I began this whirlwind tour of God’s plan for human sexuality and marriage in the Garden of Eden, and it is to Eden that we are returning, not by way of Genesis, but by way of Song of Solomon. After all, it is no good to speak of unspoiled beauty and splendor. We’re fallen, and the Garden is lost to us, as is the perfection that we would have found there. And so, here we are. We all crave Eden, whether we realize it or not, because Eden represents what should have been. When we contemplate the unspoiled world, it evokes a sense of longing, a half-whimsical desire to be there. We don’t want to read about it; we want to get there somehow. So it is with Heaven, a place we also cannot get to without a bit of unpleasantness. So then, Eden lies in the past, and Heaven waits in our future. What are we to do in the present? There are many answers to that question, but I am going to offer one for your consideration.
Far from being some sort of mystical allegory of spiritual truths, I believe- as many others before me- that Song of Solomon is a celebration of all that is good and right about marriage. Its message is that- while we have been exiled from Eden- we can enjoy intimacy and fulfillment as God’s blessing on marriage partially unmakes the curse that sin and Satan have brought into our world. “The marriage bed undefiled” and all that it represents provides a means of returning to Eden, and through a truly blessed romance, we can see the world we were made for. Matrimony is a blessed reprieve, a retreat from the turmoil of the fallen creation. I’m not just speaking hypothetically or poetically, here. I truly believe the Bible points to marriage as a grace given to make life more meaningful and joyous and less of a burden. But you don’t have to take my word for it (cue Reading Rainbow theme and Levar Burton, sans VISOR). Here’s a quote from Jill Munro’s Spikenard and Saffron on Eden and Song of Solomon: “The garden, which in the Genesis story becomes an inaccessible place from which humanity is exiled, in the Song is rediscovered in the woman; it is in union or communion with her that her lover rediscovers the bliss of which the Eden story spoke. As a result, the world around is recreated; it too becomes a garden, a garden of love which the reader too may enter for a time.” Phyllis Trible has also noticed this similarity, as she writes: “Whatever else it may be, Canticles is a commentary on Genesis 2-3. Paradise Lost is Paradise Regained.”
Make no mistake, however. The couple in Song of Solomon is not perfect. There is struggle, hurt, and sorrow, but there is also healing and growth. It is a beautiful example of obedience to the creation order. Song of Solomon creates a picture of what Genesis 1-2 describe, or as near to it as we can get this side of Heaven. It is as if the Author is telling us that we do not just have to read about the Creation Order: somehow, in some way, we can get inside the story itself. Think about it with me for a moment. Without describing the Days of Creation, Solomon and his beloved enjoy all elements of that creation. There is light and water and animals and fruit and forests. There is music and splendor and majesty. There is gold and wealth, joy and gladness. There is a spoken blessing on the marriage, linking the speaker to the Creator: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” What we read about in Genesis 1-2, Solomon and the Shulamite are able to experience. Consider also their marital experience in relationship to the Created Order. They are heterosexual, monogamous, and co-equal. It’s one of union and communion. The connection with Genesis is no small one. Adam and Eve are parallel to Solomon and the Shulamite.
Who is this Shulamite woman, anyway? To be honest, no one knows for certain. Some suggest that she is Abishag, the female attendant to David in his old age. They claim that she married Solomon officially due to being in David’s harem, pointing to the fact that she was from Shunem as evidence. I would remind the reader that “Shulamite” and “Shunamite” are not at all the same thing, and that there is no concrete evidence that Shulem was ever a village or town in Israel. I do not think this is a name for her birthplace, nor do I think this is a name at all, at least in the normal sense. You see, in Hebrew, “Shulamite” is simply the feminine form of the masculine name translated….”Solomon.” It is her title, not her name. He is Solomon, and she is the Solomon-ess. These names demonstrate that love and commitment has made them equals, but that is not the focus of the book. The focus in Song of Solomon is on their love and their devotion, and in their romance they enjoy something that their very names reveal as well. The name Solomon/Solomoness means peace.
Not only does the Solomon/Solomoness (“Shulamite”) connection reveal a sense of equality and peace, but it provides another link with the Created Order. He is Solomon, and she is the Solomoness. They are equal, but- far more importantly- they are two halves of the same Whole. This is a “one flesh” relationship. “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine….”, she says. Later, she adds, “His desire is for me”, a reversal of God’s statement to Eve in the Garden: “Your desire will be to your Husband.” This is the solution to the situation posed by Him at the beginning. Relationships begin fragmenting because of human nature, but they can be mended. The wife has begun by desiring what she cannot always have (she does so twice in the poem), but throughout the poem, they’ve come to desire each other. In this the Fall is partially unmade. Solomon and the Solomoness are mutual, reciprocal partners- fitting helpers for each other. Through their love, commitment, and romance, God has blessed the husband and wife, and they are now experiencing what was described way back in Genesis, something Richard M. Davidson calls “Paradise Love.”
What does this love look like? It is beautiful and sensuous: the Song describes romance using imagery encompassing all five senses. It is an exciting celebration: there is great joy when lovers see each other, and the wedding is one of great splendor. It is a thrilling adventure: the Song is filled with statements such as “Arise my love, and come away with me! Let us make haste!” Davidson notes that the poem describes the exhilaration of springtime, a daring expedition into the rocky clefts, etc. Paradise love is erotic and unashamed, yet blessed of God. It is restrained and in good taste as well. There are jokes alongside passionate romance. It is most of all a mystery, as we see both lovers captivated yet unable to fully explain the power of what they are feeling.
There is much more to say about the significance of Song of Solomon, but I think I’ve made my point for now. There’s nothing worse than spoiling a good poem anyway. Poetry, like romance, must be experienced in order to be understood.
I must thank two people for making this latest post possible. As I hope is obvious, this series of blog posts is the result of a long period of studying and accumulating information on this subject, and I feel I must give credit where credit is due. I’ve read a lot of Scripture, scholarly articles, and books on this subject, but the single most helpful resource on this topic- other than the Bible, of course- has been the work of Richard M. Davidson. His book entitle Flame of Yahweh has put me lightyears ahead of where I would be had I been trying to study the subject on my own. He provides a massive bibliography on human sexuality, and the entire book is a Bible study of sorts. While the previous blog posts have come largely from my own notes on this subject- including notes taken from Flame of Yahweh- this post is largely a summary of the third part of Davidson’s work.
The other person I need to thank is my wife. On August 10th, we will celebrate five years of marriage together. As I’ve said a lot in this post, it is one thing to read and study a subject, but it’s another thing entirely to experience the thing yourself. For Solomon, the Shulamite woman created the loving relationship necessary to experience the romance described in Genesis. For myself, I have been blessed with the love of a woman who has made that possible for me. We have endured tragedy and illness, sorrow and heartache. We’ve also experienced great joy in the adoption of our two boys, and we’ve gazed in wonder at God’s provision in ways we didn’t expect. Laura has provided a loving home for myself and the boys, and she has brought peace to what would have been chaos without her. She calms the storms stirred up by two toddlers running through the house, but she is also one of the few people capable of calming storms within me just by her very presence. She gives unselfishly, even if the cost to herself is great. She is a hard worker, filled with strength and determination. She is loving and compassionate, and her worth is “far above rubies.” She’s a beautiful picture of what Proverbs 31 describes. I can’t wait to see what our future holds together, Laura. I love you.