Recently I started a Bible study on the Song of Solomon, romantic I know. Actually, I have been trying to find a good study for a number of years, and I finally came across one a few weeks ago at a thrift shop, no less. It’s called “What Every Girl Wants: A Portrait of Love and Intimacy in the Song of Solomon” By: Lisa Harper.
The Song of Songs is a brilliant collection of love poetry. Its tone is evocative and rich with sexual imagery to the point where many scholars have questioned its rightful place in the Bible. Some believe it degrades Holy Scripture, but I believe it’s what makes it beautiful. This steamy romance novel, and the unfolding of the ideal love narrative, goes far beyond allegorical. And while there is some semblance between its representation of Christ and His Bride, it also speaks to us at a far more human level about far more earthly and temporary concerns.
Nevertheless, I have to admit that there is one verse that keeps surfacing for me “do not awaken love until it is time.” This phrase, repeated twice by Solomon’s bride, Shalumith, calls for consideration.
The first time we read this verse in the song is chapter 2 verse 7. Dreamy Shalumith who is in the early stages of infatuation begs her companions “Daughters of Jerusalem [my deepest friends and most trusted confidants], I charge you [urge, make a strong request, beg] by the gazelles and by the does of the field: do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” Just a few verses later, in the throes of her passionate romance and when things are really heating up, she repeats the exact same request with the exact same wording (chapter 3 verse 5).
I think it’s a lovely concept and I have employed it on more than one occasion when I’ve felt men pressuring me a bit too much. And I’m not just talking about outright sex here. I’m talking about things like being official, calling each other “pet” names, or whispering sweet nothings into each other’s ears.
But what exactly does this mean and how might we apply it to our situation?
Love is Patient
When someone thinks they are in love (read: infatuated, not actually in love) they often seek to speed up the natural process of getting to know one another. Women are just as guilty (if not more so) of this then men. Either gender might have a tendency to push marriage or being in an official relationship, but it is dangerous to awaken the power of love before both parties are ready for such a commitment.
We’ve heard it countless times and from people of all ages and both genders. “If you really loved me you’d ___” fill in the blank. If you really loved me, you’d ask me to marry you right now. If you really loved me, you’d get me a diamond. If you really loved me, you’d do this or wouldn’t do that. While it’s true that if love is genuine it needs to lead somewhere (preferably a long-term commitment in holy matrimony) the truth is, that love cannot be self-seeking. We cannot use the love card in order to manipulate someone into doing something they really and truly don’t want to do. We cannot force love and try as we might, we cannot convince someone who really hasn’t fallen for us that they actually want to.
I find it so interesting that even in Christian settings we are willing to cloak our own selfish wants and ambitions in the fine print of love. This is so contrary to Scripture which outlines in 1 Corinthians 13 exactly what love entails and the characteristics of this deep intimacy. In this list, the Apostle Paul’s very first qualification for love is that it’s PATIENT. You’ve heard the old adage, true love waits, but being patient is far more than merely waiting for your wedding night to have sex. In fact, being patient encompasses being willing to wait, period. Being willing to wait as long as it takes to woo the person, taking into consideration any past experiences, and being willing to work with them through it. St. Paul then goes on to say that love is not arrogant, is not self-seeking, and does not keep a record of wrong. How much different than the “fake” love we often espouse in our culture – a love that cares mostly about itself, getting a prize, and playing “hard to get.”
How We Awaken Love Before It’s Time
One of the most common ways people of this generation awaken love before it’s time is by our incessant use of social media and online forums. With so much access to pornography, steamy romance literature, chat sites, and glamour magazines, it is becoming increasingly harder to contend for purity in a sex-crazed world. Nevertheless, as Christians, it is our duty to place a guard over our hearts so that we do not go too far too fast.
This is unfortunately one area that many Christians misunderstand. Many Christians mistake naivety for purity believing that they need to completely repress any sexual feelings until marriage. However, as Lisa Harper so wisely points out “there is a difference between prudishness and purity.” God calls us to the latter and this is what pleases Him most.
It’s important to understand here that purity does not simply mean having limits like “no kissing before engagement”. These can certainly be helpful markers and boundaries in a relationship, but real purity is based on your integrity with others. Real purity affects our eyes, your speech, and the condition of your heart. Real purity also avoids any appearance of evil – even if you know in your heart that you didn’t do anything “wrong,” it’s important how younger Christians might perceive you so as not to cause them to stumble either. I love this quote by Francis Schaeffer on the topic, “Our calling is not just to be the faithful bride, but also the bride-in-love. A bride has not been faithful just because she has not slept with anyone else.”
You’ll also notice that in the Song, Shalumith recognizes her need to enlist others in her battle for purity. Why? I believe the reason is two-fold. Firstly, Shalumith probably knew the old Hebrew proverb that “two is better than one because if one falls there is no one to help him up.” When we are in a relationship, it’s easy to lose sight of our focus in the heat of the moment and because we don’t want to do something we will later regret, we need to enlist a mentor. My former youth pastor said it well, when you’re dating you need “accountability with teeth.” We cannot rely on ourselves to be strong enough when temptation comes, we need to know that there will be consequences for our actions or the disappointment of someone close to us whom we admire.
Although it’s easy to place all the pressure on single people to “not do it” I don’t think married people are exempt from this clause either – in fact, I think if anything, married couples have even more responsibility and thus require even more accountability. I’m a huge advocate of having “marriage mentors” especially in the early stages of marriage. You need someone who’s been married much longer than you, to look up to and meet. You also need people to go to for support when you’ve been married for a long-time and your marriage suddenly seems void of action and the secretary starts looking mighty fine.
Secondly, I think in a very real way Shalumith was telling her friends “mind your own business.” Think about the context here. In the ancient times, women got married very young – essentially once they hit puberty. Marriage was vital for women in that time period because it’s how they would receive their financial security. There was no “self-made woman” back there. There was no “playing hard-to-get” because in a very real way, it was a necessity. So, in my mind I picture these adolescent girls gossiping like middle schoolers. “Did you see that dreamy look Solomon (AKA: hottie, AKA: Hunk, AKA: the tank) just gave Shalumith? Did you see her flirting back? I bet he’s the one.” I can see them staking out behind the well with only their head sticking out from behind the iron fence just waiting to catch them holding hands. And I can see Shalumith shaking her head and in an almost jovial way responding “girls, mind your own business, I’m sure the right guy will come along for you, too.” Don’t awaken love. Don’t make a bigger deal than what’s actually going on. Don’t gossip to the town about what you think’s going to happen before he’s even met my dad and gotten his approval.
I think both cases are possibilities for why Shalumith doesn’t want this love to be awakened until she is sure and confident that this man really is about to sweep her off her feet.
But What If Love Was Awaken Before We Were Ready
The sad reality for many women is that this romantic, idealized love they so readily dream of seems elusive and beyond reach. Sometimes because they were manipulated by a so-called lover to “give” before marriage out of fear or a threat to leave them.
And other times, something much worse happens. The sadly no longer shocking statistics show that more and more women are subjected to sexual violence, abuse, and assault. The unfortunate reality is that many women have had sexual experiences awakened before they were ready, and when it was the furthest thing they wanted. Many of these women continue to feel the effects years later even when they have found the right man who truly understands and is willing to wait.
And this is one reason why I feel like the Song of Songs is so relevant and important within the lives of young Christian women today. The Songs help us reclaim, restore, and renew the passionate romance that is rightfully ours. In a world that has forgotten what real love is and replaced it with a thin, ghastly shadow of nothing but lust and objectification, the Songs harken us back to a fuller and more mature understanding of intimacy and the value of love. To fully delight in the passionate romance between two people is exactly what God designed for us and is willing to offer. Even though our world has mired and messed up this vision, God still calls out to us, wooing us to Himself and embracing us in His ever present love, grace, compassion, and kindness.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
Shalumith knew the secrets to a long-lasting, God ordained passionate romance, and we can, too.
True love is patient, it doesn’t manipulate the other partner by making “what if” statements.
True love doesn’t apply pressure, doesn’t rush the other person, and provides space and freedom.
True love understands and seeks to put the other person above one’s own needs and desires.
True love seeks to be pure, accountable, and honest with mentors and friends.
True love believes the best, and reclaims the original vision God granted to us:
A vision which knows not to awaken love before it is time.