Pastor John, you are a language guy, and I love that. Given the profound connections between marital intimacy and the relationship of Christ with the church in Ephesians 5, you said recently of marital intimacy, in episode 278, “We should be amazed that our Savior chose to describe his relationship with his church with a parable of such exquisite pleasure.” So given that, just how valuable is the Song of Solomon in articulating the intimate language of the church’s relationship to Christ? Or is this a misuse of the text?
This is risky to make statements about the Song of Solomon. In the history of the church, it has been treated mainly as an allegory of Christ’s love for the church and God’s love for his people.
Real or Allegorical?
In modern times, where our sensibilities are a little different, it has been treated mainly as a very sensuous love song between Solomon and his bride. What makes it so risky is how explicit the sensuousness is: “Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies” (Song 7:2). “Your two breasts are like fawns, twins of a gazelle” (Song 4:5). “Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit” (Song 7:7–8). I mean, these are unmistakable pictures of the sexual delights between a man and his wife. There is no escaping that.
But let’s just make sure we don’t isolate this kind of language in the Song of Solomon as if it must be allegorical, because that kind of language is used in Proverbs as a command to young husbands: “Rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress?” (Proverbs 5:18–20). So that is Proverbs.
It is not as though this book, Song of Solomon, is in some world of its own in dealing with explicit sexual enjoyments between a husband and wife. The rest of the Bible can point in that direction as well, sometimes with remarkable explicitness.
God and His Bride
Here is another issue: Even if the Song of Solomon is treated as allegorical, Solomon would not use sin to signify the relationship between God and his bride. In a sense, it is even more striking if it is allegorical that Solomon would use such graphic, sexual language to think of our relationship with God. I don’t think that blunts or lessens the remarkable sexual implications for husband and wife, because it is used in reference to God. So even if you do take it as an allegory, you have a remarkable explicitness about what is in the bedroom of a godly man and wife.
“Even if the Song of Solomon is treated as allegorical, Solomon would not use sin to signify the relationship between God and his bride.”
Here is the main thing, I think, I would want to say. The Song of Solomon confronts us with the challenge not just of literary allegory, but of life allegory. This is the main thing. Here is what I mean. It calls us to look into and through the physical pleasures of sex, both in Solomon’s song and in our bedroom. In other words, it is not just that this song is really physical and also points to something spiritual in relationship to God and the church, but that life is physical and points to something spiritual.
In other words, the literary sex and the real sex are both allegorical. God didn’t just give us the Song of Solomon to show us something of his love. He gave us sex to show us something of his love. So what I want to stress is that the person who is fit to interpret the Song of Solomon is the person who, in real life, has the spiritual depth and sensitivities and wisdom to see in real sex the realities of joy in relation to Christ.
Fit to Read the Song
If you come to the Song of Solomon without having read life as allegorical — that is, life as pointing to the glories of union with Christ — you are probably going to stomp all over this beautiful poem like you have got spikes on instead of slippers. It is not going to be very fruitful. In other words, this is not for children. To get this right, this is not for men and women for whom sexual intercourse is merely a one-dimensional flight of passion.
If all you have in your bedroom is a one-dimensional flight of physical passion, you are not fit to read the Song of Solomon. Sex is that, but it is way more than that, because life is way more than that. The Song of Solomon will be handled well by those who know that real sexual relations — not just in literature — is a picture of something glorious, and it is no less physical for that any more than the heavens that proclaim the glory of God are less physical when they do. So I just want to kind of plead for people to go deep into all of life as a parable of Christ and his church, and then they might be fit to handle a literary description of sexuality the way they should.