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Raising a Righteous Standard in Marriage-- Song of Songs 7 & 8

Updated: May 2, 2023

(These are the notes I worked off this morning in my sermon. Here is the link for the video:

INTRODUCTION – Cynicism towards the possibility of ever experiencing real heart warming and long lasting love is rife among my generation, and those of my parents generation generally speaking - largely because we have spent decades in its pursuit, and time after time have come up wanting. As to the younger generation, at least one of the factors that is causing so many of them to not even attempt marriage is because of the cynicism, failure and dysfunction they have witnessed in the older generation.

Ava Gardner, one of the most famous actresses of my parents’ generation, died of a broken heart at age 68. In an interview in 1982 she said she would have happily have traded her career for one happy, long lasting marriage: ”One good man I could love and marry and cook for and make a home for, who would stick around for the rest of my life. I never found him.” She was married for a short time to Mickey Rooney, Jazz musician Artie Shaw and Frank Sinatra.

William Faulkner A Nobel laureate, and one of the most celebrated writers of American literature and often considered the greatest writer of Southern literaturesaid this regarding the illusiveness of love, “Perhaps they were right in putting love in books…Perhaps it could not live anywhere else.”

Sadly these folk mostly ignored the one book God wrote that tells us very clearly that this love that most everyone longs for but few find is alive and well. God knew men and women would fail miserably in their attempts to have a fulfilling marriage without the God who invented and designed it coaching them along the way. So He gave us a book within His big book that raises the standard and gives us hope of what God wants us to have. His intention was for us to see the standard, and then search the rest of His book for how to obtain it or walk in it, discovering of course in the process that Jesus Himself is the way, the truth and the life.

So this morning we are going to finish the book within the bigger book, and learn a few more things about what God designed and intended for the experience of true love in the confines of covenant marriage.

One of the many challenges marriages faced then and faces today is wives come into the marriage relationship having grown up in a culture that has greatly corrupted and perverted the gift of sex and has terribly objectified women. This typically creates great insecurity about one’s body and whether one measures up to the so called competition. One of the ways God has designed for this problem to be solved is by the husband regularly expressing his delight in his wife’s bodily features from head to toe.

Solomon shows us the way, so let’s learn from him in Chapter 7:1-9, “How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, The work of the hands of an artist. Your navel is like a round goblet Which never lacks mixed wine; Your belly is like a heap of wheat Fenced about with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, Twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like a tower of ivory, Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon By the gate of Bath-rabbim; Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon, Which faces toward Damascus. Your head crowns you like Carmel, And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads; The king is captivated by your tresses. How beautiful and how delightful you are, My love, with all your charms! Your stature is like a palm tree, And your breasts are like its clusters. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree, I will take hold of its fruit stalks.’ Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, And the fragrance of your breath like apples, And your mouth like the best wine!” It goes down smoothly for my beloved, Flowing gently through the lips of those who have fallen asleep.”

Husbands or aspiring husbands, I am fully aware that this kind of expressed adoration does not just naturally flow out of our lips towards our wives – and that - for a lot of different reasons. So allow me to make a handful of suggestions:

First, if God gave us a model of commenting about every aspect of our wives’ physical appearance it is probably because our wives think (and possibly worry) about every aspect of their physical appearance. So please keep this in mind, and you might start with just being a little more observant about the other aspects of your wife’s body besides the obvious parts.

Second, please note this wise husband and king never compared his wife to any of his maidens, queens or concubines. Sad that he even had especially the concubines. But please in your attempt to adore her do not compare her with any other woman on the planet. Especially ones in your or her past or ones in your present world.

Third, never ever criticize any aspect of your wife’s appearance – ever!

Fourth recognize that however awkward this verbal expression of adoration may be for you, you have to start somewhere and it will in time help your wife’s insecurity if you do it out of sincerity and true adoration of her. You might also try expressing these things in letters and notes.

The impact a husband’s verbal adoration of his wife’s physical appearance has on his wife’s sense of security, identity, value and worth will be seen in our next passage or paragraph. Look with me at vs. 10-13 wherein we see the wife’s response and resulting invitation to her husband.

I am my beloved’s, And his desire is for me. Come, my beloved, let us go out into the country, Let us spend the night in the villages. Let us rise early and go to the vineyards; Let us see whether the vine has budded And its blossoms have opened, And whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love. The mandrakes have given forth fragrance; And over our doors are all choice fruits, Both new and old, Which I have saved up for you, my beloved.”

This wife knew she was the apple of her husband’s eye and that he had a strong physical sexual attraction to her. That knowledge and growing confidence in his love and adoration of her caused her to take the initiative for the first time in this song - inviting him to go on a getaway with her for the expressed purpose of having a focused and uninterrupted time of sexual intimacy together.

Getaways are great for this and for other reasons.

But the reality is - we married folk are going to spend most of our married years in our own communities. And that was a challenge for this young wife, especially because in the Ancient Near East public expressions of love and affection between husband and wife were often frowned upon, but not for nuclear family members. So the wife in the first few verses of chapter 8 is expressing her frustration with that reality, and wishing for more freedom of expression anywhere and anytime like family members enjoyed. This woman loved her man and longed for his embrace: “Oh that you were like a brother to me Who nursed at my mother’s breasts. If I found you outdoors, I would kiss you; No one would despise me, either. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, who used to instruct me; I would give you spiced wine to drink from the juice of my pomegranates. “Let his left hand be under my head And his right hand embrace me.” When love is in full bloom any constraints are bothersome and unwanted.

In vs. 4 we are going to find the wife’s last exhortation to the daughters of Jerusalem. “I want you to swear, O daughters of Jerusalem, Do not arouse or awaken my love Until she pleases.”

The translation and interpretation of the last half of this verse is challenging; but I think what we can agree on is expressions of love and lovemaking shouldn’t be abruptly or impulsively pushed or forced; and we have already learned from chapter 5 last week that such expressions shouldn’t be complacently or passively resisted either. Timing is important and sensitivity to that is in itself an expression of love.

In the first part of verse 5 - The chorus weighs in re: the bride. She appears to be deeply fulfilled and satisfied with her time with her husband on their getaway out in the countryside. “Who is this coming up from the wilderness Leaning on her beloved?” She is one happy bride and her countenance and delight in her husband showed it.

In the latter part of vs. 5 The wife expresses the impact of her love to her husband. “Beneath the apple tree I awakened you; There your mother was in labor with you, There she was in labor and gave you birth.” Apple trees were sometimes associated with love and romance in the ancient world. Just as the chorus saw the radiance of the bride, now the bride seems to be saying something similar about the impact of their time in the countryside on her husband. He too has a satisfied, happy, and full look and countenance. And she knows she had a lot to do with that.

As wonderful as all of this is, in the next two verses we find the Bride appealing for the unhindered and undistracted love of her husband in vs. 6,7: “Put me like a seal over your heart, Like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, Jealousy is as severe as Sheol; Its flashes are flashes of fire, The very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, It would be utterly despised.”

As great a start as this couple had in their marital relationship, she had been around long enough to know nothing in marriage is guaranteed. It as an institution, and those trying to walk it out have many enemies. So she appeals to her husband in vs. 6 to ever deepen his covenant commitment to her and to protect their marriage. In vs. 7 she recognizes that true love is enduring, indestructible, and is of inestimable value. She also has learned that money can accomplish a lot of things in life, but when it comes to love it is of little use. True love just cannot be won and obtained by any amount of money. God knows… wealthy people who have been able to accomplish so much with their wealth have tried and tried in vain. Wives ultimately don’t want their husband’s things. They want their husband.

Well if you have been tracking with us through this little 8 chapter book, you know various characters have played some role in helping this couple achieve and hold onto true life transforming love. God wanted to make it clear in this book that no couple is ever going to achieve this on their own. And one of the greatest assets a young girl could ever have that could help posture her for finding that man God has chosen for her and for preserving herself for that young man is one or more alert and protective older brothers. Turns out this wife had at least two older brothers. Listen as they share about the role they played in vs. 8,9. “We have a little sister, And she has no breasts; What shall we do for our sister On the day when she is spoken for? If she is a wall, We will build on her a battlement of silver; But if she is a door, We will barricade her with planks of cedar.”

How do we know these are brothers speaking? Well brothers are mentioned in chapter one vs. 6. And then she speaks of a brother in chapter 8 vs. 1. If Solomon’s wife had sisters, they are never mentioned in the Song of songs. One of the many blessings of this bride was that she had older brothers who saw their responsibility to both prepare and protect her for her inevitable encounters with wife hunting or perhaps worse sex hunting boys or men. If she on her own exercises self control and prudence or discernment characterized by them as a wall, then they will help prepare her for meeting her eventual husband. But if she tends to want to grow up too early (characterized by the door) and is flattered and affected by the advances of unprincipled young men, then her older brothers were prepared to protect her and step in until she has the maturity to stand on her own. This sense of responsibility for older siblings to prepare and protect younger siblings for the minefields out there is clearly something God through Solomon wanted parents to know is a needed thing and an ordained thing by God. Few things bless a family of multiple children more than when the oldest sibling or the older siblings take personal responsibility to help their younger sisters stay pure and make wise choices; and not pursue false security, false identity and illicit pleasure by giving into impure and premature advances of young men.

Thankfully her older brothers didn’t have too great a battle to fight because their younger sister chose the high road. She by faith preserved herself for the one man God had appointed for her. She speaks to that, her physical development and to her relationship with the King in verses 10-12, “I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace. Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; He entrusted the vineyard to caretakers. Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit. My very own vineyard is at my disposal; The thousand shekels are for you, Solomon, And two hundred are for those who take care of its fruit.” This bride not only came to full physical maturity but she also maintained a level of emotional and spiritual maturity and perhaps even financial or business maturity, and when Solomon laid his eyes on her he knew and she knew they were made and preserved for one another.

Solomon loved everything about this wife God had preserved and kept for him including her voice. Every time he heard it his heart leapt! Vs. 13 “O you who sit in the gardens, My companions are listening for your voice – Let me hear it!” Never take your spouse’s voice for granted folks! We hear many voices in a given day. One should stand out far above the rest. One should get our immediate attention.

The song ends with Solomon’s wife expressing her ever deepening desire for her husband, “Hurry, my beloved, And be like a gazelle or a young stag On the mountains of spices.” We don’t know how long these two have been married at the end of the song, but this we know – the fires of their love for one another are still burning strong. They stewarded their love and passion for one another well. Which proves it can be stewarded and it can stay strong, even increase as the years go by.

So what do we make of our time in the Song of Songs over these last weeks? Allow me to share a few observations or concluding thoughts.

First, you have probably noticed that both Joshua and I skipped some details or phrases in some verses. With poetic books like this, or even apocalyptic books like Revelation, which we plan to start preaching through eventually, it is wise to focus on the things that are clear or at least clearer. We realize all scripture is inspired by God and profitable, but not all scripture is equally clear as to its interpretation. That is especially so with the Song of Songs.

Second, I briefly mentioned early in my sermon the righteous standard that this book raises for God’s people. A righteous standard or plumbline is a clear picture of what God originally intended for His people in any and every area of life. Without seeing this standard we settle and aim for much less. When first confronted with a righteous standard or plumbline, we might feel a bit uncomfortable. We might even want to run out of the building in which the righteous standard is being described or proclaimed. It is much easier to ignore it. Many of us have lived a significant portion of our lives mostly ignorant of God’s righteous standard for love and marriage and sex within marriage. So when we begin to see it for what it is, all kinds of emotions are bound to be stirred up.

Because of this reality in every congregation, we pastors are regularly tempted to lower the plumbline or standard. We do not particularly enjoy watching people squirm and grow increasingly uncomfortable during our sermons or teachings.

But the alternative is far worse. The alternative is to present gospel light, to lower the standard and to thus offend God and leave God’s people in bondage and ignorance.

I want to commend each of you for allowing us to raise the standard however uncomfortable some of this may have been for you. Surely you know we pastors and teachers have had our moments of discomfort as well as we wrestled with these passages and realized where we have fallen short. The apostle Paul made clear we are all in the same boat when he stated, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Now we all have to encourage and support and pray for each other as we seek to be cleansed of the unrighteous standard we have walked in to whatever degree; and then encourage each other as we seek to rise to the standard God always meant for us to attain. Praise God that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. And our wonderful Savior is committed to completing what He began in us.

Third, I touched earlier on the relationship Solomon’s wife had with her brothers growing up. While in chapter one they were angry and impatient with her with something having to do with their work in the vineyards, we learn in chapter 8 they were prepared and committed to protect her from the outside world. None of us have had perfect older siblings, none of us were perfect older siblings, just like none of us have had perfect parents, and none of us are perfect parents. But God’s righteous standard has always been that older siblings are to protect younger siblings -especially younger sisters, who are more vulnerable to predatory young men. Younger sisters are also more vulnerable to misplaced identity and value because of growing up in a highly sexualized culture that validates based on looks, figures, etc.

Some of you were not protected by your older siblings like you should have been growing up and you paid a high price for that. Some of you did not protect your younger sisters like you should have. And your younger sibling might have paid a high price for your negligence. Up to today you may have shrugged that off as life in the grand ole American family. Sayings like “Boys will be boys” have greatly contributed to the dumbing down of our culture and the sad acceptance of an unrighteous standard of family life.

I just want you to know that in my experience no one attains to God’s righteous standard without adequately and thoroughly dealing with the consequences of not having lived by that standard – even if that was years ago and even if you were ignorant of the righteous standard. The good news is there is abundant forgiveness and cleansing at the cross for all of us. May the Holy Spirit in His timing and in His unique way for each person help you and I to righteously deal with our growing up years in this regard.

It might be that there are some here today or watching on youtube and you have never until today realized that “all of us have sinned and fall short of the glory (and expectations) of God”. If you have come to that realization – the good news is Jesus Christ – the Risen Son of God specializes in taking messed up men and women and boys and girls and giving them new life, new hope, new identity and great value. The Bible calls that process salvation. Your role is simply to trust Him to do what you could never do for yourself.

Closing prayer

Testimony of the Williams Renewal of Vows on DVD

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