Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Meetings are called to order. Calls for action are issued to correct problems of social justice. The ring of a cell phone is a call to conversation.

the last fig
"the last fig" image by Lisa Murray via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

August 30, 2015

Alternate First Reading
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Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Meetings are called to order. Calls for action are issued to correct problems of social justice. The ring of a cell phone is a call to conversation.

Believers are called to worship, pray, and sing praises to God. The words in the Song of Songs 2:8-13 are a call to love.

Each call is made in anticipation of a positive response. It is expected that the meeting will be conducted in an orderly manner, that social justice issues will be addressed, that the person who answers the cell phone will engage conversation, that believers will worship, and that the beloved will respond to the call to love.

The call to love is as old as humanity and as new as the morning sun. Whether expressed as a series of love poems in This is My Beloved by Walter Benton, set to a jazz background and read by Arthur Prysoc, a Bollywood love song video, or musings that love is “better than wine,” and “stronger than death” in the Song of Songs, it is clear that finding and expressing love is high on the list of human priorities.

The church has long been embarrassed by the unabashed sensuality in this series of love poems. As far back as Hippolytus and Origen “in the third century AD”1 and Calvin “among the Reformers,” the book has been interpreted to be an allegory that describes the love of God for Israel and the love of Jesus for the church. However, neither is the topic of these poems.

This series of poems is about the joys, the ups and the downs, even painful longing when apart and violence against the woman by her community when she searches for her lover, of a relationship between two human beings who love one another. While the contemporary writer is likely to use different metaphors than those used by the ancient authors and compilers of the Song of Songs, words such as stag and gazelle are designed to compliment and entice the beloved.

I am reminded of a couple that I know. Married thirty years, they act like teenagers when they are around each other. I remember once when the husband had been away traveling for work as he often does. On this occasion, a Thanksgiving community dinner, they had not seen each other for several days. His eyes lit up and he hugged his wife with such tenderness that everyone could feel the presence of love in the room. Ask anyone in a happy marriage and they’ll tell you, there is nothing like it. Whether it is love’s first dawning or the seasoned love of having lived and loved for decades, committed lovers would have it no other way. 

This is one of only two biblical books, Esther and Song of Songs, where there is no mention of God. The poems are spoken by a man, a woman, and a chorus that periodically comments on what is happening between the two lovers. Unlike most books in the scriptures, the woman’s voice is clearly heard. In the intimacy and anticipation of love, her voice rings out in “close to 75 percent of the poems.”3

In Song of Songs 2:8-13 the audience hears her voice as she reminisces and anticipates love. Neither shy nor reticent, the onset of spring stirs her desire for the one who loves her. Frequent references to nature are an indication that both understand their love to be “in agreement with the goodness of God’s creation.”4 A glimpse of her beloved is all she needs to reflect on his voice calling her to love. Not once, but twice in these few verses, she imagines his voice inviting her to “come away.” Completely enthralled, later in verse 16 she affirms, “My beloved is mine and I am his.” 

In the same way that the book of Job presents an alternative view to retribution theology, perhaps Songs was included to counter the many references comparing the adulterous woman to Israel’s idolatry. What better way to make that contrast than a positive portrayal of an intimate relationship with the woman’s voice preeminent? 

In a day and time when music and movies simultaneously extol and exploit love distorted, abused, and taken for granted. In a day and time when there are women’s shelters to protect women and their children from domestic and/or family violence. In a day and time when human/sex trafficking rivals the drug trade for illegal financial gain. In a day and time when headlines daily affirm that women around the globe are kidnapped, raped, and disrespected. In a day and time such as this, we need to hear the Song of Songs.

We need to hear voices that speak boldly of true love. We need to be reminded of what love can be. Scholars tell us there was much debate whether to include this book in the sacred text. The text is richer and the world is forever blessed and grateful for those who won the argument for its inclusion.


1 Tewoldermedhin Habtu, “Song of Songs” in Africa Bible Commentary, ed. Tokunboh Adeyemo (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008), 797.

2 Ibid.

3 Nathaniel Samuel Murrell, “Song of Songs,” in The Africana Bible: Reading Israel’s Scriptures from Africa and the African Diaspora, ed. Hugh R. Page, Jr. et al (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2010), 256.

4 The New interpreter’s Study BibleNew Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, ed. Walter J. Harrelson (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 953.