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Should We Kiss Solomon’s Dating Advice Goodbye?

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Professor, Westminster Theological Seminary

I once asked a college class to give me the definition of “the perfect woman.” Immediately, one of the girls blurted out, “a cute, chaste, cooking, cleaning, childbearing Christian who is clever (but not too clever).” And then she added, “Not that I’m bitter, of course.”

In their search for love, men suffer from similar frustrations. The whole process can be deeply confusing. In God’s providence, there is a whole book of the Bible, the Song of Songs, which addresses the deep desire and longing in our hearts to love and be loved.

One Thousand Lovers

Many fine commentators see Solomon as the hero of the Song of Songs. In my commentary, however, I disagree, seeing Solomon as part of the problem, not the solution. After all, in 1 Kings 11, the Bible does not depict Solomon as the sort of person to advise you on love and marriage.

“The Bible does not depict Solomon as the sort of person to whom you should be going for relationship advice.”

Solomon had deep patterns of sin and failure in his life — perhaps especially in the realm of his sexuality. Deuteronomy 17:17 forbade the king from multiplying wives, lest they turn his heart away from the Lord. Yet Solomon acquired no fewer than one thousand wives and concubines (1 Kings 11:3). In the ancient world, polygamy was a way to flaunt your wealth, ensure many offspring, and cement strategic alliances. On a human level, those reasons seemed wise, designed to give security to the royal house. But acquiring one thousand lovers is a sign of a heart determined to be self-sufficient and independent of God.

A Flaming Fire

Solomon paid a heavy price for ignoring what God had said in favor of human wisdom. Like Solomon, we often face the temptation to substitute human wisdom for the apparently restrictive wisdom of God’s word. Human wisdom tells us that our sexuality is just another natural appetite to be fulfilled, like eating or drinking. Who wants to be sexually anorexic? Human wisdom says, “God is against sex and is trying to restrict you from finding true fulfillment.”

God’s word actually tells us that sex is a beautiful and wonderful gift of God within marriage. Yet outside of marriage, sex is destructive and harmful. The Song of Songs explains that sexual love is like flaming fire (Song 8:6): something beautiful and warming in its proper place, but terrifying and destructive if unrestrained.

For us, just as for Solomon, sex is never just about sex. Solomon’s wives were about his search for significance and security. So too, we may use sex to find security: “If I have sex with my boyfriend, then he’ll want to marry me.” Or significance: “If I can find a girl who wants to sleep with me, I will feel attractive.” Or intimacy: “Sex will move our relationship to a whole new level.” Or we seek fake security, significance, or intimacy through solo sex or porn.

Temple Builders

“Sex is never just about sex. Solomon’s wives were about his search for significance and security.”

Using sex in a way for which it was not designed leaves us feeling guilty, battling shame and isolation. It doesn’t help that in our churches we often have a conspiracy of silence, in which sex is never mentioned. Or if it is, we make it seem as if you are the only person in the room to struggle with your sexuality while everyone else is as pure as the driven snow.

The truth is that we are all deeply broken people. We are all captivated by false idols for whom we are busy building temples. Because our sexuality is such a deep part of our identity, that false worship is going to appear clearly in our sexual brokenness. That’s why the standard moralistic approach to sexual sin — “Just stop it!” — is so powerless to change us. If our sexual brokenness reflects our idolatry — false worship — then healing in this area will come only as we grow in our love for the gospel — true worship.

Perhaps some reading this are quite sure that none of this applies to you. You are not sexually broken: you have made pledges, formed accountability groups, and sworn to remain pure. It is certainly a wonderful goal to strive for such things. Yet if your trust is in your own strength and determination to be sexually pure until marriage, you’ve simply created a different idol. True purity of heart never boasts in being pure, for it flows out of a deep awareness of our own weakness without the Lord’s protection.

For myself, I know that the fact that I remained a virgin until I was married had absolutely nothing to do with my strength of character and everything to do with God’s kind gift of social ineptness. I also know that for others, God’s sovereignly allowing them to sin in this area was precisely the means by which he began to open their eyes to the true depth of their need of him. We are all broken.

Someone Greater Than Solomon

“We are all deeply broken people. We are all captivated by false idols for whom we are busy building temples.”

For broken people, the fact that the biblical song about love and sex is connected to the name of Solomon is paradoxically good news. Unlike many contemporary love songs, the Song of Solomon does not pretend that we live in a world untainted by sin and brokenness. Of course, the Song does celebrate what is good and wholesome in sex. It intends to leave you panting with desire for a true love like this. It invites you not to settle for a boring marriage, but to hold out for someone with whom, with God’s help, you can write a song that really sings.

But by connecting the song with the name of Solomon, with all his sexual brokenness, the writer reminds us that there are many dangers associated with marriage and sex. It is not easy to find the right person, or to be the right person, and faithfully waiting for that person is perhaps the hardest part of all.

Solomon’s story shows us that if you are holding out for a human hero, you are bound to be disappointed. Solomon, the wisest man in the whole world, became obsessed with money, sex, and power. Nor was this a brief struggle in Solomon’s youth, from which he soon emerged victorious: it was a lasting obsession that latterly drew him away from wholehearted worship of the Lord.

Yet God would not relinquish his promises because of Solomon’s sin. Instead, he sent us the true hero for whom all our hearts are waiting. The reason that we all have a deep longing for the kind of love and intimacy that we glimpse in the best of human marriages is that we were made for an even better marriage: the marriage between Christ and his bride, the church. That is why the church has not been wrong to see in the Song of Songs a message about Jesus and his people. A depiction of the best of all loves and the most wonderful of marriages will inevitably turn our hearts toward Christ, who has truly loved us and is the answer for our deep brokenness.

Your Wedding Garment

Jesus came to a world of sexually broken people who were drinking stale water from broken cisterns instead of seeking the fresh, clean, living water that comes from loving and obeying God. In the process, he set aside the security, glory, and intimacy that he had enjoyed with the Father from all eternity, laying himself open to abuse and assault.

“True purity never boasts in being pure, for it flows out of an awareness of our weakness without God’s protection.”

Jesus did not experience the joys of earthly marriage, family, and sex that we so easily regard as our rights. Instead, he set aside his rights for the sake of his bride, the church. For her — for you — he went to the cross and laid down his life so that he could clothe his sin-stained bride in beautiful garments of his spotless righteousness. When the Father looks at you, he doesn’t gaze upon your ugly record of sexual sin, nor on your prideful trust in your own strength to maintain purity in your walk through life. Instead, he sees you clothed in Jesus, and he welcomes you in for Jesus’s sake.

Return your eyes to Christ’s beautifully scarred face. See again what he has done for you. Look back in time to Jesus on the cross, his blood shed to atone for your wandering heart. Look upward at Jesus now exalted in heaven, given the name above every name, before whom all nations will bow. And look onward, straining your eyes for his return, on the day when he will come to claim his bride, and our longing will finally be satisfied.