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News for Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Sunday School Lesson — Explore the Bible
May 18: Righteous Romance
By Aubrey Hay
retired, TBC staff

Focal Passage: Song of Songs 1:7-8, 15-2:2, 15; 4:9-12

The Song of Songs is a difficult book to interpret. Various commentaries do not agree, nor has there been historical agreement on its interpretation. The KJV of the Bible plainly considers it from the allegorical perspective. Space does not permit discussion of the pros and cons of the various views.

This lesson will follow, with some variance, the view of the Explore the Bible Adult Commentary Spring 2014 by Robert Bergen. One thing certain is the theme of love. It is a description of the love between a maiden and Solomon who are separated much of the time. What is described in the narrative is their longing for each other and vivid descriptions of their feeling. Whatever else it may mean; it is clearly a love poem between a maiden and a man.

Many marriages in the Old Testament were often for reasons other than two people falling in love. Marriages were arranged sometimes to keep Israel pure from foreign and pagan influences. Sometimes they were arranged to strengthen political alliances. Marriage was also arranged to assure the lineage of a man who had died childless. A close family member married the widow to raise offspring on his behalf (Genesis 38:8).

The Song of Songs emphasis is the natural attraction that occurs between a man and woman. God created mankind with natural sexual desires that culminates in a union that assures that the admonition to “be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth” will occur. This interpretation sees the Song of Songs as a poem of love that exalts this relationship, in the context of marriage. Note the marriage theme throughout the book.

The initial picture is that of a maid who waits for the absent husband to be, and lauds his attractiveness in dreams and thoughts. The obsession pictured here is familiar to anyone who has observed two people in love. What follows is a lyrical love poem celebrating the mutual feelings experienced by the couple.

This is the essential theme throughout the book and with some setbacks, remains to the conclusion. In its poetic form it is the passionate and sensual description of romantic love. What further meaning the story has is open to a variety of interpretations.

Historically it has followed the line that it pictures God’s love for Israel or the Christian view of Christ’s love of the church. To others it means what it means literally, i.e. romantic love, within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman. If God did create the natural desire, which we believe He did, and if we follow the thought of the relationship being restricted to the married couple, is there not reason to celebrate? To elevate this account to mean sexual attraction and expression of any kind is to miss the clear teaching of the Bible and how sexual relations have been interpreted and practiced throughout Judeo/Christian history.

If one reads the book with this thought in mind, it makes this message clearer, in my opinion. Sensuality is only one expression of love. The sacrificial love God expressed in Jesus Christ is a love that is light years away from the physical and sensual description found in the Song of Songs. 

It seems to me that the debate over the book and what it means misses the point. Let it mean what it sounds like it means. It is describing physical love. That love is only part of the human experience. Why not center on that incomparable love of Christ who expressed His love in death on the cross, for our sins. “Greater love has no man than this … .” 

— Hay, a former pastor and retiree from the Tennessee Baptist Convention, lives in Dyersburg.

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