Moving towards a climax again (4:12-5:1)
These verses are the central climax of the whole book: The full sexual union of our lovers (5:). 5:1 represents both the literal centre of the Song, as well as its emotional peak.
1. Smitten lovers (4:9-11)
The words translated by the NIV as 'You have stolen my heart' = 'You have inflamed, aroused, excited my heart.' Our lover is completely bowled over. It is only natural to use the word 'bride' as this is their wedding day.
The power of sexual language to induce desire and stimulate mental images depends partly on the degree of explicitness and mostly the mood or feeling which it evokes. We have here biblical metaphors which are restrained (knowing, entering, coming into the garden, eating honey and the honeycomb, drinking wine and milk, gathering myrrh and spice).
2. Anticipation and virginity (4:12-15)
The “spring enclosed” and the “sealed fountain” are both metaphors for the girl’s sexual exclusiveness, her non-availability to anyone but him, and to her virginity. The metaphor of the girl as a “garden”, watered by an ever flowing spring, indicates that she is alive, fertile, blossoming in every sense. She has an inner spring that is a source of life, not of barrenness. She herself is the guardian of that fountain, to give or to refrain from giving as she so chooses. Of course, it is entirely possible that she can open her garden in order merely to fulfil some immediate sexual pleasure but she hasn’t.
At the basic level, this refers to the girl's chastity. She has not made herself available to others. She is not sexually experienced.
In our Western European society, chastity is not considered a virtue. On the contrary, it is mocked and held up to ridicule. Those who are 'sexually inexperienced', both male and female, are either looked down upon with contempt, or else considered to be the objects of pity.
The reaction of contempt arises from either guilt feelings or hostility towards those who do not conform to their own immoral behaviour. There is the unspoken assumption that lack of experience at this sexual level somehow is a disqualification from progress in this modern world. Or that the chaste or the celibate is somehow incomplete or unfulfilled; that they are emotional cripples bound by outmoded religious scruples. The writer of Ecclesiastes says '[There is] a time to embrace and a time to refrain: She has kept herself reserved for her only love (Proverbs 5:15-20).
But what about sexual relationships outside marriage? E.g. Paul recognizes that to link one's self with a prostitute is to become one flesh with her.
But when a husband and his wife become one flesh, it is much more than a simple physical relationship. Whilst the sexual act can never be divorced from the context of a permanent total relationship between a man and his wife who are irrevocably committed to each other, it is but one very small part of the totality of their union together.
3. Invitation (4:16)
The girl then invites her lover into her garden. The word for 'awake' in “awake, north wind”, is the same as that used in the refrain to the daughters of Jerusalem, 'Do not awake love until it please.' There it was a call to avoid premature awakening. But now the time is right. There is to be no restraint. She is freely giving herself to him. She is not merely passive, but ardent and eager. The use of the verb 'to enter' or to come into is a standard Hebrew metaphor for sexual intercourse.
For the newlywed couple, this act of intercourse represents the joyful climax of their physical relationship. When two members of this “God-like cerebral species” approach the heights of communion between themselves, what do they do? Think? Speculate? Meditate? No, they take off their clothes. Do they want to get their brains together? No, they want to get their bodies together!
“Bouncing buttocks, phallic thrusts, heaving bodies, sighs and moans and giggles are all part of the God-given natural order of things”.
For true love is adventurous, and every adventure involves risk-taking; and this in turn requires the courage to overcome fears and inhibitions.
The lovers, having tasted the honey pot may be tempted to think that these ecstatic heights are attainable every time.
But Eros is a mischievous elf, whimsical and capricious, and the sooner we recognize this, the better for our emotional and psychological well-being.
We may lay the wood, but on occasion the bonfire fails to ignite. We may be afflicted with a desperately urgent desire at those very times when there is absolutely no possibility of fulfilment, and have to be content with frustrated glances at a distance.
But if only we could indulge in a hearty laugh over all this, the tensions and irritations would be dissolved readily. Our society's quest for instant total gratification doesn’t help us here. But we should learn not to treat it with such “reverential gravity”, as C. S. Lewis put it. Laughter should be an integral part of the marriage bed. For to laugh with each other is to be involved personally, it is an expression of a relationship which is far more than a performance.
'One flesh' union is meant to be more than a physical act like eating. Behind the physical there is the relational, the interaction at a psychological, personal level. The two, while retaining their own identities, are striving to be outside of themselves, to become more of the other. It is this mystical union!
3. Consummation (5:1)
I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride;
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice.
I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey (thicket);
I have drunk my wine and my milk.
Sex does not marriage and adultery does not necessarily break marriage. The decisive thing is the covenant relationship.
This verse describes the boy's response. The verse is full of the first person:
I have come …
I have gathered …
I have eaten …
I have drunk; four very deliberate and incisive verbal actions.
Eight times the strongly possessive 'my' occurs:
My garden, my sister bride, my myrrh, my spice, my honeycomb, my honey, my wine, my milk.
These are obviously metaphors, not to be taken literally. The drinking metaphor occurs in Proverbs 7:18, where the unfaithful wife invites her lover to come into her marriage bed with the words:
'Come, let's drink deep of love till morning; let's enjoy ourselves with love!'
Drinking milk is a metaphor which occurs in Mesopotamian love- songs, which Ancient Near-Eastern love-poetry often uses the metaphors of honeycomb and of 'thicket' to describe female genitalia.
1. There are a number of references in the Old Testament which refer to stolen honey, the taking of the forbidden thing.
Samson took the honeycomb from the carcass of the dead lion, thereby violating his Nazirite vow.
Jonathan dipped his staff into the honeycomb and ate, thus unwittingly violating the command of his father Saul.
Is there here the possible hint of the frisson of delight in doing that which is forbidden?
'Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!'
The western church has long been accused linking sexuality with sin. True but wrong! We can be certain that sexuality (both male and female) is part of humanity, upon which God, when he had created them, pronounced the verdict 'good'.
Augustine's views on the solidarity of the human race with Adam's sin, and of our biological links with him as the founder of the human race, forced him to postulate that original sin was propagated through the act of intercourse.
Whilst we may agree with him that our very humanness now necessarily implies a sharing of Adam's condition as bearing the infection of sin, we do not have to agree with him that the whole condition is somehow located in the sexual act. This puts too biological a focus on a moral condition.
Augustine worked with the standard Greek categories of the higher and lower faculties of man. This is at odds with the Old Testament which looks at mankind from a more holistic point of view, rather than analysing man into his constituent parts.
We cannot read our passage and argue that sex is sinful. What our lovers are doing together is sweet and delicious to them, but there is no trace of any kind of guilt feelings or of a secret furtiveness. They are abandoning themselves unreservedly and unashamedly to each other
2. 5:1 seems on the surface of it to indicate a strong male triumphalism. 'I came, I saw, I conquered.' But the whole tenor of the Song is against any such interpretation.
She has invited him in eagerly, their passion is mutual. Most of the Song is concerned with the girl's feelings; it is only occasionally that the passion of the man is described. His eagerness is described in terms of strong determination in 7:8, 'I said, I will climb the palm tree and seize its fruits.'
The lovers have talked, walked and had fun together. They have eaten and prayed together. They have held hands, embraced and caressed. They have kissed and fondled each other.
And now at last, what they have looked forward to for so long, with such keen anticipation, has become reality. It is an act that will be repeated again and again, affirming and consolidating their growing relationship.
The continuing expression of their sexual union is both a cause and a result of their growing intimacy and adjustment in other areas of their life together. The initial thrills of sexual discovery will inevitably reduce, but their joy at growing integration of their lives must surely increase.
What they are doing is good, wholesome, right and proper and for life.
From the text:
1. In SofS 4:1-7, if a man’s prospective wife is not a perfect model of physical beauty, can he still love her?
Is having physical beauty everything (Job 42:15)?
What happens when we grow old (1 Peter 3:2-4)
What are some of the difference in how beauty is perceived in other cultures we may know about?
2. In SofS 4:9-10,12, why is he calling his beloved “his sister”?
Hint: While the physical relationship should reflect the love for each other, the love for each other should be more important than the physical relationship.
In SofS 4:12-5:1, what are they talking about?
Hint: 1:2-3:5 are the courtship, 3:6-5:1 are the wedding, 4:1-5:1 are the wedding night.
Beyond the text:
1. Is it helpful for single people to fantasise about their own possible future marriage?
2. What can we do to keep our own marriages from falling into a rut?
3. Is 'falling in love' a necessary prerequisite for a successful marriage?
4. What are the advantages of an arranged marriage?
5. What is the purpose of a wedding as a public ceremony?