All of us live our lives on the basis of what some philosophers call “meta-narratives.” A meta-narrative is an account which explains to us the overall purpose of this life. The meta-narrative we seek to live by is what we believe to be the story of the universe. This story helps us to make sense of everything in this world – including our marriages. The Christian meta-narrative is the belief that this is Godʼs world and that in it he is seeking to create a people through Christ which belong to him and who love him and enjoy him and the entire creation. Christians are meant to understand their marriages in this context. Our marriages rarely rises above the purposes which we have for them.
1) Marriage is created for “the welfare and happiness of mankind.” It is to bring
joy through intimacy. “Intimacy is the sharing of closeness, of bonding, of reciprocation. It is the engulfing of warmth and care. It is the experiencing of Another. We are taken out of our own self-centeredness, into the life and orbit of human beings whom we recognize to be at least as significant as we are.” Elaine Storkey, The Search for Intim.
C.S. Lewis said that lovers look at each other, while friends stand beside each other looking at common visions. Marriage partners must do both. Two core realities are found when intimacy is flourishing in a relationship: a sense of security and a sense of significance.
Security: Marriage is meant to be a relationship of radical acceptance. Providing a safe environment is one of the greatest gifts you can offer to another person. We long to know that another person accepts us at our worst.
Significance: Marriage is meant to be a relationship where we truly make a difference in a person’s life. Look at married love: Nothing can redeem the past like a healthy marriage. One positive word from your spouse outweighs all negative ones of your past.
2) Marriage is also to cause us to grow in christlikeness. This is our maturity or sanctification. You want to mature as a believer…get maried! Husbands are to promote their wivesʼ sanctification through being Christ like (Eph.5:25-27). Similarly, wives are to promote their husbandʼs sanctification through being Christ like (1 Peter 3:1-2; 2:21-25). Much of this change takes place through confrontation. Marriage is confrontational by nature. But it’s supposed to be redemptive.
3) Marriage is to reflect the relationship of Christ and the Church to the watching world. Christ initiated his relationship with his people when they were enemies and deserved his wrath. In Romans 5:8 Paul writes, “But God demonstrates his love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He continues to loves his people in spite of their flaws. We have the responsibility and privilege of demonstrating this kind of love in the marriage relationship. Ok, now we can get into the text. Let’s go!
After Shulammite returns home from her stay at the palace, time passes, and she waits patiently for her man as she goes about her life. Then one afternoon she looks through her window and she sees a good looking, strong man, running towards her house and she realizes it’s him…Solomon has come to see her! This is where we pick up here in chapter 2 v. 8. The couple is engaged preparing to spend the rest of their life together:
8 The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away, 11 for behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree ripens its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
I’m sure many of you have seen love transform the appearance and countenance of someone you are close to. A renewed smile, a hop in their step, radiant eyes and a joyful spirit. It’s the transition from winter to spring. Love has a way of transforming us!
Here we are seeing Shulammite being pursued and loved and her desire for Solomon continues to increase. Now Solomon tells Shulammite the real reason why he came to see her. He wants to know the depths of her heart. He is not satisfied with superficial love…he wants to know more about her:
14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
Shulammite has taken her time to reveal the true depths of her heart to Solomon, as this is healthy, because this love, once unleashed is more powerful than death & she knows that she must give those parts of her at the right time, to the one who deserves it.
Solomon and Shulammite collectively say: 15 Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.”
Just as they would protect their vineyards from foxes, they would protect their love from them too. In this case, the foxes would be referring to anything that will sabotage their vibrant, fun and healthy relationship. And a fox is a good analogy here.
Foxes go under the radar. They operate in stealth and you can’t see them until it’s too late. And foxes are usually portrayed as sneaking up to steal eggs in a henhouse, or ripening grapes of the vineyard, etc… Foxes are small, but if they are given unrestricted access, they will very quickly eat every egg in a henhouse or destroy the crop completely and ruin a harvest season.
Frequent requests for patience naturally implies that impatience with sexual intimacy in a relationship is a destructive force much like a fox is to a vineyard. Grapes that are harvested too soon are too bitter to make good wine, much like sexual intimacy that is wrought too early is also too bitter to make a good relationship.
Solomon and Shulammite are convinced that that their sexual love must be an expression of mature love–one that has had time to blossom to ripened fruit, to the point where each person is ready to promise a lifetime together.
They’re not ready to express with their bodies what they’re not yet ready to say with their hearts. They’ll enjoy that fruit when it ripens.
Instead, for now, they will be content and satisfied with expressing their unselfish love for one another: 16 My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies.
They are not seeking to say “He is mine” or “She is mine”, but “We belong together.” How can this be fulfilling without getting it on? Because intimate bonding is a connection between two people at their deepest level. When a couple can relate with that kind of vulnerability, they lay a foundation for a lasting relationship.
This leads to Shulammite, again, looking forward to the day when she can make love to her man: 17 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft mountains.
When the wedding day comes, she wants him to be like a young stag waiting to mate. She’s saying: “I am yours Solomon and I can’t wait to share that kind of intimacy with you. I can’t wait for the celebration of our relationship to express itself in sexual union!” The closer she becomes to him emotionally, the closer she longs to be physically as well.
As Shulammite is longing for the day of the wedding, and is dreaming about living in Jerusalem at the palace, she says:
3:1 On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not. 2 I will rise now and go about the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. 3 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” 4 Scarcely had I passed them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into my mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived me. 5 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.
Shulammite couldn’t sleep at night and had to be with him. In her dream, she searches for him and when she found him, she held tight to him and would not let him go! Then she takes him to her mother’s house because that is a safe place for the two of them to be and not open up the sexual part of their love before it’s proper time (courtship). Not until after the wedding will she leave her parent’s home to make a new one with him.
“I adjure you” or “I want you to promise me”. The same urgency to remain patient before they got engaged is even more urgent as their wedding day approaches. Now after the long sleepless night and the dream, at last the day has come. This part of the song captures the wedding parade: soldiers marching, swords gleaming, young women straining to see, sparkling jewels, colorful clothes, and a rush of excitement when the royal carriage arrives:
6 What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant? 7 Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! Around it are sixty mighty men, some of the mighty men of Israel, 8 all of them wearing swords and expert in war, each with his sword at his thigh, against terror by night. 9 King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. 10 He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. 11 Go out, O daughters of Zion, and look upon King Solomon, with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart.
What an awesome display of power and wealth, but Solomon had used none of wealth or power to woo her heart towards his. He lovingly shepherded her and cared for her without any flex of the power that he had. She is now realizing all the power he has and is reminded again how important her heart is to him.
And finally, his power serves great purpose on this day. It is calming her fears as she leaves the security of her home. It shows that he can provide for her. And all the soldiers in the parade show that Solomon can protect her. The night before she couldn’t sleep, and in her dream she found safety in the home of her mother, now she is finding safety in the presence of Solomon. Love seeks to meet the needs of the object it so desires. Shulammite sees that Solomon has all of his attention on her and desires to give all he has to her!
So there you have it. A courtship and engagement gone good! Two unselfish lovers being patient with love and not seeking to gratify themselves first. Two lovers who cultivated their relationship without physical intimacy. Two lovers who played by God’s rules and are about to enjoy the fruit of their patience. Let’s close with going over once again what it looks like to be emotionally, relationally, and physically (non-erotic) intimate with one another, as I believe this will enhance married and singles alike in all their relationships. This intimacy section comes from Dr. Steve Tracy and his wife Celestia Tracy’s new book, Forever and Always and class notes for CD 504; A Theology of Bonding:
1) Emotional Intimacy: the language of the heart; the ability to both feel and respectfully express our honest feelings to one another and have them understood and validated. Emotional safety creates relational stability. “He is the one who really knows me.” At the core of emotional intimacy is non-verbal communication. Below is a break of the percentage types of communication in a healthy relationship:
55% – Nonverbal gestures, posture, emotions
38% – Voice (pitch, speed, intensity)
7% – Words
John Gottman’s research, The Relationship Cure:
The “Bid” is the fundamental unit of communication. He says a bid can be a question, a gesture, a look, a touch…any single expression that says, “I want to feel connected to you.” A response to a bid is a positive or negative answer to somebody’s request for emotional connection.
During a typical dinner hour conversation, happily married couples engage each other 100 times every 10 minutes. Couples headed for divorce only 25-50 times every 10 minutes. High rate of positive engagement creates increased access to expressions of humor, affection, and interest during arguments. Here are 3 typical responses to bids for connection:
Turning towards: a positive response
Turning against: a belligerent or argumentative response
Turning away: ignoring another’s bid or acting preoccupied
Which of these 3 would you say is most detrimental to a relationship…. Turning away because it is saying I’m am going to pretend you don’t even exist right now…apathy.
2) Relational Intimacy: the art of cherishing; the closeness created between two people when they experience a profound sense of knowing and being known in a safe, committed relationship with each other. There are many challenges in our day and age to this aspect of intimacy. I’m going to name just a few to help you be aware of areas in your own life that aren’t healthy:
a) Our sin nature inclines us to be self centered and to prioritize our own needs/interests at the expense of others. (1 Cor. 3:3; Gal. 5:19-21)
b) Our culture is increasingly impersonal and offers few models of true relational intimacy. Internet technology gives the illusion of relational intimacy. Facebook, Twitter, Email, and how quickly we can “ADD” friends.
c) Our pornified culture is programming men to objectify women and programming women to be objectified and used. In fact, significant, observable changes in males attitudes toward females have been documented after as little as one fifteen minute exposure to pornography.1
d) Our culture creates a complex dynamic in which people are used and wounded and become much more self protective and even narcissistic. For instance, note the following MSNBC online article on a recent study of college students:
Jean Twenge of San Diego State University along with four other psychologists examined the responses of 16,475 college students nationwide who completed an evaluation called the Narcissistic Personality Inventory between 1982 and 2006. The researchers describe their study as the largest ever of its type and say students’ NPI scores have risen steadily since the current test was introduced in 1982. The researchers concluded that “Today’s college students are more narcissistic and self-centered than their predecessors.” The study asserts that narcissists “are more likely to have romantic relationships that are short-lived, at risk for infidelity, lack emotional warmth, and to exhibit game-playing, dishonesty, and over-controlling and violent behaviors. Twenge, the author of “Generation Me: Why Today’s Young Americans Are More Confident, Assertive, Entitled — and More Miserable Than Ever Before,” said narcissists tend to lack empathy, react aggressively to criticism and favor self-promotion over helping others. The researchers traced the phenomenon back to what they called the “self-esteem movement” that emerged in the 1980s, asserting that the effort to build self-confidence had gone too far.
How Do We Develop Relational Intimacy
a) Communicate the priority of the relationship and your love for the other person.
b) Find ways to give special honor to your intimate friends.
c) Establish guidelines to prioritize the relationship.
d) Establish guidelines to protect the relationship.
3) Physical (non-erotic) Dimension: the power of touch; this is the deepening effect of emotional and relational intimacy where the couple is deepening their ability to experience one another.
a) Physical touch is essential for life itself (studies of kids who’ve been extremely isolated from touch for the beginning years of their life have life long emotional and relational damage that almost never fully recovers).
b) Human connection, including physical touch, is essential for long-term physical and emotional development (same results from the study).
c) Our bodies are intricately and necessarily wired for touch. No further commentary needed!
Jesus touched and was touched in all these ways throughout His ministry and often used touch to heal, restore, create closeness and acceptance. He touched lepers (Matt. 8:1-3); allowed a sinful woman to caress His feet and dry them with her hair, and kiss them (Luke 7:37-38; 45); was greeted with a kiss from his disciples (Mark 14:45); during the final passover meal, the disciple John was reclining on Jesus’ breast the Scripture says (John 13:23 KJV; bosom); Jesus was apparently comfortable with non-erotic physical touching…it was His creation!
The celebration of this kind of relating with your spouse is the foundation for deep, awesome and breath-taking sexual intimacy. But the above grid is the way we should seek to relate with those we love or are in ministry with, but not married to. In this way, women are treated with love and respect by men and not treated as objects. Women can respect men and not look at them all the same, as creeps or horn dogs. We need to re-write what it looks like to relate to people and stop over-emphasizing the sexual aspect of intimacy so much. We miss out so much when we do that. And others do too.