The Song of Solomon is getting a great deal of attention as of late. It’s meaning, once shrouded in the mystery of allegorical interpretations preferred by many of the Puritans, had many of God’s people simply not knowing how to read and understand it. Yet this poetic book, containing a running, romantic, Romeo-&-Juliet-style dialogue between a groom and his bride (punctuated by a chorus urging them on to wedded bliss), has had an unveiling of sorts in recent times. Many contemporary interpreters have seen it to be what it appears to be – a highly charged, sexual interplay between a man and his wife. Perhaps none have done more so than Mark Driscoll, the charisma-filled, Calvinistic pastor of the megachurch known as Mars Hill Church in Seattle.
Indeed, Mr. Driscoll has been so explicit in his teaching about sexuality, particularly from the Song of Solomon, that he even has warnings about the mature content on his website; a Nightline report on him said two words are associated with his name – “sex and Jesus;” Pastor John McArthur has responded with a series of articles whose main title let’s us know what he thinks of Driscoll’s interpretation – “The Raping of the Song of Solomon;” an article in WORLD magazine similarly questions the wisdom of Pastor Driscoll being so specific in his instructions on sexuality. Others defend him, citing the open sexuality of our culture demands that we need pastors like Driscoll giving specific instructions on these issues. With his boldness in testifying to Christ and his giftedness in teaching and reaching thousands for Him, we certainly should be thankful in many ways for how the Lord is using Driscoll’s ministry.
In God’s providence, having read again through this book in my daily reading program recently, I wanted to add this thought or two to this discussion based on a verse I meditated on that day. It is from Song of Solomon 7:1, where Solomon says to his bride:
The work of the hands of an artist.
Just as the Lord fashioned Eve for Adam (Genesis 2:22), so the Lord shapes each man’s wife for his enjoyment. When one thinks of how a master craftsman pays close attention to every detail of his creation, we would do well to recognize that a display of the Lord’s master handiwork, attentive care, and gracious nature is the designing of a wife as a gift to her husband. And remembering that the Song of Solomon is poetry describing a work of art might guide us in how we are to teach it, as well as how we are to practice its teachings.
For have you ever noticed in art museums how quiet it is? Why does loud noise always seem out of place? Does not a reverent hush fall over the admirers when they encounter a glorious piece of work because they are quietly, appropriately appreciating the genius of the sculptor or painter? And are not the best works of art, poetry, music and stories those that reveal – but not too much? That create suspense and mystery? That encourage a maturing wait for the unveiling?
Like the work of art it is, pastors and teachers should treat the Song of Solomon and its teaching with awe, not coarseness; with quiet appreciation, not raucous description; with careful handling, not crude references. Hearing things from the pulpit that would make us blush in a men’s locker room is not manly boldness with the Scriptures, but a teenage handling of them. A pastor should recognize there are quiet places to counsel on necessary specifics, whereas in more public venues he can speak in such a way as to leave things to people’s imagination. He needs to handle his messages like a work of art if he wants the men to do the same with their wives.
As an example to the flock, he also should treat his wife like the work of art she is. Those who think they can talk or write openly about sex with their wives because of what is contained in the Song of Solomon miss a basic, important aspect of its interpretation. It is a dialogue between the groom and bride. Keep it there! I said recently to a group of men that many books and talks on this subject need to be labelled “TMI” for “Too Much Information.” Men are unnecessarily revealing intimate details about being with their wives. Just because the culture is crass does not mean we need to be. Perhaps they are afraid of being viewed as puritannical.
Why not just tell men to go home and, without telling another soul, run their hand gently over God-designed curves and whisper what great works God has done? I think their people are “hip” enough to figure out the rest.