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 things 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.