Song of Songs 4-8
Yahweh-ignited love grows progressively stronger in intimacy and delight!
Before Scripture reading: This morning we continue our series on the Song of Songs. Before I continue with a more detailed explanation of the second part of the book, I would like to spend some time this morning providing a bird’s-eye view of what is to come.
Public Reading of Holy Scripture:
Song 4:1-7; 5:9-16; 8:1-7
Beloved bride of the Lord Jesus Christ
Summer is a beautiful season.
The warmth of the sun.
The bright colours all around.
The long days and the sweet nights.
Sights and sounds and smells that only our summer senses know.
Time with family and friends.
Camping, fishing, traveling, swimming, boating--no school!
O yes, there are the burning hot days and the sleepless nights, too.
The flaring tempers, high fevers and sunstroke.
But there’s something about the summer that we all want to hold on to and keep.
Unending summer would be quite alright.
The Song of Songs is something like that.
It’s a book in the Bible where we don’t mind to be--and where we don’t mind to stay for a while.
There is an allure about it.
An indescribable and profound mystery lies here.
Beauty and strength and delight and joy.
There’s something here that we want to hold on to and never let go.
An unending summer in the Song of Song would be quite alright.
Our cameras work overtime in the summer.
We want a snapshot of summer that we can keep.
Pictures can’t tell the whole story, but they can give a snapshot that hints at a description of the whole.
When we look at the pictures or videos we’ve created, pretty soon we start thinking and talking and reminiscing about the whole thing.
And the Song of Songs is exactly that sort of snapshot.
The Song of Songs, though only one book in the Bible, gives us a snapshot of the whole.
The Bible is the revelation of God’s love for his people.
More specifically, the Bible is the revelation of the LORD God.
The LORD God, that is literally Yahweh God, for that is is his name.
The Bible is the revelation of the steadfast love of Yahweh God for his people, with whom he established his covenant of favour.
Now let me ask you a question about the Bible that is worth considering from time to time, and remembering.
How is the revelation of Yahweh God unfolded to us in the Bible?
All at once?
In one single book?
At one single moment in time?
In all its fullness and glory and beauty and power, right away?
I’m quite sure you know the answer.
That would be impossible.
The love of Yahweh God, says the apostle Paul, is wide and long and high and deep.
You cannot grasp it all at once.
You cannot learn the full proportions of the infinite love of God from a single book of the Bible.
You cannot fully experience and taste the love God in a mere moment in time.
Yahweh God took centuries to reveal his covenant love and mercy to his people.
At every stage, he demonstrated his love in increasing measure.
This is something that the Heidelberg Catechism captures beautifully in Lord’s Day 6, where we confess this about the gospel, the revelation of Yahweh:
It is that “which God Himself first revealed in Paradise [to Adam and Eve, and Cain and Abel]. Later He had it proclaimed by the patriarchs and prophets and foreshadowed by the sacrifices and other ceremonies of the law. Finally, He had it fulfilled through His only Son.”
Remember what Paul says in Gal 4: “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”
And in Ephesians 1: “He made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfillment--to bring all things in heaven and on earth under one head, even Christ.”
You see: the revelation of the love of God needs time to be unfolded and grasped and experienced by us, his beloved.
God even took his time to manifest the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the substance and focus and fulfillment and glory of the love of God.
Now as the revelation of God’s love unfolds, our experience of that love grows.
As God’s revelation of his love becomes progressively clearer, and moves further along in its fulfillment, so our experience of his love grows progressively stronger in intimacy and delight.
We don’t get a full experience of God’s love all at once.
In fact, we wouldn’t be able to handle that.
God has chosen to make known to us the full width and length, height and depth of his love over time.
This is important for you and me to remember as we read and hear God’s Word from day to day and from Lord’s Day to Lord’s Day.
Christians sometimes fall into a feeling of despair about their lack of Scripture knowledge.
Christians think, and are even sometimes taught, that the true measure of a Christian is how much Scripture knowledge they have tucked away in their brains, and how often and quickly they are able to read through the Bible.
Don’t get me wrong.
It is very important for us to know our Bibles, and listen carefully to God’s Word, to read it daily, even to memorize parts of it.
Remember the prayer of Paul for the Philippians (read Philip 1:9-11)
But let us remember that true faith in Jesus Christ is not merely a matter of packing as much Scripture knowledge into our brains.
It is also, even primarily, a matter of believing and accepting as true all that God has revealed to us in his Word! (Lord’s Day 7)
The life of the true Christian, that is the life of true conversion, is not merely knowing what God’s Word says.
As we confess in Lord’s Day 33: “It is a heartfelt joy in God through Christ, and a love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works!
That is the goal that we have in sight as we make our way through the Song of Songs.
To be filled with a love and delight in our God and in his Word!
To be filled with an ever-increasing zeal for Christ to be formed in us, as his Holy Spirit makes his dwelling in us!
And what will happen, then?
Well, we will be filled with an ever greater hunger and longing for the living God.
We will thirst more and more for his Word, and we will begin finding that we want it more and more and more!
That is beautifully portrayed for us here in the Song of Songs.
This is the song of a man and woman who are deeply in love with one another.
And the farther they get in this song of love for one another, the more intimate and delightful their song becomes.
As you read through the Song of Songs, there is a progression in tone and language from modesty to greater intimacy.
At first, the man and woman, although madly and unquestionably in love with one another, are shy with one another, and maintain a measured distance from one another.
But as their love grows, shyness gives way to boldness; their distance from one another turns into intimacy; and their hiding from one another their mutual desire and love evolves into a passionate sharing of that love and desire.
That’s because it is a song about how their love relationship is a growing one.
The more they get to know one another, the stronger their love grows, and the more they want to get to know each other.
And as their love grows stronger, so does their intimacy with one another, and their delight in one another.
And even with all their flaws and blemishes as weak and fallen sinners, they are fully satisfied with each other!
That is because these two are not just any man and woman.
And their love-relationship is not just any love relationship.
Their love is a Yahweh-ignited love!
Remember what we read in chapter 8 verse 6. Read again, following the footnote.
Let me read this verse to you as it is rendered in another translation:
“Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
They very flame of the LORD.” (NASB)
There lies the reason that their love doesn’t whither and die!
There lies the secret to its mystery and beauty and strength!
There is hidden the key to their growing intimacy and delight in one another!
Yahweh God himself has kindled the flame of their love!
This is so important for us to understand before we proceed any farther into the Song of Songs.
Unless we understand that the love here described is ignited by Yahweh God, and him alone, we will totally misunderstand and misinterpret the rest of this book.
There is no question that the language in the second part of the book is a great deal more erotic and sensual than in the first part.
But we need to be aware that the eroticism that is described to us here is pure and moral and holy, because it has been ignited by God.
And unless we understand that, our imaginations, thoughts and activities in relation to human love and sexual intimacy will go places they need not and probably should not go.
Listen to what the great 16th Century Church Reformer, Martin Luther, said about the explicit language that is use in the Song of Songs.
“The Holy Spirit is pure and so mentions [men’s and] women’s bodily members that He wants them to be regarded as good creatures of God.”
This is difficult for us to grasp as fallen creatures, who are inclined to lust rather than purity, and licentious desire rather than holy desire.
But let us not forget that when God created man and woman male and female, he created us good.
He did not create us originally as some sort of androgynous, non-sexual, neuter beings.
No, we’re told in the first book of the Bible, in Genesis, that he created us male and female.
Already at creation, God made females different from males, girls different from boys, women different from men.
He made boys and girls, men and women remarkably similar to one another, so that they could be companions to one another, yet mysteriously and beautifully unique, so that they would desire one another!
There’s nothing dirty about that!
That’s they way God created us, and after he did that he said: It is very good!
Let us remember this as as we proceed further into the Song of Songs.
What is written here is nothing to be embarrassed and shy about.
No, we don’t even have to be embarrassed or shy about how God has created us sexually.
But then let us remember that when we contemplate God’s good gift of sexuality, that we need to do so with modesty and respect, in all holiness and purity of mind.
And for that, we need the indwelling flame of the Holy Spirit.
Let us remember the strong warning of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 5, and many other passages of Scripture, where we are admonished to fight and resist even a hint of sexual immorality. (Read Eph 5:3-4)
As one wise theologian recently wrote: “While some older commentators may refrain from addressing some of the intimacies of the Song, modern commentators tend to err in the opposite direction.”
The older commentators were much more restrained and modest in the language they used when speaking about the Song.
So much so, sometimes, that they ended up robbing the book of its intensely human and earthy quality.
But modern commentators have reacted by going to the opposite extreme.
They have made out the Song of Songs to be so sensual and erotic, that you can hardly recognize it anymore as a holy and canonical book.
This happens when it is torn from its context in the rest of the Holy Scriptures, as we hope to see more as we proceed in our series on the Song of Songs.
So as we go farther into the details of this beautiful song, we need to remember that as they enjoy their intimate relationship with one another, even sexually, the man and the woman are guided and directed, corrected and transformed by another relationship which they share.
They share a relationship with Yahweh God!
And it is this relationship with the LORD God which guides and directs, heals and strengthens, corrects and transforms their relationship with one another!
That is what gives their relationship its unmatched strength and endurance, health and intimacy, love and delight.
The Song of Songs as a whole gives us a portrait of the Yahweh-ignited couple as they grow increasingly familiar with each other.
In tandem with the increasing familiarity, their love for each other--and for God--deepens and becomes more profound and intimate and delightful.
And this is only possibly because their mutual love is the very flame of Yahweh.
What is likely to happen when the flame of Yahweh is not fueling the love of a man and a woman?
Human love will flicker and decline--all external display and appearance of love not withstanding.
What is likely to happen with increasing familiarity between unbelieving spouses?
It will merely fan criticism and animosity, instead of love.
Distance between the man and woman will develop and grow, instead of intimacy.
Let me ask this question for those of us who are married.
What sort of love are you putting into practice and experiencing in your marriage?
Is it God-ignited?
Is it the very flame of Yahweh that is fueling and powering your love and your marriage?
If so, then you can be sure that in one another--in your husband and in your wife--you will find complete satisfaction in one another!
If not, then don’t be surprised that your love has grown cold.
Then it is time for you to repent, and turn to Yahweh your God, and Jesus Christ whom he has sent.
There is still hope, you can still change by the mercy and grace that he promises to all who flee to him and love him.
And let me ask a similar question to those of you who are courting, or who are seeking a life-time companion who can be your husband or wife.
What sort of love are you seeking?
Do you want the kind of love that is ignited by immoral passion and lust?
Or do you want the kind of love that is kindled by God?
Is it the very flame of Yahweh that is fueling and powering your love for your boyfriend or girlfriend, or your desire for such a friend?
Or is an unholy flame, one of passionate and carnal lust, burning in your bosom?
Turn to God!
Implore his Spirit to light the fire of love!
Turn away from lust and immorality and licentiousness--it will burn you!
Embrace holy and pure desires.
Then Christ by His Holy Spirit and by the flame of Yahweh will purify you!
And this brings us to the crux of the matter.
When we read this Song in the context of its fulfillment of Jesus Christ, it becomes even more extraordinary and powerful and compelling!
The reason that we can live a life of love is that Christ first loved us.
Let me remind you, brothers and sisters, that the Song of Songs is not just the Song of Solomon.
Nor is it just a Song for men and women who are in love.
This is also Christ’s song, as we’ve seen.
Which means, since you are in Christ by baptism, beloved, this is also your song!
You may add it to your play list, your list of favourite songs.
You ought to.
You need to.
In fact, you need to put it right at the top of your playlist of favourite songs.
Remember what Paul says there in Eph 5:1,2: “Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice of God.”
You see, it is in Jesus Christ that all the words that are exchanged by the lovers in the Song of Songs come to their full meaning.
In their fulfillment in Jesus Christ, all the beautiful snapshots and compelling motion pictures of their courtship and their wedding and their marriage come to life like never before and never since in all the love poetry and song-writing of the world.
We even get a fresh whiff of all the smells and the fragrances of the Song, once we enter the temple of the living God through Jesus Christ, where the fragrant offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ himself ascends for us, and where the prayers of the saints rise as incense.
Yes, even our taste-buds come alive as we drink in the Word of God here--and as we are invited in this Poem to enter the Hall of Wine, the Banquet Hall of the kingdom of God, which we get a taste of at the Lord’s Supper!
With these things filling our hearts and souls, we are prepared to move forward in our study of the Song of Songs.
My prayer for you in my preparation and delivery of these sermons is the same as that of the apostle Paul.
Read Ephesians 3:14-21:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole familya in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!