Song of Songs 2:8-17
8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; 11 for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. 14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 15 Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards—for our vineyards are in blossom.” 16 My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies. 17 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on the cleft mountains. (NRSV)
The Voice of My Beloved
I admit it. I’m a sucker for, what are generally known as chick flicks. I like to curl up on the couch with my wife and watch Jane Austen movies like Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility. I liked How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days and even silly movies like Enchanted. If I get to sit next to Joy for 90 to 120 minutes, I’ll watch anything.
Why? Because I’m in love with her. I am all-in, head-over-heels, nothing-held-back in love with her. Those so-called chick-flicks (and I really do despise that gender bias as if guys like me aren’t supposed to enjoy them because we’re guys) they remind me, with their vastly divergent story arcs, how differently and how uniquely love touches the hearts, souls, minds, and bodies of people.
It’s when I read love stories like Ruth or love poetry like Song of Songs that I’m reminded that the love Joy and I share is one of the most incredible, perfect, blessed gifts God has ever given us. Sometimes, love itself is worth celebrating—just for love’s sake—because love is a gift to us. Love between two people is beautiful. It represents something good and hopeful in the world.
Love stories are the most powerful stories available to the human imagination. Whether it’s a modern-day love story, or Greek mythology, that holds to be true. To the Greeks, Aphrodite was one of the gods of Olympus. But she had a different parentage than the others. She was older than the gods. She existed before any of them, and as a consequence, Aphrodite was the most powerful among them.
The books I write have a subplot of love that adds tension to the story. I just finished reading a Young Adult High Fantasy book that had a love subplot, but it just kind of got dropped at the end. The author gave us two possibilities, and the one I didn’t want to see happen seemed to be happening, so I shrugged and thought, Eh, I guess I can live with it if she wants to end up with that guy. But then, at the very end, that guy suddenly up and leaves, and the thing with the other guy (that I wanted to see happen) just gets dropped like a brick. I wanted to throw the book across the room! I was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me! I want the love story!” Instead, I got nothing. It made the end of the book feel unsatisfactory and incomplete.
Love matters to us! Even in stories like Romeo and Juliet where—spoiler alert—everybody dies, it’s the tragedy of their love that rends our hearts. When Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan get together at the end of You’ve Got Mail, it’s the triumph of their love that makes us sob like smitten idiots. Love matters, and it’s a gift. It’s such a powerful, beautiful gift from God!
Those who don’t think romantic love is a God-thing obviously haven’t read far enough into the Bible. It’s splattered all over the Bible’s pages from Genesis to Revelation. I would say God created human beings out of a need to love a creature that is like God’s self. After all, we are made in God’s own image. God imbued women and men with the power to love each other because it’s a reflection of God’s deep and abiding love for us.
In this text, we hear the woman’s voice. It is she who speaks. We only hear the man’s voice through the woman’s as she recalls his words and shares them with us. The image of the garden in spring calls to mind the creation accounts from Genesis. In this text, the woman and the man act as equals in the love that they share.
As a side-note, equality is not how men often think of women, and it is not how many women think of women compared to men. We even have these texts from some of Paul’s letters that suggest women are not equal to men. But I would argue that’s a cultural bias. If you consider the matter from a Biblical and theological standpoint, when women and men were created (c.f. Genesis 1:26-31) they were created as equals in God’s image. They were given equal authority over all things. They shared power, authority, and responsibility. There was no suggestion that the man had authority over the woman.
In fact, it isn’t until Genesis 3:16 that we see a difference in the balance of power between men and women. God says to the woman, “I will make your pregnancy very painful; in pain you will bear children. You will desire your husband, but he will rule over you.” (CEB). Men throughout history have used this text to justify patriarchal misogyny. But the problem is that the balance of power shifted as a result of sin. It is not the way things should have been or were designed by God to be. It was a result of sin.
So every time a woman is treated as less than a man, by either sex, whoever is doing that is choosing to live out the result of sin instead of the result of Christ’s salvation. The problem is disparity between men and women was NEVER in God’s plan, and the power of sin is exactly the thing Jesus Christ came to save us FROM! Christ died for us so we could be restored to a righteousness even greater than the original righteousness of creation. Jesus died for us so that we could see each other as equals again. God took our human flesh into the Godhead. God united God’s self to us. Misogyny is sin, and there is no excuse for it, ever! It is absolutely contrary to the nature of what love is. If we are to truly live out the Gospel, then everyone will treat everyone as an equal because that is what God made us to be.
We are made to love and to be loved, and love never puts down. Love isn’t arrogant. Love doesn’t seek its own advantage. Love isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28 NRSV). Love seeks equality. In fact, love seeks the well-being of the other over the well-being of the self. That’s what Christ did for us. The pain and suffering of the cross was real, but it was for us. We are the beloved of God, not because we deserve to be, but because God chooses to love us, to lift us up, and to seek our well-being no matter the cost to God’s self.
Love, as it is depicted between these two lovers in Song of Solomon, is a mutual giving of one’s self to the other. When I do premarital counseling, one of the things I say to couples is this: “Marriage isn’t about you, it’s about your betrothed.” What I mean by that is that marriage is about the one you love. When you find the person whose happiness, joy, and fulfillment mean so much to you that you want to invest the rest your life giving of yourself so they can achieve those things, when you find happiness in that person’s happiness, when you find joy in that person’s joy, when you find fulfillment in that person’s fulfillment, that’s when you know you’re ready for marriage. Marriage isn’t about you. It’s about them. But when your spouse has the same realization and spends the rest of his or her life doing the same thing for you, that’s when love flourishes. It’s mutual giving and receiving.
Love is unassuming mutuality. And it’s not only romantic love. Love is when parents invest themselves into their children so they can thrive as responsible and faithful human beings. Love is when friends care for each other no matter what. Love is when children care for a parent who can’t live on their own anymore. There are innumerable examples and expressions of love. There are at least four Greek words for love, but they’re all nuances of the same idea.
Yet, this text is more than about love. This is about love and play. Love and playfulness are woven together here in a way that’s almost embarrassing. The poem is full of playful intimacy. There’s a sense of utter delight in the poem’s flirtation, invitation, and joy.
We know God is love. But have you ever thought about God as playful? Have you ever imagined that God takes delight in our playfulness with each other? Have you ever imagined God laughing along with us at the sheer joy we share with each other, whether it’s with our friends, our children, or our significant other?
Love and play mingle in a way that touches every part of human life, even the different seasons of life we experience. For these two lovers, love is blooming as with the coming of spring. Before this time, their love was frozen in winter’s icy embrace. It lay dormant beneath the snow and ice. But now, as winter gives way to spring and their love for each other blossoms, there are all kinds of new possibilities. Their love isn’t fully ripened, but it’s intoxicatingly new, enticing, teasing, and full of potential. It’s the playfulness of their love that causes the changes in each of them to take place. It’s the risk they’re willing to take with each other, the risk and the desire they have for one another in these playful interactions that makes us smile.
Throughout Judeo-Christian history, Song of Songs has been interpreted as a love story between two people or as an allegory about God’s love for us. The church is described as the Bride of Christ. The interpretations have often been thought of as exclusive of each other, but I don’t think that’s the case. If we are created in the image of God, then the playfulness of love between two people is a reflection of God’s love for us.
The man’s speech begins and ends with the same words, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” It gives him a gently pleading-yet-insistent tone. The man desires the woman. She knows it. She repeats his words, and she celebrates his love and desire for her. That is exactly how the church celebrates God’s love for us. This is about loving and being loved. It’s about how we love and are loved by one another. It’s about how Christ loves us, and how we love Christ.
The thing is, when we love and are loved, whether it’s love of God or another person, we can see ourselves not as perfect, but as perfect for someone, wanted, sought after, desired. It’s a cause for singing, for joy, and for play. But love has a way of reaching out much further than we can imagine, like ripples in a lake that reach the further shore. Love can transform everything. God invites us to love and to be loved, to see the world in the light of God’s playful grace, and to participate in the new creation as winter gives way to spring. New possibilities burst into glorious bloom, and hold the promise of a bountiful harvest.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen!
(Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version [NRSV] unless otherwise noted).