1 – That we need to persevere if we wish to understand Scripture. This is never an old lesson because we are always tempted to quit trying. The Lord loves those who insist: knock, he says, ask and seek. I got the impression from some in school that Bible study involved a preliminary reading of the text and then a search through commentaries in order to determine what the text means. It is as if we go in order to learn how to use prestigious, sophisticated commentaries. This is what Tozer warns against, and I don’t think his warning is outdates. It makes me afraid of finding things out by any easy way. Instead there ought to be the work of careful consideration at the level of the original language, the background studies, and everything which a good commentary resumes. The value of a commentary is not in providing you with a shortcut to being an interpreter, but in functioning as a corrective after you have done so. I sometimes wonder if commentaries would be more truly judged and rated, and less sold, if people practiced more of what they were taught in the exegesis classroom. In considering the Song of Solomon especially, one is tempted to jump toward the commentaries for explanation. Knock instead, ask and seek. We do not seek eccentric or private interpretations by avoiding commentaries first, but rather seek to please the Lord and be found faithful going by the straight way, rather than by the alluring shortcuts. We must come, like Gabriel, from the very presence of God bearing a message, and not merely from the presence of those who at one time have come from the presence of God. A derivative study is not of the same quality as an original one, however unskilled the interpreter so long as he is faithful. God promises to open, to answer, and that we will find.
I have learned from this difficult book, and a great and valuable lesson came at one point when instead of closing up and resting satisfied, I waited a little longer, considered again, and prayed. And it is a great consolation to know that it is a fresh interpretation, while at the same time it is in nothing original.
2 – If the Song of Solomon is wisdom literature, then it must somehow follow the pattern of Hebrew wisdom: juxtaposition—thus wisdom is vindicated by all her children. We find, on the one hand, that it is a celebration of human love and marriage. But on the other hand, we realize that all Scripture points to Christ, and if this book is part of Scripture, it must also point to Christ. Another juxtaposition in evidence in the Song of Songs (a Hebrew superlative = the Best Song) is this: marriage is given to man—the companionship of a woman—because it was not good for him to have exclusively the companionship of God; and yet there is a mystery in marriage which has at its heart a relationship between God and man, between Christ and his people. Adam lacked the love of an equal, we might say, and so God gave him a corresponding partner. But in doing so, he intended to give Adam more than marriage. We know from the words of Jesus that marriage is a temporary institution in our race: in the resurrection it will not exist.
And yet one of the first events we anticipate in the resurrection is a wedding—the marriage feast of the Lamb. Our temporal matrimonies will be swallowed up in that eternal matrimony of lesser and greater. How? Only because he has descended to join our race, and by that means has exalted it. God became a man so that men might become gods, said Athanasius.
Why has God instituted matrimony? Why has he consecrated sexual intercourse by limiting it to this exclusive relationship? In order to teach us the jealousy of love, which is to say: the consecrating power of love. It is love that consecrates a man to a woman and a woman to a man. Love has such a power that it seeks exclusivity, is jealous at the violation of exclusivity, and gives rise to hatred when this is broken (I hate divorce, says the Lord; and we know it is not the life but the death of something, and a gate of misery). This consecration of love is not chiefly aimed at morality among human beings—that is an accident, not unintended, but a by-product. The consecration of love teaches us about God, as all the commandments do. It teaches us that he believes love to be a consecrating thing. He expects his people to love him in this way having a human pattern and example in the beauty of marriage. He is jealous for his people and hates our spiritual adultery. God in Christ has condescended to spiritual marriage, has determined his bride before he made the world and will have for her no other husband than himself.
God wants to lead us from love to love, from lesser to greater, from present matrimony to that eternal union in the resurrection. And that is why Solomon sings that best of Songs. A song of marriage and a song of Christ.
3 – So we learn to find in the pattern of human love something everlasting, something about Christ. It has a surface in our marriages (all those descriptions that do not go below the skin!), and luminous depths in the marriage of the Lamb.
-We learn about this affection, love: the power it has, how it is strong enough to consecrate by union. 5:8; 8.6-7. The love of the chief commandment ought to consecrate all other loves.
-We learn how love gives life to all of life, it makes it vivid. 4:11; 5:1; 7:10-13. All things are not lost by that consecration of love, but life in all things is gained: true, abundant, vivid.
-We learn how love concentrates all of life upon its object. 5:9-16. Thereby implying monogamy. 6:3,8-9. And what is the worst thing that could result? Separation. 3:1-5; 5:2-8. Take away everything, but do not take away Thyself.
-And we learn in that curious section after the deep reflections of 8:6-7 beginning in 8:8, that love will not long itself be the object of attention: all attention must return to the beloved. It is almost comical at that point in the book (I am like a wall and my breasts are towers!), a frivolous interjection about a flat-chested sister. But the beloved must be the main object of attention and not second to love itself. However awesome, love in love does not require a whole lot of attention. It is probably all too real a fault in the Christian that we turn our attention to our own love, minding it, fussing over it, measuring it, foolishly trying to sense or grow it, exhibiting it than we attend to the beloved object without which love withers.