Sunday, March 06, 2005

Reading the Song

How do you read the Song of Solomon? Hey, just reading it would surely be a leap forward (how many Chirstians have read it at all, in its entirety, in the past several years?)! Here’s some assorted advice as you dive in.

Read the Song as you would any other love song, but think of it as the greatest of them all. That means enter the mood of the text. Read it with your heart and your mind will follow. See what’s being said with your mind's eye and use your imagination to set the background setting. Remember, it's poetry, so it’s meant to pondered, but not dissected.

Read this Song literally, not allegorically. It's not about God and Israel or Christ and his church. It’s about a man and woman becoming husband and wife.

The Song isn’t just about sex. It’s about passion and pain, getting it right and making mistakes, making up and making out, character and caress, words and ways.

Think of the Song as a bit of commentary on Genesis 2 and the marriage relationship. "It is not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him." (Gen. 2:18) "For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Gen. 2:24) “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame." (Gen. 2:25)

Read the Song in conjunction with the company it keeps – read it in connection with Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes tells us where life’s meaning isn’t found and the Song celebrates the experience of living in the fullness of meaningful life.

Hear this Song as a word of instruction. This is the wisdom lovers have passed on to us as to what wedded love is about. Just as you’d give attention to an older, long-time married couple’s thoughts on marriage, listen closely for the wisdom found in this inspired (and inspiring) Song.

Don’t be distracted by the imperfections of the Song’s author. No, Solomon wasn't perfect, but he didn’t have to be for God to work his perfect word through him. Moses, Jonah, Paul – none of them were perfect, but look how God perfectly conveyed his will through them. The same is true of Solomon. Besides, some of the greatest lessons and wisdom in life come through those who have failed miserably and can clearly see what does and doesn’t work.

Does this Song sound too good to be true? Or does it depress you because you believe you’ll never get to the point of fulfillment as this Song expresses? Press on with the Song. As an old poem says: “Ideals are life stars; we never touch them, but like mariners of the sea, we chart our course by them.”

Understand the Song as a natural, chronological progression from courtship (1:1-3:5), to wedding and honeymoon (3:6-5:1) to marriage (5:2-8:4). At the same time, notice the Song’s symmetry with it’s pinnacle of thought in the center (5:1b). The story’s beginning (1:2-2:7) and conclusion (8:5-14) are similar and whether it’s a spring day together (2:5-17; 7:10-8:4) or a time of separation and reunion (3:1-5; 5:2-7:9), everything turns on the fact this couple have wed and become one with each other (3:6-5:1).

And most of all, hear God celebrate with this couple the fact of their love for, enjoyment of and devotion to each other. “”Drink you fill, O lovers!” (5:1b) He celebrates still whenever a husband and wife are one in mind and body, soul and strength.