awkward to us. When they say, “We have a little sister and she has no breasts,” they are speaking of a young woman who is just beginning to go through puberty, we might say, is not yet fully developed as a woman. But even at this young age, this woman has to face a choice. It’s presented in verse 9. Will see be a wall or a door? Of course, the same applies to men. The saying here, it’s speaking to the women.

If she is a wall, meaning she has walled off her sexuality until time, until it’s time, until marriage. She’s forming, she’s developing, she’s maturing, and these others, who are probably her friends, her family members, are saying if she’s a wall, if she will protect her chastity and her virginity, we will build on her a battlement of silver, that is to say, we will celebrate her, we will reward her.

But if she is a door, meaning she is opening wide her sexuality to anyone who wants it, then we will enclose her with boards of cedar. That could be some expression of shame, but I think what it means is if she is swinging open herself as a door, her friends and family are going to do what they can to try to wall her up. They are going to try to protect her against herself, against her own instincts perhaps.

The choice is chastity or promiscuity. It is a choice, of course, that young men and men of all ages and women of all ages have to make, and I know there is great danger when you have a middle-aged pastor who’s daring to say something here to young women, perhaps, about modesty or dress, but here we go. The Bible does not hold back from celebrating beauty. We’re going to get to that in just a moment in this book, and almost every matriarch in the Old Testament is celebrated as being a beautiful woman. There is nothing wrong, in fact, there is much right with a young woman who wants to be beautiful and even spends some time thinking about how she might be beautiful.

What is a problem is when the beauty that God gives to a woman, or that she naturally wants to pursue, becomes a door that is swinging wide open. When you’re presenting not just your beauty but your body for those for whom it should not be given. Part of what it communicates to people, not simply that you might want to get to know me and I’m a beautiful person inside and out, but a lack of modesty communicates this is what I have to offer, this is what is most important about me, this is what I believe is most beautiful about me and this is what I want you to see and I want you to behold on my Instagram, on my text message, this is what I want you to see.

This woman is facing the same thing. Different technology, same temptations. Will see be a wall or will see be a door?

Now look. The woman, the protagonist, in this song, she says, verse 10: “I was a wall, I chose chastity and virginity and my breasts were like towers.” Meaning, I waited until I developed, until I was mature, until I was ready, and then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace. She’s fully formed and now at the end of this book she’s found peace in the eyes of her husband and her body now is to be fully enjoyed by the one, her beloved.

She says in verse 12, “My vineyard.” Just think about what she means here.

“My vineyard, my very own, is before me;
you, O Solomon, may have the thousand,
and the keepers of the fruit two hundred.”

You she what she’s saying? Yet you, you other men, fine, go chase after your thousand other vineyards, but you’re not looking at mine, and you’re not getting my vineyard because this is mine and I’m cultivating it and I’m waiting and I’m reserving it. Go trample on someone else’s vineyard. Do not force your way.

And men, men, this is for you. You do not force your way, you do not pressure your way, you do not goad your way into someone else’s vineyard, “Just send me the picture, just a little bit more, just a little bit farther.” No, my vineyard, my very own, she says, and I’m saving it for my beloved.

Romantic love is to be protected.

Rule number two – Romantic love should be verbalized.

Go back to chapter 1, romantic love should be verbalized. This woman, remember this is most likely a wedding song. Weddings at this time period for Jews could have been as much as a week. It was a massive celebration. This was most likely a song that was sung, perhaps at one time, perhaps over the course of days, but it’s really telling the story of man and woman meeting, falling in love, getting married, enjoying the consummation of their relationship.

So her at the very beginning she’s modest about herself, as women often are. Look at what she says in verse 5:

“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!”

Darkness here, it’s not about race, it’s not about ethnicity, what’s happened is her brothers, or it might be her step-brothers because it says the sons of the mother, that the mother’s sons were angry with her. What did they do as they mistreated their Cinderella step-sister? They made her work outside in the hot sun. Now for us, people go and they spend money and they spray themselves and they go into booths so that they can look tan. To be tan is a sign of youthfulness and vigor and sexuality. Not so in the ancient world. If you were darkened by the sun, it meant, you know what? You must be poor and working outside. So it was not a good thing to be dark and tan. That’s what she’s saying. She was a poor laborer and her brothers made her work outside. So she’s embarrassed, as women often are, even the women who put themselves forward with the most aggressiveness to show forth their beauty and their body, there’s often at the same time a sense of not measuring up.

So in her own eyes, she says, “I’m lovely but don’t look at me.” But in the eyes of the man, she’s amazing. So let’s here from the man for the first time, verse 8:

“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.
Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.”

Now you understand different comparisons in their day than ours. Be careful now comparing your love to a horse, it doesn’t always work. We’ll get to some other ones. But it works here.

He says in verse 15, again: “Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.”

And perhaps it’s noteworthy that at this point as the romance is developing, his eyes are above the neckline. The wedding has not taken place, the relationship is building, but you notice he’s speaking of her cheeks, her face, her eyes. When we get to the sensual imagery in just a moment of her body, that’s on the wedding day and the wedding night.

If you, men, if you don’t know what to say, men, look at verse 15. Here’s a good one – “You are beautiful.” If you don’t know what else to say, say it twice – “Behold, you are beautiful.” It’s very simple. This is what you say to your love. Now you don’t say this to your coworkers, men, in casual settings, perhaps, you might compliment a woman, “Oh, nice new outfit. Did you get a new haircut? You look nice.” But you stay away from saying, “You look beautiful. You are truly delightful.”

Now as we move to the wedding day, the verbal description becomes more sexual. Never pornographic, it’s not suggestive, it’s not tantalizing in that way. Most tellingly, it’s not pictures. Sometimes people say, “Well, why can I go watch these movies because the Bible describes, you know, has sexual imagery and Song of Solomon.” It’s your ears hear poetry very different than your eyes see sexual activity.

Turn over to chapter 4. Perhaps the most famous description here as the man admires his bride’s beauty. You can see in chapter 3, verse 6, the ESV gives the heading “Solomon arrives for the wedding.” So we’ve moved to the wedding day, so now appropriately he is speaking of her beauty.

“Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair,” again, cultural appropriation, or cultural context, I mean, “is like a flock of
goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies.
Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will go away to the mountain of myrrh
and the hill of frankincense.
You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.”

It’s beautiful poetry. It’s the way that God means to, you know what this is about, and yet it’s not lurid. Hardly any movies or TV shows anymore care to do this or know how to do this, but romance is often more about what you leave out. Today’s movie, TV show, they don’t want to leave anything out. They don’t know how to describe two people falling in love except boom, to put them in bed together. It’s a shortcut.

Within the context of marriage here, you hear over and over in chapter 3, 4, and 5 the language of my and mine.

1 Corinthians 7: 4 – The husband has authority over his wife’s body, the wife has authority over the husband’s body. It’s not a selfish possession but it’s a rightful possession. You are mine, you’re mine.

Notice, look at verse 11 – Your lips drip nectar, my bride, honey and milk are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.

Now where have you heard, if you know the Bible, milk and honey before? That’s the famous description of the Promised Land. This man is saying you, my bride, you are the Promised Land.

Look at verse 12 – “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed.” And her garden’s about to open.

He’s saying you are the Promised Land, you, verse 12, are the garden of Eden. You my bride, are a paradise to me, and again and again he verbalizes his love for her. Not just to say I love you, but everything about you is amazing, captivating, perfect.

Turn over to chapter 6, verse 4: “You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners.”

Chapter 7:

“How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O noble daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of a master hand.
Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine.
Your belly is a heap of wheat,
encircled with lilies.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle.
Your neck is like an ivory tower.
Your eyes are pools in Heshbon,
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon,
which looks toward Damascus.
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
and your flowing locks are like purple;
a king is held captive in the tresses.”

Do you see what the man is doing? It’s very obvious. He is starting from the ground up. Verse 1, he’s looking at her feet, he’s looking at her legs, he’s looking at her navel, her belly, her breasts, her neck, her eyes, her head, her hair. He is going, gazing from the bottom up, saying, “You are literally from head to toe, top to bottom, you’re beautiful.”

And lest you think it’s only the man who speaks this way of the woman, the woman also speaks this way of her husband. Look at chapter 5, verse 10:

“My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;” I think gray might be a good substitute also,
“his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
beside streams of water,
bathed in milk,
sitting beside a full pool.
His cheeks are like beds of spices,
mounds of sweet-smelling herbs.
His lips are lilies,
dripping liquid myrrh.
His arms are rods of gold,
set with jewels.
His body is polished ivory,
bedecked with sapphires.
His legs are alabaster columns,
set on bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
His mouth] is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.”

Perhaps you hear that, especially if you have been married for a while, and you think, “Ah, to be young and in love again. Little exaggerated, don’t you think? Pillars, arms of gold, alabaster columns.” But listen, to all of you fellow not-so-newlyweds, middle-aged or older, you were in love. I hope you still are. She is absolutely sick with love. You see that, chapter 5, verse 8 – “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, would you tell him I am sick with love.”

Now I said I wouldn’t share personal illustrations, just this reminiscence that when Trisha and I were dating I know we wrote some letters back and forth. It was when e-mail was just getting started, so we actually had to write letters. We didn’t text anything. I do hope that those letters are burned or buried somewhere, never to be found. I’m sure they would be, as the kids say, cringey. So over the top. But that’s what you do when you’re in love, and you should do. You should speak extravagantly about your spouse, even if you’ve got to give some lines and you’re both laughing.

Just try speaking this extravagantly, because what’s the alternative? If you never dare to speak extravagantly, sometimes you talk to couples and they would say, “Yeah, but I don’t know if I exactly feel this way anymore and it would be fake.” You know what? Then fake it til you make it. Literally. Say some things that you know should be true and verbalize it with your mouth. Do everything you can, husband and wife, to verbalize your spouse’s loveliness. Pay attention. If this is strange to you, start small. You see here? Just paying attention to a neck, an ear, hair, all the way up and down the body. Of course it doesn’t have to just be the body. Little things that you do to care for one another, to serve one another.

But look, pay attention, men and women. Surely there’s something, there’s a smile, there’s a new outfit, there’s a new hairstyle, there’s a Sunday best. There’s something that you can speak to.

Tell stories. Remind each other, husbands and wives, of when you first met, the goofy things you did, the first time you kissed, your wedding night. Funny stories, adventures, special dates, anniversaries. Remember and verbalize that love.

Finally, I hope you will indulge a few more minutes since who knows when you’ll get Song of Solomon again. Third – Romantic love should be celebrated. Should be protected, number two it should be verbalized, and number three it should be celebrated.

No pastor is going to tell you, I hope, how often a married couple should have sex or talk in detail about what that should be like or what you should do. God’s Word doesn’t give us those specifics, thankfully. But here’s what we know from God’s Word – sexual intimacy in marriage is a gift to be enjoyed and celebrated.

Here’s what I’ve learned after 20+ years of pastoral ministry and hearing from others and just having my ears open. If a marriage is bad, almost always sex is bad. And conversely, if sex is bad, and almost nonexistent, you can just about guarantee the marriage is not healthy either. It goes in both directions. Sometimes as a cause, and that’s often the way for the man, this man often wants to have sex. If he is not able and his wife is not willing, the marriage starts to go bad, so that’s often the cause of a marriage going bad. The lack of sexual intimacy for a woman is often the result of a marriage going bad.

Now I know that’s stereotypical, it’s not always the case, but it is more often than not the case. That is to say, the lack of sexual intimacy is often for the woman a sign that she does not feel close to her husband in any other way and so why would she want to draw close to him in this most intimate of ways.

Sex in the Song of Solomon is very different from its surrounding culture. It’s always been the case, always been the case, that Christians or we could say Jews and Christians have thought about sex different than the world around them. So if you’re going to be a Christian and you want to think about sex in the same way the world does, not going to work. Always thought about sex differently. In the Ancient Near East, sex was some kind of religious act that might produce fertility in the crops, or fecundity in the gods.

That’s not what you have here. What we have here is a positive, passionate assessment of the gift of intimacy within the context of marriage between a man and a woman.

Look at the middle of the book. Chapter 4. The beloved, who started out, remember, they meet, I want to kiss him, his description of her is from the neck up. Well, now they’ve come to the wedding.

Chapter 4, verse 8: “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride.”

Verse 9: “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride.”

Verse 10: “How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!”

Verse 12: “A garden locked is my sister, my bride.”

Over and over now, he’s, okay, they’re married now, and what’s described is a wedding fit for a king and a queen. And quite remarkably, the literal and the literary center of this book is the wedding night. With pun intended, it is the climax of the book. Chapter 4, verse 16 and chapter 5, verse 1, is the literal and the thematic center of the book. Before those two verses, there are 111 lines, after those two verses, 111 lines. Do you see what happens in these two verses?

“Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.”

And then she comes in:

“Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.”

“I came,” now he’s speaking, ” to my garden, my sister, my bride,
I gathered my myrrh with my spice,
I ate my honeycomb with my honey,
I drank my wine with my milk.”

And now the chorus:

“Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love!”

Do you see what’s happening here? The woman calls to the man and she says, “Come to your garden.” The man says, “I’ve come to my garden.” They are at that moment where their relationship is going to be consummates with act of sexual intimacy, and just like good poetry and just like you would expect from the Bible, the Bible doesn’t go on and describe in some graphic detail what happens, but notice the chorus comes in and it says, as if to pull the curtains, as if to draw the shades, the chorus says, “All right, eat, friends, drink, be drunk with love.” Close the curtains, go for it, we’ll be on our way. This is the celebration they have been waiting for.

You see the last part of the book is really their honeymoon song. In chapter 7 he sings and then she comes in, melody, or harmony to his melody. She says, “It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth.”

Verse 10:

“I am my beloved’s,
and his desire is for me.
Come, my beloved,
let us go out into the fields
and lodge in the villages;
let us go out early to the vineyards
and see whether the vines have budded,
whether the grape blossoms have opened
and the pomegranates are in bloom.
There I will give you my love.”

Don’t you like that expression? There I will give you my love.

Now I said even earlier in the sermon the phrase that all of us have heard before, “have sex.” But that’s indelicate, as if this romantic climax is something you just have. Even worse are the kind of slang, someone speaks of “doing” someone or even more crassly, “nailing,” or there’s lots of more vulgar expressions. But in sex, we most profoundly don’t take or do or even have, but give. There I will give you my love. That’s what romantic love is in the context of marriage, one giving each to the other. It is one reason why self-gratification and pornography are wrong, because they are both inherently selfish acts and they distort the purpose and meaning of marriage, which is always to give yourself to another.

This book, this wonderful book, it’s not a dating guide, it’s not a how-to sex manual, but it is a poetic celebration of romantic marital passion.

I forget you said it, but someone commented that Job is about the riddle of suffering, Ecclesiastes is about the riddle of existence, and Song of Solomon is about the riddle of sex. Perhaps the three great mysteries in life.

In Titus, you recall, the older women train the younger women, but here it really is the younger women almost reminding and training the older women.

You see at the very beginning of the book, she is longing for his kisses and then the book ends, chapter 8, verse 14, with a request: “Make haste,” she says, “my beloved and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.” Yes, a book of the Bible ends with a bride calling for her husband to come that they may romantic love together.

I said at the beginning that this is not an allegory, but it is analogous. Marital love is analogous to the mystical relationship between Christ and the Church. You think of the language, the Spirit and the bride, say “Come. His banner over me is love.” Chapter 2, verse 4.

Chapter 8, verse 6 and 7: “Set me as a seal upon your heart… Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it.”

How could we not think of something about Christ’s love for His people, that we as His bride call out for our groom, “Would You come? We are ready for the wedding supper of the Lamb.”

And just as many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. We might say that Christ on the cross faced the drowning flood of God’s judgment just as in Noah’s day, that in that judgment His love for us might be expressed rather than extinguished. So, no, this is not an allegory, but yes, it is analogous to Christ’s great love for us, His bride.

Let me finish with this. What should you do then, speaking in particular to couples? Let me give you three words – Repent, remember, and rejoice.

One. You may have to repent. Repent of all manner of sexual sins and God will forgive you. You may have to repent of the little foxes, as it were, that have run to and fro your marriage. Perhaps you have to repent of spending so little time or so little effort or energy thinking about romantic matters, or perhaps it’s the other way and one of you has spent so much time pressuring the other person. But do remember 1 Corinthians 7:5 – Do not deprive each other except perhaps by agreement for a little time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then come together again so Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

Without giving us any specifics of routine, the Bible does command us that sex ought to be a regular occurrence in the marriage relationships.

Repent and remember.

Surely if you’re married there’s something good to remember, even if there’s intervening years of pain and hardship. There’s something to remember. Some old stories to tell. I hope they’re not that old. Something to remember, a time when you fell in love. A time of great joy, of great laughter, of great silliness, of great romance. Maybe that’s where you need to start and just say, “Honey, can you think of a time when it felt different between the two of us? Here’s one that I remember.”

Repent, remember, and hopefully; at the end of it you rejoice. You rejoice that God has given to you, if you are married, this gift. That if you are not married, God will if He sees fit give you that opportunity later. And if not, will give you the gift of patience and contentment to serve God fully, knowing that ultimately all of this is but a shadow for the greater love and the greater joy that will be ours in heaven.

Repent of your sins to one another. Remember of the love that you had. Rejoice in this great gift of romantic love, each for each other.

Let us pray. Father in heaven, no doubt there are many, many issues that a sermon like this reveals, exposes, questions raised. We pray that by Your Spirit You would do a good work through this Word, connect us with friends, with family, with others that we may speak of these things, that we may know forgiveness where we have fallen short of these things. This is the ideal that Solomon fell well short of, and so do all of us. But then help us to repent and remember and rejoice, not only in our love for each other, but ultimately in Your great love for us. In Jesus we pray. Amen.