The Thrill of Love
March 5, 2023 Speaker: Ben Janssen Series: The Thrill of Love from the Song of Songs
Scripture: Song of Solomon 5:2– 7:13
2 I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” 3 I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? 4 My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. 5 I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. 6 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. 7 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls. 8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love.
10 I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me. 11 Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields and lodge in the villages; 12 let us go out early to the vineyards and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love. 13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
We’ve been studying the Song of Songs, in a series we’ve entitled The Thrill of Love from the Song of Songs. This is a book about romantic love and its physical expression. But our thesis throughout has been that this book also means to tell us something very important about God’s love. We may be comfortable thinking of God’s love as Father to us as his children, or of God’s love to us as his friends. But if we truly want to know the love of God for us then we also need to know him as, well, as our lover.
On this point it may be that we have been too prudish. While we need to speak about this subject in appropriate ways, we must not avoid it. If the subject seems too intimate, we must press on, allowing it to make us uncomfortable, to let the love of God fully expose us so that we are truly known.
This morning, we turn our attention to Song of Songs 5:2–7:13, a section of the Song that teaches us that this kind of love is gratifying, terrifying, and unifying.
Love Is Gratifying
We begin with Song of Songs 5:2–6:3. In this section of the Song, the female voice speaks first and, as she has done before, she tells us something like a mini-story. And this story demonstrates that intimate love is gratifying.
Open to Love
“I slept,” verse 2 begins, “but my heart was awake.” The image is of the woman in a light or semi-conscious sleep, because she is anticipating something, waiting for it. Her heart is roused as she announces that she has heard “a sound.” She tells us it is the sound of her beloved “knocking,” and as the story progresses, we might imagine a scene in which the man is separated from his lover by a door. The words he speaks in verse 2 are the words as she reports them in her story, and it seems to put him outside in the rain, asking her to let him in out of the elements.
But if you’re suspecting that’s not quite what is going on here, let me just point out that in spite of the knocking (v. 2), the “latch” as the ESV reads in verse 4, and “the handles of the bolt” in verse 5, there is no door mentioned here. There seems to be something else the man wants the woman to open, and it is this motif of opening that is emphasized throughout this passage. The word occurs four times in the Song, three of which are here in verses 2, 5, and 6. The woman does “open” to her beloved, and it is quite clear that she is herself the “door” that is opened. This is, once more, an erotic story.
What does it add to our consideration of erotic love? It seems that there is some sense of disappointment in verse 6, as if the woman opens up to her beloved a bit too late. Verse 3 might be taken as her initial unwillingness to let her beloved in, but verses 4-5 are a bit too explicit for that understanding. Just consider that the word latch in verse 4 is the Hebrew word for a hole, and the word hand is often a euphemism for a different part of the male body. And when the woman says in verse 4 that her now-awakened heart “was thrilled within” her, she is telling us that this is something she very much wants. I take it, then, that verses 2-3 are playful banter between the two lovers. Verses 4-5 suggest their lovemaking and its delights. Our focus, then, comes down to verses 6-7.
Verse 6 can hardly be taken to mean that the man has disappointed the woman in some way. Instead, the poem now takes us in two opposite directions at the same time, like only poetry can do. The woman describes her encounter as an absolute thrill in verse 4. But in verse 6, it’s like she has just missed out on experiencing him. And so, she has to go searching for him again, like she had done before. Put these together, and I think the poem is here asking us to consider the “desire for further gratification.” It’s basically like saying, “I can’t get enough of you!” Happily married couples who are “in love” know that feeling.
And that is the feeling we are meant to have with God, too; for, get this, God feels this way about us. He loves us like this, wanting us to open ourselves to him more and more. And he wants us to desire him like this, wanting him to open himself to us more and more. I find that many Christians today simply do not think of God and our relationship to him like this.
Trouble with Love
As we move in to verse 7, we read again of the “watchmen” in the city. We heard about them in the woman’s story back in chapter 3. But this time, her encounter with them is disturbing. Whatever this verse means to communicate, at the very least we can say, as one commentator puts it, we have here “a forceful reminder of the perils of love.” When it comes to our sexuality and the love that God made us to experience, the trouble comes in many forms and in many ways.
Does this picture suggest sexual abuse? If so, it is speaking to a large audience. About 80% of women and 43% of men in the United States report some experience of sexual harassment or assault in their lifetime. The trouble can begin quite early in life, with an estimated 20% of girls and 5% of boys being victims of sexual abuse. If this is your experience, the Bible acknowledges this. You are seen. And God cares.
Does this picture suggest misogyny based on oppressive cultural expectations for women? It very well may, and I know this is a controversial subject for any society. Christians would do well to enter that conversation humbly, being ready always to admit any sin where we have held to some traditional understanding of gender rather than a thoroughly biblical one. As Christians, that conversation needs to take place even within our own congregations. Brothers and sisters, let us resist any form of misogyny here at Crosstown. Brothers, our sisters here must know and must feel that they are truly heirs with us in the grace of life (1 Pet 3:7).
Does this picture suggest trouble with intimacy that many married couples experience? It sure can, and many of us need to seek out help—probably even professional help—because this really does matter.
Whatever the trouble may be, as we read on, we see that the woman is not deterred by it. She does not give up on love and intimacy, and neither should we. The chorus speaks in verse 9, essentially asking if the woman’s “beloved” is worth all the trouble. What follows is the woman’s answer in verses 10-16 as she begins to praise her lover. And when we get to chapter 6, and the chorus asks, “Where has your beloved gone?” the woman is able to answer with assurance in verse 2. They have helped her conjure him up through praising his physical charms. And now she is reminded again that intimate love is worth the trouble.
And so it is with God. Some of us have given up, or are about to give up, because you’ve forgotten what is so special about him that he is worth the trouble. It’s one of the reasons we need to be led to praise, to worship, so that we can have brought to our mind again and again that he is right here beside us, and has been so all along. And his love for us is gratifying.
Love Is Terrifying
We come to Song of Songs 6:4 where the male voice begins to speak, and for the most part the voice is his all the way through verse 9 in chapter 7. As he did in his last monologue in chapter 4, he mostly speaks about his fascination with the woman’s body. As he does so, we get the sense that love is not only gratifying. It is also terrifying, not in an awful way that is revolting but in an awesome way that is captivating.
He begins by comparing the woman’s beauty to the cities of Tirzah and Jerusalem. Tirzah was the initial capital city of the northern kingdom of Israel, just as Jerusalem was the capital city of the southern kingdom. One reason Tirzah must have been chosen as the capital is because of its natural beauty. The Hebrew word means “pleasure” or “beauty.” So Tirzah, along with the beloved city of Jerusalem, are apt analogies for the man to use as he expresses his delight in the woman’s beauty.
As the man praises the woman’s physical beauty, he once again speaks of the various parts of her body. First, he praises her eyes, hair, teeth, and cheeks. He resumes in chapter 7, beginning with her feet and working his way up, enamored by her entire physical appearance. Much of what he says here he has said before, but I draw your attention to some additional details in these descriptions.
For example, in Song 6:4, he moves from the image of the capital cities as being lovely to the fact that, as capital cities, they are also the seat of government with all its power. The woman is not only beautiful like Tirzah and Jerusalem, she is also “awesome as an army with banners.” You will notice that this phrase occurs again in verse 10, bookmarking this section. And in verse 10, instead of comparing the woman to the royal cities, he compares her to the beauty of the moon and the brightness of the sun. Is the moon beautiful? Yes, but in an awesome way, being, like the sun at daytime, the brightest object in the night sky.
This is what the woman’s beauty is to the man, and he wants her to know it. And so, in verse 5, when he begins to describe her physical features, he tells her to “turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me.” The word used here is difficult to define. It occurs only three other times in the Old Testament (Psa 138:3; Prov 6:3; Isa 3:5), and each time the ESV translates it with a different English word. The context here makes it plain that the man is saying something like being excited to the point that he loses control of himself. She is just too much for him. He tells her to look away, though of course what he really wants is just the opposite.
Go and Come Back
In verse 4, he compared the woman’s awesome beauty to royal cities; in verse 8, he speaks of royal courts. “Sixty queens, eighty concubines, and virgins without number.” If there is anywhere one might look to find the most desirable women in those days, it would be in a royal palace. These were the ancient equivalents of beauty pageants. But the man says of his love, in verse 9, that she is “the only one.” She stands out to him, not only for her beauty, though she is certainly beautiful. But hers is an awesome beauty, “pure,” as verse 9 says. She is much, much more than the sum of all her parts. All the other women in the palace concede the point in verse 9, calling her “blessed.” The whole picture communicates to us that in the eyes of her beloved, the woman is the undisputable attraction, a beauty of body and soul so powerful that she inspires, by her very presence, the kind of awe, wonder, and reverence as the moon and the sun do.
In verse 11, I think the voice is the woman’s. She has gone “down to the nut orchard” and looks at the “blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines have budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom.” These are certainly erotic images; intimacy is implied. Verse 12 is one of the most difficult parts of the entire Song to interpret, which is why the English versions will read very differently from one another. The clearest thing to be said about it is that there is some kind of strong passion that practically transports her to be with her lover again.
This certainly is what he wants. I take verse 13 to be his voice again, calling her back to him so that he can resume looking at her and describing what he sees, which is what we find in chapter 7. He calls her “the Shulammite” which is not her proper name but a wordplay on Solomon, both words being derived from the Hebrew word shalom which means not just “peace” but “wholeness” or “perfection.” When you encounter shalom, it is overpowering. Its awesomeness is such that you have to look away but only so that you can come back again and again.
A Glimpse of God
So, as the man begins to praise the woman’s features again in chapter 7, it is his way of having her appear before us once more. As she had done for him, praising his value to her in chapter 5 (where she compares him to gold and other precious jewels), so he does with her, praising her overpowering beauty. She is “beautiful,” verse 6 says, and “pleasant,” full of “delights.” So, she and the love she represents, is also worth the trouble, described in verse 8 like having to find a way to get to the top of a palm tree to enjoy its fruit.
Both lovers have described for us the thrill of love in a way that gives us a glimpse of God himself. In the Bible, whenever God appears, in what we refer to as a theophany, the result is the same: terror and dread, but also an overpowering sense of wonder and awe. If you cannot relate to that, then it may well be that what you have not yet come to understand is the terrifyingly awesome love of God.
Love Is Unifying
And we really must understand it. We must come to know it. Your salvation depends on it. Because to be saved does not mean to simply have your sins forgiven, for God to not be angry with you. It means to be united to him. To be married to him. You see, love is not only gratifying and terrifying, but it is also unifying. It puts all the broken pieces back together. It brings peace and wholeness. It brings shalom. It brings salvation.
When the woman speaks at the end of chapter 7, in verse 10, she speaks of this shalom when she says, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” It’s similar to what she said in 2:16 and 6:3, but there she said, “I am his and he is mine.” This time she speaks of his desire for her. And that’s important, because the word used here is used only two other times in the Bible, in Genesis 3:16 and Genesis 4:7. In those two places, “desire” is used to speak of the brokenness of the world, first in the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage. The woman’s “desire” will be toward her husband but he will rule over her.” And then in Genesis 4:7, God tells Cain that sin’s “desire” will be toward him, but he must rule over it.
Here, when the woman says, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me,” she is describing the world made right, when two lovers find delight in one another, when they desire one another in ways that are mutually edifying and thrilling. When desires are right and there is mutual enjoyment—that is salvation. That is love that is pure. That is a power that unifies and does not separate.
Freely Given, Thankfully Received
In verses 11-12, the woman invites her beloved to the vineyards. “There I will give you my love,” she says. No compulsion. No demand. She gives freely. And the man, presumably, receives thankfully. That is love in its purest form. Love in its purest form is a gift, given freely, and received thankfully.
New as Well as Old
Then, in verse 13, the picture that is painted before us is one in which, “the whole spectrum of delights” is laid before us, delights “known to lovers who appreciate how new the familiar can be.” It reminds me of the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 13:52. “Therefore, every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven, is like a master of a house who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.” The promise of the kingdom of God is the promise of a love that takes the familiar, what is old, and transforms it until it is radically new.
It’s what God has promised to do. To make all things new is not to scrap the old and throw it away and start from scratch. Unfortunately, many Christians have thought that is what the promise of the Bible is, a doing away with the world and moving on to some disembodied heaven. No! The promise of the kingdom of God is the promise in which God will take the old and make it new.
That, brothers and sisters, is the thrill of the love of God. God is going to take your familiar body and make it new. God out of sheer love is going to take a world that you have lived in and resurrect it, making it new. What a thrill it is to know this love, the love of God in Christ for his own.
 J. Cheryl Exum, The Song of Songs: A Commentary, The Old Testament Library, ed. William P. Brown, Carol A. Newsom, and David L. Petersen (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2005), 189.
 See the report at the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, www.nsvrc.org/resource/facts-behind-metoo-movement-national-study-sexual-harassment-and-assault, accessed March 5, 2023.
 According to the National Center for Victims of Crime, www.victimsofcrime.org/child-sexual-abuse-statistics, accessed March 5, 2023.
 Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and Charles A. Briggs, The Enhanced Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1977), 953.
 Duane Garrett, “Song of Songs,” in Song of Songs, Lamentations, Word Biblical Commentary 23B, ed. Bruce M. Metzger, David A. Hubbard, and Glenn W. Barker (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 228.
 Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, ed. Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2001), 185.
 Exum, Song of Songs, 226.
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