Be Drunk with Love
Scripture: Song of Solomon 4:1– 5:1
7 You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. 8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards. 9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! 11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. 12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. 13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices— 15 a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. 16 Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. 5:1 I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!
The Bible tells the greatest love story. I wish we Christians were known for believing the Bible to be just that and telling it like it is. When the Bible says that God is love, it is telling us of one of the most supreme realities, a reality that makes the world even exist. The Bible tells the story of creation and new creation all coming about because of the great love of God. In this passage in the Song of Songs, we hear predominantly the male voice speaking, giving us his perspective on romantic love and its physical expression. As we listen, we are led to notice the lover’s gaze, the lover’s power, and the lover’s paradise.
The Lover’s Gaze
In Song of Songs 4:1, the male voice speaks and continues his speech through most of the chapter. We begin with verses 1-7, which begin and end with his declaration to his lover: “you are beautiful.” In between, he gets specific about her beauty as he gazes at her, describing in simile and metaphor the woman’s eyes, hair, teeth, lips, mouth, cheeks, neck, and breasts.
See What I See
We are not surprised to read here of a man praising the physical features of the woman he loves. Again, it is not just the natural response but the intended consummation of his delight in her. He simply has to say something since he is so taken by her appearance.
Now, as we read through these verses, we find it difficult to understand many if not most of the comparisons. In what way are her eyes like doves or her hair “like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead?” Unless you are quite acquainted with doves and unless you’ve watched a flock of goats skipping down some particular Israelite mountain, it will surely be difficult for us to see what the man sees. But we can at least appreciate some of the artistic features. Perhaps we are meant to see vivid colors in the poetry: the deep black of the goats (v. 1), the sparkling white implied by the washing in verse 2, the scarlet red envisioned in verse 3.
At any rate, the male speaker has been looking at his love. He’s been staring at her. He’s been looking long and hard. He’s been gazing. She has caught his attention. And he knows the features of the woman’s body well enough that he can paint quite a picture with his words.
And he’s doing this, not only because he just has to, in the same way we all have to praise what it is we find delight in. He’s also doing this because he wants his love to see herself through his eyes and to also appreciate and to participate with him in her beauty. How, exactly, might she do that? She is able to acknowledge her own beauty, as we saw back in Song 1:5. But she is also somewhat self-conscious and embarrassed by her flaws. “I am very dark, but lovely,” she said there, “Do not gaze at me because I am dark.”
But, if only she could see herself through the eyes of her lover, who sums up her beauty like this, in verse 7. “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.” Now is that true or false? Is the man simply blinded by love so he can’t see the imperfections that she sees in herself?
Looking Through the Veil
Here let me point out an interesting feature of the man’s gaze. Twice he praises the woman’s beauty, her eyes and her cheeks, as seen behind her veil (vv. 1, 3). Whatever else we might guess about the significance of the veil, one thing seems clear. The veil must not be opaque. The man is able to see her features through the veil. In fact, the veil, it seems, does not diminish the man’s delight, but serves to heighten it. While in some way concealing the woman’s beauty, the veil at the same time increases the man’s impression of her beauty. The veil is revealing and at the same time concealing, and this only increases the man’s excitement to gaze at her beauty all the more.
In other words, the veil—and here we need not concern ourselves with the precise meaning of it—the veil signifies the mystery of this woman whom the man sees as a rare beauty. He sees enough of her to know how beautiful she is. But her beauty that he can see only increases his desire to see even more of her beauty. The veil makes one want to look behind the veil. Surely there is more here to be seen, and more here in which to take delight.
The Beauty of the Person
But we are here on dangerous ground. The gaze at the woman—especially the male gaze—is something we might either find to be objectifying or pornographic. But it doesn’t have to be that way, and surely The Song invites us to see it a different way.
In her commentary on the Song of Songs, Cheryl Exum explains the difference between the voyeuristic gaze and the erotic gaze. Voyeurism intrudes upon what is seen; eroticism participates in what is seen. She says,
The look is objectifying when the one seen is expected to reveal intimate secrets and to become fully accessible to a viewer who remains invisible and inaccessible. But this is not what happens in the Song, where the erotic look preserves the mystery, the otherness, of the other through figuration. Not only is looking reciprocal but, when the man looks at the woman, he participates in what is seen. He always puts himself in the picture. . . . Neither lover constructs the other without being affected themselves—without becoming part of the story or entering the picture.
And as for us, the audience for The Song, the use of metaphor is the poet’s way of “managing the reader’s gaze” by keeping the lover’s bodies clothed in metaphor.
The Song does not cross any boundaries into the profane, but it does invite us to consider just where those boundaries are. It does not challenge the biblical sexual ethic made plain in the rest of Scripture. What it does do is invite us to explore the experience of eroticism as something meant to tell us about the nature of the God who is love.
As uncomfortable as the gaze could be, as dangerous as the gaze of objectification truly is, where we find true love, we must encounter the disarming gaze of the lover.
The Lover’s Power
We look next at verses 8-11, because these verses are framed by references to Lebanon. Lebanon is mentioned again in verse 15, but the next section is framed by another reference. Here we turn from the lover’s gaze to the lover’s power.
The Mystique of Lebanon
Lying just to the north of the land of Israel is the land of Lebanon. What matters most for the reading of the Song is the understanding that Lebanon represents “a far-off, almost magical place” that was “legendarily associated with Solomon.” It takes on in the Song a “quasi-mythical status” inviting our imagination and heightening our senses. Globalization in our day makes such use of geography somewhat obsolete. Still, there’s a sense of it in the experience of actually going somewhere you’ve always longed to visit, like a young girl seeing the Magic Kingdom or, for me, when I was a young boy, walking into the Astrodome to see a baseball game there.
But Lebanon is not the place the man wishes to visit with his lover. It is more like the woman’s homeland, the place he wants her to leave in order to come to him. In other words, he is describing his love as someone who hails from a magical, far-off place, increasing her own mysterious legend.
Similarly, the man tells her to depart from the peak of Amana, Senir, and Hermon. But let’s not get too granular in our analysis here. “This,” says Exum, is the geography of the imagination” and not some “travel itinerary.” The man is still describing his lover, but he’s not describing her features as much as her power, her power over him. She is a breathtaking beauty, to be sure, but she is also a powerful presence, a force to be reckoned with. She is mesmerizing.
A Dangerous Beauty
This comes through at the end of verse 8. The woman hails from the magical land of Lebanon, which is further described as “the dens of lions” and “the mountains” or possibly, lairs, of leopards. This is, once more, how the man perceives her. What do you feel when you think of a lions’ den or a lair of leopards? You think that this is a place you can’t just mosey about. It’s a dangerous place, but it’s also an awesome place. We approach it only through the veil of a camera, like watching the grizzly bears feast on salmon during Fat Bear Week. We’re looking at a creature who can destroy you in a heartbeat.
This is how the man sees his lover. She is beautiful, but not like a harmless sight in the distance. This is a beaty that is also powerful and dangerous. Here is a beauty that can delight you to be sure, but it can also destroy you. And yet,
The danger he senses is exciting, the thrill of attraction to another person so intense that one both passionately wants to lose one’s self (itself an exceedingly revealing metaphor) and is in danger of doing so.
How shall we describe this kind of feeling? The man does his best in verse 9 when he says, “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace.” What he describes here is done by taking the word heart and making it into an intensive verb: “you have heartened me.” The Greek (LXX) translation is “you have encouraged me,” but surely it is not mere encouragement the man is saying the woman has done to him. He’s saying that the woman has grabbed hold of his heart. The NIV reads, “you have stolen my heart.” In the society of the day, this is a really big deal, a power that takes down the male figure, all with a simple glance of the eye or a sparkle of the necklace. For a man to say he has been conquered is to admit defeat, to recognize the presence of a greater power. But it’s also a welcome defeat. I quote again from Exum,
If someone steals your money, you may feel wronged, but to say your heart has been stolen is a far cry from a complaint. Having your heart stolen does not deprive you of anything; on the contrary, it enriches you with a feeling of euphoria. No one can steal your heart if you are not willing. The man is more than willing; he is enflamed with desire and his feelings overwhelm him. It takes only a glance from his beloved, only a fleeting glimpse of the sparkle of a pendant on her necklace to excite him.
When we get to verse 10, the man responds to the love of the woman in words similar to how she responded to his love in chapter 1, verse 2. Her love is beautiful, better than wine.
What does it mean for the love of another to be beautiful? The comparison to wine means we are not concentrated here on appearance but on effect. Later in verse 10, he speaks of her fragrance, and in verse 11, he speaks of things one tastes, like honey and milk. These types of metaphors paint a picture, but it is one that speaks to action—lovemaking—rather than appearance. In other words, to speak of love here as beautiful is not to stand at some distance and stare, but to participate. And, having participated, to then describe the effect this lovemaking has had on you. It is beautiful, not only because of the appearance, but also because of the effect. It is a powerful, dominating effect. It is a power that takes control over you.
The Lover’s Paradise
By the time we get to verse 12, if we are listening carefully, we get the sense that we may have reached the summit of the Song of Songs. We have reached the climax, the moment of consummation. We have reached, quite literally, the lover’s paradise.
The man refers to the woman as a garden, a spring, a fountain. The images are meant to go together in order to visualize a well-watered, luscious garden. He lingers for the next three verses over the description of this garden. The only problem is the garden is locked and sealed, but in verse 16 the woman speaks and invites her beloved into the garden to eat its fruit. One can hardly miss the innuendo of these verses, but what we do seem to miss, especially in the world we inhabit today, is the distinction between erotic love and sex.
You may have noticed that the man has used several terms of endearment throughout the chapter. In addition to calling the woman his “love,” he calls her his bride and his sister. It is well established that “sister” was a common term of endearment for intimate couples in the ancient Near East and should not be taken to refer to some sort of incestuous relationship. But there’s no reason not to take the term bride at face value and understand that the erotic imagery is situated within the context of a marriage between a man and a woman. This is, of course, the basic Christian sexual ethic. As regressive as society today may see it, the insistence that sex is to be reserved for heterosexual married couples is meant to maximize pleasure and mutual delight. It is meant to point us back to paradise.
C. S. Lewis made an important observation here when he pointed out that distinction between sexuality and erotic love. The two are not the same and sex can take place with or without eros. You don’t have to be “in love” to have sex. But there’s a huge point to be underscored here. Lewis writes, “Sexual desire, without Eros, wants it, the thing in itself; Eros wants the Beloved.” He adds,
The thing is a sensory pleasure; that is, an event occurring within one’s own body. We use a most unfortunate idiom when we say, of a lustful man prowling the streets, that he ‘wants a woman’. Strictly speaking, a woman is just what he does not want. He wants a pleasure for which a woman happens to be the necessary piece of apparatus. How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).
If only we could see that even here in the Song, especially here in the Song, the pleasure that is being commended to us is one that simply must be reserved for marriage as God has defined it. And one of the reasons for this is because what makes sex a “paradise” is the real possession of the other, the certainty that “I am his and he is mine” (Song of Songs 2:16). This is the love that “makes a man really want,” Lewis says, “not a woman, but one particular woman. In some mysterious but quite indisputable fashion the lover desires the Beloved herself, not the pleasure she can give.”
With Me in Paradise
Of course, there are real pleasures here, pleasures that God delights to give us, but to fully taste of the pleasures, we need love. We need the other, fully, entirely. Here’s Lewis, one more time,
Without Eros sexual desire, like every other desire, is a fact about ourselves. Within Eros it is rather about the Beloved. It becomes almost a mode of perception, entirely a mode of expression. It feels objective; something outside us, in the real world. That is why Eros, though the king of pleasures, always (at his height) has the air of regarding pleasure as a by-product. . . . [Because] [O]ne of the first things Eros does is to obliterate the distinction between giving and receiving.
Within a marriage relationship, the height of sexual pleasure is found when it is difficult to determine who is giving and who is receiving. At that moment, there is a hint of paradise. In fact, the word orchard in verse 13 is the rare Hebrew word pardes from which we get the English word paradise. It refers to a pleasure garden, and all the plants with their fragrances that are described here are intended for pleasure.
But the pleasure is found in the sharing of that pleasure with another in intimate union. Remember what Jesus said to the thief on the cross? He did not just say, “Today you will be in paradise,” but, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
Don’t Be Drunk with Wine
Which is why marriage can be a picture for all of us to see what God intends to give us within our union with Christ. Not only is there a blurring here between giving and receiving; there is also a blurring between the person and the pleasure. The man has described the woman as a garden, but her interjection in the second half of verse 16 is important in “reestablishing the dialogue format, which is essential to the Song’s distinctive version of love, in which eroticism is shared.”
Is the woman the source of the man’s pleasures? Absolutely. He can’t have the pleasure he truly craves without her. But, more fundamentally, she is the man’s pleasure.
And so it is with God. The Bible is telling us a love story in which God intends to share with us ten thousand joys, and even more. But he not only is the source of these joys. He is the joy! So, in the mystical union we have in Christ, God has so united us to himself that we can, even now, begin to taste of the joys of eternity.
At the end of our passage, we find the chorus celebrating the love of this eternal union. “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” Did you know the Bible commands us to be drunk? Indeed, to be drunk with something far more sensuous, far more intoxicating than wine? The Proverbs urge married men to be “intoxicated always” in the love of their spouse (Prov 5:19). The whole story-line of the Bible is the summons to come and be intoxicated with the love of God in Jesus Christ.
The New Testament says it this way: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). The result of such filling is the joy of a merry heart, filled with songs of thanksgiving, and spreading this love to one another in all our relationships, as the rest of Ephesians 5 goes on to explain.
It truly is the greatest love story ever told. May we who find ourselves taken up into it have the courage to tell it like it is.
 C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (San Francisco: HarperOne, 2017), 120-21.
 Ibid., 121.
 Ibid., 122-23.