Chapter 1.
How to Begin a Love Story

The Song of Songs 1:1-8

What do love, romance, and marriage look like through the eyes of a child? I came across some answers that kids gave which might interest you.

To the question, "How do you decide whom to marry?"

Allen, age ten, said, "You've got to find someone who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it, and she should keep the chips and dips coming."

Kristin, age ten, replied, "No person really decides before they grow up who they're going to marry. God decides it all the way before, and you got to find out who you're stuck with."

When asked, "How can a stranger tell if two people are married?" Derek, age eight, said, "Married people usually look happy to talk to other people."

A boy named Eddie responded, "You might have to guess based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids."

When asked, "Why do people go out on a date?"

Lynette, age eight, was rather straightforward from the female perspective: "Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough."

And responding to the question, "How do you make a marriage work?" A seven-year-old boy, wise beyond his years said, "Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she doesn't."

What do love, romance, and marriage look like through the eyes of a modern Washington writer and businessman? The opinion held by Philip Harvey is not nearly as hopeful or positive as that of the children surveyed above. In an article entitled "Divorce for the Best," Mr. Harvey said:

A reasonable level of divorce may be a symptom of a healthy and mobile society, a society in which men and women are living unprecendently long lives, lives for which the companionship of but a single other person for 30 or 40 or 50 years may simply be inappropriate.... That most Americans categorically oppose divorce on principle is a function more of our aspiration to the ideal state than a realistic acceptance of how we humans actually behave....

The freedom to have more than one mate over a 75-year lifespan may be a positive thing. Is it not possible that the ideal companion for our younger child-rearing years will not be the ideal companion for our middle and later years? Is it not reasonable to suggest that the radical differences in the way we live in our fifties and sixties and beyond may be under many circumstances, most appropriately lived with a different person from the one with whom we reared children? ... The interests of children must be given a very high priority. But allowing for that, it seems to me that a reasonable level of divorce is more likely to be a quality of a mobile and healthy modern society than a sign of moral decay.

Harvey is not alone in his rather pessimistic prediction of one man with one woman for life. James Dobson in his January 2000 newsletter shared that Sandy Burchsted, an unmarried "futurist" from Houston, estimates that one hundred years from now, the average American will marry at least four times and routinely engage in extramarital affairs with no fear of public humiliation. Miss Burchsted, who is writing a book on marriage in the year 2100, identified what she believed will be four different types of marriage at a World Future Society conference in July, 1999. The first union is called the "icebreaker marriage," (usually lasting about five years) in which couples will learn how to live together and gain sexual experience. Once disillusionment sets in, claims Burchsted, it will be perfectly acceptable for the couple to divorce. If one of the partners decides to marry again, he or she will enter a "parenting marriage," which lasts between 15 and 20 years. These couples will view raising children as their primary purpose, although child-rearing in the future will be in communal settings, not nuclear families.

After the second marriage is terminated, couples might enter a third union, which Burchsted calls the "self-marriage." This relationship will be focused on self-discovery and personal awareness. "We see marriage as a conscious, evolutionary process," says Burchsted, "so this marriage will be about consciously evolving yourself." Finally, there is a fourth category of marriage, which will emerge as a result of the theory that people in the twenty-first century will be living until at least the age of 120. Burchsted calls this late-in-life marriage the "soulmate connection," characterized by "marital bliss, shared spirituality, physical monogamy and equal partnership." The Washington Times says that Burchsted's theories are based on "trends showing women becoming more financially independent, marriage and childbearing becoming more'delinked,''serial monogamy'becoming more acceptable and extramarital sexual affairs occurring more frequently and with less public outcry."

Burchsted's views on our future sexual habits are shared by others as well. In an article in Time magazine the question was asked about the future of male-female relationships, "Will We Still Need to Have Sex?" Their answer: "Having sex is too much fun for us to stop, but religious convictions aside, it will be more for recreation than for procreation." Another writer says, "Sex will be just for lust—babies will come from reproductive bank accounts."

I am convinced God did not hardwire or program human persons to long for these kinds of shallow, pseudorelationships where any meaningful idea of love vanishes like an early morning mist vaporized by the sun. Let's go back to the Bible and see what the Creator says about how to begin a love story. I believe God is something of a cosmic romantic who enjoys a good love story. The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's, paints the portrait of such a love story and right from the start provides principles to get us off to a good start. How do you begin a love story?

Solomon's Finest Song Oh that he would kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!

For your love is more delightful than wine.

The fragrance of your perfume is intoxicating; your name is perfume poured out.

No wonder young women adore you.

Take me with you—let us hurry.

Oh that the king would bring me to his chambers.

We will rejoice and be glad for you; we will praise your love more than wine.

It is only right that they adore you. (vv. 1-4)

Anticipate the Rewards of Being with Your Mate (vv. 1-4)

This book is entitled "The Song of Songs, Which is Solomon's" or "Solomon's Finest Song." First Kings 4:32 indicates Solomon authored 1,005 songs, but out of all of them this is his "finest song"; this is his best. The second-century rabbi Akiba ben Joseph said of the Song of Songs, "In the entire world there is nothing to equal the day in which the Song of Songs was given to Israel. All the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies" (Mishnah, Yadaim 3:5).The Mishnah is the oral tradition of Judaism which most scholars believe was put into writing in the third century a.d. In other words, this was the number one song of the Jerusalem hit parade in 1000 b.c.! First Kings 4:29-31 also teaches us that God blessed Solomon with wisdom that exceded all his contemporaries. Here Solomon looks at the issue of marriage and romance. Marriage is God's good gift. It should be a blessing. It should be rewarding. What kind of rewards does Solomon outline for us?

Desire the Physical Pleasures of Marriage (vv. 1-2)

Marriage is the context in which physical passion and pleasure is set free. The kiss is a universal expression of desire and affection, and the woman (she is called Shulammite in 6:13) expresses her desire for her lover to kiss her and to kiss her deeply and repeatedly. The senses of touch and taste come together, and the resulting passion is more than she can handle. She says, "Your love is more delightful than wine." By describing his romantic, affectionate kisses in this way, she is saying, "I find the touch of your lips and the embrace of your mouth sweet, powerful, intoxicating. It sweeps me off my feet. It sets my head to spinning." The passionate kiss, we have discovered, is a telltale sign of a healthy, romantic marriage, even more than sex. "The passionate kiss (avg. length one minute) reveals a lot about your relationship. Considered even more intimate than sex, passionate smooching is one of the first things to go when spouses aren't getting along." Several years ago I heard of a survey taken in Germany that revealed that if a man kissed his wife in the morning before leaving for work, he would: (1) live five years longer, (2) have 50 percent fewer illnesses, and (3) make 20 to 30 percent more money than one who doesn't! Proverbs 5:18-19 says, "Take pleasure in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful fawn—let her breasts always satisfy you; be lost in her love forever."

Experience the Personal Pleasures of Marriage (vv. 3-4)

The word love occurs repeatedly in verses 2-7. A careful examination reveals love's connection to the mind, will, and emotions. Not only does love connect our intellects and our desires, but it also keeps them in proper balance. Love is to be a delightful experience that expresses itself in many ways. Love has a physical dimension, but it is not just physical. The Song gives us four avenues whereby lovers should enjoy each other.

Delight in their fragrance (v. 3a)

The thought of the physical caresses of romance calls to mind not only the intoxication of wine but also the sweet smell of his cologne. He tastes good, and he smells good. Without stretching the text, he brushed his teeth and used mouthwash. He took a bath, used soap, and then anointed himself with "good ointments." This is good counsel for every man at any time! Already we see the senses of taste, touch, and smell come together in the pursuit of romance and love. Here is a man sensitive to the things his woman finds attractive. She is appreciative and responds in kind.

Delight in their fame (v. 3b)

His kisses are intoxicating. His smell is exhilarating. His reputation is unquestioned. "Your name [meaning his reputation and character] is perfume poured out." A person is more than their physical appearance. Who one really is goes beneath the skin. Wise people, when dating, will not only form an opinion of the person with whom they are involved; they will also listen and hear what others have to say.

No matter how strong the physical attraction, they will also listen to public opinion. Is he honest? Trustworthy? Does she possess a calm spirit? A level head? Is he known as a playboy? Does she have friends who believe in her? We should carefully consider what others say about the person we date, the person we would consider marrying. We all have blind spots. Love can indeed be blind. We must not let our emotions override good decision making, even if it hurts. Shulammite knew this man was respected. He was known as a person of character and integrity. She was not only physically attracted to him; she could respect him. She could admire him.

Delight in their friends (vv. 3c, 4b)

Solomon was a much-desired man. He was indeed a catch! Verse 3 says, "No wonder young women adore you." In verse 4 these same women exclaim, concerning Shulammite's good fortune, "We will rejoice and be glad for you; we will praise your love more than wine." The esteem of other women enhances Shulammite's love and admiration for the man in her life. In essence they are saying, "If you don't get him and keep him, then we are going after him." Any woman would be fortunate to have such a man as her own.

Delight in their faithfulness (v. 4a)

While it is the case that potential rivals are lurking about, this woman is so secure in her relationship with her man that she can allow and rejoice in the praise and admiration showered on him by others. Love, to be sure, is jealous (cf. 8:6), yet it can also be generous when the bond is secure. She knows at the right time she can ask him to "take me with you—let us hurry" (v. 4) and he will. He is her king, and she is his queen. Their love is majestic and royal. On one plane she can share him publicly and with others. On another level she possesses him as her own, and there are things that only the two of them share, and that, in private. He brings her, and only her, into his chambers. This is an exclusive love that dare not be shared with another.

In a survey Glamour magazine asked men which marriage vow was the hardest to keep: 19 percent said it was to love "in sickness and in health"; 19 percent said it was to love "for richer or for poorer." The toughest of all, said 60 percent of the men, was "to forsake all others." A woman should be confident in her man's faithfulness. Ephesians 5:33 says it well, "Each one of you [husbands] is to love his wife as himself."

O daughters of Jerusalem, I am dark like the tents of Kedar, yet lovely like the curtains of Solomon.

Do not stare at me because I am dark, for the sun has gazed on me.

My mother's sons were angry with me; they made me a keeper of the vineyards.

My own vineyard I have not kept.

Tell me, you whom I love:

Where do you pasture your sheep?

Where do you let them rest at noon?

Why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions? (vv. 1:5-7)

Accept the Realities of Being with Your Mate (vv. 5-7)

Marriage has its romance, its rewards. It also has its rough spots and realities. Men anticipating marriage may think, Wow! We'll spend all of our time in the bed. Well, I've got some news for you. Hopefully you will enjoy some marvelous time in the bed and in other places. You will, however, spend the majority of your time out of bed, and you will need to face head-on some of the realities that will confront you as you try to build your marriage. Let's note two realities a man must face when living with a woman. This list, by the way, is by no means exhaustive. It's just a place to start!

A Woman Can Be Ambivalent Concerning Her Appearance (vv. 5-6)

Women change. It is their prerogative as females. It is built into their genes. They change, and they can change quickly and often. A man must be alert and sensitive. Like a weather radar, he must be able to see what is on the horizon.

How a woman thinks she looks is extremely important to her. It goes to the foundation of her self-worth. In particular, she wants to know that she is attractive to the man in her life. But guys, we must understand, what she thinks about how she looks matters more to her than what we think about how she looks.

She may be delighted with her appearance (vv. 5-6)

Shulammite knew she possessed a natural beauty. She believed that she was pretty and attractive, lovely and pleasing in appearance. She was sensitive to the fact that men are creatures of sight and that they are moved by what they see. She was confident he would like what he saw when he looked at her. Of herself she can say, "I am... lovely."

She may be defensive with her appearance (v. 6a)

A tan was not grand in Solomon's day. Women prized fair skin and the "indoor look." This would signify the lofty social standing of the well-to-do city girl. In contrast Shulammite was deeply suntanned and dark. She was a country girl who had been "looked upon" negatively by both the sun of nature and the sons of her mother who forced her to labor in the vineyards. "She had been doubly burned, by the sun, and by her brother's anger." "The tents of Kedar" speaks of "the Bedouin tribes whose tents, made from the hair of the black goats so common among them, are a frequent sight on the fringes of the deserts." "The curtains of Solomon" draw a different analogy. These curtains would be beautiful and valuable, of "exquisite craftsmanship... She is both hardened by the elements and yet beautiful.

She may be disappointed with her appearance (v. 6b)

She worked hard to tend the vineyards in the field. As a result, her own vineyard, her body, had been neglected. Unable to give the time, attention, and care she would have liked, her physical appearance, at least to her way of thinking, was less than the best. One easily senses her pain, her insecurity. Tom Gedhill writes:

Her vineyard represents everything that conveys her essential femininity. Her looks, her complexion, her dress, her status, her sexuality—all those considerations which would make her attractive to a man... In these verses we are brought face to face with the problems of our own self-image. How do we view ourselves? When we look at our own reflection in the mirror, do we like what we see? Can we accept ourselves as we really are, with all our quirks, idiosyncrasies and limitations? Do we like the way we look? Or are we always wishing we were like someone else?

A woman's appearance is an important area in her life. It requires on the part of a man great sensitivity and understanding.

Men, make sure you praise her and build her up. Don't be like the husband whose wife walked out of the closet one day wearing a new dress and asked, "Honey, does this dress make me look fat?" To which he responded, "Nah, your hips make you look fat." Such a response will do neither your wife nor you any good.

A Woman Can Be Anxious Concerning His Absence (v. 7)

Security is important to a marriage. A man feels it when his mate praises him. A woman feels it when her man is present. A marriage is destined to suffer and suffer greatly if there are extended periods of unhealthy separation.

A husband's absence can be a source of personal sorrow (v.7a)

Solomon is gone. Why we are not told, though the imagery implies he is about the normal duties of life. Here the picture is of a shepherd tending his sheep. She misses him. She longs for him. To speak so frankly exposes her heart, but it would also excite the heart of her lover. At noon the sheep would sleep. The other shepherds would be resting. There would be time just for them. No distractions. No interruptions. She wants him at any cost. Furthermore, what a creative lady we see. Their meeting would be outside in the wide open spaces, perhaps under a shade tree? Perhaps in a temporary hut or shelter? Even as she sorrows over his absence, she strategizes about how to make their intimate time together new, exciting, and memorable. But you can't love them if you're not with them.

A husband's absence can be a source of personal shame (v.7b)

To wear a veil as she wandered among the other flocks and shepherds would be embarrassing. It could, in that day, give the impression that she was a prostitute or possibly in mourning. A prostitute has many men, but she has no man she can call her own.

There is no one at whom she can point and say, that man is my man and this woman is his woman. She did not want there to be the slightest doubt that he was hers and she was his. For there to be even a question of their fidelity and commitment to each other would be shameful. Shulammite knew there was a cost, a price to be paid, in committing herself for a lifetime to another person. She was aware of the fact that a marriage relationship can sometimes become high profile and take on a fishbowl type of scrutiny. Still, she was willing to accept and live up to such a challenge. Each of us must be willing to do the same.

If you don't know for yourself, most beautiful of women, follow the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats near the shepherds' tents. (v. 8)

Acknowledge the Risk of Being with Your Mate (v. 8)

This romance thing is risky business. You take a chance. You roll the dice. There are, however, ways to improve the odds in your favor. Verse 8 is best understood as a mild, maybe even a playful, rebuke of Shulammite. She is looking to "hook up" with her man. What does she need to do?

Know Where You Can Find Him

Shulammite is called "most beautiful of women," yet she is teased for not knowing where her man is. Perhaps she doesn't, as of yet, know him as well as she should. After all, marriage is a lifelong learning process. It is imperative that we grow in knowledge of our mate, of our mate's needs, disposition, gifts, weaknesses, and inclinations. To love our mates we must know them and know where and how to find them when we want them.

Go Where You Can Find Them

Knowledge must be accompanied by action. How often is it in a relationship that we know the right thing to do but we do not do the right thing? Shulammite is told to follow what, in essence, are familiar paths or "tracks" which Solomon is known to walk. If she will follow the familiar paths, she will find him. The rest we leave to a sanctified imagination.

Researchers Howard Markman and Scott Stanley of the University of Denver help us understand, in part, why good marriages work and bad marriages fail. It's not sex, money, or how many fights you have that make for a happy union. Marriage-wise couples aren't afraid to accept influence from each other. They connect on a daily basis in many small ways, think about their partner periodically when they're apart, take time-outs to soothe tempers, use humor as a coolant in arguments, and have softer start-ups when fighting. Even in conflict, their ratio of positive to negative actions—from a simple "mmmmh" or "yeah" to a pat on the arm— are 5 to 1 as opposed to 0.8 to 1 for unstable marriages.

This is sound advice. We should be influenced by each other. The Lord should influence us. We should learn from each other. We should learn from God. We must grow in our knowledge of each other. Let me conclude with some sound advice that will help move us in the right direction as we think about marriage and as we think about each other.

Getting Started on Thinking About Marriage

If we would raise our marriages to the level God intends, we must guide them with principles that focus more on we than me and that esteem the other better than self. What we are after is having the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:2-5).

Here are seven areas that need our careful thinking and commitment.

1. Educationally

2. Sexually

3. Individually

4. Publicly

5. Parentally

6. Financially

7. Relationally