A Valentine’s Message
by Pastor George Van Alstine
He says,”How beautiful you are, my darling! How pleasing and delightful!”
She says, “How handsome you are, my lover! Your love is more delightful than wine.”
She whispers, “Take me away with you – let us hurry!”
He responds, “Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me!”
These lines did not come from an erotic website. They are from the Bible. Direct quotes from the “Song of Songs”* in the Old Testament. Have you ever read it? Take about ten minutes right now – that’s all you’ll need to read the whole thing. You’ll discover that the lines above are not even the steamiest in this surprising poem about human lovers. You’ll also notice that there’s nothing in the book about God or religion.
So why is this book in the Bible?
One answer that may come to your mind is that King Solomon wrote it and, therefore, it became seen as part of God’s Word. Well, there’s nothing in the book that says Solomon wrote it; his name is mentioned only as the one to whom the book is dedicated. In fact, some scholars have argued that the monogamous relationship celebrated throughout the work is presented as a contrast and corrective to the example Solomon set in having 700 wives and 300 concubines.
The most common answer given throughout the history of both Judaism and Christianity is that “Song of Songs” was written to present a parable or allegory of the relationship God wants to have with his people. The intimacy, the mutual desire, even the physical sexual relationship of a man and woman in love are used as an illustration of the kind of spiritual bonding that is possible between God and us. Jewish Kabbalistic mysticism developed levels of hidden meaning over many centuries. Catholic monastics meditated themselves into a trance by concentrating on the book’s words. Prudish Victorian theologians wrote volumes analyzing phrases they would never dare speak in public.
But the simplest interpretation is probably the true one – that “Song of Songs” is a poetic celebration of human beings, men and women, who fall in love. How do they think? What do they say? How do they act? You might be able to picture it as the message written in an ancient Valentines card.
And the answer as to why it’s in the Bible is because God wanted it to be. What is his reason? I can think of two. First, Israel was surrounded by pagan religions that involved male and female deities who were very sexual. The passing of the seasons, the sowing of seed in the spring and the harvest of crops in the fall, were all represented in temple rituals that had strong sexual content. Temple prostitutes were often part of these rituals, involving young women in acts that were seen as service to the gods. The Old Testament has harsh words for such beliefs and practices. Maybe “Song of Songs” is in the Bible to put sex in its place, as a natural physical act between a woman and a man in love, with no lofty religious symbolism, as was so corrupting in paganism.
The second possible reason that occurred to me is even more simple and straightforward. Maybe by including this little erotic poem in the Bible God is pronouncing his blessing on sexuality as a good and positive part of life. Society has consistently presented sex as negative and evil, while at the same time being easily preoccupied and titillated by it. “Song of Songs” may be God’s way of reminding us that our sexuality is part of his creation which he pronounced to be good. We’ve just got to learn not to abuse or misuse it.
By the way, if you forgot to buy a card for your Valentine, make a copy of “Song of Songs” and say, “Here’s a poem I wrote just for you.” You may get away with it.
* Entitled “Song of Solomon” in the King James translation and “Canticles” in others.