Andree Seu Peterson – The meaning of Song of Solomon


MARY REICHARD, HOST: Today is Monday, May 11th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Next, commentator Andrée Seu Peterson has some thoughts on why God gave us a book in the Bible about romance. This is from her 2008 book Normal Kingdom Business.

ANDRÉE SEU PETERSON, COMMENTATOR: What do you do with the Song of Solomon? It is the uncle in your living room that no one talks about. He’s part of the family so you have to let him in, but he’s just so weird—and vaguely threatening. Preachers don’t go anywhere near the Song, except to offer some obligatory concession that sex is a beautiful gift from God.

Our betters tried for centuries to find in it the promised content “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16). The old Greek translation, as well as Josephus and Philo, do not allegorize away such sensuality as “hair like a flock of goats,” and “browsing among the lilies.” Hippolytus and Origen are another matter. 

These early Christian interpreters, with body-despising hangovers from Platonic dualism, can divine only the divine, seeing nothing under any spreading tree but metaphors of Christ and the Church—and doubtless there exists no small grounding for this in Hosea, Ezekiel 16, and Revelation 19.

Among those who do find romance more than Christology, Professor George Schwab hears not only major chords but minor, a whisper of caution in the valley of God’s delights, in his work The Song of Songs’ Cautionary Message Concerning Human Love. It is fun, I suppose, to feel faint like the “Beloved” in the poem, with signs in the quicksand of her emotions, “I am sick with love” (2:1-7). There is some kind of pleasure, I suppose, in a frantic search through village streets in wee hours for one’s lover (3:1-5; 5:2-8). But it begins to seem, too, that love has its drawbacks.

Falling in love can be debilitating, enfeebling, and all-consuming. You forget to eat. You cannot work. You certainly wouldn’t want to live this way indefinitely, as the “songs” of this world would have you do, encouraging serial lapses.

“My lover is mine and I am his”—covenantal language. He is one sweet tree in a forest. She is a flower, all others are brambles. Exclusivity is the hallmark of love when pleased to be aroused,” writes Schwab.

But love is a sleeping tiger, and Song a solemn warning of its bottled-up danger, a force which if approached unwisely will consume a man and all he has. Are you ready for these feelings?

I adjure you, O children of Jerusalem, that you “not awaken love until it pleases,” says the Song of Songs, inspired Word of God. Heed the caution, that you may also enjoy the garden in its season. The wise man will take care for his affections and keep them in the bounds of God’s design, while the foolish will tickle the slumbering Leviathan before its time.

I’m Andrée Seu Peterson.


(Photo/iStock)

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