I began this project over a year and a half ago in the summer of 2020, intending for it to be a quick, enlightening exercise to help me read and process Song of Songs. While Songs has delivered in the first department – it is a profoundly fascinating book of the Bible – working through it verse by verse has been anything but a quick undertaking. I do, however intend to finish!
If you need a refresher before you read on, here are Parts 1-8 of this series:
All right, let’s do this.
Throughout this blog series, I have argued for two keys to understanding and interpreting the Song of Songs:
- The underlying theme of the whole of Song of Songs is the depth, wonder, sensation, and thrill of God’s gift of human love. The Song invites us to recognize romantic love and sexuality as a divinely powerful experience. This motivates us to enjoy it rightly and within its boundaries.
- Woven throughout the Song of Songs are allegorical allusions to Israel’s deeply intimate relationship to Yahweh. When we read the Song not simply as a romantic story, but as a story of Israel and her God, we recognize the most important facet of human love: The love shared between man and woman in marriage is the greatest human expression of God’s love for us. We can see God clearly revealing himself to us through the words of the Song, even though he is not explicitly mentioned.
“This Is My Beloved” (Song 5:9-16)
This section begins with the daughters of Jerusalem posing to the woman a burning question: “What is your beloved more than another beloved?” (5:9).
Translation? “Who is your beloved, that he is worthy of your affections? Who is your beloved, and why is he different than any other? Who is your beloved, that you pursue him so desperately?”
The woman then launches into a gorgeous poem, singing the praises of her lover.
My beloved is radiant and ruddy,
distinguished among ten thousand.
11 His head is the finest gold;
his locks are wavy,
black as a raven.
12 His eyes are like doves
beside streams of water,
bathed in milk,
sitting beside a full pool.
13 His cheeks are like beds of spices,
mounds of sweet-smelling herbs.
His lips are lilies,
dripping liquid myrrh.
14 His arms are rods of gold,
set with jewels.
His body is polished ivory,
bedecked with sapphires.
15 His legs are alabaster columns,
set on bases of gold.
His appearance is like Lebanon,
choice as the cedars.
16 His mouth is most sweet,
and he is altogether desirable.
“This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem”Song of Songs 5:10-16
Clearly, this man is an object of great praise and admiration, worthy of all of the woman’s pursuits. Note that he has not done anything to earn or warrant the praise of the woman; She expresses that her lover is worthy of her affections simply because his beauty and majesty compel her to desire him. He is altogether desirable by nature.
I tend to read the woman’s response to the Daughters of Jerusalem in an exasperated tone: she is amazed that the bystanders do not see what she sees. If they truly understood who her beloved is, he would be their beloved, too.
Altogether Desirable, Beloved and Friend
This passage reminds me of a principle in Reformed theology known as irresistible grace. Irresistible grace is the mechanism by which God draws humanity to himself, wherein he overcomes all that presents a barrier to salvation in those whom he chooses. Thus, when God reveals his true majesty to sinful humanity, we are helpless to resist him.
To an onlooker, our surrender to God’s grace may look foolish. Like the daughters of Jerusalem, they might ask, “What is your beloved more than another beloved? What makes your God so worthy of your praise?” But to those of us who have seen the true majesty of the God who calls us to himself by name, we understand that he is worthy of our absolute devotion. He is altogether desirable.
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.1 Corinthians 1:18