We’ve been asking people to share favorite Bible verses that have helped carry them through these difficult months of adjustment to the pandemic threat we’re dealing with, and we’ll begin using some of these in our new sermon series. They’ve come from all over the Bible: the Old Testament Books of Moses, the Psalms, the Prophets, the New testament Gospels and Epistles. I was pretty confident we wouldn’t hear of a favorite verse of comfort from the Book known as the Song of Solomon, and then someone surprised me with this:
“His banner over me is love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)
Before I explain to you why I think this verse is a good choice, let me share a little background on this unique Biblical Book. If you haven’t read it, you should right now! It’s basically a love poem, and it’s not even PG; some parts are downright racy. Every first-time reader wonders how it became part of our Bible. Well, the answer is that it early became identified with the name of King Solomon, Israel’s second king, famous for his wisdom, his riches and his thousand wives. It was actually written generations after Solomon, but it came to be seen as part of the group of “Writings,” or Wisdom Literature that also included Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The ancient Hebrew scholars gave it the title Song of Songs, meaning the finest song ever written. It was recognized as excellent love poetry. But in the Second Century before Christ, when the leading Rabbis of the day decreed that it would officially be part of the Bible, they interpreted the erotic portions allegorically, applying them to the love God has for his people Israel. It was considered sinful to interpret the sexual passages in a literal way. In fact, Rabbi Akiva, a scholar who lived soon after Jesus, wrote, “He who sings the Song of Songs in wine taverns, treating it as if it were a vulgar song, forfeits his share in the world to come.”
Early Christian teachers adopted the allegorical interpretations from the Jews, changing the symbolic lovers to Christ and his “Bride,” the Church. Over the centuries of Church history, this was the prevailing view. However, some young readers always seemed to find enjoyment in visualizing the more literal images, causing Third Century Church leader Origen to warn young scholars not to read the Song of Songs until they have “gotten rid of vexations of the flesh and blood” and have “ceased to feel the passions of this bodily nature.”
Many conservative Christians still insist on a totally-allegorical interpretation of the Book, but most modern Bible teachers and students find great value in the Book’s openness about sex and sexuality. It helps us to read other parts of the Bible in a more honest way, where we’re able to discover a more realistic acceptance of this part of our humanity than our Victorian great-grandparents would allow. if you want to discover the Song of Songs for yourself, please use a modern translation, rather than being confused by outdated words and phrases in the King James Version. Also, I recommend the helpful outline and explanation you’ll find here.
Now for a word about the verse in the image above:
“His banner over me is love.”
The setting in Song of Solomon 2:4 is a “banqueting-house,” where the young suitor lavishes a rich feast on the object of his desire. This may or may not be a wedding banquet, but it sure is some party! He even has prepared a bold sign (banner) over her seat at the table which makes his motivation clear; it simply says, “LOVE.” That’s all he feels in this magic moment, passionate, erotic, whole-hearted love.
Women, did your husband make you feel that way on your wedding night? Does he hold the same banner over you every night since? I don’t know whether any husband can keep up that pace. Sometimes a man may be a little too conscious of his wife’s beauty; the original banner he held up was “TROPHY,” and recently she may not polish up the way she once did. In many marriages the man’s favorite banner seems to be “AUTHORITY,” and when she questions it, he feels threatened and thinks he needs to display who’s boss, maybe even with physical abuse.
Men, we’re also pretty sensitive about the banners our wives put up over us. “LOVE” makes us feel warm and fuzzy all over. Sometimes our lover may put up a banner that reads “KING” or SUPERSTUD,” thinking that’s what we want. But then when we feel our banner display has been reduced to “INADEQUATE” or “DISAPPOINTMENT,” it can knock the stuffing out of us and tear down our self-confidence. We all have great power in the lives of the people who love us.
Now, if we apply this allegorically to our relationship with God, we have a wonderful reassurance that God’s banner over us doesn’t change with the circumstances. His banner over us could easily be “JUDGMENT,” because we’ve failed him in many ways. Even “SOVEREIGNTY” or “LORDSHIP” might seem to be more fitting identifying banners. But he has placed his banner firmly, and it is “LOVE,” no matter what our circumstances may be, no matter who else may demean us or let us down. God is not fickle — his banner over us is “LOVE”; for now and for eternity.
– Pastor George Van Alstine