Tragedy in the marriage: Songs 5:1-9

I’m jumping ahead to the most bizarre aspect of the epic love poem. It starts with passion that becomes miscommunication which leads to violence against Beloved but ends in adoration of Lover. As usual I am using the NET and the italics are their suggested speaker identities. I’ll keep my comments short interspersed but make a controversial suggestion after the reader sees the context.

The Lover to His Beloved:
5:1 I have entered my garden, O my sister, my bride;
I have gathered my myrrh with my balsam spice.
I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey;
I have drunk my wine and my milk!
The Poet to the Couple:

Eat, friends, and drink!

Drink freely, O lovers!

This follows the standard tone of this poem. Farming metaphors for physical intimacy. Their passion is unbridled. Their freedom to each other is at its maximum.

The Beloved about Her Lover:
5:2 I was asleep, but my mind was dreaming.
Listen! My lover is knocking at the door!

The Lover to His Beloved:

“Open for me, my sister, my darling,

my dove, my flawless one!

My head is drenched with dew,

my hair with the dampness of the night.”

Exhaustion has set in finally, for Beloved, at least. But Lover is ready for more.

The Beloved to Her Lover:
5:3 “I have already taken off my robe – must I put it on again?

I have already washed my feet – must I soil them again?”

Considering her later actions, I’m not sure she is being selfish. But she is ascertaining how firm his desires are.

5:4 My lover thrust his hand through the hole,

and my feelings were stirred for him.

He responds with action instead of words.

5:5 I arose to open for my beloved;

my hands dripped with myrrh –

my fingers flowed with myrrh

on the handles of the lock.

She is indeed ready since he is indeed serious.

5:6 I opened for my beloved,

but my lover had already turned and gone away.

I fell into despair when he departed.

I looked for him but did not find him;

I called him but he did not answer me.

But he couldn’t wait. It seems he has stomped off in frustration. Immediate satisfaction wasn’t to be had, something the king, I’m sure, was not accustomed to. Yet she sets out in pursuit of him. She wants to fulfill him. She is despondent over his departure.

5:7 The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.
They beat me, they bruised me;

they took away my cloak, those watchmen on the walls!

In Chapter 3, verse 3 the watchmen make a passive appearance. They find her as she wanders around the city looking for Lover but don’t help her find him. This time, they abuse her. What crime has she committed? What threat is she to the city? Why won’t they convey her to her husband? Do they resent this dark-skinned farm girl who doesn’t fit the conventional model of a princess? Her cloak is her outer covering. It keeps her modest. It also conveyed her royalty. They left her indistinct from a commoner, without respecting their regent’s wife or even her office. The ones who are supposed to protect have chosen to violate. Their hubris is exceptional in that they chose to violate someone who could order their punishment. What kind of watchmen thinks he can beat and strip a queen?

The Beloved to the Maidens:

5:8 O maidens of Jerusalem, I command you –

If you find my beloved, what will you tell him?

Tell him that I am lovesick!

In spite of all this, her love is undiminished. Even though it was his fault, to some degree, she only wants to reunite with her Lover. She is sick in love like she was in 2:5. She is curiously, undeterred by the beating. What is wrong with her? She is still challenging the harem, those maidens of Jerusalem. She doesn’t want Solomon to go to them. She wants all of his affections.

The Maidens to The Beloved:

5:9 Why is your beloved better than others,

O most beautiful of women?

Why is your beloved better than others,

that you would command us in this manner?

Rightly the harem asks her, “You are better than him, why is he worth pursuing?” She has earned their admiration or scorn. Either she is committed beyond all reason or naïve.

The controversial idea now draws near. Here are the questions I wrestle with as a Christian. What application should a married woman draw from this? Stay away from your husband’s buddies? Don’t marry a guy with a posse? But if you do and they happen to beat you up just keep on working on the marriage? Everything is wrong here. This is a passage about injustice, which is a clue. Who is the honorable partner in this passage? Some might blame Beloved for not giving into him immediately saying her situation is not legitimate nor a worthy excuse. Maybe single people can draw this interpretation but couples who have been married for long enough, especially those with children, know that life is busy and sleep is precious. She doesn’t even deny him; she only slows him down. His demand is neutral but his reaction is not honorable. However, his behavior is not inconsistent with his life. Solomon started out with right desires but he did not have the character to receive all the blessings that followed. Wealth and power corrupted him. He exempted himself from God’s covenantal stipulations. He shared all that wisdom in the Proverbs. But he couldn’t make his heart conform to what his mind knew. Since his father had multiple wives, Solomon had 50 fold more. His father was a man of war. Solomon was a man of leisure. He denied himself nothing that his eyes desired. He writes at the end of his life in Ecclesiastes 2,

2:8 I also amassed silver and gold for myself,
as well as valuable treasures taken from kingdoms and provinces.

I acquired male singers and female singers for myself,

and what gives a man sensual delight – a harem of beautiful concubines!

2:9 So I was far wealthier than all my predecessors in Jerusalem,

yet I maintained my objectivity:

2:10 I did not restrain myself from getting whatever I wanted;

I did not deny myself anything that would bring me pleasure.

So all my accomplishments gave me joy;

this was my reward for all my effort.

He had nothing, but everything had him. Is this our hero in this story, a petulant Peter Pan? Just as one wife wasn’t enough neither was one god. His philosophy to life was “more.” Yet this one bride changed his perspective. At this time she was one of sixty queens and eighty concubines (6:8). Number 141 stopped him in his tracks. She wasn’t a political bride. She wasn’t in the mold of a princess, this dark-skinned farm girl. She sought him out, review chapter 1. She tried to keep her to himself and away from the harem. She endured injustice because of him and for him with unfaltering love.

I’m committed to an approach to the scriptures that they all proclaim Jesus and the good news. When I look at this passage I’ve always been at a loss. Will Jesus abandon me if I don’t ask “How high, sir?” when he asks me to “Jump?” Will he abandon me to violent men if I delay in answering his call? Is my love to never falter in those difficult times? I ask those questions rhetorically here, but I have wondered. Is this how Jesus is? If not, then where is Jesus?

Last night something clicked for me. It partly had to do with my friend Phil’s sermon this week on this Song. He warned us to beware Solomon. He compared Solomon’s ideal woman in Proverbs 31 to Beloved. The Proverbs 31 wife has no physical description. In the Song, Solomon’s appreciation of Beloved is external and physical, immature, although her actions and thoughts reveal a complex and strong and committed woman. To hear that I need to beware Solomon became, in my mind, to beware Christ. Until then I’ve understood that the only figure of Christ in this Song is Solomon. I felt insecure yet comforted because I don’t like this figure in chapter 5. As I chewed on these things through the day and the next I asked a new idea. What if Beloved represents Christ and the good news?

Herein is my controversial idea. Beloved is the picture of Christ and the good news in this chapter, if not in this entire song. Have I seen Christ asleep and awakened by impatient men? Yes. Mark 4:38. Have I seen Jesus seeking and calling for those he loves and are lost? Yes. Luke 19:10. Mark 6:34. Was Jesus beaten by the watchmen of the holy city? Yes. Matthew 26:67. Was his cloak taken away leaving him exposed, defiled, treated as a commoner and not like royalty? Yes. Mark 15:24. Was his love undiminished one bit by this treatment? No. As he is dying of torture by crucifixion he says, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Luke 23:34.

As I wrote about chapter 1, I said, “This love story starts with the Beloved’s longing. She violates so many conservative Christian dating guides. It’s almost as if she is initiating. That rocks too many Calvinist typologies so this can not be a dating scene. She must be speaking from experience.” I may have spoken too soon. If she is a figure of Christ then of course she is initiating. Was Christ unattractive like Beloved? Yes. Isaiah 53:2. Did he likewise not fit the mold of a prince like her? Yes. He came from a part of Israel that wasn’t high class. He worked with his hands at carpentry. All these data have led me to conclude Jesus is here in this chapter. And the good news is his unfaltering love for me despite my superficiality and unfaithfulness and pettiness and immaturity. He died to save me while I was still a sinner. Romans 5:8. I didn’t deserve or earn his love. His love continues for me unabated while I still lose my battles with vanity. Even though I know better my heart still wanders from him. A thousand lovers call my name, yet his love is unique. My Beloved never stops giving me grace in my imperfection.

My problem all this time is the same as the Pharisees who rejected Jesus. I had a fixed idea of what he should look like and I missed him. I tried to fit him in armor not made for him. He didn’t fit and we were all uncomfortable with the combination. I’m really happy now. I’ve found the good news in the injustice and tragedy of this passage. The good news is that although I abused my Lord and walked out on him and threw temper tantrums he still looks for me. Jesus always on the look out for and welcomes back the prodigal child. He only has eyes for his kids.
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor heavenly rulers, nor things that are present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39


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