I slept but my heart was awake. Listen! My lover is knocking: "Open to me, my sister, my darling,my dove, my flawless one.My head is drenched with dew,my hair with the dampness of the night." I have taken off my robe — must I put it on again? I have washed my feet — must I soil them again? My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening;my heart began to pound for him. I arose to open for my lover,and my hands dripped with myrrh,my fingers with flowing myrrh,on the handles of the lock. I opened for my lover, but my lover had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer. 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 of the walls! O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you — if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love. NIV
One of the challenges of reading Song of Songs is the uncertainty regarding who is speaking what. For example, in the last part of verse 5:1, we have this refrain: "Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers." Depending on which version's sub-headings you are reading, it could be
- NKJV: The Beloved himself talking to His Friends
- ESV: Others
- NET: The Poet to the Couple
- NLT: Young women of Jerusalem
- NCV: The Friends of the Couple
The Bible Knowledge Commentary suggests it is God as the expression "drink your fill, O lovers" is an euphemism for love-making; only God alone can witness such intimacy in the bedroom. Furthermore, "their love was from Him it was fitting that He approves it." Depending on whom you attribute this saying to, the conclusion can be different. That is the challenge of biblical interpretation. But as far as we can, our interpretation must be checked by the context where the verse is found, rather interpreted out of the context based on the ingenuity of our creative imagination: "Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet's own imagination, for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God" (2 Peter 1:20-21, NET). In situation where the context is unclear, we need to ask the Author of Scripture (Holy Spirit) to grant us revelation and wisdom to interpret the particular verse in its proper context.
The other challenge in interpreting the Song of Solomon is to know when we are dealing with reality or a dream. One example of a dream is 3:1-4; the other is the current chapter, from verses 4-8. Is the incident described here a dream or reality? "I slept but my heart was awake" (v.4).
Be that as it may, there are three important lessons about married love to be drawn from chapter 5:
- Sexual love is affirmed in Scripture ("Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill, O lovers"): Sex is a normal expression of marital love, but it ought to be kept in its context. Sex outside of the married life (pre-marital, extra-marital, non-marital) is a corruption of a pleasure intended for married life because of the possibility of conception and child-birth. No children should be born out of wedlock, but sadly, it's increasingly the case. In UK, almost half of the children are now born out of wedlock (from non-marital couples).
- Apathy can undermine marital Love ("I have taken off my robe — must I put it on again? I have washed my feet — must I soil them again?"). Love requires effort and commitment. It doesn't just happen and can be undermined by apathy and indifference. In this case, the lady in question is ready for bed and does not want to be disturbed. But when she finally gets up, the husband has gone.
- Loss of Intimacy can be Restored ("O daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you — if you find my lover, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.") Even though there is a temporary lapse of focus in the relationship, the lady realizes her mistake and is willing to repair the damage by telling the husband her longing for him. It's important for strong marital love that there be verbal expressions of love for one another. In our Asian culture where affirming words are hard to come by, this is all the more important. We need to nurture and nourish one another, not ignore one another and take love for granted, in order to keep love alive in our marriage.
Father, thank You for creating marriage and sex. Help us who are married to constantly seek to nourish one another so that we may express Christ's love for the Church through our marital love. Amen.