Bible Study: July & August The Song of Songs
Bible Study: July & August
The Song of Songs
For the 8 weeks of the summer, we will read the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), an ancient collection of poems celebrating the beauty of creation and the ever-renewing and unending power of love, human and divine.
The title has two meanings: It both celebrates this work as the greatest of all songs and it indicates that it is a collection of songs. Its imagery and structure follow the conventions of ancient Middle Eastern love poetry. There is wide speculation about its date of composition. Many of the passages seem to be ancient, while its many allusions to other passages in Hebrew Scripture suggest that that the poet was familiar with Hebrew Scripture. Scholarly consensus is that it was composed or compiled in the 4th century BCE. Some passages may have been part of a marriage liturgy, and some are recited at weddings today. The opening line is a tribute to Solomon, partly because of his wisdom as a great king, partly because of his love for nature, and partly because according to tradition he loved many women. The Song of Songs is one of the books included in the Wisdom tradition because, even though it offers no explicit ethical advice or theological reflection, it celebrates the values of mutuality and faithfulness that are foundational for meaningful and ordered life.
We hear three counterpointing voices throughout the Song of Songs: a man, a woman, and a chorus described as the Women of Jerusalem. The predominance of the woman’s voice makes this book distinctive. Its sexual imagery, while it follows the conventions in Ancient Middle Eastern love poetry, is also unexpected in Hebrew Scripture and can be understood in a number of ways: It expresses a comfort with the physical body that pre-dates more dualistic worldviews; it expresses an incarnational theology that anticipates a modern Christian worldviews; and it represents a reversal of the Genesis story: The fall of Adam and Eve brought with it sexual shame and estrangements, while each lover here celebrates the beauty of the other, and their longing is an expression of hope and joy, not of loss. Traditionally, the love between the man and woman has been interpreted by Jewish commentators as a figure for the love between God and Israel, by Christian theologians as a figure for the love between Christ and the Church, and by Christian mystics as a figure for the love between the individual soul and God. The Song of Songs is the scroll read on the Sabbath of the Passover festival because of its imagery of the fertility and beauty of spring and its celebration of the relationship between God and Israel.
The Song of Songs is neither a dramatic narrative nor a didactic treatise. I have marked the voices following general scholarly consensus, but what’s most important is the contrast and complementarity of the images and emotions. Both the man and woman love and are beloved; both are active in their giving and their receiving; both are ennobled by the longing they experience and that they inspire. In the words of the mystic Bernard of Clairveaux, whose reflections on this poem as an expression of the soul’s longing for God we will read in the coming weeks:
It is everywhere love that speaks. If anyone hopes to grasp the sense of what he reads, let him love. Whereas someone who does not love will hear or read this song of love in vain. . . .I love because I love; I love in order to love.
1The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
3 your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
therefore the maidens love you.
4 Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
5 I am black and beautiful,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has gazed on me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who is veiled
beside the flocks of your companions?
8 If you do not know,
O fairest among women,
follow the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your kids
beside the shepherds’ tents.
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of En-gedi.
15 Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
ah, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
16 Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
Our couch is green;
17 the beams of our house are cedar,
our rafters are pine.
Whether we read this poem as a dialogue between lovers, a covenant between God and God’s people, or a prayer of the soul longing for and trusting in union with God, it’s worth noting that there is no plea for forgiveness, no worry, and no shame. The love that is expressed is a longing born of experience, completely trusting, unmistakably vulnerable. Both speakers use images that don’t at first seem to belong together, but they are designed to represent the way that love recreates the world and a loving relationship encompasses the world: Through love, we discover a new order and harmony that transcends differences of gender, class, and geography. Love is also an act of resistance that, by disrupting structures of authority, makes it possible to see the world, each other, and ourselves, in new ways.
Song of Songs 2
1I am a rose of Sharon,
a lily of the valleys.
2 As a lily among brambles,
so is my love among maidens.
3 As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
4 He brought me to the banqueting house,
and his intention towards me was love.
5 Sustain me with raisins,
refresh me with apples;
for I am faint with love.
6 O that his left hand were under my head,
and that his right hand embraced me!
7 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
until it is ready!
8 The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
9 My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
10 My beloved speaks and says to me:
‘Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
11 for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
12 The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
is heard in our land.
13 The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
in the covert of the cliff,
let me see your face,
let me hear your voice;
for your voice is sweet,
and your face is lovely.
15 Catch us the foxes,
the little foxes,
that ruin the vineyards—
for our vineyards are in blossom.’
16 My beloved is mine and I am his;
he pastures his flock among the lilies.
17 Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle
or a young stag on the cleft mountains.
This is an extended meditation on love as being as natural as creation itself, a living force with rhythms like the seasons. Building upon the imagery of the garden in the first chapter, this poem might be called “an ode to spring.” The woman begins by comparing herself to the first flowers of spring; the man responds by comparing her to the first flower blooming among non-flowering plants; then she compares him to a fruit tree bearing fruit and providing shade among “wild trees.” She remembers her lover calling to her with the beautifully familiar words that have become part of our literary vocabulary: “for now the winter is past, / the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth; the time of singing has come,/ and the voice of the turtle-dove is heard in our land. (2:11-12). She imagines him coming to her like the most graceful of animals, a gazelle or young stag, who emerges from the darkness of winter with gleeful freedom, both strong and vulnerable. Throughout this song is a rhythm of counterpointing images of disruption and comfort, confidence and longing, wildness and protection, elusiveness and union. “I belong to my love, and he belongs to me” (2:16): Repeated later in the Song, this is a statement both of defiance—asserting that the bonds of love are deeper than the bonds of family or clan—and of mutuality—in direct contrast to the estrangement faced by Adam and Eve. Our relationships—with God and with each other—have the same cycles of light and darkness, solitude and union, stillness and movement, silence and song, that we find in the world around us. The Song of Songs calls us to trust in the life that will always emerge as surely as spring follows winter (do not stir up or awaken love
/ until it is ready![ 2:7])
Song of Songs 3
1Upon my bed at night
I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him, but found him not;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
2 ‘I will rise now and go about the city,
in the streets and in the squares;
I will seek him whom my soul loves.’
I sought him, but found him not.
3 The sentinels found me,
as they went about in the city.
‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’
4 Scarcely had I passed them,
when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go
until I brought him into my mother’s house,
and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
5 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
until it is ready!
6 What is that coming up from the wilderness,
like a column of smoke,
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
with all the fragrant powders of the merchant?
7 Look, it is the litter of Solomon!
Around it are sixty mighty men
of the mighty men of Israel,
8 all equipped with swords
and expert in war,
each with his sword at his thigh
because of alarms by night.
9 King Solomon made himself a palanquin
from the wood of Lebanon.
10 He made its posts of silver,
its back of gold, its seat of purple;
its interior was inlaid with love.
Daughters of Jerusalem,
11 come out.
Look, O daughters of Zion,
at King Solomon,
at the crown with which his mother crowned him
on the day of his wedding,
on the day of the gladness of his heart.
Most scholars read this poem as a dream vision. It is constructed as a series of contrasting scenes: The woman’s sleeplessness, her dangerous wandering through the city until she finds her lover and brings him to her mother’s house, ending with a vision of King Solomon’s wedding. The surreal juxtapositions express a love that is at once vulnerable and empowering, impulsive and selfless. The woman speaks to the Women of Jerusalem and repeats her admonition to them (2:7, 3:5): do not stir up or awaken love / until it is ready! The focus on women is unusual: the woman walks alone through the city, she brings her lover to her mother’s house, and she envisions Solomon’s mother giving him the diadem traditionally worn by a bridegroom. This focus transforms what would otherwise be a bride’s powerlessness as property or as an object of man’s desire into a strength that is made possible by the kinship of women. In this dream, it is women who give each other the support and the agency that makes love possible. Love is grounded in the bonds that have made us who we are, and it comes to fruition only by going beyond them.
Song of Songs 4:1-5:1
1 How beautiful you are, my love,
how very beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats,
moving down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them is bereaved.
3 Your lips are like a crimson thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in courses;
on it hang a thousand bucklers,
all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that feed among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh
and the hill of frankincense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride;
come with me from Lebanon.
Depart from the peak of Amana,
from the peak of Senir and Hermon,
from the dens of lions,
from the mountains of leopards.
9 You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
you have ravished my heart
with a glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!
how much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11 Your lips distil nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the scent of your garments is like the scent of
12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a garden locked, a fountain sealed.
13 Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates
with all choicest fruits,
henna with nard,
14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
with all chief spices—
15 a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon.
16 Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden
that its fragrance may be wafted abroad.
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
5 I come to my garden, my sister, my bride;
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey,
I drink my wine with my milk.
Chorus: Eat, friends, drink,
and be drunk with love.
This poem is usually attributed to the man, counterpointing the woman’s voice in Chapter 3 and culminating in the choric exhortation in 5:1, which some scholars believe was a conventional feature of ancient wedding poems. The detail with which the man describes the woman’s body follows the conventions of the wasf, a genre of ancient Middle Eastern love poetry. While the images may seem strange to us, they create an intricate pattern that does two things. First, it is a way of expressing a love that encompasses, and indeed recreates, the world. Paradoxically, this private love includes all the world; together, the lovers are not cut off from the world but rather are more deeply connected to it. Second, the images continue the juxtaposition of the pastoral and the urban, interior and exterior, wildness and domesticity. Robert Alter suggests that Lebanon has the connotation of a land that is distant and wild, a place—like their love-- beyond the boundaries of what is familiar and safe.
This poem by Mary Oliver is a modern expression of this chapter’s spiritual meaning :
Mary Oliver, “Mysteries, Yes”
Truly, we live with mysteries
to be understood.
How grass can be nourishing in the mouths of the lambs.
How rivers and stones are forever
in allegiance with gravity
while we ourselves dream
How two hands touch and the
never be broken.
How people come, from
delight or the
scars of damage,
to the comfort of a poem.
Let me keep my distance, always,
from those who think they have the answers.
Let me keep company always with those who say
“Look!” and laugh in astonishment,
and bow their heads.
Song of Songs 5:2-6:3
Woman:2 I slept, but my heart was awake. Listen! my beloved is knocking.
Man: ‘Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.’
Woman:3 I had put off my garment; how could I put it on again? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? 4 My beloved thrust his hand into the opening, and my inmost being yearned for him. 5 I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, upon the handles of the bolt. 6 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and was gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but did not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer. 7 Making their rounds in the city the sentinels found me; they beat me, they wounded me, they took away my mantle, those sentinels of the walls. 8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, tell him this: I am faint with love.
Women of Jerusalem: 9 What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?
Woman: 10 My beloved is all radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. 11 His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. 12 His eyes are like doves beside springs of water, bathed in milk, fitly set. 13 His cheeks are like beds of spices, yielding fragrance. His lips are lilies, distilling liquid myrrh. 14 His arms are rounded gold, set with jewels. His body is ivory work, encrusted with sapphires. 15 His legs are alabaster columns, set upon bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars. 16 His speech is most sweet, and he is altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
Women of Jerusalem:
1Where has your beloved gone, O fairest among women? Which way has your beloved turned, that we may seek him with you?
2 My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to pasture his flock in the gardens, and to gather lilies. 3 I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies.
This poem follows the pattern of a dream sequence that is similar to Chapter 3, and the woman’s detailed description of her lover follows the conventions of the wasf, a genre of ancient Middle Eastern love poetry, like the man’s description of the woman in Chapter 4. However, this poem traces more clearly a spiritual journey from desolation to faith reaffirmed. The woman’s heartbreaking loss described in 5:6 is a loss of innocence: I opened to my beloved, /but my beloved had turned and was gone. / My soul failed me when he spoke. /I sought him, but did not find him; I called him, but he gave no answer. In a brief moment of hesitation—whether of coyness or fear, spiritual pride or doubt--all that she had hoped for had been within reach and had disappeared. There is no betrayal deeper than this, no surer reason to question herself and to hide in shame. The violence and derision she encounters on the streets of Jerusalem signals the chaos both around her and within her as she faces her loss.
The woman demands that the Women of Jerusalem swear an oath to persuade her lover that she loves him. The Women of Jerusalem call her to the vision of her beloved that centers her again, and their offer to seek him with her is followed by the realization that he is after all nearby. The poem ends with the affirmation of love that we have heard before: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; [6:3]. Her love—her passion for her beloved, her trust in God—does not merely sustain her; it is an expression of her deepest personhood, affirmed by those who know her best. It is her love itself, not the object of her love, that defines her and brings her to truth and safety in a confusing and dangerous world. Despite the quicksilver changes in this life and the errors we make in folly or fear, our capacity to love—our trust in God—will be our light in darkness, our peace.
The 13th-century mystic Mechthild of Magdeburg wrote a similar meditation on the paradox of a love for God that unites body and soul, a love in which we experience our deepest vulnerability and transcendent joy:
Mechthild of Magdeburg
I cannot dance, O Lord,
Unless You lead me.
If You wish me to leap joyfully,
Let me see You dance and sing—
Then I will leap into Love
and from Love into Knowledge,
and from Knowledge into the harvest,
That sweetest Fruit beyond human sense.
There I will stay with You, whirling.
Song of Songs 6:4-12
4You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. 5 Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me! Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead. 6 Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved. 7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number. 9 My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her. The maidens saw her and called her happy; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her. 10 ‘Who is this that looks forth like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners?’11 I went down to the nut orchard, to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. 12 Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince.
The man’s description of his beloved in 6:4-10 echoes the poem in Song #4. Here, however, he goes beyond praising her to exalt her. He compares her not merely to the city, but to Tirzah and Jerusalem, the ancient cities where God is present; she is not merely the most beautiful among beautiful women, but is praised and admired by queens and concubines alike and the favored child of her mother: my perfect one, is the only one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her [6:9]. Described in imagery associated with gods, (fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army with banners [6:10]), she evokes the wonder and awe of divine beauty and power. The last two verses (6:11-12), which scholars believe may be a separate in which the identity of the speaker is unclear, express faith in the promise of new life. Love does not compel one to possess the beloved; rather, it inspires us to see the world as a beautiful and fruitful place offering infinite possibilities, into which we go forth in hope, open to surprise.
Bernard of Clairvaux, a mystic and reformer who lived in the twelfth century, has written the following meditation on “The Three Qualities of Love” exemplified by Christ and revealed by the Song of Songs:
Christ’s love was sweet, and wise, and strong. I call it sweet because he took on a human body, wise because he avoided sin, strong because he endured death. . . . A dear friend, a wise counselor, a strong helper. Should I not willingly entrust myself to the one who had the good will, the wisdom, the strength to save me? He sought me out, he called me through grace; will he refuse me as I come to him? . . .
Christian, learn from Christ how you ought to love Christ. Learn a love that is tender, wise, strong; love with tenderness, not passion, wisdom, not foolishness, and strength, lest you become weary and turn away from the love of the Lord. . . . Let love enkindle your zeal, let knowledge inform it, let constancy strengthen it. . . . Let your love be strong and constant, neither yielding to fear nor cowering at hard work. Let us love affectionately, discreetly, intensely.
Bernard of Clairvaux, Commentary on the Song of Songs [Aerterna Press, 2015]. Pp. 107,108]
Week 7: Song of Songs 6:13-7:13
13 Return, return, O Shulammite! Return, return, that we may look upon you.
Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?
1How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. 2 Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. 3 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. 4 Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, overlooking Damascus. 5 Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses.
6 How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden! 7 You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. 8 I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. O may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, 9 and your kisses like the best wine—
that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth.
10 I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the fields, and lodge in the villages; 12 let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love. 13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and over our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
This poem begins with the image of the woman dancing, elusive and ever in motion, in harmony with all that is alive. The voice seems to be a chorus calling out to the woman, perhaps in the rhythm of her dance. The name “Shulammite” has multiple meanings: it is a play on the name Solomon and its root may be both shalem (Jerusalem) and shalom (wholeness). Again, the woman embodies all that is good and noble, all that we desire, the union of human and divine. This does not imply that she is divine, but that love itself is a yearning for union with the divine.
The man’s praise for his beloved’s beauty uses a pattern of imagery familiar from the other poems, incorporating all the senses and an all-encompassing vision of city and country in settings both familiar and exotic (Heshbon, Bath-rabbim, Lebanon). This poem itself recreates the movement of dance as the woman interrupts the man without pause (7:9), and offers an invitation that echoes the very first song (7:11: Come, my beloved, /let us go forth into the fields). She repeats that “belonging” to her beloved and being the object of his desire does not demean her or make her his property (7:10: I am my beloved’s, / and his desire is for me). The structure and language of this poem express the beautiful mutuality of love, like the movement of a dance, ennobling both lovers in the bold and gentle rhythms of life.
Nelson Mandela’s letters from prison to his wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela express a similar vision of love as a force that is both grounding and liberating, making the world both safe and exciting, ever familiar and ever new.
These are excerpts from The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, ed. Sahm Venter (Liveright Publishing, 2018)
November 16, 1969 ( p. 140) – I do wish you to know that you are the pride of my heart, and with you on my side, I always feel I am part of an invincible force that is ready to win new worlds. I am confident that, however dark and difficult times might seem to be now, one day you will be free and able to see the beautiful birds and lovely fields of our country, bathe in its marvelous sunshine and breathe its sweet air. . . .
June 20, 1970 (pp. 175-76) – During the eight lonely years I have spent behind bars I sometimes wished we were born the same hour, grown up together and spent every minute of our lives in each other’s company. I sincerely believe that had this been the case, I would have been a wise man.
July 1, 1970 (p. 179) - If calamities had the weight of physical objects we should long have been crushed down, or else we should by now have been hunch-back, unsteady on our feet, and faces full of gloom and utter despair. Yet my entire body throbs with life and is full of expectations. Each day brings a fresh stock of experiences and new dreams. I am still able to walk perfectly straight and firmly. What is even more important to me is the knowledge that nothing can ever ruffle you and that your step remains as fleet and graceful as it has always been – a girl who can laugh heartily and infect others with her enthusiasm.
Song of Songs 8
1O that you were like a brother to me, who nursed at my mother’s breast! If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me. 2 I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of the one who bore me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranates.
3 O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! 4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, do not stir up or awaken love until it is ready!
Women of Jerusalem:
5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in labor.
6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is strong as death, passion fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, a raging flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If one offered for love all the wealth of one’s house, it would be utterly scorned.
Brothers: 8 We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister, on the day when she is spoken for? 9 If she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; but if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
Woman: 10 I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I was in his eyes as one who brings peace.
Man: 11 Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he entrusted the vineyard to keepers; each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand
pieces of silver. 12 My vineyard, my very own, is for myself; you, O Solomon, may have the thousand, and the keepers of the fruit two hundred!
13 O you who dwell in the gardens, my companions are listening for your voice; let me hear it.
Woman: 14 Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spices!
We hear the woman’s call to her beloved at the beginning, center, and closing of this poem; her voice is counterpointed by the Women of Jerusalem, her brothers and her beloved. Some scholars interpret this as a collection of unrelated fragments from other poems, while others read it as a dramatic scene that includes the voices from other poems in an affirmation that the love between the man and woman has overcome opposition and fear. The woman’s wish that her beloved were her ‘brother”, like his reference to her as “my sister, my bride” (4:9), expresses her closeness to him, the sense that they have always been together and share a bond as deep as family—the fundamental bond in this ancient clan culture. Lines 8:6-7 are often read at weddings today; they evoke both the legal aspects of marriage (the “seal” of ownership) and the cosmic dimension of a love that cannot be contained or regulated (“for love is a strong as death . . . a raging flame . . . rushing waters cannot quench love”).
These lines were the focus of Bishop Curry’s sermon at the royal wedding this spring:
The Very Rev. Michael Curry, Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church
The Power of Love – May 19, 2018
The late Dr Martin Luther King Jr. once said, and I quote: "We must discover the power of love, the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world a new world, for love is the only way."
. . . . There's power in love. There's power in love to help and heal when nothing else can.
There's power in love to lift up and liberate when nothing else will.
There's power in love to show us the way to live.
“Set me as a seal on your heart... a seal on your arm, for love is as strong as death. . . .”
That's what love is. Love is not selfish and self-centered. Love can be sacrificial, and in so doing, becomes redemptive. And that way of unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive love changes lives, and it can change this world.
If you don't believe me, just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way. . . .
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history. When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there's plenty good room - plenty good room - for all of God's children.
Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well... like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
My brothers and sisters, that's a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family. . . .
Dr King was right: we must discover love - the redemptive power of love. And when we do that, we will make of this old world, a new world.