By Pastor Glenn Pease
A French pilot, by the name of Guillaumet flew over the Andes on a regular basis. One time he disappeared for a week, and hope that he would be found was given up. He was eventually rescued, however, and his first intelligible sentence was, "I swear that I went though what no animal would have gone through." For two days and two nights he lay helpless. Then he walked five days and four nights through deep snow. When he was found his hands and feet were frozen. He had no food and no tools. He had to crawl up walls of ice in 20 degrees below zero. Many times he said it would have been pure pleasure to give up and go to sleep, yielding to the cold hand of death.
He had not read the Song of Solomon 8:6 which says, "Love is strong as death." But he was demonstrating it, for it was love that kept him going.
All he could think about was his wife. He knew that when a man vanished his death was not legally acknowledged for seven years, and so if he died where no one could find him, his wife would be left in poverty. He had to get to a place where his body could be found so she could get the insurance. It was this loving concern for his wife that drove him to super human efforts, and it save his life. He lost his memory, and was little more than a frozen vegetable stumbling through a wilderness, but still he kept going,
because of love. Had he not been a loving man, he would have been a dead man.
Very few ever have to put their love to that kind of test, but there are enough such examples to prove the truth of what the Shulamite girl said, "Love is strong as death." This is the kind of love that the Song of Songs is all about. It is not about wishy washy sentimental infatuation; and not about superficial lust, which when satisfied forsakes its object, but true love, which is able to overcome all obstacles which threaten to detour it off its course of faithfulness and loyalty.
In verse 4 the Shulamite girl gives us the first hint as to her predicament, and why it is she is separated from her true love, and why she so desperately longs for him to come to her. She says, the king has brought me into his chamber. King Solomon has brought her to his chamber to try and persuade her to be one of his wives. Many would be flattered, and would have forsaken their country lover without a tear. It was the chance of a lifetime, but here was a rare girl who wanted love rather than riches in a royal harem. That is why she cries out for her Shepherd lover to come and make haste, for it is his love alone in which she rejoices.
Solomon, no doubt, sought to weaken her resistance to his charms by the use of wine, but she is not taken in by this, for she has tasted love, and what it wine compared to love? Love is what she will sing about. Let those who give up love to be in Solomon's harem sing songs of the glory of wine, for that is all they have to keep them warm and happy. The choice between love and wine is one that is the theme of thousands of love stories and films. Four times the word love is used in the first four verses of this song, and two of them refer to the conviction that love is better than wine. This conviction is a challenge to the values of many in both the ancient and modern world.
Wine was as a god all through ancient history, and every nation had its wine songs, including Israel. Wine was the source of joy and happiness. It was the means by which sorrows were escaped and burdens endured. It even helped cure physical problems. It was to the ancients what the doctor, psychiatrist, and TV is to the modern man. It is entertaining, exhilarating, and a means of escape. Spurgeon said, "The fruit of the vine represents the chiefest of earthly luxuries." The Shulamite girl says, however, what good is all of life's luxuries without love. To wine and dine and live like a princess is no match to goats milk, lamb chops, and the Shepherd man I love.
Love is personal, but wine and the luxuries it represents are impersonal. Those who try to find fulfillment in the impersonal, pervert their own nature which was made for love. They turn to drugs and sex, and in their search for what only love can provide, they develop loves greatest counterfeit which is lust. Love and lust not only begin with the same letter, they are very much alike. Sometimes the difference between good and evil is very slight. In fact, sometimes they are identical twins, but just going in different directions. Angels and demons, for example, have the same origin. They were once identical, but now are radically different because one resides in the will of God, and the other rebels against it.
The noble lover and the brutal rapist are both governed by passion, but one is expressing love, and the other lust. The pure sex relationship and the immoral one cannot be distinguished by observation. The mechanics of love and lust are the same, but one fulfills God's will, and the other violates it. Lust is like love going in the wrong direction. Most evil is a good gone wrong, or to an extreme. The same sun that helps produce a lovely garden can also produce a barren desert. So it is with love and lust.
Ella Wheeler Wilcox put it in poetry.
Passion is what the sun feels for the earth,
When harvest ripens into golden birth.
Lust is the hot simoan whose burning breath
Sweeps o'er the fields with devastating death.
Solomon sought to persuade the beautiful Shulamite girl to yield to lust, but she remains steadfast in her loyalty to love. This is a story of a great temptation, and a powerful testing of love. We see love and lust in combat seeking to win the maidens heart, and we learn to distinguish between the two. We want to examine the main characteristics of love which make it different from lust. The first is-
I. LOVE IS EXCLUSIVE. True love, be it romantic or religious love, can only have one lover. God is a jealous God and will not tolerate men saying they love Him, and then bow down to other gods. This was the conflict all through Israel's history, and it still is today. You cannot serve God and mammon. God, and nothing else, must be your first love, or you are not a true lover. So it is on the romantic level. A sailor was looking at some valentine cards, and the clerk said here is a good one, to the only girl I've ever loved. The sailor said it is a good one, give me a dozen of them. Here is a good illustration of lust in contrast to love. The person who is tossed about by every wind of affection does not understand love.
I will be true. The fickle tide, divided
Between two wooing shores, in wild unrest.
May to and fro shift always undecided;
Not so the tide of Passion in my breast.
With the grand surge of some resistless river
That hurries on, past mountain, vale, and sea,
Unto the main, its water to deliver,
So my full heart keeps all its wealth for Thee.
This loyalty of love to one lover, even in the face of a charming enticer like Solomon, is what makes love so different from lust. Lust does not feel any particular need to limit itself to one partner. Lust is not exclusive, it is promiscuous. Love is fire which is confined, but lust is fire uncontrolled. Fire under control is a great power for good, but once out of control it is a great power for destruction. Love and lust are not two different emotions, but the same emotion, either under control, or out of control.
This fire from God's altar, this holy love flame,
That burns like sweet incense forever for you,
Might now be a wild conflagration of shame,
Had you tortured my heart, or been base or untrue.
The emotion that is a precious gift of God when kept under control, and directed exclusively toward one's lover, can suddenly become a negative emotion when it forsakes exclusiveness, and is directed toward more than one. The Song of Solomon is designed to inform us of the subtle temptation toward letting love go out of control, and to inspire us with an example of love that resisted that temptation and maintained control. The Interpreters Bible says, "This book, without mentioning it, frowns upon polygamy, upon infidelity, and sings of the ardor and unalloyed passion of a love that is stronger than death."
The fact that the Shulamite girl had to go through this testing reveals that true love is often under pressure to turn to lust. Evil is so effective in the world because it seems to be good. The difference between a feast and gluttony is so slight that it is easy to go from good to evil and not be aware of it. God commands feasts, and He is the author of the joy and fun in eating, but once this blessing is not kept under control you end up allowing a good thing to become evil. Gluttony is simply allowing the pleasure of appetite to go to an extreme. Too much a good thing is a bad thing.
Perfume we saw was good, both for romantic and religious purposes, but it can be used to promote evil also. In Prov. 7:10-27 we read of how prostitutes use perfume to entice men into lust. Evil uses the same means as good. Evil often camouflages itself as good, for men do not deliberately choose what will injure them. Most choose evil because it looks like a very appealing good. Good and evil are potential in everything we do, and that is why it is essential to have standards by which we determine if we have things under control or not. Not understanding this leads many who want to promote love ending up
falling into lust.
The world makes great error judging these things,
Great good and great evil are born in one breast.
Love horns us and hoofs us-or gives us our wings,
And the best could be worst, as the worst could be best.
A good machine is a machine under control. That same machine out of control can be exceeding dangerous. The sexually of man is a good thing, a gift of God. Out of control, however, it becomes a dangerous power. The more loving a man is the more dangerous is his potential for lusting, and that is why Christians must know God's standards, and take every precaution so as to keep the fire of their love within the bound of marriage. Because the Song of Solomon is a poem about true love, rather than impure lust, its frank and passionate descriptions are beautiful and not obscene. The very same words could be obscene in a context which is describing lust. Passionate language for love is good and right, as we see in this poem.
Her beauty stirs my heart to maddening strive,
And all the tiger in my blood is rife;
I love her with a lover's fierce desire,
And find in her my dream, complete, entire,
Child, mother, mistress-all in one word-Wife.
Some may be wondering, why is it necessary that a poem of pure passion and love be in the Bible? Simply because every age is an age of lust, and men of every age need a reminder that all that lust offers can be gained and maintained on a far superior level through love.
II. LOVE IS EXALTING. Lust degrades, but love exalts. The Song of Solomon by its promotion of love over lust was a radical step in the exaltation of women. When lust reigns, as it did in Solomon's world, women are mere toys. When love reigns, as in this Song, women rise, not only to the level of men, but higher, where they become an inspiration to lift men's vision toward the love of God. A beautiful and pure woman is called an angel because she is like a heavenly being whose love can lead a man to spiritual heights. Most of the ancient world had a low view of women. A good one was rare, and the question of Proverbs was, who can find a virtuous woman? They were degraded, and used like work animals. They were mere sex objects, and few would ever think of praising a woman in the ancient world. An ancient Arab said it in poetry:
Whenever you're in doubt, said a sage I once knew,
Twixt two lines of conduct which course to pursue,
Ask a woman's advice, and whate'er she advise,
Do the very reverse, and you're sure to wise.
Most women were thought to be immoral, and not to be trusted. Bathsheba, the wife of a lowly soldier, submitted to the enticement of the king. It was no shock to people. They doubtless would expect as much. But here in the Song of Solomon, the very son of Bathsheba is trying to repeat the folly of his father David, but instead, he finds resistance, and a woman whose loyalty to love is unbreakable. This Song is in great contrast to the songs of the ancient world. It says, in effect, that if men would love women, rather than use them as mere objects of lust, they become a part of God's plan to exalt the whole race through the lifting power of pure love. Where love is real, women are God's greatest creation.
O woman, lovely woman, nature made you
to temper man: we had been brutes without you;
Angels are painted fair to look like you;
there's in you all that we believe of heaven,
Amazing brightness, purity, and truth,
Eternal joy, and everlasting love.
The Song of Solomon, by exalting true love, exalts women, and by exalting women it raises the level of men from lust to love, and true love on the romantic level opens the door to the possibility of experiencing the love of God.
Sex is the frosting on the cake of love. Like frosting, it is to make the whole cake attractive so we will eat it. Children will often scoop off the frosting, and leave the cake. This is what immature people do when they separate sex from love. After awhile the sweet frosting gets nauseating, and they fear they are not in love. They haven't even really tasted love, but have only skimmed the surface, and have stayed on the level of lust. Lust we have in common with the animals, and love we have in common with God. If we do not add the Godly dimension of love to our relationship, we miss God's best of what he intended for us on the level of romantic love. Lust leaves people feeling let down, but love lifts and makes them feel fulfilled. Roy Craft wrote,
I love you,
Not only for what you are,
But for what I am,
When I am with you.
If we move from the romantic level of life to the religious level we see the same characteristics are true of love for God. A true love for God is exclusive and exalting. We are commanded to love God with our whole being. We are to love Him so exclusively that nothing outside of the will of God can find any room in our lives. The drive that leads people into the occult, and all sorts of weird man made religions, is spiritual lust. It is the desire for spiritual reality and power solely for the sake of the self. Men like the supernatural to serve them and meet their needs, and this is simply spiritual lust and not love. Lust only wants the other, not for the sake of the other, but for the sake of self.
Many want God for what He can do for them, not because they love Him for Himself, and desire to serve Him, and be like Him.
True love on any level cries out with the Shulamite girl to her lover, "Draw me, we will run after thee and rejoice in thee." Here is desire to be with the lover and delight in him for himself. Love exalts the lover, and true spiritual love for Christ will acknowledge Him as Lord of life, and desire to let Him be sovereign over one's life.
Jesus, Thy boundless love to me
No thought can reach, no tongue declare;
O knit my thankful heart to Thee,
And reign without a rival there.
Submissive love like that leads to exaltation, and those who so yield to Christ prove their love is real. They have the joy of knowing the truth that love is better than wine. Paul said we are not to be drunk with wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. You can be filled with the Spirit by being filled with love for the Lover of our souls. We ought to begin each day with these loving words of longing to Christ-draw me.