Texts for the Week: Song of Solomon; Gen. 2:7; 1 Cor. 7:3–5; John 17:3; 1 John 1:9; Rom. 1:24–27; Gal. 5:24.
Memory Text: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame” (Song of Solomon 8:6, NKJV).
Opening Question: The Bible is not shy about sex and sexuality. Should we be?
The lesson this week is drawn from the Old Testament book, The Song of Solomon, the little book about which there is a lot of discussion. According to some, the Song of Solomon is a book that describes the relationship between a young bride – called the Shulamite – and her beloved, thought to be King Solomon. This book has often been read and interpreted allegorically as a symbol of the relationship between God and God’s people, of the relationship between Christ and his church. But, it may also be seen as a poem in which the dimensions of a very real relationship between a man and a woman who are in love are explored. If you have read the book, you know the mysteries of human intimacy and conjugal love – sex – are spoken of. This is one of the places where we see that the Bible is not shy about human activities, sex included. Indeed, spread across the pages of scripture are all manner of stories that tell of the sexual exploits, from the good and noble to the terrible, of humans in various stations of life.
The Song of Solomon can also be read as a book that speaks quite openly about intimacies often in poetic or cryptic language. Interestingly, this may be seen as a reflection of the fact that people often find it hard to talk of intimacies, especially when there are often a lot of taboos that surround the subject of sex. It might be good to ponder why taboos exist around sex and sexuality.
Perhaps the best place to begin a discussion of sex and sexuality is by noting that, as far as God is concerned, the human body and its drives, are not evil or dirty. So often in history, a distinction has been drawn between the “spirit,” which is thought to be good and noble, and the “flesh,” which is evil and dirty and ignoble. This was the view of the Greeks and other ancient people who subscribed to the idea of a dualistic universe where matter was bad and spirit was good. Because sexuality was part of the flesh, it was deemed bad except for purposes of procreation. A strange contrast of the time was also the idea that, since the body was of no consequence, it would perish and return to dust, then what a person did with it, was of no concern. Or it was viewed as something irrelevant for the body was going to perish anyway. These ideas about the body cannot be supported by the Bible. From its very firs chapter, the Bible speaks of the material realm, human bodies included, as being good, made so by God himself. The whole of life is then to be seen as sacred, something to be lived openly before God. This is true in the Book of Solomon where the human body is admired, where the physical aspects of marriage are not spoken of with embarrassment.
One aspect discussed in the Song of Solomon is that friendship is something to be shared between the husband and the wife not just physical intimacy. In Song of Solomon 5:16, the wife says quite explicitly, “This is my friend!” Happy is a husband and wife who can count each other as friends. The physical intimacies of life are best shared in the context of friendship.
Another aspect of intimate love found in the Song of Solomon is connected to the invitation, made several times, of one spouse to the other using a metaphor, to “come into my garden.” Some commentators see this as an indication that intimacies should never be imposed on another or coerced, but rather should be volitional, offered freely to the other. Certainly, love is not coercive and neither is friendship.
In Song of Solomon chapter 4, there is an indication about preserving intimate love for the right time. In this chapter, the Shulamite preserves herself for the time after marriage. The language is cryptic here to be sure, but we see in this chapter a joyous invitation after the marriage to enter her garden, an invitation for her husband to revel in her beauty and charms, to rejoice that she is now his forever, not as a possession but as a companion. Some commentators see this as an extoling of pre-marital chastity, something regarded as universally good in the Bible and also by a great many cultures even to this day.
In light of the items above, believers are invited to be careful about how they express their sexual interests realizing that sexuality is a powerful drive that it can get out of hand if it is not properly bridled. Intimate relations in the right framework can be a great blessing. Out of place, they can be a real burden, bringing sorrow and pain into a person’s life.
- What might be done to allay the messages of popular culture that suggest sexual intimacies should be available to all without restriction?
- How do people in the believing community work toward redeeming those who have fallen victim to inappropriate sexual behaviors?
- How do we uphold some of the various and useful taboos without making sex look like it is “dirty” and unseemly even for married people?