3 Reasons You Should Preach through The Song of Solomon
About ten years ago, I noticed renewed interest in preaching through the Song of Songs.[i] At least a few pastors wanted to be edgy. One brother rolled a king-sized bed onto the stage as a prop. Many of these sermons were little more than a baptized version of sex-ed.
The Song of Songs certainly is about marriage. However, since marriage is a window into the relationship between Christ and the church, the Song of Songs is about the gospel, too. Pastors faithful to this book will address both the nuts and bolts of marriage and the profound mystery of Christ’s unfailing love for his sinful bride.
The Song of Songs is an explicit but tasteful love song designed to point singles to patience, spouses to each other, and everyone to Christ. It is not an allegory nor is it a sex manual. It is the poetic description of a romance between a husband and a wife.
Most people have a grotesquely distorted view of sex. The path to this view has been paved by the likes of Sigmund Freud[ii] who boiled sex down to the physical action of releasing sexual tension, and Esther Perel[iii] who, quite recently, argued in defense of infidelity. We should be grateful for a book like the Song of Songs that explores in poetic detail the one-flesh union of Genesis 2:24.
But the Song of Songs is also a precious remedy for those with a distorted view of the church. It’s tempting for church leaders to reduce ministry to the proverbial “nickels and noses.” But any true church will have a love for Christ that can’t be measured by seating capacity—a love captured artfully in the Song of Songs.
Consider these three reasons to study and proclaim the Song of Songs:
1. The Song of Songs argues commitment is foundational to sex and marriage.
Readers love the depictions of intimacy found throughout the poem. The wife of the book enjoys being with her husband. “With great delight I sat in his shadow,” she exclaims in 2:3, “and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” And the husband is equally intoxicated by her: “Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely” (4:3).
As erotic as the language of Song of Songs may be, it is never unhitched from commitment. In other words, the sexual activity described is always experienced in the context of a marriage covenant.
For example, the wife says of her husband, “his banner over me is love” (2:6). This banner is a military standard, the flag that united an army. It’s her way of saying, “I belong to him and he belongs to me.” This is the context of their intimacy.
Later on, the wife says of her husband, “My beloved is mine, and I am his” (2:16; 6:3). She says this before noting how he “grazes among the lilies” (another less-than-subtle allusion to physical intimacy). The careful reader cannot help but see the larger point. It’s not the quality of the sex that makes their love good, it’s the quality of their love that makes their sex good. Their marriage is marked and blessed by intimacy and commitment—and these two are not to be severed.
The poem ends with a similar sentiment, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave” (8:6). Real love lasts, because it’s not a one-night flight but a life-long commitment.
“Free love” was the mantra of the 1960’s. How different is the wisdom of the Bible. True love is sealed by the commitment.
2. The Song of Songs provides practical wisdom for married couples.
The lessons are legion.
Godly spouses use words to encourage one another. The husband calls his wife the “most beautiful among women” (1:8). Whether this is an objective reality is not the point; she is clearly the apple of his eye. He repeatedly uses speech to express his appreciation for her, “You have captivated my heart,” he tells her, “you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes” (4:9).
The point isn’t that a godly husband needs to be a poet—the point is he ought to use words to show how much he cares for his wife. Likewise, the wife lavishes praise on her husband, “Your love is better than wine” (1:2), and calls on him to pursue her, “Draw me after you; let us run” (1:4). In a good marriage, a husband and wife are never stingy with kind words.
Godly spouses also guard against the sin of a fallen world. In 2:15, the wife urges her husband to “Catch the little foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards.” The vineyard is their marriage, and it’s a field that needs to be tended or it will be destroyed by hungry invaders. This means admitting when the relationship is strained, “I sought him but found him not” (3:1) and working hard to improve it, “I held him and would not let him go” (3:4). They guard against sin by pursuing each other physically (4:1–5:1) and regularly reaffirming their commitment to one another (4:9; 7:10; 8:6).
Song of Songs is wisdom literature. It’s here to help us live as well as we can in a fallen, broken world. The author, guided by the Holy Spirit, calls married couples to the hard work of fidelity.
3. The Song of Songs presents marriage as a foretaste of perfect union with God.
In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed (Gen. 2:25). The purity of their relationship was possible because they enjoyed, if only for a short season, an uncorrupted relationship with their Maker.
It’s no surprise, then, that Edenic terms are used to describe the intimate relationship between the husband and wife in the Song of Songs:
- “Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine” (1:16–17).
- “Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue” (4:11).
- “Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choices fruits, henna with nard” (4:13)
In the Old Testament, the Promised Land is described as a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:8). So is the marriage in the Song of Songs. This husband and wife have recaptured something of the delight and innocence of the Garden.
The Song of Songs is to be read and preached in light of the entire biblical canon and through the lens of Ephesians 5:31–32 where we learn marriage is a mystery that “refers to Christ and the Church.” It is through Christ that justified sinners find their home in a new Promised Land.
The Song of Songs really does point forward to Christ. As the wife longs to be with her husband (1:4; 3:1–4), so the Christian longs to be with Christ (Phil. 1:23). As the husband woos his wife with words (4:1–16; Eph. 5:26), so Christ woos us with his Word (John 10:27). As the love of a husband and wife is to be indelible (8:7) so nothing can separate us the love of Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:37–39).
For centuries the Jewish people read the Song of Songs aloud in preparation for the Passover. Why did they do this? Because in the Song of Songs they saw more than wisdom for marital living, they saw something of God’s covenantal love for his people, “For your Maker is your husband, the LORD of hosts is his name; and the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer” (Isa. 54:5).
NOTE ON COMMENTARIES:
For astute connections between the Song of Songs and Genesis 1–3, I appreciated Barry Webb’s Five Festal Garments (IVP, 2000). In twenty short pages, I saw how Solomon’s book relates to the Bible as a whole. It’s not a commentary, but a helpful introduction.
Duane Garrett showed how Song of Songs, as a love song, presents a pattern for marriage every couple can appreciate. “In love,” Garrett writes, “every groom is a King Solomon, a shepherd, and even a gazelle, and every bride is a princess and country maiden” (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs [Broadman, 1993]). Good words that reminded me to read Song of Songs as wisdom literature.
I especially appreciated Tremper Longman’s observation that the entire book is a love poem between a husband and a wife. (Song of Songs [Eerdmans, 2001]). Many commentaries and popular authors have seen a progression from courtship to wedding to consummation—a plot I do not see in the text itself.
* * * * *
[i]It’s usually referred to as Song of Solomon, a reference to its author. However, since it is described in the opening verse as “The Song of Songs,” this is the title I use.
[ii]Louis Berger, Freud: Darkness in the Midst of Vision (Wiley & Sons, 2000)
[iii]Esther Perel, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity (Harper, 2017).