04 September 2010

When Love So Desires

I sent this article to Dr. Claude Mariottini, the Professor of Old Testament at Northern Baptist Seminary in Illinois, USA (whose blog I follow, click here to visit his blog) asking him to assist me by letting me know what he thought of it. He was very kind and took time out to do so. Needless to say, I was found *very wanting yea even begging. I've attached his thoughts below the write up: Enjoy.

Of the 1005 songs Solomon wrote (1 Kings 4:32), one is considered to be his finest and is thus called Solomon's song of songs (Song of Songs 1:1). For some strange reason some believe it not to be his song either entirely or partly. I'll go with the text- 1:1. It is a brilliant and graphic description of the love between a lover and his beloved. In the course of this great poem, Solomon mentions a particular phrase at least three times over. The wisest man who ever lived admonishes, in the voice of the beloved (the woman), the daughters of Jerusalem (other women) not to arouse or awaken love until 'it' so desires. This phrase occurs after some sort of embrace in all three cases:

Song of Songs 2: 6-7 ~His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

Song of Songs 3: 4-5 ~Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother's house, to the room of the one who conceived me. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
Song of Songs 8: 3-4 ~His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

This raises all sorts of questions. Perhaps I should squeeze in a disclaimer before I go any further. Having done no studies in Hebrew or Greek, I am working with the NIV's translation, something which implies the possibility of error.

Now, I do not believe that this wise man and writer of this song, Solomon, would have done anything for no reason and would like to pick out a few things.

  1. The woman (beloved) is the most vocal in the entire song/poem. 
  2. The statement is uttered three times.
  3. The statement is uttered by the woman particularly on all three occasions.
  4. The statement (do not awaken love...) occurs after some sort of embrace each particular time.

First of all, the most prominent voice/speaker in this poem is that of the beloved (woman). This must not be ignored. I think Solomon was on to something. Its almost as if the woman is 'more in love' than the man. This comes as no suprise for that is the way God has ordained things to be. In my defence of this position I have two arguments, one lying on top of the other. The first and foundational argument is scriptural (thank God).
Genesis 3:16 ~To the woman he said, "I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you."

Just as a side note, I think the New Living Translation along with the Douay-Rheims Bible go off on a tangent here, they say respectively:

~Then he said to the woman, "I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you."

~To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband's power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

Well, that aside, there is my first argument. God has created women to have a unique and strong desire for their husbands and this regardless whether they have a husband or not. It is actually unfortunate, in my opinion how much time young women spend fantasising about their Knight-in-shining-armor-to-be, about courtship and about the wedding and ring etc. A young man will be content to be independent, with a job and living either with friends or by himself for a while. Not so, young women. They wouldn't mind leaving their father's house to go straight into marriage and live with their husbands. That is how God has wired them.

For a man, that in-between stage of independence from parents and commitment to wife is one he would not want to miss out on. But young women, they'd do just fine without it. Young ladies can get so consumed with getting into courtship and marriage. When they do get into courtship, they are soon overwhelmed with love for their partner. The young man is quite satisfied to know that he has secured the young lady for himself and can now concentrate on other things. This is not to say that he is not in love with the young lady but unlike her he can occupy himself with other things. This follows the women into marriage where they are satisfied only when their husband is beside them. (Am sure a couple of women after reading this will exclaim, "how dare he..."). This is lessened when children come along, but after the children enter teenage years (and become somewhat independent), the women revert to their husbands. It is simply a fulfilment of what God told Eve. The husband on the other end loves his wife no less but can easily be occupied with work and gadgets and appointments and sports, etc. But not the wife, her desire is for her husband. And that is why I am convinced that the woman's (beloved) voice in the Song of Songs is the most vocal. That is why she is restless until her lover is beside her.

My second argument which builds on the first is that God introduced betrothal in seeking to protect the heart and emotions of young women, knowing that he has set the hearts of women to desire their husband. When a man's father found him a wife in the Old Testament, the young woman was betrothed to the man and even though they only married months later, she was as good as his wife. Once a girl was betrothed to you, the only escape was death! Well, if she misbehaved you could leave her and it would be said that you divorced her! The best example being Joseph who planned to divorce Mary (called his wife when they weren't married yet) secretly when they hadn't even married yet, Matthew 1:18-19. Betrothal, therefore, was a way of protecting this tendancy God gave to the woman to desire, dare I say in a bid to paraphrase, "live" for or towards her husband or boyfriend or fiancee.

God protected the hearts of young women of that day from being broken by betrothal. In fact, men to whom women were betrothed were not allowed to go to war lest they perish and grieve the hearts of the women they left behind.

Secondly notice that apart from the woman being most vocal in the book, it is she who warns the daughters of Jerusalem not to awaken love until it so desires in all three cases. This again, I say, is not a coincidence. I think Solomon is trying to communicate something. Why wasn't it the man even just once? Well, this woman, has experienced the great feeling of requited love. She has felt the awesome experience of being consumed with love for another who is equally consumed with love for her. It has caused her to go through emotions that she has never gone through before. And she knows fully well that if a girl too young to experience such emotions were to do so, the outcome could even destroy her. She realises that these feelings and emotions are too intense for someone immature to handle. And at three seperate times when she is in the arms of her lover as he speaks to her and her to him and they are there overwhelmed with love for each other she turns to the girls watching on. She knows that they can't wait for their turn because it was once her watching on. And so she cautions them, "Young girls, do not awaken these emotions and these feelings too early!" Yes its great to be in love, but at the wrong time it can be destructive. At the peak of her feelings of love and emotion towards this man, as they embrace, she remembers her younger years and knows how destructive it would have been to go through such a thing when she was younger and immature. She therefore turns to the younger girls watching on and cautions them.

The feelings and emotions of love are just as intense for the man and thus it is not prudent for boys to experience them. And so this caution can be applied to both. It is unwise to enter a relationship when too young. How do you know that you are mature and old enough to handle these feelings and emotions? Well, thats were parents and guardians come in. Those who watch over you and know you inside out. They can tell you when you're ready because your welfare is closest to their heart. This book speaks to the husband who neglects his wife while giving attention to everything else. It speaks to the young man who enters the relationship with a young lady and does not take care to regulate the rate at which their hearts are knit together causing the young lady to be overwhelmed with love for someone who is not yet positioned to wed her. It speaks also to the young man who after engaging the heart of this lady begins to contemplate leaving her for invalid reasons. It says to them that they should not be ignorant and must therefore tread circumspectly. We must all be wise and be careful not to awaken love until the time is right.

Dear Mwindula,

Thank you for visiting my blog. I hope the material you are reading in my blog is helpful to you.

I have read the material you sent me and I have a few comments about what you wrote:

1. It is quite certain that Solomon did not write Song of Songs. The Hebrew of the text is late and contains many words that reflect the Aramaic of post-exilic times.

2. In your presentation, Solomon is the lover of the woman. However, it is possible that there are three people involved in the story: Solomon, the woman, and the shepherd. If there are three people, then Solomon wants to bring the woman to his palace but the woman is in love with the shepherd. Reread Song of Songs again and read it from the perspective of three lovers rather than two and you will gain a different perspective on the book.

3. Your views about women, love, and marriage is a little bit too idealistic, a view that does not match the reality of the biblical text and what happens in real life.

4. Your view of betrothal does not reflect the realities of Israelite society. Maybe you should read a book or an article dealing with the status of women in Israelite society and on marriage and betrothal.

I could go into moral detail on what you wrote, but what I wrote will give you an idea of what additional research you must be done in order to improve what you wrote.

Thank you for your email and for sending me this material.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary


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