Is. 43:1-7: You were created for God’s glory, not your pleasure. Your greatest pleasure comes when God is your greatest desire. And when we discuss dating and relationships, we must unpack some things before we get into SofS so we can understand how we can glorify God in dating.
Let’s briefly explain 3 ways that cultures have used to hook people:
1. Prearranged Marriage: Many of the marriages in the OT were prearranged by the parents. It was not uncommon in OT times for women to marry in their early to mid teens. This process is described but never prescribed in the OT as the way all God’s people for all time in all cultures should be married. But if you have daughters, you like it.
2. Courtship: This is when a man pursues a woman under the oversight of her family. Biblically, the repeated refrain is that a man takes a wife, and a woman is given in marriage. This principle of a man pursuing a wife under the loving oversight of the woman’s father and family is illustrated in the traditional marriage custom where a father walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her in marriage. One example in the OT is given in Numbers 30:3–5. There we see that if a young woman tells her suitor that she will marry him but her father does not approve, the father has the legal right to nullify the engagement and protect his daughter from a marriage he does not believe is good for her. I am the daddy of two very beautiful daughters. In our home there will be courtship. Any male wanting to spend time to pursue my daughters will have to pursue them on my terms, on my turf, and only when I say yes. Some of you say settle down daddy….well, I will tell you…wake up whoever it is who would tell me o settle down. I deeply love my daughters and, I am very well aware of the intentions of many males and I know the percentage of sexual abuse in dating relationships. I want to do all I can to ensure the safety and sanctity of my lovely daughters. It is my responsibility and my joy to offer this to my daughters as their daddy. Got it?!
3. Dating: In 1896 the word dating was introduced as lower-class slang in reference to prostitution. “Going on a date” was a euphemism for paying for sex. By the 1920s, urbanization provided social outlets for meeting outside the home. Rather than courting at the woman’s home, singles were now able to go out together at places such as restaurants, movie theaters, and dance halls. This began to create new social networks for single people away from their homes and parents and opened up greater opportunities for such things as casual dating and inappropriate sexual contact. Since mostly men worked, they were required to make good money, purchase a car, and treat a woman for a date. They began expecting sexual favors in return for spending money on her. Men often pressured women for sexual favors in exchange for an expensive date. Those women who refused such requests were often no longer asked out on dates, and looser women became more popular dates and the men with the most money were consider the most eligible bachelor.
Dating has proven that we, as Christians, are far too easily pleased with mudpies, when God has created us for His glory…Stop being so satisfied with junk food that kills you! Actually, one of the main things that attracted me to Amy when we were dating, was her passionate love for Jesus and desire to be satisfied in His will, not her own! That is sex.
Now, with that, let’s get into Song of Solomon 1:12 where Solomon and Shulammite are in the middle of their courtship. It starts off with Shulammite speaking: 12 While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. 13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. What she is saying is, this nard here is my husband. She’s not saying my husband is a nerd… here me out. Nard is a really expensive perfume that is usually held in a very valuable container, in this case, the container is a sachet (a pouch). She is comparing her husband to the most valuable thing she has. So she is saying that her most valuable possession is her husband.
She goes on: 14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi. A cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards was used for an ornament. She is saying that for her to have the privilege of calling Solomon her beloved is to her an ornament that makes her beautiful.
And Engedi was the location of vine gardens that Solomon planted on the west side of the dead sea. It was an oasis in the midst of a dry barren desert with fresh water, trees, fruit, life! It was a wonderful place to be… Solomon is similarly a refreshment to her.
Men feel like their life is desert, and they want to come home to Engedi: to a wife, home, children, that is a place of rest, refreshment, rejuvenation.
“See, if your husband loves you and he’s working hard all day, and he’s out there slugging it out to feed the family, and the whole day has been a desert. No encourage-ment. No support. No replenishment. He comes home. You want to greet him at the door and be Engedi. You need to greet him like this: “I love you. Welcome home, sweetheart.” Don’t start with “Why didn’t you take the trash out before you left… the whole house stinks now!” Don’t start railing on him. “Boy, the kids, they’re terrible. They’re just like their dad. You got to spank him and deal with her and, you know, we need to paint the house and the grass is too high and, you know, ah.” He comes home not to Engedi, but to purgatory. Like man, this is terrible. I’m trapped and it’s terrible. You want to be Engedi. You want your home to be Engedi.” Mark Driscoll
And if you’re single and not married yet, you know if you are that type to rail on those you love, never really satisfied, push those away whom you love to see if they’ll keep loving you, etc… Deal with that now, before you get married. Listen to the friends who are honest to you. Don’t just write them off if they offend you with truth about who you are or how you act. Listen to them, humble yourself, change! Proverbs 27:6: Faithful are the wounds of a friend; deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.
Then Solomon and Shulammite begin a romantic compliment war: (Solomon) 1:15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. (Shulammite)16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is green; 17 the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine. 2:1 I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. (Solomon) 2 As a lily among brambles (thorns), so is my love among the young women. (Shulammite) 3 As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
This is what you call an elegant dance of mutual praise! The first step of this dance is Solomon leading out in the romantic, emotionally driven love talk: Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves. Twice he praises her beauty. Then she responds by praising his beauty twice: Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is green; Okay, that’s romantic! Our couch is green. Some say that this shows that ADD was a disorder back then, not just a 20th century deal! “Our couch is green.” Really? What’s that about?
She goes on: 17 the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine. I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. She’s expanding the imagery of their delight they take in one another. Solomon says she is a dove, then she is saying that their home is the nature they are in. In fact, she says their couch is green grass, they have many houses among the trees (the cedars and the pines), and he has made her feel like a beautiful rose.
This is a great picture of courtship. Kind words to one another, delighting in one another’s beauty and presence, enjoying time together in God’s creation, the man honoring and respecting his girlfriend, making her feel beautiful and not like an object. This is an actual picture of a gentleman. A man, not a ban!
Dating couples, here’s some questions for you: Is your time together mutually uplifting? Are you having fun together or is it a constant battle for you to find things to do to keep you from being sexually overboard with one another? Dudes, are you creative with your time together and do you make her feel like the most beautiful woman among all the other women? Do you speak of the Lord together at all?
Solomon adds to Shulammite’s comments about how he makes her feel: “Not only are you a rose of Sharon, but you are as a lily among brambles (thorns), so is my love among the young women. She is so lovely that she makes every other women look like thorns compared to her. She stands out. She is lovely, delightful, true, strong, life giving.
Ladies: Are you delightful? Are you lovely? Are you a life giver? This imagery begs the fact that he is not mainly referring to physical beauty, but her character. What is your character like ladies? Are you a rose among thorns? Are you a rare treasure?
Shulammite responds to her strong man’s kind and endearing words like this: As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
The princess says that she feels safe and uplifted with Solomon. The forest where they are is dangerous with wild animals, rough terrain, and unpredictable weather; but Solomon is safety and security to her. He is her protecter and she feels comfortable and safe when she is with him. She can rest in his shade even though life is crazy.
His fruit was sweet to my taste can refer to different things. Some say that this is the beginning of them becoming intimate, but because I believe this is a date, mixed with imagery and imagination of what their wedding day will be like, I take this to be referring to his words were very enjoyable.
In the literature of their day, fruit is a common metaphor for speech, as in “fruit of the lips” and sweet often referred to speech. He has been kind with his words and love toward her and she is saying, “Thank you for your kind, loving and respectful words to me!”
If we backtrack the journey that her words bring us on, we get this picture: Shulammite began this part of the song telling of her experience in the heat of the sun. Solomon met her in that place and provided an Engedi for her. Like an oasis, he gave her water and refreshment. Like an apple tree, he provided shade and food. She feels completely safe with him. Two big ideas here for relationships: time and cultivation.
Men: Love and tenderness is the greatest need of a woman. Take time to cultivate it. Women: Respect is the greatest need of a man. Take the time to cultivate it.
Whether you are married or not, this is the desired result from relationships. If you’re married, you cannot get out…so labor your butt off to provide this for one another. If you’re not married, count the cost before you run head first in to marriage.
This kind of freedom and protection and love is so huge in a marriage. Without it, growth is hindered, With this kind of environment, you are both free to grow in your intimacy with the Lord and with each other. This also frees you up to love better and more fully! They feel safe to be themselves and know that they are radically accepted as they are.
And because of this great relationship, the woman truly desires the erotic love with her man and begins to daydream about their wedding, of which she is getting ready for:
4 He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. 5 Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. 6 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!
Here Shulammite is daydreaming on her wedding day about what their lovemaking will be like that night. All the times of dating that have made her feel loved and safe have given her a deep desire to be with him and give him all of her. She is willingly weak with him and wants him to sustain her. She longs for his arms to embrace her, to caress her, to enjoy her.
But now we must close with what Shulammite closes with: 7 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. All that daydreaming may be fun, but it is dangerous!
Shulammite abruptly ends her deep desirous thought (which is good in and of itself) of being erotically intimate with her man! She addresses the daughters of Jerusalem (remember, they are just a literary device, not a real group of people; much like an audience at a play for them to listen to a main point of the play). The Songs major theme is found in 8:6-7. Marital love is strong as death and as powerful as the flame of Yahweh. It is not for those who don’t want to play by the rules, because it will burn you bad, or even crush you.
This particular passage is symbolic of an old Hebrew oath. By way of Hebrew culture of repeating things (3 times), Shulammite has entered into an oath; an oath of purity (an oath is a solemn appeal to God as clear evidence of the truth of a statement or the binding character of a promise). This oath is found in 2:7; 3:5; 8:4.
The taking of an oath in the Hebrew culture involved the truthfulness and integrity of the individual’s character. It was considered an important act when an individual swore an oath, unlike the days we live in, where oaths are easily broken and unkept with little to no consequences. An oath was an affirmation of a promise.
So when Shulammite entered into these oaths 3 times, this tells us that Solomon (the author) is driving home a particular point concerning the arousal of love in these oaths. Throughout this book, Solomon is making a point to the reader of the danger of awakening love (sexual, erotic passion) before the proper time. Because of the words “I adjure you” (I urge or solemnly or earnestly request “someone” to do something), we know that the author is taking this very seriously.
In all 3 instances, Shulammite is showing wisdom and love for the ladies of the court (us) not to plunge rashly into sexual passion before it’s time (marriage). She is appealing for premarital purity (1 Thess 4:1-8). This is clearly one of the main themes of the book.
So with that, let’s close with some practical tools for those who want to get married or those who are engaged and how they can honor the Lord in this time and lay a foundation that will help their marriage last and endure over the years:
Get to know each other in ways that are not physical: This means going on dates that are not movies, clubs, or other places where you can’t talk and be emotionally and relationally intimate. Seek to enjoy one another’s company. If you can’t enjoy each other without being physically intimate, feel free to break up the relationship/engagement. Below is a list of questions you should ask each other as you get to know one another and be sure to have grace on one another and realize that you are not looking for someone who meets everything on this list, but someone who is working towards it and shows desire to be excellent and unselfish:
1. Is this person totally committed to Jesus? (2 Cor. 6:14: yoked). What are their priorities? What consumes their life? Their conversations? Look at their closest friends. What are they like? What do they allow to influence them the most?
2. Does this person make you feel unconditionally accepted? If you feel that you’re on a performance basis now, it will get worse when you get married. How does this person respond to your weaknesses currently? What about other people’s weaknesses? Women, how does he treat his mother? Men, does she respect or honor her father?
3. Is this person able to respond with a blessing when hurt of offended by you or someone else? (1 Pet. 3:9: Do no repay evil with evil…)
4. Is this person committed to God’s priorities of family life? (God, Wife, Kids, Job/Ministry).
5. Is this person financially responsible? Jesus taught that you can tell a lot about a person’s devotion to God by observing how they handle money and possessions. When a man or woman’s is faithful in financial matters, you generally find that the rest of their life is in order (not the rule though).
6. Is this person committed to God’s viewpoint on sex? Do this person demonstrate sexual control before marriage?
7. Does this person have a submission problem? Generally, when people have submission problems, they make very bad partners for life (Eph. 5:21: mutual submission…takes humility). Women, are you willing to submit to the man you want to marry with a glad heart? Men, if she has a “I won’t let any man tell me what to do” mentality, think carefully about marrying her. Likewise, women, if he is demanding you submit to him, I would think twice about marrying him.
8. Are you able to absorb the maturity difference between where he or she is or where you think they ought to be? If it is too much for you to absorb those maturity differences, then you shouldn’t marry. Sexual intimacy in pre-marriage relationships tends to blur these issues that should stick out like a sore thumb.
9. Do you have the capacity to embrace his or her lifestyle and calling? Do one of you want to be a doctor? Can you endure lonely days and nights during school and a potential busy medical practice? Maybe he wants to be a pastor. Can she support him emotionally and embrace that high calling with him? You should count the cost.
10. Are you prepared to count the cost of re-arranging your personal time and priorities according to God’s priorities in marriage and family life?