Bible Topics In The Christian Library
Chapter 11
Marriage and Family Life
The Nature of Marriage

The Song of Solomon is about a man and his wife—how they look upon, feel about, and act toward each other. The style of the book differs noticeably from the styles of the Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. The Song of Solomon appears to teach by presenting a model to imitate. It demonstrates by example the kind of mentality and behavior that should occur in a healthy marriage. During childhood we learn to speak by attending to good models. Perhaps that is also how we best learn to live together as partners in marriage. It also appears to contain a large proportion of figurative language. (Of course, the figures were relevant for their culture, e.g., a flock of goats, the tower of David, the peak of Amana.) At times the language is quite explicit, such as when he mentions various parts of her body. At other times, however, the language is very symbolic, such as when describing very intimate activity—an elegant way of dealing with delicate matters.

In the Lord's design, marriage and family are the chief occupation of women. It is a glorious role because when it follows His plan, holy matrimony is the nearest thing to heaven on earth. Indeed, Solomon makes reference to his wife as his own private garden paradise—a gift of God for pleasure and nurturance.

A garden locked is my sister, my bride; a garden locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, and nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all chief spices—a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. I come to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gather my myrrh with my spice, I eat my honeycomb with my honey, I drink my wine with my milk. Eat, O friends, and drink: drink deeply, O lovers! (Song of Solomon 4:12-5:1; RSV). Holy matrimony is the union of a man with a woman, a union where two people become one—one in heart and one in body. Solomon's wife says: My beloved is mine and I am his, he pastures his flock among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle, or a young stag upon rugged mountains (Song of Solomon 2:16, 17; RSV).

I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine; he pastures his flock among the lilies (Song of Solomon 6:3; RSV).

I am my beloved's, and his desire is for me (Song of Solomon 7:10; RSV).

Since the time of Adam and Eve, the Lord has sanctified in a very special way this most intimate human relationship. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh (Genesis 2:24; KJV). Agur was puzzled about this, and Paul called it a great mystery. There are three things beyond my comprehension, four, indeed, that I do not understand. …the way of a man with a girl (Proverbs 30:18, 19; JB).

"For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one." This is a great mystery… (Ephesians 5:31, 32; RSV).

Separation, whether the initial separation of pre-marriage or those temporary periods away from each other, is sometimes compared to the coldness of winter and the dampness of rain; at other times it is compared to the harsh roughness of rugged mountains or primitive survival in a wilderness. And the reunion of a husband with his wife is like the glory of spring in their garden paradise. The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping upon the mountains, bounding over the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle, or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice. My beloved speaks and says to me:

"Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away; for lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land. The fig tree puts forth its figs, and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the covert of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is comely (Song of Solomon 2:8-14; RSV).

What is that coming up from the wilderness, like a column of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of the merchant? Behold, it is the litter of Solomon! (Song of Solomon 3:6, 7; RSV).

Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards (Song of Solomon 4:8; RSV).

Who is that coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? (Song of Solomon 8:5; RSV).

In sum: A man 's wife is like his own garden paradise.
Her Love for Him

Women differ from men in mind as well as in body, and one important difference is in the desire for marriage: women have the greater need. The Lord told Eve (the prototype woman):

…your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you (Genesis 3:16; RSV). Both the opening and the closing words of Song of Solomon are those of Solomon's wife expressing her love and desire for him: The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's. O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore the maidens love you. Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you (Song of Solomon 1:1-4; RSV).

Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of spice (Song of Solomon 8:14; RSV).

A woman's husband is very special to her; and she takes delight in his love. Indeed, her beloved husband supplies her greatest pleasure, nurturing, and healing. But beware! She tells young maidens, romantic love arouses strong passions; therefore do not fall in love prematurely; wait for the proper time, the proper place, and the proper man. As an apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins, refresh me with apples; for I am sick with love. O that his hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the hinds of the fields, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please (Song of Solomon 2:3-7; RSV). The appetites of love can be overwhelming. Solomon's wife told of being aroused in the night by her need for him, a need so strong she went to great lengths to bring him into her arms. Again she warns young women: withhold passion until it promotes good—till marriage. Upon my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. "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. The watchmen found me, as they went about in the city. "Have you seen him whom my soul loves?" 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 that conceived me. I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the hinds of the field, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please (Song of Solomon 3:1-5; RSV). The sensual pleasures of marital intimacy are wholesome and honorable. Consider how this virtuous wife used her charms to strengthen their bond. Her attitude is that she belongs to him, and she recognizes that his desire is for her. Therefore, she invites him to partake of the joys of marital pleasure which she has carefully prepared to give. But, of course, she uses discretion in her behavior. Although wanting to display her affection for him publicly, she nevertheless acts with restrained dignity. Moreover, at every opportune moment, she wisely warns young maidens to shun illicit love. Here are her words: Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its fragrance be wafted abroad. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits (Song of Solomon 4:16; RSV).

I went down to the nut orchard, to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince (Song of Solomon 6:11, 12; RSV).

I belong to my beloved and his longing is for me. Come my beloved, let us go into the field, let us rest among the henna flowers (AAT). Let us go out early to the vineyards, and see whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love. The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and over our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old, which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.

O that you were like a brother to me, that nursed at my mother's breast! If I met you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, and into the chamber of her that conceived me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranates. O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me! I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please (RSV) (Song of Solomon 7:10-8:4).

The pleasures of marriage were created by the Lord as a gift for that special relationship to reward and strengthen it. Unfaithfulness defiles and weakens marriage. In the letter to the Hebrews we find these words: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled; for God will judge the immoral and adulterous (Hebrews 13:4; RSV). Consider how the actions of the faithful, virtuous wife described in Song of Solomon compare with those of the unfaithful, adulterous wife described in Proverbs. This woman makes her self both look and act like a whore. Her appetite is also strong, but she foolishly lets it turn into a wanderlust transforming her into a beast of prey prowling in the night. Like a whore, she acts erotically in public with her paramours without shame. She, too, invites with sweet words, saying that she has made careful preparation for sharing pleasure; but not in the way God approves—with her husband. And she gives no warning. No, she belittles the danger, and so leads many men into grief. Remember this story: For at the window of my house I looked through my casement, and beheld among the simple ones, I discerned among the youths, a young man void of understanding, passing through the street near her corner; and he went the way to her house, in the twilight, in the evening, in the black and dark night: and, behold, there met him a woman with the attire of an harlot, and subtle of heart. (She is loud and stubborn; her feet abide not in her house: now is she without, now in the streets, and lieth in wait at every corner.) So she caught him, and kissed him, and with an impudent face she said unto him, I have peace offerings with me; this day have I paid my vows. Therefore came I forth to meet thee, diligently to seek thy face, and I have found thee. I have decked my bed with coverings of tapestry, with carved works, with fine linen of Egypt. I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves (KJV). For my husband is not at home, he is gone a long journey; he took in his hand a roll of silver, and will return to his house after many days (LXX). With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him (RSV). He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks (KJV); till an arrow pierces its entrails: as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life (RSV) (Proverbs 7:6-23). Pleasure and appetite go together. Thus, the ecstasies of marital love are accompanied by an equally intense appetite—one difficult to restrain once cultivated by practice. Therefore, Paul said each partner has a serious responsibility to satisfy the needs of the other: But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:2-5; RSV). In sum: A faithful wife commits her whole heart to her husband, and she will use all her charms to strengthen their relationship.
His Love for Her

By definition not every woman can be exceptionally beautiful. Nevertheless, every woman who takes care of herself has a natural beauty that is appealing to virtually all men. Solomon's wife considers herself attractive, but recognizes that she is not especially beautiful. She has known hard labor and servitude, and the delicate refinement of exceptional beauty has been lost.

I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. Do not gaze at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has scorched me. My mother's sons were angry with me, they made me keeper of the vineyards; but, my own vineyard I have not kept (Song of Solomon 1:5, 6; RSV). Solomon's wife tells him that she is only a common woman. But he sees her differently. Of all women, from the greatest to the most ordinary, she is the only perfect one for him. I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys. As a lily among brambles, so is my love among maidens (Song of Solomon 2:1, 2; RSV).

There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and maidens without number. My dove, my perfect one, is only one, the darling of her mother, flawless to her that bore her (Song of Solomon 6:8, 9; RSV).

The appreciation of beauty—even fine works of art—must often be developed through cultivating good taste. It is wise for a husband to make an effort to cultivate an appreciation for the beautiful work of art that is his wife. Solomon encouraged husbands, saying: Drink from your own well, my son—be faithful and true to your wife. Why should you beget children with women of the street? (LB). Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely hind, a graceful doe. Let her affection fill you at all times with delight, be infatuated always with her love (RSV) (Proverbs 5:15- A wise husband will appreciate the beauty of his wife, and he will tell her often, and with sweet words, how very beautiful her body (a masterfully made work from the Lord) is in his eyes—every part of it—and how thrilling it is to indulge himself with her body and partake of her love. Roughly 20 percent of the entire text of Song of Solomon is devoted to expressing his love for her. Here are his words: Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves (Song of Solomon 1:15; RSV).

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them is bereaved. Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an arsenal, whereon hang a thousand bucklers, all of them shields of warriors. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will hie me to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are all fair, my love; there is no flaw in you. Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of Lions, from the mountains of leopards.

You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride, you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! how much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips distil nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue, the scent of your garments is like the scent of Lebanon (Song of Solomon 4:1-11; RSV).

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they disturb me. Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes, that have come up from the washing, all of them bear twins, not one among them is bereaved. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil (Song of Solomon 6:4-7; RSV).

How graceful are your feet in sandals, O queenly maiden! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, overlooking Damascus. Your head crowns you like Carmel, and your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses.

How fair and pleasant you are, O loved one, delectable maiden! You are stately as a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its branches. Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your kisses like the best wine that goes down smoothly, gliding over lips and teeth (Song of Solomon 7:1-9; RSV).

Solomon perceives his wife to be a beautiful treasure, and he desires to make her even more beautiful: I compare you, my love, to a mere of Pharaoh's chariots. Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver (Song of Solomon 1:9-11; RSV). Solomon's words are most likely figurative, because the best kind of beauty is within and not dependent upon extravagant jewelry. The most desirable qualities of beauty are of the heart, and a woman's true ornaments are her good deeds. Paul wrote: I also want women to be modest and sensible about their clothes and to dress properly; not with fancy hair styles, or with gold ornaments or pearls or expensive dresses, but with good deeds, as is proper for women who claim to be religious (1 Timothy 2:9, 10; TEV). And Peter agreed, saying: Do not dress up for show: doing up your hair, wearing gold bracelets and fine clothes; all this should be inside, in a person's heart, imperishable: the ornament of a sweet and gentle disposition—this is what is precious in the sight of God. That was how the holy women of the past dressed themselves attractively—they hoped in God and were tender and obedient to their husbands; like Sarah, who was obedient to Abraham, and called him her lord. You are now her children, as long as you live good lives and do not give way to fear or worry (1 Peter 3:3-6; JB). Certainly, a beautiful woman is a joy to behold, and truly a beautiful body is a gift from God; but, like all material things it is ultimately a futile blessing. Moreover, Solomon said that a beautiful woman who is a fool is a bizarre spectacle—admirable for what she has, repulsive for what she is. Charm is appealing and entertaining, but the fact is, Solomon said it is dishonest. If a woman wants respect and appreciation, let her be genuinely gracious. The Bible teaches that regardless of how a woman may look, if she fears the Lord, she deserves praise and honor—it is more just. Solomon wrote: A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches (Proverbs 11:16; KJV).

As a jewel of gold in a swine's snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion (Proverbs 11:22; KJV).

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, is to be praised (Proverbs 31:30; RSV).

In sum: A devoted husband will notice the true beauty of his wife. Moreover, he will tell her often both how lovely she is and what great pleasure she has brought into his life.


Copyright 1997 by Walter L. Porter may be reproducted for non-commercial purposes at no cost to others.

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