Love Story: The Language of Love

Love story logo He has brought me to the house of wine
His glance towards me was intent on love-making.

Spread me among the raisin cakes,
lay me out among the apples,
for faint with love am I.

His left hand under my head,
and his right hand fondles me.

I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or hinds of the field,
do not arouse and do not excite
love until it pleases. (Literal translation of Song of Songs 2:4-7)

The Language of love

Early love is when you love the way the other person makes you feel. Mature love is when you love the person as he or she is. If is the difference between passionate and compassionate love. It’s Bon Jovi verses Beethoven.

Our culture places me at the centre of my life. My rights, my freedoms, my choices and my desires are the most important factor to consider — whether I’m buying a car, choosing a job, starting a sexual relationship, or deciding on a new mobile phone contract. Advertisers play on this tendency all the time, with banking, food, technology and cosmetics companies offering us slogans like ‘My life, my card’. . . ‘Have it your way’. . . ‘You’re worth it’… Thousands of possibilities. Get yours’. . . ‘Express yourself… ‘Just do it’… ‘It’s all about you’. The message is that life is about me and should meet my needs.

In biblical culture, the opposite was true. People would define or ‘place’ themselves in the world with reference to their families, clans, and tribes, and perhaps their home town or role within the wider community;

Even the ways characters arc introduced to us suggests this: ‘Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant’ (Josh. 1:1); ‘a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Becorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin’ (1 Sam. 9:1); ‘Ehud, a left-handed man, the son of Gera the Benjamite’ (Judg.3:15); ‘James son of Zebedee’ (Matt. 4:21). Jesus’ own genealogies in Matthew 1 and Luke 3 are extensive.

Healthy relationships (sexual or otherwise) are grounded in emotional maturity. For example, the biblical idea of ‘leaving and cleaving’ in marriage requires ‘autonomy’ (Gen. 2:24). That is, individuals need to know who they are and how to control their own emotions — managing anxiety and its underlying causes — before they are able to separate from their parents. It also requires a healthy understanding of intimacy to be able to share your life with another person. However, the way our society detaches sex from the setting of personal and relational development has the effect of arresting and distorting development. This inevitably impacts the next generation, who are reliant on the last to guide them in healthy development of their own.

Guy Brandon calls this “relational order”, as Jesus implied when he summarized Scripture as “love God and love your neighbour” (Mat 22:37-40; Deut. 6:24-25). In fact, mutual need and trust are vital for healthy relationships. Without them, we harm the thing on which we are desperately pretending not to be reliant.

Interdependence is not only a crucial skill for personal relationships; it is also an essential way of understanding and relating to both the social sphere and the ecosphere.

The illusion of independence damages the individual and those who come into contact with him or her.

It also damages society as a whole, and the whole planetary biosphere, when people believe that they can take without giving, and that taking does not make them dependent on the sources from which they take.’

Not just in love with the idea of love but with the real person.  (1:7-8)

She is desperate for his company, almost at any price. She wants to be with him all the time. She wants to know where he works, who companions are. Is he enjoying others’ company, while she is on the outside? “Togetherness’ can be stifling, cloying and claustrophobic. For not all the world loves a lover. Then again, perhaps he wants to be utterly alone, an isolated individual, alone with nature in all its awesome!

1. She directs her plea to ‘the one whom my soul loves’ (v7)
This phrase indicates the involvement of her whole person with her lover. For the girl, her love bathes and suffuses every aspect of her being and of her life. Her life is ‘shepherd shaped’.

2. She wants to be with him (v7)
She is intent on going out to find him. But how can she do so with propriety? If she has no specific directions, she will be wandering around blindly in search of him, and she will be in danger of being mistaken for a prostitute, plying her trade amongst the other shepherds. “A veiled woman” literally means ‘like one who wraps herself up’, ‘like one who wanders’ or ‘goes astray’. Now not all prostitutes were veiled, as Tamar was, and not every veiled woman is a prostitute. But it does seem likely that the implication of the girl’s words is that she does not want the shame of being thought a whore. Perhaps it is a veiled threat to her lover: ‘If you don’t tell me where you are, I’ll be taken as a loose woman. Now you wouldn’t want that, would you?’  Or perhaps it gives an indication of the depth of her urgency, a throwing of caution to the winds, as she throws herself with bravado into this reckless act in which she has to brave the wolf-whistles of the shepherds.

3. His reply is very uncertain (v8 – not the friends but the boy’s words).
The girl wants his exclusive company, but that may constrict him and confine him. He can enjoy life in his own ladish professional world, which excludes the woman. Her need would break up his circle of intimacy, his clubby companionship. Her presence diminishes him. He must still be able to develop his own interests, to which she will remain an observer. So she must allow him this freedom. His love for her is only a part of his total being; his professional life runs in parallel.

But if she comes with her own little flock, then it will not be so obvious why she is out on the hillside. He will meet her in the temporary huts or shelters (tabernacles) where they can be alone. The shepherds will not be there at siesta time, and they will not return before night.

Not just in love but experiencing love (1:9-2:3)

You, my love, excite men as a mare excites the stallions of Pharaoh’s chariots. GNB

The Song is very rich in its descriptive power in that much use is made of all the five senses (tasting, touching, seeing, hearing and smelling). In daily life, let alone the spiritual life, is it not true that we look but never perceive; we listen and listen, but never hear? We need to slow down and savour our environment; Did not Jesus say "consider the lilies of the fields’? Let us appreciate the fine features of a beautiful girl; let us savour the fragrance of expensive perfume. Then are we truly rich!

Her lover compares his girl to a mare among the chariots of Pharaoh. The NIV is an interpretative paraphrase here. There is nothing in the Hebrew text about being harnessed to a chariot and the TNIV corrects this. The comparison of the girl to a horse has puzzled some commentators and readers. One has even suggested that she has very large haunches, suitable for much child-bearing! Others, that she is very fleet of foot. She does not look like a horse. She is gloriously decked out like one of Pharaoh’s chariot horses. The immediate point of comparison is the way both girl and horse are gloriously festooned with ribbons and other decorations. Wall paintings from the tombs of ancient Egypt show Pharaoh’s horses with feathered head¬dresses, studded leather halters and bridles, and finely decorated with drapes and beads.

Her rounded cheeks are enhanced by large circular ear-rings which emphasize the roundness of her face. Her neck is decorated by row upon row of strings of brightly coloured beads. This enhances her height, her stateliness, as well as giving a slight hint of inaccessibility and protection. Her beauty is enhanced by the jewellery with which he will adorn her. A single sparkling gem can set off the girl’s radiant beauty more than a thousand golden necklaces.

The chariots of Pharaoh were pulled by stallions, hitched in pairs, so that a female horse amongst them would cause quite a stir. So if our lover is saying that the effect his beloved has on him is the same as a mare has amidst a host of military stallions, pawing the ground and neighing lustily, then that puts a very different light on the picture. He is saying that his beloved sends him into a frenzy of desire, that is the ultimate in sex appeal.

The horse is a very sensual animal. No-one can stand close alongside a large magnificent race horse, or a ceremonial parade horse, without sensing something of the vibrancy, the thrill of so much potential power hidden within those large glistening flanks. There is a sense of awe at the aesthetics of such power.

Not just in love but moving towards a climax (2:4-7)

The girl is aroused, and she is weak, sick, and faint with love and desire. The seeming hopelessness of love is portrayed in Dryden’s line: "Love’s a malady without a cure.’ She is swooning with desire. She has that ache in the pit of her stomach, she has that loss of appetite which can only be cured by her being "lit: spread out (2:5)’ with her lover, and by eating and drinking of the delights of love-making.

There are plenty of problems with the translation of these verses:

1. Banqueting Hall
Her lover has taken her to what is literally ‘the house of wine’. Many take this, as NIV, to be a banqueting hall, as if there is a wedding celebration happening. But so far in the Song, there has been no hint of a formal marriage. Others take it to be a tavern, or a rural drinking place. However, since there is a rapid progression to intimate behaviour in is scene, it seems inappropriate as lovers are still in the countryside.  So it is best to link this idea with what immediately precedes it (that is, ‘his fruit is sweet to my taste’) which is also an indication of intimate behaviour. Since,as we have already seen, wine is associated in the Song with the idea of kissing, it seems better to interpret the house or wine metaphorically as his mouth, into which he invites her to enter, to enjoy their deep kissing.

2. His banner over me is love
Love, as we have seen, in the Song, is usually love making.  The majority of the Old Testament occurrences of the word “Banner” appear in the book of Numbers. In these contexts the AV uniformly translates the word as ‘a standard’, that is, a pole, bearing some identifying flag, ensign or insignia, to act as a rallying point.  We could to think that the boy has made a ‘conquest’ and is staking out his claim over the girl whose heart he has captured.

Perhaps the best way to interpret this word from its root which basically means something like a look or glance of admiration. So probably the best translation would be:  ‘His glance towards me was intent on love-making’.  The glance then represents his wish, his desire, his purpose. The same root word appears with the troublesome "banner” again in 6:4 and 6:10 (where the NIV translated the phrase ‘terrible as an army with banners’ as ‘majestic as the stars in procession’!).

3. Spread me …. For I am faint with love
It’s not totally clear to whom these words are address. Some suggest that they are addressed to the lover – a strong way of expressing a wish for what is already the case. Others that  the words she is swooning with desire. She has that ache in the pit of her stomach, she has that loss of appetite which can only be cured by her being "spread out’ with her lover, and by eating and drinking of the delights of love-making. That is the only cure for her malady. She sees herself held in the strong embrace of her lover as they lie together under their leafy shade, her head locked in the strong left arm of the boy while with his right hand he gently caresses her. She allows him to explore her body, the smooth mountains and valleys of her shapely contours.

4. Do not arouse or awaken love
The two words ‘awaken’ and ‘arouse’ we two different forms of the same Hebrew root, meaning to awake from sleep, or to arouse, excite, to bestir something or someone. ‘Love’ here is love-making. What does that mean:

+ ‘Do not force love-making or a love relationship; let it blossom naturally in due season, for the process cannot be hurried artificially’’?
+ ‘Don’t start love-making until the opportunity and appropriate occasion is present for its consummation’’?
+ ‘Don’t interrupt the sweet dream of love she is enjoying by recalling her back to the reality of the present situation.’ ?

This comment occurs again in 3:5, and in a slightly different form in 8:4. It seems to act as a brake on the proceedings, as if the lovers were being doused with some cold water to cool down the ardour of their passion which is being accused perhaps at an inopportune time.

What then is there to teach us here about our own love relationships and our thought-lives and fantasies (2:7)?
Our imaginations often run far ahead of our physical reactions and they in turn run far ahead of what our actual relationship may be able to bear at that particular moment. Adulterous thoughts are all to easy to entertain in the abstract, divorced from a relationship that is developing healthily at its own pace. She is basically telling herself to cool it, to wait for the appropriate lime. For the Christian, the appropriate time is always within marriage, never outside it. We are all so clever at rationalizing our own desires, at excusing our own lack of self-discipline of our bodies and of our thought-lives. But we need to be ruthless in this matter (Matt 5:29-30).

Cell Outline:

From the text:
1. In SofS 1:8, why did the man not tell the woman where his flocks grazed? How far can you tease in a relationship? What are the dangers of this?
Hint: Time apart and time together?

2.: In SofS 1:12-14, is it OK for Christians to use cosmetics and perfume? What does 1 Peter 3:1-5 and 1 Timothy 2:9-10 add to our thinking?

3: In SofS 2:2, how is his beloved like a lily among thorns? What might this say to us about keeping our other relationships in perspective?

4: In SofS 2:3, Apple wood was valuable because there was not much available, and in order to obtain it a fruit tree had to be cut down. What might this say to us about faithfulness to the relationship commitments we make to the one we love?

5: In SofS 2:5, why is she faint with love? What has brought this moment about? What can we learn?

Beyond the text:
1: In SofS 1:14, En Gedi was a remote desolate place on the west shore of the Dead Sea. David went there to hide from King Saul in 1 Samuel 24:1. Someone might go there to be alone. Where are the places where you can be alone with the one you love? How should a courting couple apportion time between being along as compared with time with others?

2: Some people believe the Song of Solomon is an allegory of Christ and the church. Even if it is not, in what ways might Christ’s love for the church be as tender and deep as described in 2:4?

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