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Author:Rev. G. I. Williamson
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 Orthodox Presbyterian Church - OPC
Title:Lovers' Lib
Text:Song of Songs 3:6-5:1 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

The Shulamite

3:6 - Who is this coming out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the merchant's fragrant powders?
3:7 - Behold, it is Solomon's couch, with sixty valiant men around it, of the valiant of Israel.
3:8 - They all hold swords, being expert in war. Every man has his sword on his thigh because of fear in the night.
3:9 - Of the wood of Lebanon Solomon the King made himself a palanquin:
3:10 - he made its pillars of silver, its support of gold, its seat of purple, its interior paved with love by the daughters of Jerusalem.
3:11 - Go forth, O daughters of Zion, and see King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his espousals, the day of the gladness of his heart.

The Beloved

4:1 - Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove's eyes behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, going down from Mount Gilead.
4:2 - Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep which have come up from the washing, every one of which bears twins, and none is barren among them.
4:3 - Your lips are like a strand of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like a piece of pomegranate.
4:4 - Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
4:5 - Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies.

4:6 - Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense.
4:7 - You are all fair, my love, and there is no spot in you.
4:8 - Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon. Look from the top of Amana, from the top of Senir and hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
4:9 - You have ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; you have ravished my heart with one look of your eyes, with one link of your necklace.
4:10 - how fair is your love, my sister, my spouse! how much better than wine is your love, and the scent of your perfumes than all spices!
4:11 - Your lips, O my spouse, drip as the honeycomb; honey and milk are under your tongue; and the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
4:12 - A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
4:13 - Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with pleasant fruits, fragrant henna with spikenard,
4:14 - spikenard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices—
4:15 - a fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.

The Shulamite

4:16 - Awake, O north wind, and come, O south! Blow upon my garden, that its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its pleasant fruits.

The Beloved

5:1 - I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk.

(I take this to be God’s Benediction)

Eat, O friends! Drink, yes, drink deeply, O beloved ones!
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. G. I. Williamson, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Congregation, it was our Lord Jesus Christ who said to his disciples, “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free“ (John 8:32). So truth is the foundation of freedom. The number one thing you need to have to really be free is knowledge of the truth of God. And I hope that this will become very clear as we look tonight at this portion of God’s holy Word.

We have been looking at this song of love in the Bible, and we have seen in it the pattern of falling in love, courtship, and now marriage. And we have been learning in this that God has his way for these things to take place, and that this is real freedom. Today in our society, as I hardly need to tell you, it is another view that prevails. If you love one another, it is said today, then it’s all right—go ahead. Don’t worry about a little thing like a marriage ordinance. But these young people that we meet in the Song of Solomon were wise. They understood that God knows more than we do, and that his is the good and right way.

And so this wonderful young woman—this Shulamite maiden that married Solomon—over and over, prior to her marriage, makes this tremendous statement: ‘I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, that you not arouse or stimulate love until the appointed time.’ And now she’s taken her man home to meet her parents, and they’re engaged to be married. And here at last, in our text for tonight, we come to the consummation of her desires. If you were listening closely as I read the text tonight, you will notice that there are really three major divisions in our text. The first—which comes in the last part of chapter three—is what I would call the official, or the public ceremony of marriage. The second—which follows after that—is what I would call the beautiful ritual of sexual intimacy in marriage. And the third—but by no means the least—is the benediction that God places upon these two, young people. When you have those three things which God has appointed, then you really have freedom.

We begin, then, in chapter three verses 6-11, with the wedding of Solomon and the Shulamite maiden. And we know that this is what it is because it says so in the eleventh verse. Now we have to admit, ladies, that it’s a bit of a put-down for you since in our culture it’s the bride who gets all of the attention, whereas here, in this marriage, it was Solomon. Now why was that? Well, one reason could be the simple fact that he was the king. Even today—in Great Britain—if the titular head of the monarchy is a woman, and there is a marriage, she gets all of the attention. If on the other hand it’s a man, then he is the one who gets it. So it may simply be the fact that he is the inheritor of the throne of David that he gets all of the attention. On the other hand, it could be that in Biblical times the headship of the man received more attention in these things than it does today. But whatever may be the explanation, one thing is quite certain and that is the important thing—there was a public ceremony of marriage. And by the way the thing that his mother crowned him with was a wreath—a wedding wreath—not the crown which he wore as king. This was not a coronation ceremony, but a public ceremony of marriage.

I want to emphasize this because many today say ‘the ceremony doesn’t matter.’ If anything has really become quite prominent in our day and generation, it’s the idea that an official public ceremony of marriage (like a traditional one you have in the church) is really not very important. What really matters in marriage—it is said—is the private, intimate side where two people really do love one another. Well, of course, marriage does involve that side, and I will even acknowledge that the ceremony in and of itself does not a marriage make. I remember very well one of my seminary classmates who got married in a public ceremony, and I didn’t know anything of the sort had happened, but many years later I heard that marriage was annulled because for some reason—and I haven’t the slightest notion what it was—that marriage was never consummated in sexual union. So, finally, the wife went to the civil authorities and complained against her husband, and the wedding was annulled. You don’t really have a marriage in the biblical sense without physical intimacy. But on the other hand, you can’t say that the physical side alone is a marriage either, because you are not really married without the public ceremony.

It’s a little like baptism. Now of course you are aware that the water of baptism, by itself, will not save you. You could be baptized a hundred times and still perish forever. But any one who says ‘I don’t need to bother with baptism’ is very much mistaken, because it is an ordinance commanded by our Lord. His command was to go out into all the world to preach the gospel and to baptize everyone who received it. So it is just not true that you can count on being saved without water baptism—because saying no to baptism is disobedience to the Lord Jesus. It is God’s appointment, and faith is made known by its works. So the person who really has a proper place in the kingdom of God, under ordinary circumstances, is a person who is outwardly baptized with water and inwardly regenerated by the holy Spirit, and both of them are very important. And it’s the same when it comes to marriage. Of course, the intimate and private is very important, but it is not the only thing that is important. According to the Bible the public side is also important, and I can tell you why. When you enter into marriage, the way God has planned it and the way God has ordained it, you are really making a declaration, not only to the person you love in private, but to the whole world in public. You are saying, in effect, ‘Listen world, from now on I’m off limits to you, and I belong to this woman only.’ And she is saying, ‘Listen world, from now on I’m off limits to everyone else; from now on I’m the exclusive possession of this man.’ That’s what the Bible means when it says a man is to leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife. It’s not a private matter only; it’s also a public thing that involves the honor of the families as well as the delight and joy of the two people.

What would you think of someone claiming to be a policeman who didn’t have a uniform and didn’t have a badge, and said, ‘Never mind about those outward things—they don’t matter?’ Of course they do. What would you say if the Governor of your State said, ‘Never mind about all those vows of office and that sort of thing, I’m just going to be governor?’ Well, if anyone tried that I’m sure we would say ‘No way; we don’t want you for governor if you’re not willing to take those vows. You can stay home and we’ll have somebody else as governor.’ These public things are very important, and we are not at liberty to ignore or deny them. What would you think if somebody got up here to preach who had never been ordained by the church? He might say, ‘I don’t need ordination. I have the holy Spirit, I have the knowledge, and a fluent tongue, so I can preach. Ordination doesn’t matter.’ But it does matter. What would you think if you went to the doctor and he said, ‘Well, I’ve never been to medical school, I don’t have a diploma, but I know about medicine and that’s all that counts.’ No! It’s not all that counts. Of course it isn’t, and it’s the same when it comes to marriage. It is very important to have a public ceremony in which you declare to the world on the one hand, and to that person you marry on the other, your covenantal commitment. And so right here in the great song of love—in chapter three, verses 6-11—you have this statement about a public ceremony. We don’t have to do everything they did in that day and generation, or imitate everything in that culture, but this is one of the important facts of God’s revelation in this book.

Now the second thing you have in this book is what I would call the tender ritual of sexual intimacy in marriage. It is to this that I now direct your attention.

When I was a young fellow I was a jazz musician and a friend and I were once playing in a band in a Masonic lodge. We were upstairs in this building and saw a beautiful set of chimes that we coveted. I said, ‘Bill, wouldn’t it be great if we could have those chimes.’ And he said, ‘Yes, it sure would.’ So I said, ‘Why don’t we take them.’ he said, ‘All right, we’ll take them.’ And I said, ‘You go downstairs during intermission, and I’ll throw them out the window to you. You put them in the car, and we’ll have a set of chimes.’ And so, sure enough, when the intermission came, he went outside and I tossed the chimes out of the window. He caught them and put them in the car and not a thing was damaged. And we thought, ‘Wow! We're going to have fun with those chimes.’ But you know, when the job was over and we went home I said, ‘Why don’t you take them, Bill.’ And he said, ‘No, you take them,’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t want them either’. You see I was afraid somebody might ask where I got those chimes, and so I thought it would be better if Bill had them, but Bill didn’t want them either, because he too was worried that somebody might find out that we stole them. So finally we said to each other, ‘Let’s go and put them back,’ and that’s what we did. You see, you can’t be free if somebody’s looking over your shoulder, or if you’re looking over your shoulder to see if somebody’s looking over your shoulder. That’s not freedom. You think you’re really going to enjoy it a lot, but it’s not real freedom, and it’s not really a pleasure. And if that is true with a set of chimes, surely it is a thousand times more so when it comes to one of God’s greatest gifts to another person.

This young couple understood that, and so they waited until they had a right to each other, and the result was that they were really free. They had a license, you might say. When you get a driver’s license, you can go out and drive your car. Yesterday you couldn’t do it. Today you can. If you get a marriage license, and you have a wedding ceremony, you can go to bed with that person and it’s perfectly all right, though yesterday it was not right at all. That is God’s way, and when you do it that way you can be completely free—no bondage in it all.

And you can see that in the way Solomon praises his wife’s physical beauty. Now we don’t do it this way today, but if you were living in Solomon’s day and wanted to say that your wife was beautiful, you would say seven things—not eight, not six, just seven. In the Hebrew way of thought seven really meant ‘terrific’, and so if you go through that list you’ll notice that he mentions seven, and exactly seven, of her beautiful characteristics. And he must have really thought about it because he gives such a poetic description of each one of them. You can’t do that when you’re on the run, in the back seat of a car some place, hiding, and looking over your shoulder. It just doesn’t work that way. And by the way, I think you’ll notice that even though this is poetry, it’s rather plainly sensual and sexual. Back in chapter two, verse seventeen, this girl expressed the desire that one day her fiance would be like a young gazelle or a stag on the mountains of Bether. And the word “Bether” means “separation,” and I agree with the commentators who say that what she’s really talking about there is what we today would call “cleavage,” and you’ll notice that in this passage when he describes the same thing, he’s rather rhapsodical about it for he speaks of the mountains of myrrh and incense. Now my point is this. When the Christian church was too prudish to admit that God made the female of the species beautiful—and that sex is very exciting—it made a big mistake because it drove the whole thing underground where it didn’t belong, and it pretended that this was not what it really is: one of God’s good gifts which should be frankly acknowledged for what it is, but only within the bonds of marriage.

It is quite clear in this passage that this Shulamite girl was a virgin when she got married. And there are even some who argue, today, that this is a liability. It’s just possible that some of you young people here in our congregation have heard that argument from some of your peers. And it’s true, is it not, that if you are completely inexperienced and you enter into marriage, it won't be easy—in one day—to completely reveal yourself to another person. I believe that is really what’s going on in that passage. Now please open your Bibles and notice what it says. He says there in the fourth chapter: “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride…Descend from the crest of Amana…from the lions den, and the mountain haunts of the leopards (4:8,9).” He’s talking about the fact that this girl is rather shy and reserved; she’s even a little bit afraid, just as you would be afraid if you were near the dens of the lions or near the mountain haunts of the leopards. He’s aware of this, and he’s considerate of her feelings, and so he’s saying to her, ‘You need to leave these fears behind because this is the day that you gave yourself to me. And in order to leave all those fears behind you have to be willing to trust me.’

You know the art of love isn’t something you can learn in ten easy lessons, and that’s because any two human beings are distinctively different from any other two. Every personality is distinctively different, and wise Solomon understood that. Because his approach was right and he understood and was patient, it wasn’t long before she was quite willing to reveal herself to him. She says, for the first time in the book, “May my beloved come into his garden, and eat its choice fruits.” Always before in the book it was her garden, which she was keeping locked, but now it was his garden.

I read the testimony of a preacher who preached on this passage of the Bible, and when he finished and all of the others had gone, there was a girl who came up to him, and she was crying and said, “Sir, I left my garden unlocked. Now, is there any hope for me? What can I do?” Well, he said, “Suppose you had a flower garden and somehow the gate was left open and the dogs came in and dug around and some of them walked over the flowers, what would you do?” She said, “I would lock the gate, then get the hoe and the rake and start cleaning up the garden.” And he said, “That’s exactly what you should do.” And that’s the really beautiful thing about our holy faith. God never lowers his standard. He never says wrong is right. Nobody will ever hear God say, ’Fornication is all right; go ahead and don't worry about it.' God will never say that. He has absolute standards, and ‘sin is any want of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God’, and that’s the way it will always be. But this same God is compassionate and he says, ‘Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.’ And he can make you a new creature in Christ, and we know this because the Bride of Christ (and that is after all the great model upon which the whole book is based) is the church, and the church was not a garden locked. The church was a company of unworthy sinners whom Christ cleansed and renewed by his own precious blood and by the Word of his power.

And now, finally, please notice that last statement in chapter five, verse one. One version says—in italics—that it’s friends who say, “Eat, O friends, and drink your fill, O lovers.” And that’s possible. But there is nothing in the Hebrew text that says this. It could be what we call an editorial comment. Maybe the one who speaks is the wind—that is the last antecedent noun. If you go back to verse sixteen of the preceding chapter it’s the wind that is addressed. So maybe it is the wind? But one thing is absolutely certain, whether it is the friends, or the wind, or an editorial comment, or the Lord God himself who speaks directly, ultimately this comment comes from God at the end of this beautiful process of falling in love, courtship, a public ceremony of marriage, and a consummation of marriage in sexual intimacy. Yes, it is God himself who says, “Eat, O friends, and drink. Drink your fill, O lovers.” Only in such a benediction of God is there total and complete freedom.

In our New Zealand church we had a large young peoples group, and we met once a month after the evening service for discussion. And I noticed a young couple that came that didn’t look very happy, and by discreetly listening and asking a few questions I found out the reason. They were living together as man and wife on the sly, and I think what they were really after was some clue or indication that maybe the church was willing to tolerate this. But I noticed that they didn't seem happy. No, they weren’t happy and the reason was that they weren’t really free—not even free from their own conscience. So I began to talk to them about it. I said, ‘Do you know why you’re not happy? It’s because you’re not free. And do you know why you’re not free? It’s because you can’t be free without God’s approval. Do you want God’s approval?’ ‘Oh yes’, they both said at once, ‘Oh yes, we’d love to have God’s approval’. I said, ‘All right, no problem.’ I said to her, ‘You go home, tonight, to your mother’s house and stay there, and then you make plans for a marriage. And then you get married, and then you’ll have it. Stop this right now and do what God says from here on, and you will have God’s blessing’. Now it isn't every day that young people pay attention to words like that, but this time they did. She did go home, and they stopped it then and there. And not too long after they got married, and it was like turning lights on inside their faces because they knew now they had made a public commitment and they had God’s own approval and his benediction. And the last I heard they were still happily married out there in Australia; they moved across the Tasman Sea to Australia. Well, that’s what I could call freedom. ‘Lover’s liberation’—there it is. Are you young people interested in real freedom in the realm of sex? Well, there it is right here in God’s Word—a proper courtship and marriage with God’s approval.

And now let me say two things in conclusion from this portion of God’s Word, and here’s one of them that I think the church has to hear. And the first is the fact that sexual love has its own value by God’s appointment. I emphasize this because there was a time in the church of God when this was denied. Sex was only supposed to exist for the purpose of begetting children. Now of course in our generation it is necessary to say that this is one of the purposes of marriage, because too many young people today don’t even want to bother with the burden of children. So we emphasize that this is a duty. God says we are to be fruitful and multiply. Yet, at the same time, it is equally important to stress what is clearly taught in this part of the Scripture. And it teaches us that sexual love has its own value. It’s wrong to treat this as though it were some evil. When God gives us a beautiful book like this in the Bible you can see that this can’t be right. And when God himself likens this sexual love between husband and wife to the love of Christ for the church, you can see that this can’t be right. And it isn’t right, and it’s done a lot of harm in the church to suppress this. Part of the problem today in our society and culture is the boomerang effect from that wrong denial and suppression of Biblical truth. When the wedding between Christ and his bride comes, there isn’t going to be any purpose to multiply at all. The multiplication will all be ended, and the one and only thing that will exist in that eternal marriage between Christ and the church is their taking delight in each other. That never should have been suppressed.

And then, finally, I want to emphasize again the comfort and assurance that we have in this part of God’s Word. The Song of Solomon, the Song of Songs, is not for those who have a perfect track record. This book wasn’t just written for those who never made a misstep. Not at all. Christ’s Bride was a no-good to start with. You know that because you’re part of the Bride of Christ, and you’re no good by nature, but God has redeemed you. He’s given you a new heart, and a new nature. And that’s why you find people like Rahab the harlot mentioned in the Bible, who became an ancestor of Jesus. And that’s why you also find what Paul teaches in Ephesians 5 in that matter of fact passage when he discusses husband and wife, and their duty to each other, and then suddenly says, ‘This is a great mystery, but I speak of Christ and the church.’ The reason he speaks of Christ and the church, when he is talking about earthly husbands and wives, is that in the ultimate sense you can’t speak of one without the other. You can’t really talk about God’s standard of marriage for us without talking about Christ and the church. And you can’t talk about Christ and the church without setting before God’s people the model of marriage.

You know sometimes people have said to me, ‘Why do I need all of this doctrine? Why do I need to worry about the doctrine of the church, and of Christ, and son’? Well, my dear friends, you can’t even begin to have a foundation for marriage until you know these great doctrines, do you know that? It’s a fact. The one depends upon the other, because the one is based upon the analogy of the other. And it’s only when we understand these things, and enter into the ordinances of God, and think and live his way that he pronounces his benediction and says, ‘Now, enjoy yourself to the full. Eat and drink, O lovers’, and that really is lovers’ liberation.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. G. I. Williamson, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. G. I. Williamson

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