Yes, this is about sex. Mom, Dad, Grandma… you’ve been warned. 😉
When I was a kid in youth group, we would often sing this chorus:
His banner over me is love!!
His banner over me (clap, clap)
His banner over you (clap, clap)
His banner over us (clap, clap)
Is Love Love Love!
I didn’t know why God would put a banner over us, or what it meant to have a banner over me, but hey, it was love so it was all good, right?
Fast forward seven or eight years and I’m studying Song of Songs for my Old Testament Wisdom and Poetry class. Imagine my discomfort (and nervous laughter) as I realize that the line I sang at Bible camp is smack in the middle of an erotic love poem describing a woman’s sexual relationship with her husband (Song of Songs 2:4).
Having been taught by Christians leaders…
- That sexual desire outside of marriage is wrong
- That I must not make a guy stumble by wearing spaghetti strap tank tops
- That sex in marriage is good, but it’s not okay to talk about it “too much”
…I could not believe that an entire book of the Bible was made up of poems celebrating the joy of sex.
I felt myself breath a sigh of relief.
For centuries, Christians have been trying to explain away the imagery and the sexual nature of Song of Songs. They have allegorized it to be about God and his people, Jesus and the church.
But there is no indication within Song of Songs that the intention of the book was to be an allegory of God’s love for His people. Yes, the Bible does talk about Jesus as the groom and the church is the bride of Christ. That is not found here. In fact, the song (the title means “The Greatest Song”) falls more in line with erotic love poetry of the Ancient Near East than any hymn about God or His love (I don’t know about you. But I think it would be weird if Jesus was talking about the breasts of the church. (see 1:13; 4:5; 7:3,7,8; 8:1,10)).
In Song of Songs we have a celebration of the sexual relationship God has given to us to enjoy.
The imagery is active. There are lengthy descriptions of the woman’s (the Beloved’s) and man’s (the Lover’s) bodies and all of their beauty and delight (4:1-7; 5:10-16; 7:1-9). We read how the Beloved longs for her Lover and her body responds to his presence in anticipation of his embrace (5:2-5). We read how the taste of their mouths and the touch of their bodies fulfill their desires for one another.
For the first time in the Bible, we read that sex is good and it is good to have it.
When I learned all of this, my husband and I were nearly engaged and I had a longing for him that I felt was wrong.
But in Song of Songs, I read a woman’s expression of her physical passion for her Lover. For the first time, I experienced an affirmation of the sexuality of women and the joy that good marital sex can bring.
When Tim and I got married, we realized that just like any part of marriage, the sexual relationship would take work. Let’s just say that our first experiences of sex didn’t live up to our expectations. But the nice thing about that is it’s only gotten better over time. Our sex life has grown as we have grown. We have learned to communicate our wants and needs. We are still learning and exploring and enjoying each other.
And, like the Beloved longs for her Lover who is not there (3:1-5; 5:2-8), we have experienced times when we have missed each other. When one is interested and the other isn’t. When one is traveling and the other is home – then what? I find Song of Songs relatable and healing in a world that describes sex as an ideal that must be perfect for it to be good.
Most of all, I am in awe of this beautiful act we get to do. An activity that I have only done with him and he has only done with me. No one else can touch me like he does. I am the only one who can embrace him.
Like the Beloved,
Let him lead me to the banquet hall, and let his banner over me be love.
Strengthen me with raisins, refresh me with apples, for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.Song of Songs 2:3-6