Theme: Lovestory #1 Song of Songs (Sunday 16 August, 2020)
Series: Lovestory (2020)
Bible Reading: Song of Songs 2:1-17
Preacher: Rev Phil Swain
Do you like a good love story? There is something about the build-up, the courting, the tension, the romance … reading or watching the story of two people fall in love warms our heart.
Today and over the next three weeks I would like to share with you three great love stories from the Bible – some of the stories are about romantic love, some of them are about a deep friendship type love. In sharing these stories I hope to achieve a couple of things:
- Explore how these love stories give us insight into the way that God loves us.
- Ponder how this insight might help us love God in return, and love each other and those around us.
Our first love story is a story of romantic love from the Old Testament and is a story of two people who are truly, madly, deeply in love and I need to put in a little disclaimer before I start. While for many people, a good love story is heart-warming, for some of us it can trigger some sadness or grief. For some people, a love story reminds them of their beloved who is no longer with them – either through death or relationship breakdown. Or maybe a lovestory can remind us of love which was not reciprocated. I wish to acknowledge this and say that we will talk about this more next week in a love story which is more about heartache. But this week we are looking at a story of almost perfect love, of a couple who are indeed truly, madly, deep in love with each other. I encourage us all to allow this lovestory to wash over us and allow it to speak to us about the greatest love story of all … God’s love for us. Shall we jump in?
Today’s love story comes from the Old Testament book – Song of Songs (or sometimes called Song of Solomon). This is a book which is well known but not very well read. We don’t have time to read all 8 chapters, but I would encourage you some time this week to sit down for 15 mins and read the whole lot.
If you do, you will notice that the book doesn’t have a literary structure but rather it is lovestory or love letter of statements between a couple in love. It is simple two people expressing their love for each other … and it jumps around through their courtship, engagement, wedding, marriage night etc. I have to warn you that there are some slightly risqué moments but largely it is just an expression of love which flows throughout the eight chapters.
The book starts in verse 1 by saying that this is the Song of Song … which is a Hebrew idiom like King of Kings or Lord of Lords which means greatest. The writer is saying that this lovestory is the greatest song. It then goes on to say that it is of Solomon … which may mean that he is the author of the book – maybe – but probably is more that it was written in the wisdom tradition of Solomon.
You may also assume that Solomon is the main character in the book – and although he is mentioned a few times, he does not speak. Besides, Solomon had 700 wives so I don’t think that he is ideal candidate to talk about love. Rather in the first seven verses of the book we are introduced to the main character or voice – that of a woman whom the book calls “the beloved”. She is truly, madly, deeply in love with the other main character – a shepherd.
As I already mentioned, the book doesn’t have sections as such but it does has some themes … and I just want to step through 3 of these themes and ask the question of what they teach us about God’s love for us.
Theme #1 – “Seeking and Finding”
The Song of Songs is not only about love, it is about desire. For some reason, these two go through cycles of being apart and in these times apart they express their longing to be close again.
3.1 – All night long on my bed I looked for the one my heart loves;
5:8 – Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you — if you find my beloved, what will you tell him? Tell him I am faint with love.
8:1 – if I found you outside, I would kiss you,
So you have these moments in the love story where the couple are separated but on the hunt for each other. So the woman will call out or wake up from a dream or go looking for her lover and more than once they find each other:
3.4 I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go
So they find each other, they will embrace and right when things get a bit racy the scene will end and a new one will start with them separated again.
So my question is … does this theme reflect God’s love for us? Does God love us so much, so deeply desire to be close with us that God searches for us, pursues us, keeps looking for us until we are found?
Yes! Right from Genesis 3:9 where God is calling out to Adam and Eve, “Where are you” we find story after story of God reaching out, calling out, surrounding us, holding us. Psalm 139 reminds us that we cannot outrun God. Jesus talks about the importance of the one lost sheep and how the shepherd goes and finds it and brings it home again.
One writer described God and the “relentless pursuer”, the one who will never stop trying to woo us into relationship. It reminds me of the classic hymn, “O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go …”
And we are called to have that same desire to be close to God. Psalm 42 – as the deer pants for the water so my soul longs after you my God. Where can I go to meet with God?
See how this works? The couple in Song of Songs gives us a glimpse of our own relationship with God. Let’s move onto the second theme.
Theme #2 – “They express their love for each other … a lot”
The thing that Song of Songs is best known for is these moments in the book where the couple will pause and describe each other with these elaborate metaphors. (4:1-5, 5:10-16, 6:4-7, 7:1-5) such as Your eyes are like doves, your hair is like a flock of goats, your teeth are like lambs, your neck is a tower, you lips drip honey.
It is probably useful to know that these metaphors are primarily NOT visual … otherwise these people look really weird. This is a literal picture of the description of song of songs.
What you are supposed to do it to reflect on the meaning of these images as they relate to the man and woman. I guess the point I wanted to make is how open and generous they were in expressing their feelings and complements to each other – and receiving these complements from the other.
We are not great at this in our society. If I was to say to Marion that I love her hair and that her neck is particularly looking great today and that her lips are stunning … she is more than likely to go, “Yeah, right”.
Have you noticed that when someone says something nice to us we often straight away put ourselves down in another area to cancel out the complement?
This is a generalised statement, but on the whole we are not great at expressing love or receiving love … and I wonder if that hinders the way that we accept God’s love or express our love for God?
How about this for some homework … that over the next week we go out of our way to be more intentional in expressing love to those around us – in both our words and our actions. You don’t have to go overboard like the couple in Song of Songs, but aim for simple, regular and clear statements of love or complements or if appropriate – desire. I have little doubt that this would improve our love for each other and possibly even make us more open to receiving and expressing our love for God. What do you think?
Theme #3 – The longing to know and be known.
Towards the end of the book there is an interesting poem about the power and intensity of love. SoS 8:6-7a
love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
7 Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
This poem is a reflection of the entire book … reminding us that love is the strongest emotion know to us all. There is something mysterious about love, transcendent about love. I remember when I was 17 having this epiphany that the greatest thing is to be the most specialist person in the world to another person. God has created us to be relational. We all desire to know and be known. We long to love and be loved.
But love is not something to be forced on other. As the woman describes in 8:12, “My own vineyard is mine to give”. We are given the choice when it comes to love. Love is a gift that we give to another.
And this has to point to God because God is love. We only understand what love is because God first loved us. Which brings me to my last point.
Theme #4 – Love is eternal
As a love story, Song of Songs has everything except a good ending. What was the writer thinking? It should have ended with them finding each other and vowing to never be apart again … but instead, the book ends with the couple again being apart, the man calling out to her and the woman asking him to take her away. It is almost like somewhere before publication the writer lost the last few pages.
But maybe this open-ended ending is intentional … because it is a lot like love, which is also open-ended. We never get to the point where our love for someone is complete, love is something that can always grow or deepen. Love is something that we should be always working on because there is always more to pursue or discover in your beloved. True love has no end … it is eternal. As we said last week, nothing can stop love.
And to drive this last point home, I just want to go back and focus on two lines from our bible reading in Song of Songs and show how these images shows us of this overwhelming and unstoppable love that God has for us.
The first line is in 2:16 – “My beloved is mine and I am his”. For me, this is the key verse in this whole book. The woman is saying that she is willing to give herself completely to her beloved because she know that he cares about her and that there is an equality and mutuality within the relationship. I am my beloved AND HE IS MINE … he has given himself completely to me and that allows me to give myself completely to him.
It is this depth of trust and giving of oneself that makes love work best. We see this reflected in the way that God loves us. God has given us all – even his own son – so that we can be in relationship with God. God has completely given out of love to us which allows us to trust God and give our love and ourselves completely back to God.
But it gets better. In Song of Songs 2:4 we have that line about “his banner over me is love”. Other than the classic kids song, do you understand what this means? We often understand it in modern terms, that a banner signifies who you belong to .. that “his banner of me is love” means that we belong to God and come under God’s banner of love. Yes… but in the Hebrew it is more than that.
The Jewish culture talk about the chuppah (HOO-pah). The Hoopah is a sort of canopy or sheet which represent the presence of God. That we are covered and surrounded by God’s presence and love.
When a Jewish couple gets married – it is traditional to have the Hoopah on four sticks and the whole service is conducted under it. It reminds them of God’s unconditional love and how they are also called to love each other unconditionally and give themselves to each other. They get married under the Hoopah to show that their love for each other is surrounded and encased by God’s love and presence. Nice idea isn’t it.
But the imagery doesn’t stop there. The Hoppah goes with them to the reception where they eat under the Hoppah and then it can even go with them on their wedding night and is put over their bed – which I admit is a little weird – but it is this idea that God’s love is eternal. God promises to cover us, surround us, hold us in God’s love in all parts of our lives.
Yes … in this sermon I am calling on us to work on our relationships of love with each other, to pursue love, to celebrate and express love, to give generously of our love in mutuality and trust
… but may we never forget that the love we share for each other is always covered, surrounded, encased by God’s everlasting love for us.