Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine. (song of songs 1:2)
The Song of Songs (in many Bibles titled the “Song of Solomon”) is a passionate and sensual poem where an unnamed man and an unnamed woman express their deep desire for physical intimacy with each other. What kind of book is the Song of Songs, and what is it doing in the Bible?
For some, the Song of Songs is a deeply symbolic book (an allegory) in which the man represents Jesus and the woman represents the church or the individual Christian. But there is nothing in the book itself to require such an interpretation, which seems to be an attempt to avoid the obvious. The book is speaking about human love between a man and a woman as well as the desire for physical intimacy that flows from that love.
We should not be surprised that such a book is in the Bible. After all, God created humans with sexual desires that were to be fulfilled in the context of marriage. In Genesis 2, we witness the divine institution of marriage and at the end of the chapter Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden and felt no shame (genesis 2:24–25). Sex is God’s gift to his human creatures.
But then why doesn’t sex always feel like a gift? Genesis 3 tells us that the harmony between the man and the woman we see in Genesis 2 was broken by sin. No longer can the man and the woman stand naked before each other and feel no shame.
But the message of the Song of Songs tells us that all is not lost. While sin still affects our enjoyment of God’s gift, there can still be joy. Indeed, the fact that the couple often find enjoyment in garden settings in the Song of Songs (see for instance 2:1–13) is a way of reminding us of the harmony in Eden. The Song of Songs is a celebration of God’s gift of sexuality, which is not just for having children, but for enjoyment and binding a married couple together physically and emotionally.
But the Song of Songs is also a realistic book. We might get glimpses of sexual joy in this life, but our brokenness makes it difficult. The Song thus includes poems that signal the struggle to find delight in our marital sexual intimacy. We see this in the warning of the man to the woman about the “little foxes” that “ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom” (song 2:15). The vineyard is the place of intimate bliss, and the foxes represent people or situations that disturb that bliss. Or consider the lengthy poem found in 5:2–6:3, in which the man comes to the woman for intimacy, but the woman is not ready. When she is ready and moves to open up to him, he has gone away. Or finally note the warning that the woman gives to a group of woman known as the Daughters of Jerusalem to “not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (song 2:7, also 3:5 and 8:4). Love is sweet, so she seems to say, but don’t rush into it.
The Song is a collection of love poems that both celebrate and warn about love, particularly the physical intimacy that flows from it. The Song does not tell a story about a particular couple, but rather presents us with a number of poems that express godly desires in keeping with the way God made us at the time of our creation, desires that are met in the “two becoming one flesh” marriage relationship instituted in the garden.
Our Divine Marriage
But does the Song have anything to say about God and our relationship with him? We can answer this question with an enthusiastic yes when we read the book in the context of the whole Bible, where we see a frequent comparison made between our relationship with God and human marriage.
In the Old Testament, we often hear about God’s relationship with Israel being like a marriage where God is the husband to his bride Israel. Jeremiah, for example, quotes God as saying “I remember the devotion of your youth, how as a bride you loved me” (2:2). But because Israel’s sin, the marriage was spoiled, so Israel was often pictured as an adulterous wife (see Ezekiel 19 and 23 and Hosea 1 for instance). But in spite of the negative portrayal of the relationship, we should not miss the fact that Israel’s relationship with God was supposed to be like the type of marriage celebrated in the Song of Songs. The more we learn about the nature of a good marriage in the Song, the more we should understand what the relationship between God and his people was supposed to look like. When we ask that question, the answer that the Song gives us is that our relationship with God should be intimate, passionate, exclusive, and mutual just like the relationship between the man and the woman in the Song.
As Christians, we should remember that Paul also described the church’s relationship with Jesus along the lines of a marriage (ephesians 5:21–33). Marriage, he says, is a “profound mystery,” as it pictures the relationship between Christ and the church (5:32). Further, we as Christians look forward to the day when Jesus will return again, which the book of Revelation describes as “the wedding of the Lamb” with his bride, the church (revelation 19:6–8). “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!” (19:9).