“[Love’s] flames are a blazing fire, the flame of Jah.”—SONG OF SOL. 8:6.
1, 2. Who can benefit from a careful consideration of the Song of Solomon, and why? (See opening image.)
‘HOW warmly they exchange glances and tenderly hold each other! Who can deny that they are deeply in love!’ These thoughts go through the mind of an elder who has just officiated at the couple’s wedding. As the newlyweds gracefully move across the dance floor at the reception, he cannot help but wonder: ‘Will their marriage stand the test of time? As the years go by, will their love deepen or will it take wings and fly away?’ When it proves to be unswerving and enduring, the love between a man and a woman can truly be beautiful. In view of so many marriage breakups, however, it is not unreasonable to ask if lasting love is really possible.
2 True love was rare even in the days of King Solomon of ancient Israel. Commenting on the moral climate of his day, Solomon wrote: “One upright man out of a thousand I found, but a woman among them I have not found. This alone I have found: The true God made mankind upright, but they have sought out many schemes.” (Eccl. 7:26-29, ftn.) Largely as a result of the influence of foreign women who practiced Baal worship, moral standards had dropped so low in his day that Solomon found it difficult to find a man or a woman with good morals.* Still, the poem he wrote some 20 years earlier, the Song of Solomon, shows that enduring love can exist between a man and a woman. It also vividly portrays what that love is like and how it is displayed. Both married and single worshippers of Jehovah can learn much about such love by carefully considering this Bible book.
TRUE LOVE IS POSSIBLE!
3. Why is true love between a man and a woman possible?
3 Read Song of Solomon 8:6. The expression “the flame of Jah” that is used to describe love speaks volumes. True love is “the flame of Jah” in that Jehovah is the Originator of such love. He created man in his image with the ability to love. (Gen. 1:26, 27) When God presented the first woman, Eve, to the first man, Adam, the words that came out of Adam’s mouth were nothing short of poetic. No doubt Eve felt a closeness to Adam, from whom “she was taken.” (Gen. 2:21-23) Since Jehovah has given humans the capacity for showing love, it is possible for a man and a woman to have unswerving and unfailing love for each other.
4, 5. Briefly relate the story of the Song of Solomon.
4 The love between the opposite sexes has other characteristics besides its potential for being constant and enduring. Some of these are wonderfully portrayed in the Song of Solomon. Written as a song similar to the libretto, or text of an opera, the story is about the love between a young woman from the village of Shunem, or Shulem, and her beloved shepherd. The girl is brought into Solomon’s camp because her beauty attracted Solomon, who was camping near the vineyards she was guarding. However, right from the outset, it is clear that she is in love with the shepherd. As Solomon attempts to win her over, the girl freely expresses her longing to be with her beloved. (Song of Sol. 1:4-14) The shepherd finds his way into the camp, and beautiful expressions of endearment are exchanged.—Song of Sol. 1:15–17.
5 Solomon returns to Jerusalem, taking the young woman with him; the shepherd follows her. (Song of Sol. 4:1-5, 8, 9) All of Solomon’s efforts to win the girl’s love prove fruitless. (Song of Sol. 6:4-7; 7:1-10) Finally, the king permits her to return home. The song closes with the girl desiring her dear one to “be swift like a gazelle” and come running to her.—Song of Sol. 8:14.
6. Why is it a challenge to identify the speakers in the drama?
6 As meaningful and beautifully composed as Solomon’s “song of songs” is, identifying the speakers of the dialogues, soliloquies, and dreams in the song is not without its challenges. (Song of Sol. 1:1) According to The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible, “things like plot, story, narrative development, and character are not really of prime interest.” So as not to distract from the lyrical and poetic natures of the composition, the names of the speakers may have been left out. Still, the matter of who says what can be determined by what is being said by them or to them.*
“YOUR EXPRESSIONS OF AFFECTION ARE BETTER THAN WINE”
7, 8. What can be said about the “expressions of affection” found in the Song of Solomon? Give examples.
7 The Song of Solomon abounds in “expressions of affection” between the young woman and the shepherd. Even though the expressions reflect the Oriental setting of some 3,000 years ago and may appear strange to today’s readers, they are full of meaning, and the feelings they convey are not foreign to us. For example, the shepherd praises the maiden’s soft and gentle eyes by comparing them to “those of doves.” (Song of Sol. 1:15) She likens his eyes, not to doves’ eyes, but to doves themselves. (Read Song of Solomon 5:12.) The dark iris surrounded by white appeared as beautiful to her as a dove bathing in milk.
8 Not all expressions of affection made in the song draw attention to physical beauty. Consider what the shepherd says about the young woman’s speech. (Read Song of Solomon 4:7, 11.) Her lips are said to “drip with comb honey.” Why? Because comb honey is sweeter and more flavorful than honey that has been exposed to air. “Honey and milk are under [her] tongue,” meaning that like honey and milk, her speech is pleasant and good. Clearly, when the shepherd says to the girl, “you are altogether beautiful, . . . there is no blemish in you,” he has more than her physical beauty in mind.
9. (a) What does the love between marriage mates entail? (b) Why is it important that marriage mates exchange expressions of affection?
9 The marriage arrangement is not a mere contract or a formal agreement empty of love and affection. In fact, love is a hallmark of a Christian marriage. But what type of love is this? Is it love governed by Bible principles? (1 John 4:8) Does it involve natural affection—the kind that family members have toward one another? Does this love consist of warm and tender attachment as found between true friends? (John 11:3) Is it romantic love? (Prov. 5:15-20) Actually, the true and abiding love between marriage mates includes all of them. Love is best sensed when it is expressed. How vital that marriage mates not allow the activities of daily life to rob them of exchanging expressions of affection! Such expressions can contribute much to the security and happiness experienced within a marriage. In those cultures where marriages are often arranged and the man and woman hardly know each other before the wedding day, their being conscious of the need to express love verbally to each other will help love to grow and the marriage to flourish.
10. What effect can the memory of expressions of affection have?
10 Expressions of affection between marriage mates have another positive effect. King Solomon offered to make for the Shulammite girl “gold ornaments studded with silver.” He showered her with praise, saying that she was “as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sunlight.” (Song of Sol. 1:9-11; 6:10) But the young woman remained loyal to her beloved shepherd. What strengthened and comforted her during their separation? She tells us. (Read Song of Solomon 1:2, 3.) It was the memory of the shepherd’s “expressions of affection.” For her, they proved to be “better than wine” that makes the heart rejoice, and his name was as soothing as “fragrant oil poured out” on the head. (Ps. 23:5; 104:15) Yes, the pleasant memory of love that has been expressed can enhance the enduring quality of love. How important it is that marriage mates express their affection for each other often!
DO NOT AWAKEN LOVE “UNTIL IT FEELS INCLINED”
11. What can unmarried Christians learn from the Shulammite girl’s putting others under oath not to try to awaken love in her?
11 The Song of Solomon also provides lessons for unmarried Christians, especially for those looking for a mate. The young woman felt no love for Solomon. Putting the daughters of Jerusalem under oath, she said: “Do not try to awaken or arouse love in me until it feels inclined.” (Song of Sol. 2:7; 3:5) Why? Because it is simply not proper to develop a romantic attachment for just anyone who comes along. A Christian desiring to marry, then, is wise to wait patiently for the one he or she can truly love.
12. Why did the Shulammite girl love the shepherd?
12 Why did the Shulammite girl love the shepherd? True, he was handsome, resembling “a gazelle”; his hands were strong like “cylinders of gold”; and his legs were beautiful and strong like “pillars of marble.” But he was more than just strong and handsome. “Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest” was her “dear one among the sons.” For a girl who was faithful to Jehovah to feel this way about the man, he had to have been spiritually inclined.—Song of Sol. 2:3, 9; 5:14, 15.
13. Why did the shepherd love the young woman?
13 What about the Shulammite girl? Though she was beautiful enough to attract the attention of a king who at the time had “60 queens and 80 concubines and young women without number,” she viewed herself as “but a saffron of the coastal plain”—a common flower. The girl was remarkably modest and humble. No wonder she was “like a lily among thorns,” anything but common to the shepherd! She was faithful to Jehovah.—Song of Sol. 2:1, 2; 6:8.
14. What does the love portrayed in the Song of Solomon teach single Christians who want to marry?
14 In the Scriptures, powerful admonition is given to Christians to marry “only in the Lord.” (1 Cor. 7:39) A single person who wants to marry refrains from forming romantic ties with unbelievers and looks for a mate only among loyal worshippers of Jehovah. Moreover, to face life’s realities while maintaining marital peace and spiritual unity calls for faith in and devotion to God—desirable qualities to look for in a prospective marriage mate. Those are the very qualities that the shepherd and the young woman found in each other.
MY BRIDE “IS LIKE A LOCKED GARDEN”
15. How may the Shulammite girl serve as an example to unmarried godly men and women?
15 Read Song of Solomon 4:12. Why does the shepherd describe his beloved as “a locked garden”? A walled or fenced-in garden is not open to the public. It can be accessed only through a locked gate. The Shulammite girl is like that garden because her affection was available only to her husband-to-be—the shepherd. By not giving in to the enticements of the king, she proved herself to be like “a wall” and not “a door” that swings wide open. (Song of Sol. 8:8-10) Similarly, godly unmarried men and women reserve their love and affection for their future mate.
16. What does the Song of Solomon teach regarding courtship?
16 When the shepherd asked the Shulammite girl to go for a walk with him on a spring day, her brothers did not permit her to go. Instead, they assigned her the work of guarding the vineyards. Why? Did they not trust her? Did they perhaps think that she had immoral intentions? Actually, they were taking precautions so that their sister would not come into a tempting situation. (Song of Sol. 1:6; 2:10-15) Here, then, is a lesson for single Christians: During courtship, take necessary precautions to keep the relationship chaste. Avoid secluded places. While clean expressions of affection may be appropriate, be careful to avoid tempting situations.
17, 18. How have you benefited from considering the Song of Solomon?
17 Christian couples generally enter the marital relationship with much love and affection for each other. Since the marriage arrangement instituted by Jehovah is a lasting one, it is vital that couples endeavor to keep the flame of their love ablaze and maintain an atmosphere in which love can grow.—Mark 10:6-9.
18 When looking for a marriage mate, you want to find someone you can truly love and then make that love strong and inextinguishable, as shown in the Song of Solomon. Whether you are seeking a marriage mate or have already entered wedlock, may you experience true love—“the flame of Jah.”—Song of Sol. 8:6.
See the “Outline of Contents” of the Song of Solomon in the New World Translation, pages 926-927.