(This is the gist of my sermon this morning in our church service. You can watch the video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5jqCBoQHzlE )
INTRODUCTION - - Weddings are often glorious and worthy celebrations of the love and affection and devotion God gives a man for a woman and vice versa. They are an appropriate celebration of all the hard work and trials and difficulties and restraints that lead up to that much anticipated wedding night. But no matter how glorious and how well orchestrated the wedding is, and no matter how many people come and no matter how many gifts and well wishes the said married couple receive, and no matter how noble the vows stated, none of this is a guarantee of a happy, harmonious and God pleasing marriage after the celebrations are all over.
Thankfully the Bible is the ultimate book of realism; and meditation in its pages provides revelation on root issues that we desperately need to see and understand. As we dive into chapter five and six of our series in the Song of Songs we are going to learn some important lessons from this couple who had just enjoyed a glorious wedding celebration and that first much anticipated night of rapturous sexual intimacy, but who then had to learn that there are no guarantees for the battles and challenges that are sure to come. They might even come the very next day.
vs. 1 of chapter five appears to be a statement by the husband of how wonderful that first wedding night of sexual enjoyment was, “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh along with my balsam. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.” “Wow! Last night was everything I had hoped it would be and more” he appears to be saying. And then at the end of the verse an encouragement from the author for this couple (and all couples) to pursue intimacy sexual and otherwise with one another as a way of life, “Eat, friends; Drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers.”
Someone once said “The natural state of a garden is weeds.” And the truth as it relates to marriage is the natural trajectory of marriage is deterioration. Without constant supernatural help from the grand designer of marriage, and without our cooperation with His help, most marriages will never become what they were meant to become. The opposition within and without the man and woman; the husband and wife is just too great.
Somehow we men especially can put on the charm and spend lots of money and time and rise to the occasion in our dating and courting months like none other, only to lapse into passivity and complacency soon after the grand celebration is over.
It is passivity and complacency that is being warned against in these next 7 verses. Only in this case it is this new bride that probably out of exhaustion falls into this trap. Let’s read vs. 2, “I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking: ‘Open to me, my sister, my darling, My dove, my perfect one! For my head is drenched with dew, My locks with the damp of the night.’ Her husband for whatever reasons had been away from their bed chambers that particular night. If the husband was King Solomon, ruling a kingdom as vast as the one he ruled over required long hours with occasional emergencies and meetings through the night. Regardless, she had evidently locked the door. And we find her husband returning late at night having shaken off the pressures of his kingly reign, and longing now for the embraces of his wife.
We see her weak and selfish response in vs. 3, “I have taken off my dress, How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, How can I dirty them again?” Well obviously she could put her dress on again and obviously she could wash her feet again after walking to the door to let him in. This is her husband that she has raved and gushed about previously. This is the man she made strong vows of devotion to in their wedding ceremony. But she probably out of exhaustion decided her sleep was more important at that moment than responding to her husband’s request and pursuit. Perhaps she had a very long day of taking care of wifely and queenly things. Perhaps she knew she was going to have another long day the next day and thus needed her sleep.
But then her feelings were aroused and she couldn’t go back to sleep so she decided to ignore all of that and respond to her husband. Listen as she describes her response in vs. 4,5, “My beloved extended his hand through the opening, And my feelings were aroused for him. I arose to open to my beloved; And my hands dripped with myrrh, And my fingers with liquid myrrh, On the handles of the bolt.” Chemistry is a wonderful thing; a God given thing, and she at that point was flowing in it. Only problem was – however long her hesitation lasted, it was too long, and her husband had given up and walked away – possibly feeling rejected and confused as he rehearsed in his mind her vows and the mushy things she had said about him not that long ago, and now an unwillingness to be inconvenienced by him. But more likely - his love for her was such that he didn’t want to push things and force himself upon her. Maybe she truly needed more sleep he might have surmised.
Let’s read her account of this sad development in vs. 6, “I opened to my beloved, But my beloved had turned away and had gone! My heart went out to him as he spoke. I searched for him but I did not find him; I called him but he did not answer me.” Indeed she did finally respond to him, but her response was too late. Satan, the enemy of our souls, and the grand hater of all God ordained marriages, doesn’t need much of a window to get in to our marriage relationships and sow all kinds of doubts, wounds, grudges, fears, resentments, etc.
Someone once said “Delayed obedience is disobedience” in reference to our relationship with God. Well there is a very fine line between our relationship with God and our relationship with our spouse. That’s why the apostle Paul, who in many of his epistles spoke about marriage, said things like, “Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord.” (Eph. 5:22); and to husbands the apostle Peter said, “…show (your wife) honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.” (I Peter 3:7). The living God who stated through His Son the truth that “He who is faithful in a little thing will be also in much; and he who is unrighteous in a little thing will be also in much” is very interested and very hands on with how we spouses relate and respond to one another. Our relationship with Him, if it is in spirit and in truth, spills over into our relationship with our spouse. Our neglect of our relationship with our spouse affects our relationship with Him. It is the ultimate religious spirit that thinks all God is interested in is our service for Him, when our spouse is left dangling in the wind.
This young wife knew she had blown it and was desperately trying to find her husband to try to restore and heal what had been torn and broken. In her search as we see in vs. 7 she has her second encounter with the “watchmen of the city”. This time they are seemingly violent with her, “The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me, They struck me and wounded me; The guardsmen of the walls took away my shawl from me.” Remember this is a poetic song. Some commentators believe she is actually having a dream. So the violence is not real, but it probably represents more of the consequences of a complacent heart. Had she responded to her husband as she should have, she wouldn’t be roaming the streets late at night, and perhaps the watchmen knew that.
No sympathy from them, but perhaps she will find some from her friends, so she appeals to them in vs. 8 as she has twice before in this song, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem If you find my beloved, As to what you will tell him: For I am lovesick.” Her heart is aching and she needs support and understanding as she seeks restoration of her relationship with her husband. Wisely these women instead of condemning or judging her ask a probing question in vs. 9, “What kind of beloved is your beloved, O most beautiful among women? What kind of beloved is your beloved, That thus you adjure us?” That perceptive question was a tool God used to help her see that the value of her husband was far greater than the value of a good night’s sleep. Listen to her gushy response in vs. 10-16, “My beloved is dazzling and ruddy, Outstanding among ten thousand. His head is like gold, pure gold; His locks are like clusters of dates And black as a raven. His eyes are like doves Beside streams of water, Bathed in milk, And reposed in their setting. His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, Banks of sweet-scented herbs; His lips are lilies Dripping with liquid myrrh. His hands are rods of gold Set with beryl; His abdomen is carved ivory Inlaid with sapphires. His legs are pillars of alabaster Set on pedestals of pure gold; His appearance is like Lebanon Choice as the cedars. His mouth is full of sweetness. And he is wholly desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
Would that all of us married folk could have and keep this kind of adoration of our spouse!
Would that all of us married folk would have friends or therapists or someone in our life that could help us quickly recover what the enemy tried to steal from us!
Well after this young bride’s friends hear of how great her love and affection is for her husband, they are ready to help her find him, and thus they ask another probing question in chapter 6:1, “Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women? Where has your beloved turned, That we may seek him with you?” She knows her husband well and thus gives a fairly confident answer in vs. 2 as to his whereabouts, “My beloved has gone down to his garden, To the beds of balsam, To pasture his flock in the gardens And gather lilies.” Then she speaks of her inner confidence in vs. 3 that while they have hit a bump in their marriage, nothing at the core or foundation has changed, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, He who pastures his flock among the lilies.”
It is clear that she found him because he begins to speak now to her starting in vs. 4 through vs. 12. Let’s read that together: “You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, As lovely as Jerusalem, As awesome as an army with banners. Turn your eyes away from me, For they have confused me; Your hair is like a flock of goats That have descended from Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes Which have come up from their washing, All of which bear twins, And not one among them has lost her young. Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate Behind your veil. There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, And maidens without number; But my dove, my perfect one, is unique: She is her mother’s only daughter; She is the pure child of the one who bore her.
This husband’s love and affection for his bride appears to be steady and strong, and reconciliation and restoration appears to have already kicked in. But what should we make of vs. 5 where he says to her, “Turn your eyes away from me, For they have confused me;”? Is he complaining of mixed messages from her? At first that’s what I thought might be happening. But a number of other translations like the King James, NLT, NIV, ESV replace “confused” with “overcome” or “overpowered”. And if you look at all of his praise and adoration of her, its more likely that he is saying something like, “Quit looking at me with those alluring eyes. I’m trying to control myself here and this is not the place or the time to have the ultimate expression of our adoration of one another.” I don’t think if he was harboring resentment and distrust towards her that he would continue with such words of affirmation and adoration.
Because Christ centered marriages reflect Christ’s love and affection for His church, God has always meant for our marriages to be seen and noticed and to have a leavening effect on those around us. Someone has said “beauty is only skin deep”. And in general in our culture that is the case. But there is a beauty in a wife that comes from a fulfilled marriage that is unlike any other. And such appears to be the case with this young wife as now the maidens, queen and concubines are ready to weigh in in vs. 9 & 10, “…The maidens saw her and called her blessed, The queens and the concubines also, and they praised her, saying, ‘Who is this that grows like the dawn, As beautiful as the full moon, As pure as the sun, As awesome as an army with banners?’
This young wife, out of great concern and some anxiety, went to find her husband. She wanted to make sure his love for her was secure and growing, and to her delight that is what she found. That is reflected in vs. 11, 12, “I went down to the orchard of nut trees To see the blossoms of the valley, To see whether the vine had budded Or the pomegranates had bloomed. Before I was aware, my soul set me over the chariots of my noble people.” Her doting husband some commentators think – put her in his own chariot at the head or lead of all the chariots returning to their castle as a statement of her great value to him and his honoring of her.
At which point the inhabitants of that land or village where she found her husband longed for more time or opportunities to gaze on or learn from or have her beauty rubbed off on them. Vs. 13, “Come back, come back, O Shulammite; Come back, come back, that we may gaze at you!” A much loved and much forgiven and much pursued wife is a sight for sore eyes in any land or culture because so few wives are loved and forgiven and pursued like God meant for them to be.
Well that’s a quick run down of chps 5 & 6. I want to speak now practically to two marital issues from these chapters.
The first one has to do with preserving marital energy or marital bandwith. One of the very successful lies of the evil one is that you and I can be a good husband or good wife and also do justice to our job (and all the relationships therein), relate to all or many of the people in our local congregation, relate to our neighbors, relate to our extended family or clan, relate to old friends, stay up on mostly depressing, emotion sucking news, stay in touch with some old friends, etc. It is a lie of course. This husband by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit knew better.
Now in Solomon’s song, the sleepy complacent non responsive spouse easily could have been the husband. My sense in general, though not necessarily backed up by research is wives tend to be a little more responsive and a little less selfish than husbands. But the point is we spouses cannot give ourselves to our jobs and our children and grandchildren and our ministries and outreaches to neighbors and household projects from early morning to late at night (not to mention news consumption, facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc.,) and be ready and responsive for every opportunity to engage with our spouses whether it be sexual or heart to heart communication, prayer or whatever. A good God pleasing marriage requires Spirit led and Spirit empowered marital energy preservation. And that preservation process will require us to make hard but necessary decisions from time to time.
I wish this were not true, but the truth is often the good marital energy preservation decisions Anne and I have made in our 42 years of marriage have resulted from my failures, which resulted in Anne’s hurts, which eventually resulted in my repentance and change of behavior. The list is long, but it includes the deleting of linkedin; Instagram, Immediate cutting of Carol’s cable when she died, giving away of our TV way before that, deleting of facebook, abstinence of all watching or reading about sports in our home, etc., etc. Other things that we can’t delete or cancel, we’ve had to learn and are still learning to better manage like cell phones that go off when we are trying to communicate with one another, etc.
The second principle I see from these two chapters is the preserving of our marital unity and affection by quickly and fully offering forgiveness when our spouse sins against us. Nothing strengthens the unity and foundations of our marriages like full and free forgiveness of sins against us by our spouse. This husband harbored no bitterness or resentment toward his wife when she chose sleep and convenience over intimacy with him. Do you know that the longest passage in the New Testament on marriage is in Ephesians chapter 5 and that three times in that passage husbands are commanded to love their wives? And what can be more loving than to forgive our spouse when they sin against us? Proverbs 10:12 and I Peter 4:8 both tell us that “love covers a multitude of sins.” That’s what love that comes from God does. That’s why the apostle Paul in Eph. 4:32 linked God’s forgiveness of us with our forgiving of others, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” The more we meditate on God’s forgiveness for us in Christ and the more we get in touch with the millions of sins we’ve sinned against Him, the more we will be able to forgive our spouse for their few sins against us.
One of the best books I’ve read about Marriage and family life is called “Restoring the Christian Family” by John & Paula Sandford. In a discussion about marital conflicts, they said something very interesting regarding how we spouses choose to perceive each other, “How we wish that every couple would learn by the grace of Jesus to believe the best behind every mate’s worst. We ought not to listen to each other’s words, but to listen to each other’s hearts. We don’t say what we mean. If it seems delusive to trust that our mate means well when actions and words appear to say the opposite, it’s the happiest delusion going, and we will soon learn that what we choose to believe becomes a reality.” May all of we married couples learn to see each other in the Spirit and not in the flesh, and be ever more “quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” as the apostle James commanded us to be.
So what if you are here this morning or watching on youtube and you are not married, but would some day like to be? How do these two chapters apply to you? Well first of all, now is a great time for you to learn by the grace and power of God through Christ to break addictions and life style patterns that hinder intimacy and focus in a relationship. Some people feel the great thing about being single is you can do whatever you want. Well often what that really means is because you are single you don’t have to change. If you want to stay up late and watch two movies back to back you can. If you want to spend a couple of hours a night on facebook, twitter and Instagram you can. If you want to spend an hour in the morning before you go to work watching the news on cable TV for an hour while eating your cheerios in your pajamas you can. The problem with that kind of thinking though is what you are really doing is developing habits that are not going to just disappear when you get in a relationship heading towards marriage. A relationship that requires you to be able to focus and die to your own rights, desires and schedule; and that requires your utmost attention to what your spouse is struggling to communicate.
King Solomon in Ecclesiastes 1:18 warned, “…increasing knowledge results in increasing pain.” So much of what we think we need to know we really do not need to know. But that drive to know if given into over time does not just disappear. Now is the time to learn to put such inordinate passions to death by the Spirit of God.
King Solomon also, after pursuing every kind of pleasure imaginable for a period of time, asked this perceptive question, “What does it accomplish?” in ch. 2:2. The pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake primarily accomplishes a deep rooted thirst or lust for more pleasure. It doesn’t just disappear when you get married and you need to give your spouse your undivided attention. Now is the time as Peter exhorted in I Peter 2:11 to learn to “…abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” Because anything that wages war against my soul will in turn wage war against my marriage.
Finally if you are here this morning or watching on youtube and you have never come into a relationship with the living Christ, who longs to satisfy you with the very real pleasure of His very real presence, now is the time to respond to His gracious invitation. I’m not sure why you have put off His invitations. I must be honest with you of two things this morning. First your every breath comes from Him and you are not guaranteed of another one. Putting Him off is a gamble that millions of people in hell deeply regret having taken. Second, when we ignore His invitations we do not stay in some kind of neutral existence. Our good and loving God created our souls to be satisfied by Him. When they are we don’t need anything else. When they are not satisfied by Him they must be satisfied by something and whatever that something ends up being will lead to our ultimate destruction. I would urge you this morning to come to Christ today. He will never disappoint you!
Closing prayer for marriages, singles, and wandering sheep