Three things are too wonderful for me;
four I do not understand:
the way of an eagle in the sky,
the way of a serpent on a rock,
the way of a ship on the high seas,
and the way of a man with a virgin.
First, a quick exposition of this proverbial riddle: our teacher invites us to consider what these four things have in common, with the fourth one being the main point. The first couple lines introduce the riddle with the enticing “too wonderful for me…I do not understand”, inviting the reader to ponder alongside the teacher. So let’s do that.
What do the first three have in common? Well, a “way.” That is, I think, a “way” of movement. In each scene, there’s a mover and a backdrop over which they move. The eagle moves through the sky, the snake moves on the rock, the ship moves through the high seas. But keep going: what do these three movements have in common? Each of them are movements that are powered by something unseen, something perhaps magical (in the good and decent sense of that word). Without a knowledge of physics and animal anatomy, an eagle’s flight and snake’s slithering are unexplained phenomena. And how does a ship sail? From whence cometh the wind? All mysteries, wonderful and beautiful mysteries.
Onto the point, then: the way of a man with a virgin – the way a guy and gal meet and move toward love is something that can’t be nailed down. It can’t be explained with a plan or a flowchart. It is, rather, wonderful and mysterious. Love is magical.
Now, the tricky part: how to apply this?
One application might simply be a deeper appreciation of the mystery of love between a man and a wife. We know that God has made them one, but just writing or reading or saying that doesn’t mean we know how He does it. None of us can fully explain the way that husbands and wives fall in love (other than using equally vague pictures like “falling”). And this is the way it should be. God is love. And God is incomprehensible. And so the “way of a man with a virgin” is beautifully incomprehensible.
A second, and perhaps more contentious, application might be to be more careful not to presume we know something our teacher doesn’t. Much has been said in the church over the last generation about the right way to find a spouse and head toward marriage. This is a good thing. What isn’t as good is the prescribing of something God says is inherently mysterious. To claim there is one right way to pursue marriage isn’t just to miss the beauty of this passage, it’s also to impose on God’s people an additional restraint, which is generally a dangerous business to join.
To be clear, there are Biblical principles to be followed in the pursuit of marriage, especially those of purity. And to be as equally clear, parents and young people have a responsibility to prayerfully discern what path toward marriage they feel will be most successful according to those principles. Please don’t take this article as a discouragement from prayerful and careful application of God’s principles!
But I believe this riddle would have us recognize that there is no set pattern given for such a mysterious thing. It would have us realize that there various paths toward marriage that can glorify God, both in their mystery and purity. Rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, let’s rejoice in the mystery and see how it leads us to rely on God’s Spirit and Word to put one foot in front of the other in the path of love. It’s harder this way, but more wonderful.