Marriage, Love, and Sex

My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains” (vv. 16–17).

- Song of Solomon 2:8–17

Like the books of Ecclesiastes and Esther, the Song of Solomon never uses the covenant name for God, Yahweh. This fact has led to some questions regarding the placement of this book in the biblical canon. Its presentation of sex and sensuality has also confounded some commentators, with the result that throughout history, the book has often been read as an allegory of the relationship between God and Israel, between Christ and His church. As we will see, there are appropriate ways of discerning such allusions in the Song of Solomon. The book points beyond itself to our need for the Lord. Yet to understand this piece of wisdom literature rightly, we must begin with its literal sense, and this work clearly celebrates marriage, love, and sex. This should not concern us in the least. After all, God Himself created humanity as male and female, each to delight the other. He gave His benediction to the sexual relationship between husband and wife when He commanded them to be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:27–28; 2:18–25).

Seeing the sensual and sexual imagery in the Song of Solomon has led some teachers in recent years to present this work as almost a “how to” book regarding lovemaking for husbands and wives. This should give us pause as well. The book does refer to human sexuality, but the fact that it uses complex imagery shows the desire of the author, who is traditionally identified as Solomon (Song 1:1), to be discreet.

Many of the images in the Song of Solomon seem foreign to us, but they were quite meaningful to the original audience. In today’s passage, for example, the bride compares her husband to a “gazelle” or a “young stag” leaping over mountains and hills (Song 2:8–9). The ancient Israelites would have been familiar with such a sight, and these animals were associated with masculine virility in that culture. The woman praises the strength and sensuality of her husband, especially as he will stop at nothing to be with her. Like a gazelle or stag that will not allow mountains and hills to stand in its way, the man overcomes every obstacle to cultivate intimacy with his wife.

Song of Solomon 2:16–17 describes the husband and wife as they come together sexually and enjoy one another. What is particularly notable is that the woman declares that she belongs to her husband and that the man belongs to his wife. Having come together as one flesh, each has surrendered to the other (1 Cor. 7:1–5).

Coram Deo

As Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:1–5, the husband does not have authority over his body, but his wife does. Similarly, the wife does not have authority over her body, but her husband does. This authority is to be exercised in a loving way, just as Christ exercises loving authority over His bride, the church (Eph. 5:25). The marriage bed must not be a place of abuse or demands; rather, it is a place for intimacy that reflects self-giving love (Heb. 13:4).

Passages for Further Study

Proverbs 5:15–19
Song 4:1–16; 5:10–16; 6:2–10
Hebrews 13:4

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