‘A Love As Strong As Death’
“Love is as strong as death is . . . Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah.”—Song of Sol. 8:6.
1, 2. How did the first marriage come about, and why would the husband and wife cling to each other?
IT WAS their happy wedding day. And it took place in paradise. What could be more joyful? Jehovah had caused the first man, Adam, to fall into a deep sleep. Then God had taken one of the man’s ribs, had closed up the wound and had used the rib as a base in forming the first woman.
2 When that perfect, beautiful helper and complement was brought to Adam, he was delighted—but not beyond words. So moved was he that he broke out in poetic expression, saying: “This is at last bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called Woman, because from man this one was taken.” (Gen. 2:20-23) We are not told how the woman felt on that wedding day, although later it was said of the sinful and imperfect wife: “Your craving will be for your husband.” (Gen. 3:16) So, surely in her perfection the first woman, Eve, must have been pleased with her mate. Because she was taken from the man’s very body, they would cling to each other. As God put matters: “That is why a man will leave his father and his mother and he must stick to his wife and they must become one flesh.”—Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4, 5.
3. Why was marriage not merely a formal arrangement devoid of emotion?
3 Marriage, instituted by the Creator in the garden of Eden, was designed as a permanent bond of union. It provided for companionship and mutual help, and its basic purpose—reproducing and nurturing members of the human family—was a delightful prospect. (Gen. 1:27, 28; Matt. 19:6-9) But marriage was not to be merely some formal arrangement devoid of emotion. Humans were created with the capacity to express love—in the case of wedlock, the deep affection for a person of the opposite sex that constitutes the emotional incentive to matrimonial union, as well as the warm attachment that solidifies a family.
4. In view of today’s marital problems, what questions might be asked regarding love and wedlock?
4 Marriage in paradise may seem quite idealistic today. After all, in imperfect human society, many families are disintegrating. So often, natural affection seems to wane and marriage ties are severed. Hence, a person may wonder, Is deep, enduring love really possible between those united in wedlock? Or is it naïve to think that mutual love and respect can be lasting?
“LOVE IS AS STRONG AS DEATH”
5. Briefly, what are the contents of the Song of Solomon, and what does this Bible book reveal as to love between a man and a woman?
5 True love between a man and a woman can be exceedingly strong, firm, unyielding. How well this was shown in a poetic book of the Holy Scriptures, one composed some 3,000 years ago by wise King Solomon of Israel! Termed The Song of Solomon, it tells of the unswerving love that existed between a shepherd and a country girl from the village of Shunem (Shulem). This “superlative song” also reveals that, with all his splendor and riches, the king was unable to capture the love of that beautiful Shulammite.—Song of Sol. 1:1-14; 8:4.
6. Why is The Song of Solomon of encouragement to members of Jesus Christ’s “bride,” or spirit-begotten congregation?
6 This “superlative song” illustrates the beauty of constant and enduring love. Such unswerving love is reflected in the relationship of Jesus Christ with his “bride,” or spirit-begotten congregation. (Eph. 5:25-32; Rev. 21:2, 9) Hence, The Song of Solomon can well encourage those professing to be of that “bride” to remain faithful to their heavenly Bridegroom. (2 Cor. 11:2) Yet this inspired book ‘speaks volumes’ about the chaste affection that can exist between a godly man and woman.
7. Unmarried persons devoted to Jehovah should consider what factors when seeking a marriage mate?
7 To illustrate: The Song of Solomon clearly indicates that it is not possible to have romantic love for just anyone. For instance, the Shulammite felt no attraction for King Solomon, and she said: “I have put you under oath, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the female gazelles or by the hinds of the field, that you try not to awaken or arouse love in me until it feels inclined.” (Song of Sol. 2:7; 3:5) How wise it is, then, for an unmarried person patiently to await the appearance of an individual that he or she can truly love! And for those devoted to Jehovah, this prospective marriage mate should be a man or a woman similarly dedicated and faithful to God. (Deut. 7:3, 4; Ezra 9:1-15; 1 Cor. 7:39) Then the worship of Jehovah will be of utmost importance to both mates. They will be able to face life together in marital and spiritual unity, without which there would be a saddening void.
8. How had the Shulammite proved to be like a wall, not a door?
8 Before marrying a fellow believer, however, chastity must be maintained by a person desiring divine approval. The brothers of the Shulammite maiden were concerned about her virtue, even while she was quite young. In earlier years, one of the girl’s brothers had said of her: “We have a little sister that does not have any breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day that she will be spoken for [in wedlock]?” Another brother replied: “If she should be a wall, we shall build upon her a battlement of silver; but if she should be a door, we shall block her up with a cedar plank.” King Solomon had sought to win the Shulammite’s affection, but she had not proved to be unsteady in love and virtue, like a pivoting door that had to be barred shut with a plank to prevent its swinging open to some unwanted or unwholesome person. She had not yielded to the enticements of a king, but had stood like a wall against all material attractions, had proved her stature and could now be recognized as a mature woman of virtuous principles. (Song of Sol. 8:8-10) A fine example for unmarried godly women today!
9. The Shulammite was viewed in what way by the shepherd who loved her?
9 The humble Shulammite was self-effacing, but in the eyes of the shepherd who loved her she was someone special. “A mere saffron of the coastal plain I am, a lily of the low plains,” she remarked. Not so to the shepherd, who replied: “Like a lily among thorny weeds, so is my girl companion among the daughters.” (Song of Sol. 2:1, 2) This was not mere infatuation. The girl served Jehovah, was capable and comely, and had much to recommend her. In this, is there not an indication that unmarried Christian girls learn to shoulder the responsibilities of women, while also striving to enhance their spirituality?
10. How did the Shulammite esteem the shepherd?
10 But note how the Shulammite esteemed the shepherd. “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest,” she said, “so is my dear one among the sons.” (Song of Sol. 2:3) He was not just another of the many trees in a forest. Her shepherd was devoted to Jehovah, had desirable traits and abilities, and surely must have been a spiritually inclined young man. (Compare 1 Corinthians 2:6-16.) Yes, to the beautiful Shulammite he was “like an apple tree among the trees of the forest.” Should not an unmarried Christian man apply himself so that he might someday be viewed in that way by his beloved sweetheart?
11. In keeping with the words of the Shulammite, how is genuine love comparable to death and Sheol?
11 There is no doubt that wholehearted love is what the Shulammite and the young man felt for each other. The girl surely expressed matters well when telling her cherished shepherd: “Place me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; because love is as strong as death is, insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as Sheol is. Its blazings are the blazings of a fire, the flame of Jah [Jehovah]. Many waters themselves are not able to extinguish love, nor can rivers themselves wash it away. If a man [like Solomon] would give all the valuable things of his house for love, persons would positively despise them.” (Song of Sol. 8:6, 7) How true! Love cannot be bought with material things. But genuine love is as strong as death, which unfailingly claims the lives of condemned mankind. Yes, and in its insistence on exclusive devotion, such love is as unyielding as Sheol, or gravedom, is in demanding their bodies. But what about “the flame of Jah”? A Bible scholar once said, “loving flames kindled in the human heart emanate from Jehovah,” the God of love who put this splendid capacity within humans. (1 John 4:8) Indeed, true love is unfailing, loyal, lasting. (Compare 1 Corinthians 13:8.) How wise for those considering wedlock to wait and work for ‘a love as strong as death’!
HOW LOVE GROWS
12. What experiences or factors in life can cause love to grow between a husband and his wife?
12 Yet love can grow as the lives of a husband and wife become more and more entwined. At the mature age of 40, Isaac was no infatuated youngster when he took, not a mere girl, but the “young woman” Rebekah as his wife. “And he fell in love with her,” we are told. (Gen. 24:57-67) As the years pass, godly marriage mates share spiritual things with each other. They unitedly face life’s trials and problems. Their mutual endeavors build up cherished memories that draw them closer together. Even simple things—perhaps pleasant conversations as they walk together through the woods and fields—become memorable. Why, the beautiful Shulammite yearned to stroll through the countryside with her shepherd! (Song of Sol. 2:8-14) And, once married, they must have done this often.
13. Why does a husband have reason to love “a capable wife”?
13 But, of course, love also grows for other sound reasons. “A capable wife is a crown to her owner,” her husband, who surely has reason to love her. (Prov. 12:4) In the words of King Lemuel (possibly those of Solomon), “a capable wife” is more precious than highly prized ornaments fashioned from colorful corals. She is trustworthy and rewards her husband “with good, and not bad, all the days of her life.” (Prov. 31:1, 10-12) With willing hands she may make warm garments for her family. (Prov. 31:13, 19, 21-24) She is just as conscientious about seeing that the household has wholesome food. (Pr 31 Vss. 14, 15) Many aspects of household management can safely be entrusted to her, for she is industrious and truly capable. (Pr 31 Vss. 16-18, 27) Such a woman speaks with kindness, is generous and is a doer of good even to individuals outside the household. (Pr 31 Vss. 20, 26) So, if the physical loveliness of a God-fearing wife fades somewhat with the passing years, her inner beauty grows and endears her to her loved ones. “Charm may be false, and prettiness may be vain,” observes Lemuel, “but the woman that fears Jehovah is the one that procures praise for herself.”—Prov. 31:30; 1 Pet. 3:3, 4.
14. What traits of a godly husband prompt a Christian wife to respect him deeply?
14 On the other hand, the godly husband fully shoulders his responsibilities of headship, but not as a tyrant. (Gen. 3:16; Mal. 2:14-16; 1 Cor. 11:3) He keeps loving his wife and shows this in various ways. For instance, he does not become bitterly angry with her. (Col. 3:19) He works hard to provide the physical and spiritual necessities of his wife and others near and dear. (1 Tim. 5:8) Indeed, the godly husband exercises toward his wife the same kind of loving care that Jesus Christ shows for His congregation. (Eph. 5:25-32) What Christian wife would not deeply respect such a husband?
15. By maintaining Biblical standards for marriage, what kind of relationship will the husband and wife enjoy?
15 Maintaining the standards just cited will require constant effort, application of the Scriptures and prayerful reliance upon Jehovah. But in the matrimonial climate thus produced love is sure to grow. The husband will not have to demand respect. It will come naturally from his well-treated and spiritually inclined wife. Nor will she have to complain, ‘You do not love me!’ What Christian husband could help but love a capable and godly wife? (Contrast Judges 14:15-17 with Ruth 3:11.) In such a household, with each mate playing the proper Scriptural role, it will not be difficult to heed the apostolic counsel: “Let each one of you [husbands] individually so love his wife as he does himself; on the other hand, the wife should have deep respect for her husband.”—Eph. 5:33.
“REJOICE WITH THE WIFE OF YOUR YOUTH”
16. How does Proverbs chapter 5 urge fidelity to a person’s marriage mate?
16 Marriage was intended to bring joy to humans. But if this is to be experienced and marital love is to abide, there must be fidelity to a person’s mate. In figurative language, the Scriptures use the expression “water source” to denote a source of sexual satisfaction, something that is not to be sought outside wedlock. Of course, the love between husband and wife properly includes the conjugal relationship, but all those outside a marital union must be excluded from its intimacies. Fittingly, the husband is told: “Drink water out of your own cistern . . . Should your springs be scattered out of doors . . . ? Let them prove to be for you alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your water source prove to be blessed, and rejoice with the wife of your youth, a lovable hind and a charming mountain goat [possibly alluding to gracefulness]. . . . With her love may you be in an ecstasy constantly.”—Prov. 5:15-23; 7:6-23.
17. Tender regard for each other will have what effect on those united in wedlock?
17 Those united in wedlock are Scripturally obligated to render to each other the marital due. This is one way to express deep love, and when it is the natural result of heartfelt affection within the marital union, it might be likened to a beautiful painting. How vital, then, that godly mates avoid ruining the scene, that they shun practices that would defile the marriage bed! (Heb. 13:4) Tender regard for each other in such intimate matters will help to prevent a painful marriage breakup and will also serve as a protection against succumbing to immorality.—1 Cor. 7:1-5.
18. While seeking to fulfill his wife’s emotional and related needs, of what should the godly husband be aware?
18 So, then, the godly husband will considerately seek to fulfill his wife’s emotional and related needs, but with the restraint that befits an individual having God’s spirit and displaying its fruit of self-control. (Gal. 5:22, 23) By taking into consideration her physical and biological limitations, as did Jehovah in the Law given to Israel, the Christian husband will act “according to knowledge,” assigning his wife “honor as to a weaker vessel, the feminine one.”—Lev. 18:19; 20:18; 1 Pet. 3:7.
19. (a) It is a blessing to raise children in what type of domestic environment? (b) Children require what kind of discipline?
19 In time, the marital union may result in children, “an inheritance from Jehovah.” (Ps. 127:3) It is a blessing when they are raised in a domestic environment marked by strong love between their parents and high regard for spiritual things. True, young ones will need counsel and correction, “but the one loving [his child] is he that does look for him with discipline.” (Prov. 13:24) Great benefits will result when Bible-based parental discipline is administered in love.
IMITATE THE SHULAMMITE IN EXCLUSIVE DEVOTION
20. The love between any man and woman is surpassed by what love and devotion?
20 The Shulammite’s love for her shepherd was “as strong as death,” and the love of godly persons united in wedlock today can be that deep. But that maiden also said: “Insistence on exclusive devotion is as unyielding as Sheol is.” (Song of Sol. 8:6) Jesus’ love for the body of his anointed followers surpasses that existing between any man and woman, and the devotion of that congregation to Christ is as unyielding as Sheol. Yet Jesus lovingly died not only for those who will become his heavenly “bride” but also for his “other sheep,” now represented by a “great crowd” having blessed prospects of eternal life on earth.—John 10:16; Rev. 7:9.
21. (a) The Shulammite set what noteworthy example? (b) How are we benefited by meditating on what Jesus has done for us?
21 For all these servants of Jehovah, the Shulammite set an especially noteworthy example of exclusive devotion. By meditating on what Jesus has done for us through his ransom sacrifice, and by considering his loving expressions and promises, our love for him grows. This, in turn, protects us from selfish, materialistic, unspiritual pursuits. It also strengthens our bond with Jehovah, the God who made it possible for humans to have ‘a love as strong as death.’
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The Creator designed marriage to be a permanent union
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True love between a man and a woman can be exceedingly strong
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“And he fell in love with her”