Updated: Nov 15
The other day, I accidentally flipped to the Song of Solomon when I was looking for the book of Isaiah. I had never really read the Song of Solomon, so I grabbed my different Bible resources and decided to dive in. Guys, like there's such rich information on the courtship to marriage process in there. I had no idea! The point of this small book is to show the idealized romance, aka what God intended it to be. This is not just a book on sex, so this post will not be that spicy. It is much more than just about sex. What we will ultimately see is that "genuine love between man and woman, and the physical affection that follows, is a good and tender thing" (Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook). I will be using the John Mac Arthur Study Bible, Moody Commentary, the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary, and Holman Illustrated Bible Handbook for this deep dive into the Song of Solomon.
Before the Courtship: The Longing
The Song of Songs begins before Solomon and the Shulammite are even together. It is a period of longing, and she's expressing her romantic desire. There is purity despite the verbiage of "the king has brought me into his chambers" in 1:4. The more accurate translation would be looking to the future and represents longing, for the couple would not consummate their marriage until the future. In the same verse, desire and longing is compared to wine, which in Scripture, is associated with gladness (Ps. 104:15, Zech. 10:7). In the Song of Solomon, wine is positive. What this tells us that when within the bounds of God's moral values/principles, longing of unfulfilled romantic love is a good gift from God.
Elements of a Courtship
The Moody Commentary points out: "A key to romance in the Song and in life is the giving and receiving of kind words of appreciation." The John MacArthur study Bible designates who is speaking in the Song, but that is not always true of all translations. The reason for this is that, at times, it's impossible to tell who is talking. For anyone who does want a bit of a cheat sheet, it has been established that the woman is referred to as "Darling," and the man is referred to as "Beloved." Nevertheless, what can be distinguished is an element of mutual admiration.
Besides words of affirmation, 2:1-4 gives us other important requirements for developing a relationship. The first is that women value a sense of protection. Chapter 2, verse 3 mentions "sitting in shade," which is an image of protection throughout Scripture (Ps. 36:37, 91:1; Isa. 16:3). The second thing is the importance of getting to know one another, enjoying each other's company (2:3). Essentially, it's as Moody Commentary describes it as "cultivating the joy of being together." Here, the Shulammite took great delight just sitting with her beloved. You need to be able to have conversations with the person you marry or else your marriage will suffer from communication and intimacy problems. You should be able to talk about any and everything. Third, couples need a growing knowledge of each other. The image of Solomon's "fruit of the apple tree being sweet to her taste" (2:3) "depicts an in-depth interpersonal involvement, short of sexual intimacy" (Moody Commentary). I think we can use our common sense to know that this means maintaining purity and within the confines of God's principles. There's other ways of forming intimacy besides sexual acts. Lastly, there needs to be a public commitment, as seen in 2:4 when Solomon publicly proclaimed his love for the Shulammite by bringing her into his banquet hall and declaring his love with a banner, which indicated possession and leadership. In summary, "the intimacy and commitment of courtship are developed by these expressions of protection, communication, knowledge, and dedication, building a strong sense of security and self-worth for a future stable marriage" (Mood Commentary). How a couple builds their foundation during the courtship will definitely set a foundation for their marriage. Setting a foundation on Christ and biblical, self-sacrificial love will set a firm one.
Foundation of Friendship
Chapter 5, verse 16 (ESV) says: "This is my beloved and this is my friend." Do not be fooled by the amount of passion in this Song, for if you look closely, there is a build up over time of love. Although not listed in the earlier verses, friendship is a major foundation for a marriage. Sexual attraction alone is not enough to sustain a marriage. Besides seeking God together and separately, there needs to be a level of friendship. I would actually argue that one of the reasons why Jane Austen has remained in popularity is that her fictional couples fall in love through conversation and formed friendship (maybe not so much Darcy and Elizabeth, lol). Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche once said: "It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes marriages unhappy." "Friend" used in 5:16 means "intimate companion," "partner in task," and "close friend." Friendship creates a level of intimacy where you feel seen for who you are. You can feel safe enough to be vulnerable with that friend, which is important as we walk the straight and narrow walk filled with trials. You need someone who is going to see you at your weakest and walk alongside you in that, praying for you and leading you towards God. You need that friend who is going to tell you and remind you of the truth, and does so with a loving, humble attitude. A friend is someone who sticks closer to you than a brother, and is going to be that safe place you can finally release the breath you've been holding.
Do Not Awaken Love
Chapters 2 (2:7), 3 (3:5), and 8 (8:4) issue a warning not to "wake love before it is ready." There are two meanings to this. The first is that love is a serious matter that should not be entered into casually. We need to be dating with intentionality of moving towards marriage. Second, if the girls of Jerusalem want a love like the one described, they must not to arouse or awaken sexual passions prematurely. This is another part of the Song that tells us that sexual intimacy is meant for the confines of marriage. "Forcing or hurrying sexual experience can bring disastrous results and should be reserved for the time it can develop naturally within the security and faithfulness of the marriage covenant" (Moody Commentary). One of the things I think we can note that we will see more throughout the book is that sex is not founded on lust. Lust is the worldly distorted version of it. Sex, the way that God intended it, flows out of a deep love. That is why it must flourish in a monogamous, life-long relationship. When the couple does consummate their marriage in 5:1, God as the author of marital love giving his approval.
During the Courtship/Betrothal
The couple in this book is either together in joyful companionship or apart in longing anticipation of reuniting and of marriage. In 2:8, the couple exhibits this. After having been apart, they are now within sight of each other, filled with elation upon reunion. The courtship displayed in this section shows how it is filled with anticipation of marriage and that which comes with it and comes with facing fears, awkwardness, and obstacles that they will overcome. What this shows us is that even in the courtship stage, there is bliss, but relationships also take work and effort.
Something I find interesting is that 2:11-12 (ESV) mentions timing: "For behold, the winter is past; the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land." What Solomon is saying here is that their time has arrived. "Winter is past rains over, flowers appearing, and vines blooming use springtime as a picture of robust, growing love for one another" (John MacArthur). This tells us that God's timing even applies to relationships. This maybe something obvious, but I think it really adds a specialness that God intentionally times everything. Ecclesiastes (also traditionally accepted as being written by Solomon) 3:11 (ESV) also says: "He has made everything beautiful in its time." God is has a sovereign plan for everything under the sun, and so beautifully orders and plays it all out. God's timing will differ per love story, which tells us that each one is individual. Each marriage is different per couple, none like the other, no matter the circumstances or background. In other words, your relationship is not going to be like anyone else's unless you decide it will be and act accordingly.
Fear is overcome in Song of Solomon 2:14 when Solomon invites the Shulammite to the countryside. She must have had some inward fears concerning his affection towards her because Moody Commentary notes that "her beloved's encouraging words reassure her, and she is overcome with a sense of security and desire for him (2:16-17)." It takes time for the Shulammite to confidently assert, "My beloved is mine, and I am his" (2:16, ESV).
There is also the fear of losing your beloved. We see the Shulammite exhibit this in 3:1-4. During the betrothal, the Shulammite was "longing to have and to hold her groom and felt she could no longer endure their separation," so much so that she dreamt of him (Moody Commentary). In her dream, the Shulammite took dangerous actions in order to find her beloved, and this shows how powerful romantic love is that it can drive people to risk their status in society and security.
"The Song alludes to several obstacles to committed lovers (e.g., family members in 1:6 and 8:8-9; relational conflicts in 2:15; or disapproving public in 8:1-2), but she is allowing nothing to diminish her love for him" (Moody Commentary). The little foxes living in the vineyard (2:15-17) and damaging the tender blossoms is a "warning to catch relationship problems before they damage the growing bonds of deeper intimacy" (Moody Commentary). We want to remove anything that would spoil the blossoming love (John MacArthur).
Obstacles are bound to come up in any relationship. What matters is how those obstacles are handled. You can either view the obstacle as the problem or each other as the problem. Remembering you are on the same team, it is important to communicate and talk things out. Love is essential for obstacles in the sense that the Bible defines love as self-sacrificing. We must also be thinking of the other person, even in disagreement. Gentleness, humbleness, grace, understanding, and love are essential to obstacles. You are guaranteed to marry a sinner, no matter who you marry, because you are also a sinner, which means that you're both going to need a whole lot of God and a whole lot of grace for each other. We are bound to make mistakes, particularly in the middle of conflict. Together as a team, you must seek Scripture, wise counsel, and first and foremost God, praying for a solution and help compromising if need be. Most of the time, the obstacle decreases within a day or so, but what will stick with you is the way that the other person handled that obstacle. In 6:4-9, when the couple reconciles after a disagreement, Solomon once again reassures his darling of his love. What matters most is the love that you have and showing that love in a God- and spouse-honoring way. "The cautious warnings and acknowledgments of harsh realities are set aside in preference of risking to choose love's joys" (Moody Commentary). Love does not come out of convenience, but your person is worth not giving up on.
The wedding is described as the day of Solomon's gladness of heart (3:11). "The heart that yearns with passion for oneness, commitment, and an honorable union is gladdened by marriage" (Moody Commentary). Even though Solomon does not end up following his own advice, marriage between one man and one woman, united for life in a covenant, is God's ideal for marriage.
In the verses that follow, Solomon tells his darling: "You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you" (4:7, ESV). "Every husband should view his wife in this way. The standard of beauty should be his love for her, not the shifting cultural norm of appearance or of his wife's physical beauty and intrinsic value should be a lifelong hallmark of their relationship" (Moody Commentary). Further, in 6:8-10, Solomon tells the Shulammite that she is above every other woman and that no one can compare to her.
Along with the new marriage comes a new level of intimacy. In 5:1, Solomon communicates his feelings of "contentment, closeness, and commitment," which can only come as the result of his wife (Moody Commentary). The Shulammite is not Solomon's sister (if she was, that would be against the Bible and be really gross), but he uses the term "sister" for her to describe his deep feelings towards her. We can see this no longer has the same romantic effect, lol.
The Maturing Marriage
The chapters on marriage (5:2-8:4) give a guide on marriage. This guide includes how to resolve an interpersonal problem, showing couples that they can move past marital problems (5:2-6:13). Today's society warns couples that marriage inevitably leads to divorce and will lead to distance and strife. The Bible tells us that although there are going to be periods of greater and lesser passion in marriage, ultimately, love and intimacy will deepen as it matures (7:1-10). Love is something that can be "creative and fresh" yet "familiar and comfortable" at the same time (8:2) (Moody Commentary).
In 7:1-9, Solomon praises his wife's beauty and then expresses his longing for her. His expression is followed by a "mutual expression of love and commitment" (7:8-10 (Moody Commentary). This shows us that pursuit is not just something during the courtship stage, but is something that should still last throughout the marriage. In modern terms, you should always be dating your spouse. The mutual response is seen in the element of give-and-take and invite-and-accept of marriage, which in needed for a healthy marriage, and it shows the joy of meeting desire and being desired.
"I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine" (6:3) reminds us that "above friends and other family (including children), marriage is the only bond that causes two people to become one flesh (Genesis 2:24)" (Moody Commentary).
The Nature of Love
The overarching Song explains what love is. I think it's interesting to note how the Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary outlines the Song of Solomon. Each section tells us something about love. The outline is as follows: longing is a part of love (1:1-8), love will not be silent (1:9-2:7), spring and love go together (2:8-17), love is exclusive (3:1-5), love is enhanced by friendship (3:6-11), love sees only the beautiful (4:1-7), love involves giving and receiving (4:8-5:1), love means risking the possibility of pain (5:2-6:3), words fail for expressing love (6:4-7:9), love must be given freely (7:10-13), and true love is priceless (8:1-14).
Additionally, 8:6-7 specifically lays out the nature of love. Love is like a seal (8:6). A seal in the ancient world was an "engraved stone or metal stamp used to prove ownership and indicate the value of a possession" (Moody Commentary). "The Shulammite is the seal, and Solomon would do the sealing" (John MacArthur). The Spouse should be one's most valuable treasure. Having that seal over his heart (affection) and arm (strength) publicly declares having his darling as priority in his life. Next, love is as strong as death (8:6). Nothing can stop or change true love. It is unyielding in marriage (John MacArthur). Following, love is zealous and passionate (8:6), which is the same "jealous" as the Lord has for His people. The right kind of love is intense, bright, and golden. "Love is depicted as powerful and inescapable because the flame of the Lord Himself is the source of love" (Moody Commentary). Love will last and bloom when God is the foundation and source. We must continually be turning to Him to ask Him to help us to love our beloved in the best way we can. God is love's strength. "This pictures love's serious intensity and resolute" (Moody Commentary). Also, love is unconquerable, and cannot be moved by water (8:7). It is "invincible or unquenchable, even when flooded by difficulty" (John MacArthur). Lastly, love is priceless, and no price can be put on it (8:7). It can only be given away.
Something to Remember
We must take the Song of Solomon in light of Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 13, which also give insight on marriage and love. The type of love described here is one that only comes from seeking after God. This is not to earn the type of love. First, God's love is the most satisfying love there is because His is a perfect love. He is the only one who can give our hearts what it's looking for. Out of this, we can love our earthly beloved well. We go in not seeking the type of love only God can give us, and by seeking God, He can show us how to love our beloved correctly. The fruits from seeking God will even help you with your love life. After all, a marriage involves three people: God, a husband, and a wife.
By: Bible and Hot Cocoa (Instagram, YouTube, & TikTok: @bibleandhotcocoa)
Jules is the founder of Bible and Hot Cocoa. She is a law student with a passion for standing up for truth. In any free time, she loves to read, study theology, write, and draw or paint. Jules's favorite book of the Bible would have to be a tie among John, Psalms, Ephesians, and Romans (as of now), and her favorite figure besides Jesus is King David or Paul. Jules is currently writing her first devotional. You can follow along the writing journey by watching
the Book Writing Diaries, which is available on Instagram, YouTube, and TikTok.