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Author:Rev. G. I. Williamson
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 Orthodox Presbyterian Church - OPC
Title:Summing It Up
Text:Song of Songs 8:8-8:14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

(I take this to be the Married Couple speaking)

8:8 - We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for?
8:9 - If she is a wall, we will build upon her a battlement of silver; and if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.

The Shulamite

8:10 - I am a wall, and my breasts like towers; then I became in his eyes as one who found peace.
8:11 - Solomon had a vineyard at Baal hamon; he leased the vineyard to keepers; everyone was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver.
8:12 - My own vineyard is before me. You, O Solomon, may have a thousand, and those who keep its fruit two hundred.

The Beloved

8:13 - You who dwell in the gardens, the companions listen for your voice—let me hear it!

The Shulamite

8:14 - Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.
* 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 of the Lord Jesus, we come tonight to what I would call the summation—a summary of the great principles, the fundamental and primary principles, that God would have us learn from this wonderful song of love. So without further introduction I want to get into those three, great principles.

The first great principle that I would put before you from this text of the Bible is what I would call the primacy of chastity, or in other words, quite bluntly and simply, the importance of waiting for sex until marriage. Some Bible commentators say the bride—or the wife of Solomon—here is reminiscing about her own childhood. They say that these words are the words spoken by her brothers when she was a little child and not yet mature. And they are saying to one another, ‘We have a little sister and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for’? And they say that the probability is that this girl’s father died; and it's possible that her mother remarried. It's also possible that a stepfather also died, leaving the responsibility in the hands of her brothers. That would explain why they are addressed and spoken of as they are a little bit later on. It would also explain why they would have this responsibility for her.

Well, we can't be sure that this was the case, but it’s a very plausible reconstruction based on the language you find in chapter one as well as here, where her brothers are spoken of very much as half-brothers are spoken of in the Bible. The other explanation given is that these are the words of Solomon and his wife, and they are speaking of her little sister—perhaps left as a responsibility to them. Again, as in many instances like this for which we do not have final answers, it doesn’t really make any difference in the basic teaching. The main point remains perfectly clear, and that is the fact that God’s covenant people strongly believe that sex is only proper in marriage. “We have a little sister and she has no breasts.” She’s still very young, in other words, and immature, yet already her guardians—whether it be these brothers or Solomon and his wife thinking about her younger sister—it doesn’t matter, those who have responsibility for her are already thinking ahead to the day of her marriage, and they want her to be a virgin when that moment arrives.

So what do they do? They take stock of her personality, and they consider her traits, and they analyze her character to decide whether she is a wall or a door. If she is a wall—if she shows in her character or in the many things that manifest the tendencies of her character—that she is very strongly determined to resist any improper advances toward her, then they reward her with ornaments of silver. But, on the other hand, if she is a door—if her character doesn’t manifest the needed strength and stability—and she shows herself to be all too easily subject to the advances of men, then they say they’re going to barricade her with planks of cedar. In other words, they’re going to deal with her according to the lineaments of her character as they begin to manifest themselves, even while she is very young.

Now I believe that parents can learn something of tremendous importance here because children are incredibly different. They have the same parents; they grow up in the same home environment. And if you are like we are, I know that you do your best to give them all the same basic instruction and teaching. Yet the fact is—and it’s a strange and mysterious thing—that one of them may be very strong in character, like a wall, and even when they’re very young you know there’s something about the character and the direction in which that young personality is going that you can trust them a great deal. They’re like a wall, and you can reward that fact with ornaments of silver. But another child in the same family may manifest the very opposite tendencies of character; even while very young they seem to be weak in determination. They don’t have that strong sense of resolution, and they don’t have that firm sense of direction. They are like a door, open to all kinds of temptations, and we have to be alert to that fact. We have to analyze their character correctly, and we have to take measures according to what our children really are. Nothing then could be greater folly than for parents to imagine that they can adopt one and the same pattern of discipline and training in every respect for all of their children, irrespective of the differences between them. This often happens. The first one comes along, and that child’s character seems to be firm. There doesn’t seem to be much to worry about, and so you can have a kind of relaxed, disciplinary attitude toward that child. And the foolish parent may then just say, ‘Well, it worked with that one so it’s bound to work with the others’. When you do that you run into all kinds of problems. And the same can be true in reverse. That first child can be a difficult one, one that shows many weaknesses in character, so you have to be very strict. But the danger is that you might be overly strict with another child whose character is not the same and whose temperament is very different. So you have three or four children, and you have to measure their character and temperament, and you have to take stock of what they are, just like these brothers or Solomon and his wife did with this little sister.

Even while she was very young, they began to analyze her character. And they said, If she’s going to be a wall we’ll deal with her this way, and if she’s going to be a door we’ll deal with her that way. And so let us say you have two daughters, and one of them is like a wall and the other is like a door, what are you going to do? You’re going to have to reward the one by giving that one more liberty, and you’re going to have to restrict the other one with battlements of cedar. And when you do there’s going to be an outcry in that family, and that child that is the more restricted is going to cry out in pain. They’re going to say, ‘You’re not fair. You’re not just’. And you’re going to have to bear and suffer that, and you’re going to have to do the right thing regardless. You know the Bible says ‘he who spares the rod hates his child’. If you’re not willing to face the music as a parent, if you’re not willing to discipline, even when there’s an outcry, then you can’t accomplish your mission and your task as parents. I’m sure you know what happens when you don’t do that? You see it in the tragic story of Eli. God says he honored his own pleasures and his own desires rather than honoring God, and we can’t do that. That’s not our privilege; we’re supposed to honor God, and so if there’s a difference we have to take account of that difference and deal with our children differently. The sad thing is that too often we wait too long to analyze their character correctly, and we wait until they are too old to take the remedial action that these brothers did, or Solomon and his wife. And so you see in this the tremendous importance of the sanctity of sex.

I’ve said over and over as we’ve gone through this book there is a reason in the plan of God why it is always the girl who comes in for mention. It was in order that this marriage might reflect the image of Christ and the church, and because Christ is perfect, therefore all of the problems here in the Song of Solomon are put in terms of the women. But I don’t think we can leave this point without emphasizing another thing, and that is that this also applies equally to the boys. How about our little sons—is it the same requirements that God would have us apply to them? Well, I think we are all aware of the fact that there has been a tendency in Western culture, and even in the churches within Western culture, to adopt a kind of double standard. The Christian church, sad to say, has gone along to a lamentable extent with this, and so we say, ‘Of course, we expect our girls to remain pure, while it’s all right for the young fellows to sow their wild oats—that’s to be expected’. It’s nothing less than scandalous that the church of God should ever have in any way countenanced this very false and dangerous teaching. I think one of the reasons for the women’s liberation movement today in Western culture is a backlash from this false double standard. If I was under a double standard where the men were allowed to do just as they please, and the women weren’t, I’d rebel against it, too, because I know God is not that kind of a God. But I’ve got news for you. God has never said that this kind of thing was all right. God has never said, I want the girls to wait for sex until marriage, but you fellows don't have to. That’s exactly what God does not say in his holy Word.

I want to take a detour here to point this out. I’m quoting the Book of Proverbs where Solomon expresses God's wisdom on this matter with respect to sons of the house of Israel. He says in chapter two:

My son, if you receive my words,
And treasure my commands within you, . . .
Wisdom enters your heart,
And knowledge is pleasant to your soul
Discretion will preserve you;
Understanding will watch over you, . . .
To deliver you from the immoral woman,
From the seductress who flatters with her words, . . .
For her house leads down to death,
And her paths to the dead.

And in chapter five we read:

My son, pay attention to my wisdom;
Lend your ear to my understand,
That you may preserve discretion,
And that your lips may keep knowledge.
For the lips of an immoral woman drip honey,
And her mouth is smoother than oil;
But in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
Sharp as a two-edge sword.
Her feet go down to death,
Her steps lay hold of hell. . . .

Drink water from your own cistern,
And running water from your own well. . . .

Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice with the wife of your youth.
As a loving deer and a graceful doe,
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
And always be enraptured with her love.
For why would you, my son, be enraptured by
an immoral woman, . . .
For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord,
And he ponders all his paths.
His own iniquities entrap the wicked man,
And he is caught in the cords of his sin.

Again in chapter seven of the Book of Proverbs:
I perceived among the youths,
A young man devoid of understanding,
Passing along the street near her corner;
And he took the path to her house
In the twilight, in the evening,
In the black and dark night.
And there a woman met him,
With the attire of a harlot, and a crafty heart.
She was loud and rebellious,
Her feet would not stay at home…

So she caught him and kissed him;
With an impudent face she said to him…

Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
Let us delight ourselves with love (eros)…

With her enticing speech she caused him to yield,
With her flattering lips she seduced him.
Immediately he went after her,
As an ox goes to the slaughter,
Or as a fool to the correction of the stocks,
Till an arrow struck his liver.
As a bird hastens to the snare,
He did not know it would take his life.

Now therefore, listen to me, my children;
Pay attention to the words of my mouth:
Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways,
Do not stray into her paths;
For she has cast down many wounded,
And all who were slain by her were strong men,
Her house is the way to hell,
Descending to the chambers of death.

Now maybe you think that’s exaggeration, but whenever I read those passages I think of a musician I once knew—a brilliant saxophone and clarinet player. He decided to do his own thing, to have a life of liberated sex, so he had many women. But as he began to grow older, he realized there was nothing permanent in it, and he decided he wanted a wife. So he got married, and I remember when he was married, but you know it didn’t last. How could it? He didn’t realize that he’d done something to himself, but he had. He’d done something to himself—he had incapacitated himself for the discipline of marriage. That’s what he had done. And I still remember the last time I met him. What a sad thing it was—I’ll never forget it. He told me he was writing love letters to a prostitute, and she was writing love letters to him. Neither one of them was willing to give up promiscuous sex, and yet there was somehow that longing in them for something more permanent. Of course God doesn’t agree with the double standard, and if there is any young man here who thinks that he can have it, and she can’t, he doesn’t know anything about the true and living God because God has no double standard. God’s standard is wait until you’re married.

The second thing we see here in this concluding part of the Song of Solomon is the testimony of gratitude. For she says, ‘I was a wall. Yes, even when my breasts were like towers, even when I was a fully-matured, young woman, still I was like a wall. I maintained that the place for sex was in marriage.’ And you see this all the way through this Song. Remember how she said, ‘I want you to swear, daughters of Jerusalem, you’re not going to tempt me. I don’t want it.’ She was indeed like a wall, even when she was a mature woman. And she says, precisely because of this, ‘then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.’ And there you have a beautiful play on words in the Hebrew language because the word for Solomon is built on the root of the word for “peace”—”shalom.” That’s when she found peace—when she found Solomon. And she found him because that’s the kind of girl that Solomon wanted. That’s the kind of woman any man wants. That’s true no matter how promiscuous he’s been. I knew of a man brought up in the Reformed faith, and he went off on this same path of sexual liberation, but then when he got a little older and got tired of it all, do you know what he wanted? Sure, he wanted a virgin. Of course. He wanted exactly the kind of woman that you have described here in the Song of Songs. Of course, he didn’t meet that standard himself, but never mind, that’s what he wants.

You can’t help but wonder if these brothers of the Shulamite weren’t a little too strict with her. If she was a wall, why didn’t they reward her with the battlements of silver? Why did they have her working off there in the vineyard like a slave as she tells us back in chapter one, when she says her brothers were angry and they made her take care of the vineyard. It certainly was possible that they erred, seriously, on the side of strictness. That’s why Paul warns fathers not to exasperate their children, not to go too far in the direction of strictness of discipline. But even so, even if her brothers were too strict—since she was a wall, they didn’t need to deal with her that way—still, now, she recognizes the good in it. They had her working down there in the vineyard, and it was probably Solomon’s vineyard and they were probably stewards in Solomon’s vineyard, and that’s how she met him. And while she recognizes that they were perhaps too strict in their discipline, she also realizes they had the right motive, and now she’s thankful for it.

She uses a beautiful illustration to tell us this; she says, “Solomon had a vineyard in Baal hamon,” and that’s probably where they met and where her family earned their livelihood taking care of that vineyard for Solomon. And they had to give Solomon a thousand shekels of silver for his fruit; they had to give him the lion’s share, and they had what was left over. But that was only right because it was Solomon’s vineyard. Well, she says, ‘I’ve got a vineyard too, and now I’m giving it to Solomon’. And she says, ‘I give a thousand to him’, and in the Bible a thousand is the number for fullness. ‘I give my whole self, all I am I give to Solomon, but’, she says, ‘don’t forget this. I also give the two hundred shekels for those who took care of it’. And that means that there is in her heart an undying sense of gratitude to those very brothers who were so jealous to protect her purity. Now she is thankful for them. Maybe she wasn’t at the time; maybe she was really grieved when she was down there in the vineyard working away, not near any young man who she had her eye on, but now she’s thankful.

And I think we parents need to remember this, too. You know the Bible says ‘no discipline at the present time seems joyful’, and that’s certainly true of children. You will never devise discipline that your children will enjoy—you may as well forget it. Discipline that children will enjoy has never been invented. No chastening for the present seems to be joyful, that’s what the Book of Hebrews says, so you’re going to have to accept the fact that it’s going to be unpleasant, and the children aren’t going to like it. But that doesn’t matter, if one day they look back and thank you for it, if they say, ‘Thank you, Dad. Boy, what misery it was at the time, but thank you’. When they look back at the time and say, ‘I thought I really hated you at the time, Mother, but now I realize that I really love you for what you did’. That’s the reward you’ll have if you do what the Bible says. If you don’t do what the Bible says to do, you won’t have that reward, but if you do what the Bible says, you will. I’ve experienced it myself. I remember when I was bringing up our children and they wanted to go dancing. I said, ‘No, you can’t go dancing’. And my kids were always the kind that wanted a Biblical answer, so they said, ‘Where do you get that in the Bible’? So I said, ‘It’s in the Book of Exodus’. ‘Where in the Book of Exodus’? ‘Chapter twenty’. ‘Where in chapter twenty’? In verse12, which is the Fifth commandment. Well, that finally stopped them—honor your father and your mother. I said, ‘That’s it. You’ve got to honor me, and I say you can’t go dancing’. Well, they couldn’t get out of that, so they had to bow to it. And there was grief in that house. But I’ve been thanked since. It took a few years, but I’ve been thanked since for that discipline, and that’s exactly what you parents will get some day. But you’ve got to face the music now, and deal with the problem in the way that God says to do it.

So here you see the beautiful harmony in the teaching of the Bible. What seems at first sight to be contradictory is not really contradictory. The Bible says, ‘You are to leave your father and mother, and you are to cleave to your wife’—give her the thousand. But it also says, ‘Honor your father and your mother’. Is that a contradiction? Not at all. You give the thousand to your husband or wife, but you give two hundred to your dad and mother. You give yourself and all you are to that husband, but you don’t forget to love your parents, and you don’t forget to be grateful to them for what they’ve done to you. I certainly thank my parents today for the discipline I had. It wasn’t perfect—but I thank God for it because I know if there’s any good in me today I owe a lot of it to the fact that they faced the music and gave me that discipline.

Are you thankful to God for these things, young people? You probably don't feel very thankful. But as soon as you start to think in a biblical way you’re going to be thankful. You’re going to say, I’m so thankful for parents that are different from all those around us in the world today, who just let their kids do anything. I thank God I’ve got parents who say, ‘No, you can’t’, and even if I go up and down the room and cry, they still say, ‘No, you can’t do it’. That’s what you ought to be saying. You ought to be thankful that your parents have sat down and talked with you and disciplined you, and sometimes did things you didn’t like at all because that’s what brings the peaceable fruits of righteousness, as the Bible says, in those that have been exercised by it. And that’s exactly what this woman did.

So she comes to the end of the Song and says, Number one on the agenda: wait until you’re married for sex. Number two on the agenda: be thankful to those who have pounded that into you and have tried to safeguard that in you because it’s that important. And finally we go on to the third and last point. And you know it’s not easy to describe exactly in words what this is all about, but let me attempt it. It’s what I would call a kind of longing and yearning that remains in the heart of those who have known the love that God intended them to know in marriage. Let’s hear how it is put here. He says:

You who dwell in the gardens,
The companions listen for your voice—
Let me hear it!

And she answers back:

Make haste, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
On the mountains of spices.

Now if you’ve read the book carefully you’ll remember that that’s almost like the language they were speaking to each other before they got married. It’s the language of yearning and longing which arises from some unfulfilled desire. And some Bible commentators say this means that when a marriage is blessed by God and done in God’s way, there’s going to be a kind of constant renewal of love, like a continual courtship. And there is certainly truth in that thesis. The nearer our marriages approximate the great divine example the more they’re going to be like that. There will always be something new and fresh in that romance of marriage, and we ought to seek that. God can give it to us.

But I'm convinced that there’s something more here than this because when the Bible tells us to love our wives the way Christ loved the church, and for wives to love their husbands the way the church loves Christ, he is setting before us a kind of love that has two aspects in tension. The two aspects are, first, the present realization of love between Christ and his church. And the Bible says we are the Bride of Christ if we are a church made up of believers. Paul says, ‘I have espoused you to one husband’ and he is the Lord Jesus. So the church already is the Bride of Christ. But the second aspect is what lies ahead at Christ’s second coming. And that means that there is a longing in the heart of the church for that ultimate perfection. That great day when we will be with Christ in a way that far transcends what we know in the present.

And in marriage, too—for Christian believers—there is a realization that finality and perfection is not to be found in this earthly life. What I’m saying, in other words, is that anyone who has been married— even if they’ve had a good Christian marriage which goes God’s way right from the beginning—will realize if they are honest and Biblical that their marriage isn’t the ultimate thing. You read some of the literature of the world you might think it was. Romanticism almost puts marriage in the place of an idol, but we must never view it in that way. The Bible says God has put eternity in the heart of man, and that the heart is never going rest in anything as fleeting as marriage. Eros doesn’t last long, does it? It’s a momentary and fleeting thing. It can never satisfy the eternity that God has set in your heart. Even companionship will only last for a little while. One poet put it like this:

“She lived unknown, and few could know when Lucy ceased to be;
but she is in her grave, and oh, the difference to me.”

Even the love of companionship is temporal, and because God has put eternity in our hearts, and nothing will ever satisfy our ultimate need except that which is eternal. And we’re not going to find that in marriage because the Bible says, ‘In heaven they’re not married nor given in marriage’. Marriage belongs to this present temporal order. It’s like the leaf that fades away or the grass of the field that perishes, and we can never find our ultimate joy and satisfaction in it.

And that’s why the Bible says, ‘It remains that those who have wives are as those who had none’. Did you ever think about the people who aren’t married? If marriage was the ultimate thing, what about them? Why, we’d have to say ‘they missed out because they don’t have the ultimate thing’. But that’s not what the Bible says. If there are any of you here that aren’t married and are not even destined to be married, that doesn’t mean you miss out, not at all, because marriage is not the ultimate thing. You won’t obtain the ultimate thing just because you are married. No, it’s something that goes beyond marriage; it has to be. And what is it? It’s the consummation of the great marriage between Christ and his church. Everything else is fleeting and momentary and changing. So even if you have a beautiful marriage, like the two people here in this song, you must learn from all the imperfections in it. Anyone here want to deny that? Anyone here have the perfect marriage? Anyone here have the marriage that is without any tears? Stand up. Of course, you don’t, and God is teaching you by that. It’s not the ultimate thing. Nothing in this world is the ultimate thing. The ultimate thing is to be found only in Jesus Christ, and the great and eternal marriage of Christ and the church.

Maybe you may have noticed how in all of the stories that the fiction writers write they always speak of living ‘happily ever after’. Well, that doesn’t happen. Many of the love songs of our culture talk about loving ‘forever and a day’, but there is no forever and a day for earthly marriages; that’s not to be because God has ordained that we should find our fullness only in him. If you’re trying to find it in your marriage, you’re not going to find it because it’s not there. So your marriage hasn’t really reached its objective unless, in that marriage, you turn your face not only to each other, but even more together to God. And you become ‘heirs together of the grace of life’, and you say, ‘We’re going to seek the Kingdom of God together. Hand in hand we’re going to seek the Kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ’, and then when your love is caught up in a love that is far greater, marriage reaches its ultimate meaning in the transcendent glory of the Kingdom of Christ.

Here is the way one Christian poet put it. I don't know the name of the author, but nobody but a Christian could have written these words—a beautiful poem of love. It’s a bit old-fashioned, but maybe that’s what we need.

O lay your hand in mine, dear!
We’re growing old;
But Time hath brought no sign, dear,
That hearts grow cold

'Tis long, long since our new love
Made life divine;
But age enricheth true love,
Like noble wine.

And lay thy cheek to mine, dear,
And take thy rest;
Mine arms around thee twine, dear,
And make thy nest.

Ah, many cares are pressing
On this dear head;
But sorrow's hands in blessing
Are surely laid.

O, lean thy life on mine, dear!
’Twill shelter thee.
Thou wert a winsome vine, dear,
On my young tree:

And so, till boughs are leafless,
And songbirds flown,
We'll twine, then lay us, griefless,
Together down.

You see, to die is to be with Christ, and—for believers—to die is gain. And two Christian people, when they really come to know what life is all about, look at it that way. More and more their faces are turned to the Lord Jesus Christ and his covenant promise. That’s why the Bible says we are to be ‘heirs together of the grace of life’, seeking the Kingdom of God and his righteousness first, remembering that the chief end of man is not to have a happy marriage, but to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. And that is why there always is this profound sense of longing—this sense of unfulfilled perfection, at the heart of every truly Christian marriage. And it’s not until a husband and wife realize that the ultimate is not to be found in each other, but only in their God, their Creator and Savior, that they finally reach the end for which even this Song was written, because the church has always recognized in the last few words of this song a kind of echo of the words that we also find at the end the Bible: “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”. When our heart beats in tune with the heart of God, we all become the Bride of Jesus. That is why we can't help but cry out, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”. And when that happens we will finally have that which is final; then we will know the ultimate rapture in the perfect marriage.

May God grant us the wisdom and strength to make our marriages here on earth a means to that final glory.


* 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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