The Song of Solomon is often misunderstood in our modern culture. Although Americans think of themselves as enlightened, what that often means is that we are an over-sexualized society. Sometimes we obsess about sex. Many of us chase after it. Sometimes we become addicted to it. Few people want to be limited by the boundaries set for sexual intercourse by the Lord.
When people in our over-sexualized society read the Song of Solomon, we often read into it modern sexual ideas. Many people think of it as a dirty book. Some of the images are interpreted in a smutty way. Pious Christians may have trouble figuring out why this book is in the Bible.
To be sure, there are sexual themes here, but not in the dirty and shameful way our society treats sexuality. The Lord is the Creator of sexuality. He made man and woman. He designed our bodies in such a way that husband and wife can take pleasure and delight in one another.
The beauty of human sexuality becomes shameful only when we sinners distort or twist it. Our sinfulness makes it wrong, not the gift itself. Husband and wife need not feel shame in the pleasures they enjoy with one another.
This is what we see in King Solomon and his wife, called the Shulammite in our text. She is likely the same person as Abishag the Shunammite mentioned elsewhere in the Bible.
We might scoff at Solomon delighting in his wife, since he had a thousand wives. In our text, he had only gotten around to sixty queens and eighty concubines so far. Still, that is a tremendous number.
Yet the queens and concubines praise her, and all the young women call her blessed. Solomon says that she is his dove, his perfect one, the only one. The Shulammite is unique among his wives. She stands out, even in comparison with hundreds of other women.
The women calling her blessed might remind us of the words of Elizabeth when she called the virgin Mary blessed among women. The special favor of the Lord rested upon her. There were many pious women in Mary’s day, indeed, many in the Church throughout history. But Mary stood out among them, since she had the unique gift of being the mother of our Lord.
Similarly, the Shulammite stood out among hundreds. The special favor of Solomon was for her, not the others. Although we do not excuse Solomon’s rampant multiplication of wives, yet he shows true husbandly devotion to the Shulammite.
He later calls her a noble daughter. This is to say, a princely woman, not literally a daughter of Solomon, of course. The phrase is used much the same as when it says, “The daughter of Zion.” The phrase describes women or the whole people who were faithful to their Lord. Obviously, they were not literally children of Zion, which is a place, not a person. But it is a figure of speech. This picturesque metaphor hints at another meaning of the bride of Solomon: She also represents the true Israelites who held to the promises of God. These faithful ones are the beautiful bride prepared for her husband, the Church.
This is also seen in Solomon’s odd expression of almost fearful amazement toward her. He says, “Who is this who look down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?”
His description of his wife is in terms similar to the way the Church is described in Revelation twelve: “A woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” This language describes a glorious and awesome woman, full of beauty and majesty in almost divine terms. God is described as being bright as the sun, whereas she is clothed with it. So both the woman in Revelation and the Shulammite in Song of Solomon hint at the glory of God that clothes His people.
The Church is an awesome sight if we could see her properly. One day the revelation of the sons of God will dazzle the cosmos, which waits eagerly for us to be unveiled in the glory with which Christ has clothed us.
So we see a most interesting thing: Christ marvels at the awesome glory of His Bride, the Church. In the same way, Solomon marveled at his bride. Solomon had provided clothing and jewelry to adorn his beloved. Yet even he who provided the adornment is amazed at the appearance of his bride. In the same way Christ delights in how beautiful His Church is, clothed in the splendor of His glory. He has provided her with His holiness so that she shines out with the divine glory of God’s Son.
Of course, we should not too narrowly interpret the Song of Solomon as if it were only about Christ and the Church. We might strenuously interpret details to see the Shulammite as the Church: She is described with metaphors of wine and bread, which may hint at the Lord’s Supper. She is described with thighs like jewels, similar to the jeweled foundations of the New Jerusalem in Revelation. Her eyes are pools of water, perhaps anticipating Baptism. Her nose and neck are like towers, perhaps hinting at the watchmen of the Holy Ministry.
I do not want to say that these things cannot be true. The Lord of time and history wrote these words through the pen of Solomon, so He surely can anticipate things that are in the future.
But we should also not forget that Solomon and the Shulammite were real historical figures. They enjoyed the wonderful blessings that God gave them in the vocation of Holy Matrimony. This blessed estate is wonderful and glorious in itself. We should not lose sight of that, but rather hold onto the great joy and honor given to husband and wife by our loving Creator.
The same God kindle in us a love and appreciation for the estate of marriage, that we may respect it and live our lives in purity and decency.
In the Name of the Bridegroom of the Church, David’s Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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