The Agora
Bible Articles and Lessons: S

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Song of songs, erotic element

"No book furnishes a better test than does the Song of the depth of a man's Christianity. If his religion be in his head only, a dry form of doctrine... he will see nothing here to attract him. But if his religion have a hold on his heart, this will be a favourite portion of the word of God" (McCheyne). An ancient fable mentions the man who had the ability to turn everything he touched into gold. Some minds possess the ability to turn everything they consider into intellectual gold. On the other hand, there are minds that turn even the grace of God into an excuse for immorality (Rom 3:8; 6:1), and the most exalted truth into a lie (Rom 1:21-23; 2Th 2:10-12). This may not be too far from the meaning of Paul's words: "To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted" (Tit 1:15).

What do men do -- what SHOULD men do -- with the Song of Songs?

It is plain that there is a distinctive erotic element in the Song of Songs. Whenever and however they were first written, and whatever else they might symbolize, the songs are about a man and woman who are deeply in love with one another, and who celebrate their love for one another in tender and poignant, yet strongly sexual, terms. It is true that euphemisms are used abundantly, but many commentators have pointed out that these euphemisms appear often in other "love songs" of the ancient Near East -- where their meanings can scarcely be denied. The songs are about human love, love expressed physically and intimately.

It is this element in the Song of Songs, scarcely if at all concealed, that has caused some men to mock, and that has "turned off" other Bible students. Some students have gone so far as to question how such "literature" could ever have been included in the Bible in the first place.

It must be recognized, and remembered, that the expression of love in and through physical intimacy is -- according to the Bible -- one of the greatest of God's gifts to mankind. It is a wonderful blessing, but only to be enjoyed in the bonds of marriage. Although it is, or should be, private and exclusive -- it is not something of which anyone should be ashamed, and it is certainly not sinful! The descriptions of such love in the Song of Songs, even if a bit embarrassing at times, should remind us of these facts. While modesty is certainly a virtue, to go beyond this into being "Victorian" or "prudish" about sexual matters is not necessarily to be more spiritual! "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed is undefiled" (Heb 13:4).

And the erotic element in this Book serves a further purpose: it emphasizes the link, or bridge, between natural marriage and spiritual "marriage" in the Word of God. This connection is very strong, and very important.

In a blending of Old Testament and New, the "marriage of the Lamb" may be seen as God's true marriage with His people Israel (the spiritual Israel). Here is the real reason for such pervasive Bible language as "to know God" (where, in Bible terms, "to know" one's spouse may mean to have intimate relations with him or her), and "to be one with God" (where Adam and Eve were told to become "one flesh").

Such terms for the spiritual union of God and His children, through Jesus' work, are no accident; they are intended to be reminiscent of marriage. Just as there is joy to be found, naturally speaking, in human marriage... so also (and so much more so!) will there be spiritual joy in the joining together of Christ and his "bride" -- physically, mentally, and emotionally -- at his return.

This erotic element in the Song, then, should be no embarrassment. Rather, it is God's promise that He will withhold "no good thing" from His loved ones (Psa 84:11; cp Psa 34:10). It is His pledge that the joys in store, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, will far surpass any joys that they may previously have experienced or even imagined (Mat 6:33; Phi 4:19).

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