- Jeff Hay
Intimacy Is Better Than Wine (Sermon)
Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7
Some introductory comments on the book of Song of Songs:
(1) It’s hard to understand – Hebrew experts struggle with how to translate different aspects.
(2) Who is speaking is sometimes hard to grasp? – the titles, she, beloved, her, he, are not in the original. So sometimes some translations make slightly different calls regarding who is speaking.
(3) What is Solomon’s role?
(4) Is it a chronological story?
(5) Is it about marriage, sex, how specific?
(6) Is it about Christ and the Church?
(7) And this is a sensitive subject
We’re affected by living in a fallen world, where sin has led to shame in the area of sex and it means this is a tricky subject for those who are single. It’s also a tricky subject for those who are married. It may mean you will have to deal with things in marriage, or in singleness, and ultimately get to know God. It’s an area - sex, marriage, singleness - where there can be much shame and huge pain because we live in a fallen world. But it’s in the Bible and it’s addressed to us.
In fact, some singles might think this isn’t for them; yet, it could be argued that single women, in particular, are the main people who are being addressed in this book as there is the repeated refrain spoken by the main female speaker in the song to other young women!
My thoughts on Song of Songs as a book:
(1) It is a song – that means it’s written to be sung, and may well have been at marriages
(2) It’s not all to be taken literally – believe you me, some of the descriptions would just be ludicrous if we did!!
(3) The song does not run in a chronological order – some scholars have seen it in that way, but to me that doesn’t make sense. It is not a narrative prose but a song with a chiastic structure, hence the reason for my sermon split with overlapping repeated themes.
(4) It’s not so much to inform our head simply with correct doctrine, but to spark our love, our emotions. This sort of book will challenge a guy like me, who is more comfortable with logic and problem solving. We aren’t meant to solve the problems of poetry, we’re meant to feel them!
(5) It’s about love in marriage – the church in the past and through the middle ages didn’t really allow this to be interpreted this way, but I think it’s hard to argue that it is not about love in marriage. So they may have under-sexualised it and said things like the "sachet of myrrh that lies between [the bride's] breasts" (1:13) symbolizes "Christ in the soul of the believer, who lies between the great commands to love God and one's neighbour." I think this is probably talking about the body parts and we don’t want to dismiss the plain reading of the text.
(6) And yet more recently there is danger in people over-sexualising it by stating that this relates to this particular aspect of sex and then describing it. That’s missing the point It’s a song, full of symbolism and we’re not to interpret every detail as something specific. It’s a song!!
(7) It points to Christ’s love and the Church – we know this because it’s in the Bible as a whole, Scripture, all of which as Jesus said, points to him. The New Testament sheds light for us on the meaning of the Old Testament…and yet that doesn’t mean every verse relates to a specific aspect either. It’s clear that there is so much other imagery in the song - from Eden, marriage and banquets - that are picked up on in the rest of Scripture. This tells us that surely this does point to Jesus, and God’s great story as a whole, and we therefore shouldn’t miss that!
Some people can read or watch The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe and have no idea about CS Lewis and his intentions to point the reader to Christ in the character of Aslan and his death and resurrection. But when we, who know of Christ, read or watch it knowing the purpose and symbolism behind it, well everything becomes clearer, because we know the story behind the story. The love celebrated in the song does therefore point to the love of Jesus for us. That means this book first and foremost relates to all of us, so you can’t switch off! Let it inform and enrich that primary relationship. This is about our relationship with God, with Christ.
Let’s consider some of the debated details in this book. Because of 1:1: "The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's," I take this Song as one of Solomon's 1,005 songs. He wrote it but I don’t think he’s the guy in it. Many scholars do, and that’s fine, but the verses in chapter 8:11-14 are the reason that I don’t think Solomon is the man throughout the song. These verses talk about Solomon, who has his 1000 vineyards; but the speaker says her vineyard is hers to give and not for him. He has his 1000. So, this is a relationship that Solomon doesn’t have, and she is passionately in love with her lover! I could, of course, be wrong about this assumption, but that is what the text seems to point to in my view.
So, I think that as Solomon reflects, he looks at what love and marriage should be like – what it could have been. As one writer said – this is Solomon basically saying, "Listen, on this matter of marriage, do as I say, not as I did." So the song will address married people too – as we can learn from the couple in it.
It will also address singles. It may cause us to blush, but it’s in the Bible. It’s God’s Word. It’s useful for us and I’m praying it will enrich us all!
Well – as I said, it’s about a married couple, the wedding comes along after a while, but this is a song that’s understood and sung from beginning to end, so it’s a reflection, not necessarily a story chronologically.
Song of Songs 1:2-Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth-for your love is more delightful than wine.
I haven’t read that to my kids yet in our devotionals at night! Why not?
This is about a girl talking about kissing a boy, and it’s then compared to drinking alcohol! And I’d like to say this is a song of celebration! What are we talking about here? Quite a start here, isn’t it - in verse 2? Kiss me, kiss me – oh it’s so good, it’s better than wonderful wine! This is the woman speaking here, clearly we know that! And she wants to be kissed but even more than that, look at verse 4.
Song of Songs 1:4—Take me away with you-let us hurry! Let the king bring me into his chambers.
Or it could be the king has actually brought me into his chambers!! And as this is going on – by the way being brought into his chambers is implying more than just kissing there!! - how does everyone respond to it?
Song of Songs 1:5—We rejoice and delight in you; we will praise your love more than wine.
We’ll celebrate this romance, this intimacy, this love, this sex – that’s what this is saying!! And it begins with the woman who speaks more than the man and expresses the joy and her longing to be kissed! And it’s a romantic kiss, not just a peck on a cheek or the greet one another with a holy kiss in the New Testament. This is a newly married couple expressing desire for a kiss that leads into the chamber, the bedroom. And this is good, and it’s compared to wine - which has positive implications in the bible, of joy and celebration. So, this is telling us right at the start that sexual desire can be good.
Desire Can Be Good!
You see throughout the letter, there is more imagery of creation, of Eden, of blessing and there are echoes back to Genesis 1 and 2, and what we’ve got to realise is that God made us physical beings. God created humans physical, and in the beginning it was perfect. Adam rejoiced himself and burst into song when he saw Eve. And God created marriage and sex and created it good! So sexual desire can be good.
Yet we correctly highlight how people abuse this and distort God’s good gift - and especially in our culture when people try to promote sexual freedom – a “do what you want” mentality. And yet we know that line of thinking is not right. We know that whatever the details of what’s recently happened with the sexual allegations of rugby players in the news - as we are chatting to people, they will say, ‘whatever was going on there - it wasn’t right’ - it’s been frowned upon by most people, whatever their sexual ethic. And rightly so!
And yet people will say, we want freedom – no boundaries. At the same time, people can see that there are things that are wrong. This is also clear in the song in this repeated refrain throughout the book as we see in 2:7.
Song of Songs 2:7—Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
There are the guidelines. The sexual desire is not to be acted upon until the right time. The woman here, who is enjoying it, is looking to others, to the other girls and saying, don’t awaken it until the right time and with the right person. You see, God designed intimacy and gave humans sexual desire, but it is to be expressed in marriage and the rest of Scripture makes that clear. Otherwise there is damage and difficulties.
And we do live in a fallen world, that means many of us will have experienced that, and the damage and difficulties that come with it! However, just because it’s abused and there are the negative sides of sexual desire, doesn’t mean that we should neglect speaking about the truth that sexual desire is good within the safety of the marriage bond!
You see, the expression of this sexual desire that is celebrated in the song is in the context of the marriage bond. It’s delightful, as expressed in chapter 2, within marriage. It’s dangerous when it is expressed in the wrong way. By the way – sexual desire is good, and it’s natural; but some may argue that ‘well if it’s natural, aren’t you being a spoil sport? Are you going against creation and just leaving everyone who is not married frustrated?
Surely if it’s a desire – natural for us – you can’t blame us for acting on it. I’ve a desire for food so I need to eat – surely I need to act on this?’ No, there’s a difference: people do die from lack of food and water, but people don’t die from lack of sex. Jesus the most complete perfect, fulfilled person, lived without sex.
By the way, is this a book about delighting in external appearances and celebrating that? Well, it’s clear that is a part of it, but that’s not all, because look at what she delights in, not just appearance but verse 3.
Song of Songs 1:3—Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes; your name is like perfume poured out.
You name is like perfume poured out – she is delighting and expressing her joy poetically in his name. When the song talks about the name of a person it is also talking about the character of the person. She respects this man’s character and in fact, others do too. Look at the end of verse 2–No wonder the maidens love you.
And she loves him because he loves her. His love is better than wine. So, this man, the husband, is loving her as he ought and he has a good reputation. There is character and there is chemistry between the two and that’s where the desire is good.
A little aside: Character is all important, for any of you who are single. Yes, attraction is important, it’s necessary, so if you’re going to get married it helps to be attracted to your spouse because you are to have sex with them so attraction is important. But if attraction is just based on the physical side of things, that will pass, that will be fleeting, the six pack will go and gravity will hit in!! But character lasts! If you are delighting in the person, who they are, that will continue and that is good!
By the way, the man she loved had a good reputation - so does a potential partner have good reputation amongst others – those you respect, people in the Church? This man did. We need godly wisdom and we should seek advice of others we respect about whether this person is a suitable future partner.
Others will know, does he have a reputation of kindness, or commitment? Is he committed to a church? If he is someone who can’t commit to anything now - well as good looking as he may be – will he be committed to love you when things get tough? What’s his reputation? Let the person’s reputation be either a green light or a red light when considering dating?
So this man has good character and he loves her. In fact, when we chat to our kids and if marriage comes up for the girls, we simply say – if you do decide to marry someone he needs to love Jesus (that’s the good character and reputation) and also he needs to love you! That’s what this man does. The Bible is not against being attracted to the person – God is for it!!
And what about for the husbands and wives here? Well we have to ask, is there love between you, is there passion? If so, praise God for that gift. If not, it’s time to work on your marriage again. Perhaps this series is a time to refocus. There’s so much to be said, but firstly I’ll just mention these two: Firstly, pray - pray for your marriage. God can bring about change! Secondly Remember - Remember that you used to desire this person that you married – remember the reasons why you loved this person. Dwell on those and start making the effort to love, even before the feelings are flourishing. This man loves her – do you? Make the effort.
But this isn’t just about human love and desire. This is about Christ and the church. Now we don’t read into everything, things like: what does kissing relate to, or what does this and that relate to? But we do know all of Scripture points to Jesus as the groom and the church as his bride.
We should not think of marriage without thinking of Christ. Of course, it’s not a romantic love, but it’s a real relationship and when we realise how great God is, His character, His grace, His amazing love for us….when we grasp that, our desire to follow Him can increase. And His love is perfect. He loves us and laid down His life for us, and yet we move away from him each time we disobey him, and we fail to love God or to desire to follow him because we love other things.
Therefore, for all of us in this relationship we also need to pray. Pray that we’ll grasp this love of Christ more, His love that surpasses all understanding. We also need to remember - remember what Christ has done and his great love for us. And that’s why we always need to remember the story. We always need to go back to the cross. We don’t want to be guilty like the Church in Ephesus of losing our first love!
Various things may challenge us to not think Christ loves us. There may have been difficulties in your life, or you may have grown up in a situation or home that lacked love. Various things may leave us more susceptible to doubt the love of God, and yet God’s love is greater than we can imagine, greater than wine, greater than any human love. He loves us, chooses us, makes Himself known to us, lives the perfect life for us, takes our sin and burdens and shame upon Himself, takes the punishment for us, dies for us. All because He wants to give us life and hope and eternal relationship.
We need to remember Him. In fact, when we grow in our love for Christ it will help our marriages, so deal with that first. When we grasp His love, it will also help us in singleness because we were made ultimately made for Him. Desire is good, if we desire God. I’m praying that my love for God will grow over this series and that each of us would see Christ’s love even more and be willing to receive and accept it!
What else do we learn as the poem progresses? Well, we start into a bit of back and forth interchange from 1:6 to chapter 2. And we listen to the woman express some of her feelings, her insecurities in fact.
Song of Songs 1:5-6—why do I say that? Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon. Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun.
Here we find out a bit about this girl, her background, and what she thinks of herself. Now she describes herself as dark, due to the sun. She is quite a tanned girl. People today spend money on tanning booths. We worship the sun and try to get that nice colour, but in the culture this woman lived in, her suntan was not regarded as attractive. Pale was more desirable back then.
She’s probably from a humble background and is out working in the vineyard, see how verse 6 continues: My mother's sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected.
She’s out in the vineyards getting beaten by the sun all day. It’s clear this is not Ireland, and it also means her own vineyard is neglected, her own self, her own appearance. You can see the mixing of metaphors. She’s very different from Esther who had 12 months of beauty treatments and was given good food. She hasn’t gotten her nails done all nicely, no time for that. Later she says she is a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys, that sounds great, she compares herself here to a flower; but basically this was more a common statement. The flowers she mentions were more wild, country ones that were pretty common, like dandelions and daffodils today!
So, she doesn’t think that much of herself – physically. Perhaps she’s had a difficult background, we read in verse 6, my mother’s sons were angry with me.
There are hints of pain here, no mention of a father, and perhaps distance from her brothers. She is fending for herself and doesn’t have time to make herself attractive in terms of their culture. She’s not thinking highly of herself. In the song she asks, where does he pasture his flock? (verse 8), so it seems that he’s doing the work of a shepherd. And then either he, or perhaps the friends, answers in verse 8
but for certain it is he who says, in verse 9, to she who is feeling insecure,
Song of Songs 1:9—I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh.
So, my love, I think you’re a horse! What’s that about? Well, again I wouldn’t advise addressing your wife that way, but he and she regard it as a compliment. It’s obviously an image that would make sense to them. This is a beautiful female horse trained for battle. The mare probably also would have had beautiful ornaments on her - dressed up like a fine Arabian horse that would stand out from the crowd. That’s what he says to his love, who is feeling insecure. And not only does he say that of her, he then says he’ll make her more beautiful verse 10 and 11.
Song of Songs 1:10-11—Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you earrings of gold, studded with silver.
So, she is getting lavished with jewellery. He’s taking care of her. What else does he say verse 15?
Song of Songs 1:15—How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves.
He says, you’ve got gorgeous eyes – oh those eyes, how beautiful. Eyes like doves, which perhaps symbolises innocence. Didn’t Jesus say ‘as innocent as doves’? So again, he could be complimenting not just her physical beauty, but also who she is. And even though she thinks she’s just a typical common flower, well he responds to her statement in 2:1 by saying,
Song of Songs 2:1—Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.
You may think you’re a common flower, but to me you are a lily among thorns. All the others don’t have a patch on you. They are thorns in comparison. This is the man saying: you stand out! When you come into a room you’re the only one I see. Everyone else is in black and white but you’re in colour! That’s what she hears! What do we learn from this?
Compliments Must Be Given
She gets the affirmation she desires. Words must be used!
Specifically to men, this is the model for us to go by. Some women are starved of affirmation and affection! Like a flower starved of water won’t flourish, so sometimes we men do the same to a woman by starving her of affirmation and affection. It’s hard to preach on this as a husband who is far from perfect – and I’ve failed. But men, when was last time you said to your wife that you love her – that she is 1 in a million? Have you worked hard never to dwell on another woman. Thank the Lord for your girl and the qualities that attracted you to her. She needs to hear it - that she is yours and yours alone! This woman isn’t alone in feeling insecure at times.
And you’ll stand out as being different if you compliment her in public also. In today’s society it’s almost a given that you’re going to run your spouse down. But, I’m sure that when you were dating you gave her compliments, and genuine compliments need to be continually given.
But it’s mutual. She speaks to him. She returns the compliment. He stands out to her too, and she expresses it to him. She calls him a king in verse 4, and yet it looks more like he’s doing the job of a shepherd in verse 7. She is complimenting him, he is a king in her eyes.
And also she says, You are to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts – a cluster of henna blossoms. Whatever it is that this is pointing to, we know these are compliments. She replies to him in verse 16, you’re handsome, you’re beautiful and in 2:3.
Song of Songs 2:3—Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my lover among the young men.
She’s basically saying the same as he has said to her, ‘you’re a man amongst boys’ – she might be referred to as a flower, but she calls him a tree, a fruitful tree. And then she gets into details which are probably sexual from verse 3 onwards:
Song of Songs 2:3-5—I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love. Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.
Earlier she had been brought into his chambers, and now his banqueting hall which is a place of feasting, of joy, of delight. Verse 6 says that his left hand is under her head and his right hand embraces her. Here she is, in the arms of the man she loves, and she is overwhelmed, faint with love.
They desire one another, which we’ve seen already, and there is imagery of fruit and trees and things sweet and good to taste. This is all echoing the blessing and joy in the garden of Eden before sin and the fall. This is all very good. Desire and sex in this context, in marriage, is to be enjoyed! But all this happens after the compliments, all after the affirmation. The words which are powerful.
So, wives do you compliment your husband? Does he know you respect him? Do you encourage him? There’s an openness and an honesty between them both. They are talking – do you talk to one another? Maybe you used to be open emotionally, but over the years it has stopped happening. Perhaps you share a home and a bed, but not life. If so, it’s time to change the trajectory. So, don’t just watch tv together, but spend time together, just the two of you, talking face to face! Compliments must be given.
And yet for those who single this could be hard to hear? You could be here thinking, I don’t have that! I’m missing out. I don’t like this book. And yet, this book is for you too. Look at verse 7, the word for ‘you’, which the young woman experiencing this love uses to say to her friends, to the other girls,
Song of Songs 2:7—Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
You may want this, and I’m not saying it’s not hard or a struggle for you, but she gives the warning. This is wisdom literature, ‘wait!’ She says, ‘don’t awaken it until the right time or the right person’. This is not an old fuddy-duddy minister sharing about waiting until marriage. No, this is a woman deeply in love saying, wait, don’t go there. If you enter into this at the wrong time with the wrong person it will lead to difficulties and damage!
We know the whole culture says differently. Our culture says you gotta experiment with sex, you gotta try it out and you’re encouraged to experience sexual activity. But seriously, this young woman has the right advice. It can lead to deep pain. People want the benefits of marriage without the responsibilities, and it leads to trouble. And then if you do get married down the line, it is more likely that there will be more difficulties, that come from not having followed God’s advice.
God requires purity whilst the world screams looseness! And men need to pursue purity here, and take the initiative in this, but the girl is responsible also. There’s some situations that are better just to avoid, such as being alone on a sofa, watching a movie late at night together. That does not normally lead to a discussion on the director’s amazing job, or the lead character’s wonderful acting. It leads to cuddling, kissing and a lot more! Don’t awaken love. Don’t get into the position!
By the way, people can also overly awaken love by sharing too much too soon, expressing their love to early or making big claims before properly realising what they are doing. Much wisdom is required. But remember this love story reminds us of the big picture. If we’re a Christian, part of the Church, then we are the bride of Christ, he has set his love on us and yet we can at times feel, there’s no way that God can love me.
You may be sitting here thinking: I’ve messed up. I’m dark not externally, but internally. I’ve sinned. I’ve actually sinned sexually in terrible ways. There’s no way God could love me! The truth is, all of us need to realise we’ve messed up in so many ways! And we’re all insecure at times.
But you know the good news of the gospel, Jesus did not come to call the righteous but sinners. He came to those who acknowledge, I’m messed up, I’m a sinner. And first of all we need to realise, I have messed up. I have flaws in me. I’m tainted with sin and its affects, but if you trust in Jesus, say I want to live for him alone, repent, in other words, Christ says ‘you're forgiven, you're loved, you are mine!’
He affirms us, he compliments us. For if we belong to Jesus, we are clothed in His righteousness. He doesn’t see me in my sinful self. If I’ve trusted in Jesus' once and for all sacrifice, He sees me righteous and clean!
Whatever darkness from our past that troubles or causes us guilt – please know that there is nothing that the love of Christ, and his sacrifice, can’t cover and cleanse and redeem. Full reconciliation and healing are available in Jesus. He knows our unloveliness, the rebellion in each of our hearts, and yet he gave his life for us all.
Do you know God loves you? Listen to these words he says to you! If you’re a Christian, trusting in Him.
1 John 3:1—See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God.
Romans 8:1, 39—For there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…And nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
Ephesians 1:4-5—For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will.
That’s what God says to us. We may realise that we’re sinners, but we are loved far more. God sees the darkness, and all the shame, and all the failures and he loves us! He says to us that in Christ, we are perfect in His sight!
That’s what he affirms to us. He came to us, and says I love you. Will you accept my love? My affirmation? And trust in what I have done so you can flourish? He’s saying, know, know that I love you more than the greatest human love that exists and that’s what we need to remember. That’s why we need to be reminded of the gospel again and again, which we will in a few moments when we take the Lord's supper. May God grant us to grasp it more and then express our love back to him as we ought!
This sermon was originally preached at Ballycullen Community Church (Dublin, Ireland) in April 2018.