Part 3: Love is Lovely (Song 1:1-17)
View part 2 here.
The first section of the Song of Songs establishes a “He-She-Chorus” structure which frames the narrative of the story from three different points of view: those of a woman, a man, and a chorus of observers. The man and the woman express their love and longing for one another, and the chorus chimes in occasionally, as if the scene between the two lovers is being observed by an outside cast of characters. It sounds ridiculous, but I personally picture the chorus as Crystal, Ronnette, and Chiffon from Little Shop of Horrors – omnipotent background narrators who color the scene with observations and commentary.
Most Bibles divide the Song into “He-She-Chorus” sections, but the original text does not have these divisions. These designations are helpful for modern readers, but the original Hebrew readers would have relied on the gender and number of the Hebrew words to infer who is speaking.
Love as a theology of the senses. The Song of Songs explores the thrill of love and romance by engaging the reader’s five senses: touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste. The poetry evokes the sensation of a lover’s kiss (v. 1:2), the aroma of expensive perfume and herbs, (1:3, 12-14), the duskiness of the woman’s skin and the beauty of her eyes (1:5-6, 15), the taste of wine and the sound of a lover’s name spoken aloud (1:2-3). Pure love is a gift that encompasses and intensifies all the physical pleasures with which God has blessed humanity. In this way, the love shared between two people is actually a threefold love shared between humanity and God as we enjoy the beauty of God’s many gifts.
Love as a theology of grace. In Song 1:5-7, the woman apologizes for her rugged appearance; her skin is dark and sun-blemished from tending the vineyard. Because of her labor in the vineyard, the woman says, she has not tended to her own ‘vineyard’ (v. 7). Some Bible translations and commentaries have tried to soften or censor this line, but it is a fairly obvious and witty euphemism that probably would have made original hearers of the Song laugh out loud. Yet the unrefined appearance of the woman does not change her lover’s affections toward her. And is that not the purest form of love? Love that is not contingent on the loveliness of the beloved? Some readers see in the man and the woman a beautiful picture of Israel’s posture before the Lord, and later the Church’s posture before Christ: We are sinful, ragged, unkempt, and blemished, but we are assured in God’s faithful love and affection which draws us to love and pursue him all the more.