A Seal on the Heart and Arm
“Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its ashes are ashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD” (v. 6).- Song of Solomon 8:6–7
Ancient Near Eastern peoples marked ownership with seals, which were bits of wax imprinted with an identifying symbol or set of letters. In Palestine, the most common type of seal was made with a stamp pressed into warm, pliable wax. Elsewhere in the region, a cylinder featuring the seal was rolled over the wax. These wax seals commonly appeared on documents as proof of ownership and authenticity.
Whether the seal mentioned in Song of Solomon 8:6–7 is a stamp or a cylinder, the point is the same. The bride is asking for her husband to come into her possession, that he would allow himself to be “owned” by her. We might initially find ourselves hesitant to think in such terms, but there is no hint of coercion, abuse, or selfishness here. She is not forcing him to enter the relationship or imposing herself upon him. He remains free. The kind of ownership she seeks is the mutual ownership described in 1 Corinthians 7:1–5. Ultimately, it is not only that the wife will take authority over her husband’s body, but the husband will likewise have authority over his wife’s body. This is a beautiful reality when it is understood and lived out in the proper manner. It is a selfless ownership wherein each spouse seeks nothing but the good of the other, without any hint of exploitation. Although we, as the bride of Christ, do not take ownership of Him, for He is our Lord and God, the kind of possession described in the Song of Solomon and elsewhere in Scripture is analogous to the kind of possession that Jesus exercises over us. He owns but never abuses or disgraces His bride.
The woman asks to be set as a seal on the heart and arm of her husband, referring to his feelings and attitudes as well as his actions (Song 8:6). Essentially, she wants to be bound not to just a part of him but to all that he is. This is because of the strength of her love and her jealousy for him. Here, jealousy is a positive virtue. We should be jealous for those relationships in which we are to be joined only to one other. God has ordained these relationships, and He calls us to guard and protect them. With respect to human relationships, the love that we have for our spouses is an exclusive kind of love (Ex. 20:14; Matt. 19:4–6). We are not to exercise the same kind of love we have for our husband or wife toward anyone else. There is also an exclusive relationship on the human-divine level. We must love the Lord our God above all else, and not show anyone else the same kind of devotion (Ex. 20:3). If we fail to show the proper love in either relationship, disaster will ensue.
Today’s passage also describes love between husband and wife as the “flame of the Lord.” The covenant name Yahweh does not actually appear in the Hebrew; it is inferred from the -yah ending on the Hebrew word for flame. It is perhaps better translated as this love being a “Godlike flame.” The image conveys intensity, strength, and durability. God’s love for us is deep and enduring. So must our love be for our spouses.
Passages for Further Study