Erotic Faithfulness = Agape Faithfulness

Paul de Vries, PhD

 

 

One of the tragedies of modern thought and communication has been the deep false assumption that faithful relationships, expressing Biblical love, agape love, are not also fun, fulfilling, pleasurable, erotic.  The great resource, the Biblical book Song of Songs, has only 127 verses but uses the ultimate love word “agape” in the Greek (or AHAV in the Hebrew) 35 times, with erotic love obviously implied.  Here we reexamine the Song of Songs in light of contemporary issues.  There is one overt reference to the Lord in this greatest of all songs, in Song of Songs 8:6:

The passionate drive of love is as all consuming as the most terrible power!

Its flames are flashes of fire—a pure fire of the Lord!

 

CONSIDER:

 

*      We do know that unfaithfulness powerfully separates us from the people we love.

 

*      After all, even the anti-Scripture sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson had to admit that their research proved—completely contrary to their expectations—that the greatest and most reliable source of satisfying sexual pleasure is a committed, faithful, one-woman-one-man relationship.  (see their The Pleasure Bond.)

 

*      Reproduction is not the only primary purpose of human sexuality.  In this sexually focused book, there is no reference to or even implication of children.  Biblically there are three primary roles of human sexuality:

1.      relationship bonding = both female and male are divine images.

2.      reproduction = be fruitful and multiply.

3.      recreation” = consuming pleasure within committed relationship.

 

*      The Song of Songs is a powerful Biblical book that puts these and other themes into perspective.  To accomplish this, three characters are introduced: a beautiful Shulamite woman, a Shepherd who is her true lover, and Solomon who tries to woo her with tired phrases and promises that have worked with a thousand other women, but that fail to captivate the beautiful, black Shulamite.

 

*      Who is the Shulamite woman that so captivated Solomon’s attention for a brief period?  While there was also a Shunamite woman involved n the story of David, and we know where Shunam is, nobody knows where Shulam is.  Not only do we not have the heroine’s name, her defining origins are untraceable.  In normal human terms, this beauty was a nobody from nowhere.  Nevertheless, this female image of God, this princes in God’s Kingdom, had the extraordinary courage to model true love in the presence of great temptation—and to embody wise sexuality as an enduring exemplar for all time. 

 

*      And who is the Shepherd Lover?  It could not have been Solomon, since he was never a shepherd.  Unlike his father—the shepherd who became an exemplary king—Solomon grew up in the lap of luxury.  Like the Shulamite, the Shepherd remains nameless, and from nowhere.  So this most famous love story does not depend on the greatness of family origins or other distinguishing marks.  Instead:

a.       The wise one-man-one-woman-one-God passionate relationship the exemplify stands on its own integrity, and is not dependent on any other certification.

b.      Without the names or even detailed character development, it is perhaps easier for us to identify—to place our own selves into the text and learn from this greatest song of Scripture.

 

*      Application: this Biblical “erotic-faithfulness” should be cultivated in

a.       Sex education—in homes, churches and schools

b.      Focus on “Pleasure bonds” of marriage

c.       We can transform the expectation that one must be unfaithful to be erotic.  After all, even the anti-Scripture sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson had to admit that their research proved—completely contrary to their expectations—that the greatest and most reliable source of satisfying sexual pleasure is a committed, faithful, one-woman-one-man relationship.  (see their The Pleasure Bond.)

 

*      Importance of the Song of Songs for the GOSPEL

a.       After the “Fall” to sin in Genesis 3 – we read about sexuality only for reproduction: such as “begat, begat, begat…” in the King James Version

b.      Now: self-giving, relationship and pleasure = a great preparation for Jesus and his life, teaching, ministry and extraordinary love for us.

c.       Redemption of sexuality: exploit the new term “Erotic-Faithfulness”

 

*      Paul de Vries’ note : This potent scripture passage depicts the vital Godly standard I call “erotic faithfulness”, of redeemed passion saved for marriage. Here faithful, devoted human sexuality is recognized as a great gift of God – even a “pure fire of the Lord” in all its terrible power. May the Word of God transform, guide, and liberate all of us. Praise the LORD!

 

 

><><><><><><><>< 

 

 

 

Song of Songs: Overview

 

Used by permission, selections are taken and edited from Calvin Seerveld’s literal translation of the Biblical Song of Songs, The Greatest Song,

1967 and 1988, Toronto Tuppence Press.

 

The Song opens with the young Shulammite woman taken unwillingly into Solomon’s harem.  The women are already cooing about Solomon, but the Shulammite is unhappy.  When Solomon comes in, he seems to praise her, but he is really talking about himself only.  Even as they have their first chat, her heart is still with her Shepherd Lover in the country, while Solomon talks about his grand buildings and the jewelry he will place on her—and compares her with his horse, mere livestock!

 

Person

Text

Verse

 

Opening Scene:  Song of Songs 1:2-2:7

 

                  Announcer

The Song of Songs, which is about Solomon

1:1

                       Chorus of women

O! If he would only soak me with the passionate kissings of his mouth!

1:2

                       A member of the harem

Your caresses are so much more intoxicating than wine.

 

                 Another

The aroma of your salves hangs sweet in the air . . .

1:3

                 Another

Your very name is soothing like oil poured (upon the body – Solomon)

 

                 Another

That is why young women fall in love with you.

 

                 Shulammite

                        (entering looking back)

Take me by the hand alone with you again – hurry! (my Shepherd Lover)

The King has brought me into his bedrooms!…

I am black and lovely…like the tents of Kedar…

Do not stare at me because I am dark-skinned; the sun has “burned’ me…

1:4

1:5               

                 A Leading Harem Woman

If you do not know (anything) my most beautiful woman,

Get out and follow the shepherds;

       feed your goats around the huts of the shepherds. 

1:8

                        (Solomon enters.)

 

 

                  Solomon

You remind me of my war horse in the chariot

        From Pharaoh, my lovely one.

How beautiful your cheeks will be (half-hidden) in plaited (hair)!

How beautiful your neck will be with a string of

         Red and green coral shells!

Chains of gold with ornaments of silver will be hammered out for you.

1:9

 

 

1:10

 

1:11

                  Shulammite

When the King was in his harem house, my source of

           Fragrance was spilling out of its sweetness:

My lover (‘s head) lay between my breasts like a little pouch of myrrh…

1:12

 

1:13...

                   Solomon

Yes, you are well formed, my lovely one, very pleasantly formed,

And your eyes are as innocent as a dove . . . 

1:15

                   Shulammite

My lover is well formed, even wonderfully formed;

        Our bed is a bed of fresh growing flowers –

1:16

                   Solomon

The beams of our houses are made of well cut cedar

        And the rafters are fashioned from Phoenician juniper trees.

1:17

                   Shulammite

(But) I am a wild flower from the Sharon plains,

            a delicate red lily from the plain country.

2:1

                   Solomon

Yes, you are like a lily, a lily next to – thistles

That is what you are, my lovely one, compared to the daughters of Jerusalem

2:2

                 

                  Shulammite

                        (reflecting almost to herself; some harem

                         women  quickly return, listen.)

 

My lover is like an apple tree deep in the woods ,

An apple tree compared to other young men.

How I longed to sit in his shadow;

        His fruit was always so sweet in my mouth.

        He would lead me out to an arbor, and cover me there with his love.

Help me! Give me something to eat! Freshen me

         With – apples! For I am lovesick.

O, if his left hand were only under my head and

         his right arm holding me tight –

Daughters of Jerusalem! I plead with you – do you not know the gazelles

         and the hinds of the plain country?  I plead with you,

Never try to arouse or excite a beloved! Till the love comes naturally.

 

2:3

 

 

 

2:4

2:5

 

2:6

 

2:7

 

 

This last line of the Shulammite in the first scene is the theme of the whole song, a theme repeated three times (2:7, 3:5, and 8:4).  Also, after this opening scene Solomon tries to woo the Shulammite three times, but always using very similar words (4:1-5, 6:4-7, 7:1-9a).  This is remarkable, since the book is so short, anyway!  Solomon found a few lines that worked on a thousand women, but this young woman is already in love and committed to someone else – and wealth, pleasure, and fine words do not change commitment!  Here is a selection from his last attempt, in a later scene:

 

 

                        

                           Solomon

 

How elegant is your walk in those [new] shoes, “Royal Daughter”!

        The curve of your thighs is a womanly ornament

                Fashioned by the hand of a master artist.

        Your navel is like a little round cup and needs

                 To be filled full with spicy wine.

        Your belly is like a [shimmering] mound of wheat

                  Encircled by lilies.

        Your breasts are like two little fawns, twins of a Gazelle.

        Your [lovely] neck is a tower of ivory…

 

        Your flowing figure reminds me of a palm tree,

                  Your breasts are like clusters of dates –

        I said to myself, I will go climb the palm tree!

                 I will go grab hold of its date clusters

        Your breasts will roll over me like clusters of grapes;

        The breath of your nose will fill me like the smell of [ripe] apples;

        Your kisses will flow like sweet wine –

 

7:1

 

 

7:2

 

 

 

7:3

7:4

7:7

 

7:8

 

 

7:9a

 

 

At this moment the Shulammite (perhaps also hearing her Shepherd Lover outside) interrupts Solomon.  Other translators have a difficult time with this reference to “tired lips” or the “lips of those that sleep”  Literal translator Seerveld’s phrase “well-worn” lips captures some of what the Shulammite thought of Solomon, an opinion was shared by Godly leaders of Solomon’s time.

 

In their climactic reunion, the Shulammite and the Shepherd Lover sing some of the most memorable words of passionate love, such as “at our openings are the sweetest fruit.”  Other translations say something like “we keep the fresh fruit at the door,” but this misses the passionate meaning of the text.  Well, let us now return to the Shulammite’s abrupt interruption of Solomon’s rehearsed “passion,” her definitive rejection of his ‘love,’ and her restoration to her Shepherd Lover.

 

                

                  Shulammite [interrupting Solomon]

 

                        (Shulammite sees and runs to her

                        Shepherd Lover)

 

…wine flowing straight to the mouth of only my lover!

        Not touching at all such well-worn lips!

I belong to my lover! And only his passionate desire is for me!

 

My lover!   Come!

      Let us go away, back to the open plain country!

      Let us go spend the nights among the henna blossoms.

      Let us go visit the gardens early, early in the morning, to see

             Whether the vines have burst into blossom,

             Whether the budding flowers have opened up,

             Whether the pomegranates have come to a bloom

        There I will give you my caresses:

              The apples of love bear a misting fragrance,

              And at our openings are the sweetest fruits –

        The old as well as new fruits I have kept safe,

               Saved up for you, my lover!

        O! if you were only a brother that sucked the

                Breast of my mother, I would cover you with

                Kisses here in public now that I have found you,

                      and no one could think me immodest!

        O! if I could only lead you [immediately] to the

                Home of my mother who brought me up,

                [then] I would give you a tingling wine to drink,

                the freshly pressed-out wine of my pomegranates !

        O, if his left hand were only under my head and

        His right arm holding me tight – Ah…

Daughters of Jerusalem! I charge you - !

Why did you try to arouse and excite a beloved

        before the love came naturally ?

 

7:9b

 

7:10

 

7:11

 

 

7:12

 

 

 

 

7:13

 

 

 

8:1

 

 

 

8:2

 

 

 

8:3

 

8:4

 

Solomon stops trying to woo the Shulammite.  After all there are lots of other beautiful women, and some were already in his harem.  Solomon was wise, but he often did not follow his own wisdom.  His obsession with sex led him into worshiping sexuality, even to the point of sacrificing babies to the sex gods.  He got sex but missed love, especially the mutually faithful love of God. (I Kings 11)

 

In the final scene the two lovers return to their families, for their blessings and the marriage.  Here as they sing together is the only reference to the LORD in the whole book (8:6).  Because most translators think all this is spiritual allegory only, they choose not to translate God’s name.  Instead they say that love is a “flame” (CEV), a “mighty flame” (NIV), or “a most vehement flame” (KJV).

 

Nevertheless, this brief reference to the LORD states the core truth of the book: “Passionate love is a pure fire of the LORD.”  Parents still wisely urge their teenage children, “Don’t play with fire.”  Irresponsible sex is dangerous, for many reasons.  Here is another reason that is often ignored: true passion belongs to God and should be expressed in His Presence.  After all, being male and female is the only specific human quality mentioned in Genesis as representing the Image of God.  Mere recreational sex is blasphemy; committed passionate love is worship.  Such love is also the vibrant parable of true intimacy with the Lord—patient, exclusive, committed, consuming, and definitive.

God made us male and female, to depend on and to enjoy each other in committed one-woman-one-man-one-LORD relationships—as we also together depend on the LORD and enjoy Him, faithful to Him who is faithful to us.  After all, God invented consuming, passionate love—and he thoroughly exemplifies it.  He is the ultimate “hedonist,” enjoying giving and redeeming vibrant, consuming pleasure.  Also, lasting relationships are always triangular, 3-way connections that include Him, too.

 

 

 Final Scene:  Song of Songs 8:5 – 14

 

                        Shulammite’s brothers see them

                         coming.

 

 

                  The Eldest Brother

Who is that there coming up out of distant

        Grasslands, learning upon Shepherd!?

8:5

                   Her Shepherd Lover

It was under [that] apple tree I first woke you up [to love]…

           there where your mother gave you birth.

Hold me as a seal to your heart;

 

 

8:6

                   Shulammite

Keep me as a signet ring upon your finger.

 

                   Shepherd

For love is as permanent as death,

 

                   Shulammite

And the passionate drive of love is as all consuming

        As the most terrible power!

 

                    Shepherd

Its flames are flashes of fire -     -

 

                    Shulammite

A pure fire of LORD !              = shelhebeth-yah = fire of Yahweh

 

                     Shepherd

Streams of water cannot put it out;

8:7

                     Shulammite

Floods of water shall never quench the fire of love.

 

                     Shepherd

If another man were to give all the treasures of his house for love?

 

                     Shulammite

He would be utterly despised!

 

                     Shulammite

[Long ago my brothers said,] Our little sister has no breasts,

      [But] what shall we do for our sister when the

                 lovers begin to come?

       If she be modestly chaste, we shall set upon her

                 [head]  a crown of silver;

       But if she would dally with them all, we will

                 Barricade [the way] to her with planks of wood.

       My breasts are as towers! And I am a virgin, chaste.

       I have come now before them to await [their] blessing.

8:8

 

 

8:9

 

 

 

8:10

                      Her Shepherd Lover

Solomon has a [huge] vineyard near Baal-Hamon and has

                    Placed others in charge to watch it.

                For its fruits men must pay a thousand pieces of silver!

       The thousand are yours, [king] Solomon! And may

                  The watchmen [of your walls] have hundreds!

       My [single] vineyard here before me is for me alone.

       O! [beloved!] you  who are so at home in the lovely gardens,

                    all the people here are waiting to

                    Hear your voice – let me hear it, too!

8:11

 

 

8:12

 

 

8:13

                        Shulammite

Like the gazelle or a young deer, take me quickly.

       Let’s go my lover, out to the sweet-smelling mountains.

8:14

Amen!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Some key lessons… from the Song of Songs

Relevant for personal growth or for Church-based sex education programs

 

 

Ten Reflections

By Paul de Vries, PhD, New York Divinity School, 646-395-0008, phdevries@nydivinityschool.org

 

 

*      Lasting relationships are 3-way: one-God-one-man-one-woman.

a.       Genesis 1 – the God is imaged in both man and woman.

b.      Wedding ceremony reminds us of the 3-way bonding: “Whom God has joined together, let no man put asunder”

c.       SOS 8:6 – Passionate love itself is a gift from God.

 

 

*      Erotic passion is part of the special, Biblical, agape love [in Greek: agaph (agape); in Hebrew: בהא (ahav)]—deeply devoted sacrificial love referenced 35 times in this short book—It is a precious, extraordinary gift of the Lord God, our creator and savior—his “pure fire” (8:6).

 

 

*      Biblically speaking, reproduction is not the only primary purpose of human sexuality.  In this sexually focused book, there is no reference to or even implication of children.  Biblically there are three primary roles of human sexuality, two of which are celebrated here:

1)      relationship bonding = both female and male are divine images.

2)      recreation” = enjoy the grace of consuming pleasure in committed relationship.

3)      reproduction = be fruitful and multiply. 

Sin twisted all three—so that the fruit of reproduction is often the only reference to sexuality in the Hebrew Scriptures.  This book dramatically restores the first two.

 

 

*      The theme stated three times in this little book, Song of Songs: essentially it states that we should never “make love” – never pump it up, push it or fabricate it.  (2:7, 3:5, and 8:4)  Too much of 21st century sexuality is pumped up by pornography, dirty talk, abusive behavior and falsified affection.  The antidote is the “pure fire of the Lord” (8:6). This Biblical wisdom is intensely relevant today—but, tragically, most translators refuse to state this phrase literally.

 

 

*      How could Solomon be so stupid, if he is also the wisest man?  The blunt fact is that someone can have great wisdom and still not use any wisdom.  “Stupid is as stupid does,” is a wise observation of the mythical Forrest Gump, a retarded man, the hero in the movie named for him.  As a result of his very unwise addiction to sex, the summary of Solomon’s life is all the more tragic (I Kings 11:1-13) when we think of his potential.

 

 

*      Who is the Shulamite woman that so captivated Solomon’s attention for a brief period?  While there was also a Shunamite woman involved n the story of David, and we know where Shunam is, nobody knows where Shulam is.  Not only do we not have the heroine’s name, her defining origins are untraceable.  In normal human terms, this beauty was a nobody from nowhere.  Nevertheless, this female image of God, this princes in God’s Kingdom, had the extraordinary courage to model true love in the presence of great temptation—and to embody wise sexuality as an enduring exemplar for all time. 

 

 

*      And who is the Shepherd Lover?  It could not have been Solomon, since he was never a shepherd.  Unlike his father—the shepherd who became an exemplary king—Solomon grew up in the lap of luxury.  Like the Shulamite, the Shepherd remains nameless, and from nowhere.  So this most famous love story does not depend on the greatness of family origins or other distinguishing marks.  Instead:

a.       The wise one-man-one-woman-one-God passionate relationship the exemplify stands on its own integrity, and is not dependent on any other certification.

b.      Without the names or even detailed character development, it is perhaps easier for us to identify—to place our own selves into the text and learn from this greatest song of Scripture.

 

 

*      The Biblical response to perverted sex—as in the fertility cults surrounding the Jewish people at the time of the writing of the Song of Songs, similar in some ways to 21st century sexualized culture of rampant pornography, perversion and pollution of sex—is not puritanical judgment or evasion of the sensitive questions, but…

a.       Celebration of God’s gifts of sex—honoring the Eternal designer, creator and savior of human sex.

b.      Focus sexual expression as he directs in the commandments and models of Scripture: committed one-woman-one-man-one-God relationships.

c.       Model the pure passion and contrast it with the twisted and impure.

d.      Honor God in his special central role, in the center of enduring passion, “the pure fire of the Lord.” (8:6)

 

 

*      Application: this Biblical “erotic-faithfulness” should be cultivated in

a.       Sex education—in homes, churches and schools

b.      Focus on “Pleasure bonds” of marriage

c.       We can transform the expectation that one must be unfaithful to be erotic.  After all, even the anti-Scripture sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson had to admit that their research proved—completely contrary to their expectations—that the greatest and most reliable source of satisfying sexual pleasure is a committed, faithful, one-woman-one-man relationship.  (see their The Pleasure Bond.)

 

 

*      Importance of the Song of Songs for the GOSPEL

a.       After the “Fall” to sin in Genesis 3 – we read about sexuality only for reproduction: such as “begat, begat, begat…” in the King James Version

b.      Now: self-giving, relationship and pleasure = a great preparation for Jesus and his life, teaching, ministry and extraordinary love for us.

c.       Redemption of sexuality: we can create the new term “Erotic-Faithfulness”

 

 

 

A Note on Solomon

 

How could Solomon act so stupidly—and so demeaning of this woman—if he is also the wisest man?  The blunt fact is that someone can have great wisdom and still not use any of that substantial wisdom.  “Stupid is as stupid does,” is a wise observation of the mythical Forrest Gump, a retarded man, the hero in the movie named for him.  As a result of his very unwise addiction to sex, the summary of Solomon’s life is all the more tragic (I Kings 11:1-13) when we think of his potential.

 

The Biblical response to perverted sex—as in Solomon’s sex addiction and also the fertility cults surrounding the Jewish people at the time of the writing of the Song of Songs—similar in some ways to 21st century sexualized culture of rampant pornography, perversion and pollution of sex—is not a puritanical judgment or evasion of the sensitive questions, but instead:

1.      A celebration of God’s gifts of sex—honoring the Eternal Designer, Creator and Savior of human sexuality.

2.      A focus on sexual expression as the Lord directs in the commandments and good models of Scripture: committed one-woman-one-man-one-God relationships.

3.      A model the pure, devoted, exclusive passion that God himself enflames and contrast it with the twisted and impure that degrades and demeans.

4.      To honor God in his special central role, in the very center of enduring passion that expresses his powerful presence, “the pure fire of the Lord.” (8:6)

5.      To let the vibrant, living “parable” of intimate human passion model also our intimate, personal, passionate spiritual relationship with our Creator that our deepest selves desire.

 

 

 

 

Overview notes: © Copyright 2002 Paul de Vries, Ph.D., all rights reserved,  New York Divinity School,  Church Station – Box 3277, NY, NY 10008   212-925-4723   phdevries@nydivinityschool.org,  www.nydivinityschool.org