Song of Songs is a poetic story about the privileges and responsibilities of physical love. The description of physical love expressed by the king and his bride in Song of Songs 1-4 establishes a framework for marital relations. The author began by describing the bride’s longing to be with the king (Song 1:4). Yet she was nervous, self-conscious, about their encounter (Song 1:5-7). Her nerves were calmed by the admiration of the king, who said, “I compare you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are beautiful with jewelry, your neck with its necklace” (Song 1:9-10). The couple came together in joyful and passionate physical union—from which the bride taught the young women a lesson: “Do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time” (Song 2:7). Even though the king’s bride knew the joys of being with her lover, she warned her friends that sexual passion must be fulfilled in God’s time.
The king’s bride was ecstatic when she saw the king coming to her after a time of being away. “Listen! My love is approaching,” she said, “Look! Here he comes, leaping over the mountains, bounding over the hills” (Song 2:8). Solomon said to his bride, “Arise, my darling. Come away, my beautiful one. For now the winter is past; the rain has ended and gone away” (Song 2:10). Yet, it seems that he had to depart for some reason, and she was left alone at night. Then she had a dream that portrayed her fierce loneliness without him: “In my bed at night I sought the one I love; I sought him, but did not find him…I will seek the one I love. I sought him, but did not find him” (Song 3:1-2). Her dream ended happily, as she found her lover and brought him to the home of her family—the place of her security. From her dream the king’s bride provided instruction once again: “Young women of Jerusalem, I charge you, by the gazelles and the wild does of the field: do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time” (Song 3:5). The way that the king and his bride compliment and entice one another during lovemaking underscores their love for one another in all of life. The narrator of the poem exhorted them, “Eat, friends! Drink, be intoxicated with love!” (Song 5:1)
As the storyline of Scripture advances, the themes of sexuality expressed so vividly in the Song of Songs become a matter to be discussed within the broader category of one’s spiritual standing in Christ.
(1) Though marriage provides the means for sexual pleasure, even marriage is to be understood in light of God’s redemptive plan. Some in Corinth had wondered whether, in light of God’s redemptive historical work in Christ, they ought to abandon sexuality and marriage all together. Paul replied in 1 Corinthians 7 that heterosexual marriage provides the framework for sexual expression and in that sense curbs the desires that might lead to immoral behavior. Paul was content as a single man and urged those who would wish to be single to remain as such. But Paul wrote that to be single and immoral would be worse than being married and moral—even though marriage includes spousal commitments that might inhibit one’s freedom to serve Christ and the church. For Paul, God’s revelation of Himself in Christ and the Spirit is to guide decisions about marriage and sexuality. The author of Hebrews wrote similarly in Heb 13:4, “Marriage must be respected by all, and the marriage bed kept undefiled, because God will judge immoral people and adulterers.”
(2) A church’s commitment to Christ and experience of the Spirit is demonstrated by the sexual purity of its members. In the Corinthian church, a man was sleeping with his stepmother. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul confronted the church. Instead of removing the immoral man from among them, the Corinthians were boasting of their freedom from moral constraints (1 Cor 5:1-2). Paul judged the Corinthians’ immorality because it contradicted the purity offered in Christ’s sacrificial death (1 Cor 5:6-8). To those in Corinth who were visiting prostitutes, Paul wrote, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?…Do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit?” (1 Cor 6:15, 19). Paul (Rom 1:18-25; 13:13-14; Gal 5:19-20; Eph 5:1-5; Col 3:5-7; 1 Thess 4:3-8), Peter (1 Pet 4:1-5; 2 Pet 2:10-20), and John (Rev 17:1-6; 18:1-3; 21:8) associated sexual immorality with idolatry and greed.