Song of Songs and the use of Erotic Images

Who can argue with the assertion that Song of Songs contains strong erotic imagery? For this reason, many have considered this book to be “too hot to handle” in churches over the years, while others see it as a book about “godly eroticism”; it is neither. More than any book I can think of, the Song conveys the yearning of both God and His people for a closer relationship, with the hope that such relationship will come, and for us, this glimmer of hope is all the more awesome because that hope has indeed come to pass.

First, let’s consider the use of imagery in general. Imagery is used in Scripture primarily to convey a concept, idea or truth for which human vocabulary or frames of reference are inadequate. Clearly, passages that attempt to describe such things as heaven or hell must use human imagery that would be understandable to those who read it, for we do not have vocabulary or frames of reference to describe such concepts in a more technically accurate way. Imagine for a moment that we had a time machine and went back to the first century and we picked up the Apostle John and brought him to the 21st century and put him on a flight from New York to Los Angeles on a 747. After the flight, we send him back to his time and give him the job of writing a letter to the churches describing his adventure. How is he going to do it?

Even if we gave him our words for things, nobody would understand them. The only thing he could do is to use references and words that existed in his time and place and say things like… “It was as if…” and “It was like…” He couldn’t even tell them where he flew from and to, for his readers have never heard of North America. Therefore, whatever he would come up with would be written in highly metaphoric language and could not be taken literally… just like Revelation can’t be taken literally in its description of thing he saw in heaven.

Thus, if you were Solomon nearly 1,000 years before Christ, how can you write about the love and yearning between God and His people a thousand years before Christ, and not try to do so using human comparisons that the people could comprehend? After all, everyone understands human attraction, and what human attraction is more powerful than love?

That, dear reader is exactly what Solomon did in the Song of Songs, and that is also why there is a danger in letting a literal understanding of his work overwhelm the actual message he is trying to convey; a message that is ultimately more amazing and awesome than human intimacy.

With an idea of why the erotic imagery is used, we can now deal with what we can infer from its use. First and foremost, we need to see the message being conveyed in this story about God and His people, and the ultimate arrival of the Bridegroom for His Bride the Church. Next, we can infer from the imagery that such attraction between Brides and Grooms is OK and not a shameful or sinful thing. How sad it is that so many people think of physical intimacy in marriage is shameful or wrong to enjoy. It is a gift from God; it is a blessing, not a shame. In fact, feelings of shame for sexual intimacy in marriage are as ridiculous as feelings of shame about the human body itself!

Where do we get such notions? They certainly are not from Scripture, where humanity is taught to be the very pinnacle of God’s Creation, not something of the gutter.

Thus, we recall Paul’s words in Ephesians 5:32-33:

This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.  However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

Just as Paul was teaching a larger spiritual truth in Ephesians 5 that also contained a practical human element, so also is Solomon teaching a larger spiritual truth in the Song that has a practical human element to it. As such, it is a wonderful book that we should all read and treasure for what it actually contains, and avoid wild speculations about its imagery.


About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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12 Responses to Song of Songs and the use of Erotic Images

  1. I’ve read all of your blogs on SoS…all very good! Please forgive my failure to click “like” on some as I have had to catch up in reading and read straight through the last 5 or so. I think for the most part my past experience with the book involved a group marriage study a long time ago. I really don’t remember ever studying it besides that. Your thoughts cause me to want to dig into SoS on my own. It does make sense doesn’t it that they never fully came together because we haven’t been united with Christ in eternity yet? As we go along on our journey indwelt by the Holy Spirit, I think we yearn more and more for that time when the bride and Bridegroom will finally come together as one. Thanks for tackling a hard portion of scripture and causing us to think!

  2. paulfg says:

    I believe you chappies are familiar with the phrase “good job”? Just have to comment that your Song sequence brought an “odd book” (as I have viewed it so far) to vivid life. And in doing so, you drew me closer to The Word! That isn’t just a good job – that is a gift! Thank you so much, Don.

    • Don Merritt says:

      He in me; He in you: that’s the gift and the blessing… and (Spoiler Alert) is also the final chapter in the story of Song of Songs!

      Thank you as always for your kind words O son of encouragement!

  3. William Haney says:

    I think who the writer is can be the key. With your background and education in this spiritual eternaty, I had a good idea where you were coming from. Now if it was, say a Jackie Collins, then it would go another place. If Revelations was brought up by, say a JJ Abrahms, then you know what it may be like.

  4. Tom says:

    I have really enjoyed your study on SoS. It was an excellent way of making a person think about it in more ways than just an erotic love story. Keep up the great work!

  5. Imagery is always confusing from Ezekiel, Daniel, much of it sounds and reads like a bad acid trip, or a peyote induced dream, but yup it is all in there, so we have to deal with it. Good work!

  6. Citizen Tom says:

    When you gave the example of John writing about a visit to our time, I two thoughts.
    1. He would not confuse our time with heaven. Would he pity us, envy us, or both? Two thousand years of waiting, but he knew Jesus.
    2. When we argue about the creation story in Genesis, who do we think Moses wrote that book for? Us? He wrote to people who drive cars, communicate with computers, and study weird scientific theories like the Theory of Evolution?

    • Don Merritt says:

      Two great questions Tom. I can’t imagine John confusing the 21st century with heaven, and of course Moses didn’t have us in mind when he wrote Genesis… nor did any other author in the Bible. It seems that we are the only ones who think that we are the center of everything! 🙂

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