Why You Need Song of Solomon
(or, How Monogamy Could Save Africa)
By Tim Cantrell[i]
There has never been a time when the family faced so severe a crisis as the time in which we are now living. Many are not satisfied with remodeling; they want to tear things down to the foundation. …Imagine there were no marriage and family, and humanity would . . . turn into a pigsty. Therefore, let a vigorous protest be sounded against all those who…violate the honour of marriage and undermine the foundations of the family. [ii]
Sound like a recent Christian headline? Not so; these are words from the great Dutch theologian, Herman Bavinck, written over a 100 years ago in his classic book, The Christian Family. In every age, ever since the Garden of Eden, marriage has been a chief target of Satan. As goes marriage, so goes the home, church, nation and continent.[iii]
In a recent study of the percentage of homes where children live with two parents, done in 41 major countries around the world, South Africa landed last – rock bottom on the list.[iv] All four of the worst countries were here in Africa, with Ghana at only 58% of homes with two parents, and Kenya and Uganda at 56%. But here in South Africa, only 36% of homes have two parents, a shocking 20% lower than the next lowest country. And we wonder why we have skyrocketing crime, a plummeting economy, soaring unemployment, and rampant immorality? The Word of God is our only hope!
Nowhere in Scripture is an entire book dedicated to parenting, education, business, medicine, economics, or even a church’s music or youth ministry. Yet in Song of Solomon, God has given us a whole eight chapters of His canonical scriptures devoted to marriage – to marital preparation, purity and delight. As Pastor Conrad Mbewe writes:
It seems that the very first reason why many single people fall into sexual sin is because they allow themselves to develop a worldview that makes them think that issues of love, romance, courtship, marriage and sex are issues that God is not interested in.[v]
Recall that we’re looking at seven reasons why the whole church needs Song of Solomon. This is an urgent call for God’s people to sing Solomon’s best song in our marriages and parenting, with our singles and dating couples, and as entire congregations:
1) God’s Word – See Part 1 last time.
For today, the next 3 reasons:
2) Sin’s War
3) Love’s Beauty
4) Youth’s Impatience
(2) We Need Song of Solomon because of Sin’s War.
For centuries, theologians have spoken of ‘The Church Militant’ in this age for a reason (compared to ‘The Church Triumphant’ once home in glory). From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20, the entire Bible is a bloody battlefield, and so are our Christian lives this side of glory.
1 Pet. 2:11 warns, “Beloved, I urge you, as aliens and strangers, to abstain from fleshly lusts which wage war against the soul.” It’s not merely our temporal bodies; it’s our eternal souls at stake. We are not in combat with natural, earthly, or passive foes; we are the target of an extremely active, unseen, strategic and supernatural foe. Rightly do we sing Luther’s sobering words:
For still our ancient foe,
Doth seek to work us woe,
His craft and power are great,
And armed with cruel hate;
On earth is not his equal.
Getting saved is not a cease-fire; the battle of progressive sanctification only begins at justification. It’s what the Puritans called the doctrine of mortification: “if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Rom. 8:13).[vi] “Be killing sin, or sin will be killing you,” as John Owen taught.
In the hands of Satan, and this world system, our indwelling sin (remaining corruption) tugs at us relentlessly (Eph. 4:22-32; Col. 3:5-11). Selfish cravings and sensual desires are not easily mortified, but require lifelong, Spirit-empowered warfare (Matt. 5:27-30; Eph. 5:18; Gal. 5:16-26). In the fight for sexual purity and marital joy, our Captain, the Lord of Hosts, has given us a very potent and proven weapon in Song of Solomon.
As Hamilton writes:
The people of God need the Word of God, and we desperately need the Song of Songs today. Our time is notable for massive sexual confusion, distortion, and perversion. Pornography is pervasive. Adultery is celebrated…the devastation of divorce normalized, the fiction of same-sex marriage legalized all [of these are] satanic attempts to make immorality [look] moral.[vii]
E.J. Young wrote, “So long as there is impurity in this world we need, and need badly, the Song of Solomon.” Garret warns:
Song of Songs is perhaps the most desperately needed of all the wisdom books. At a time when scarcely an evangelical church is untouched by scandal, when promiscuity and infidelity are so common that society despairs of the idea that a young man or woman may maintain personal chastity, when homosexuality is all but accepted as an alternative lifestyle, Song of Solomon, with its presentation of love between man and woman in all its joy, holiness and richness, teaches [us] the true meaning of [our] sexuality. If we miss its message, we do so to our own peril.
Soldiers of Christ, our victorious Captain has modelled for us in the desert, against all odds, how to defeat the devil. Where the first Adam failed, the last Adam prevailed – and He did so with three sharp sword-thrusts, each declaring, “It is written” (Matt. 4:1-11). Likewise, the Apostle John told young men the key to victory: “I have written to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 Jn. 2:13-14).
Why then would we neglect the very portion of God’s Word, His sharpest weapon, given to equip us against sexual temptation? The risen Christ is the Lord of Hosts, the divine Warrior-King, and the battle belongs to Him, for all who use the sword He has supplied (Eph. 6:17)!
(3) We Need Song of Solomon because of Love’s Beauty.
Listen to Chapter 1, verse 1, in the original Hebrew so you can appreciate already the poetic flavor and rhyme of it: Shear hashirim asher lishlomo! It is deliberately playful: i.e., ‘The Song of Songs’, a common Hebrew idiom for what is best and most superlative, like “the holy of holies, the king of kings”. This was King Solomon’s Number One hit, top of the charts, unrivalled! Through the pen of David’s son, the Holy Spirit has given us what has been rightly called, ‘the most beautiful song on the most beautiful theme in all the world’.
The Jews would read Solomon’s famed lyric every year publicly, at Passover, calling it the “Holy of Holies”. Rabbi Aqiba once proclaimed, “In the entire world, there is nothing to equal the day on which the Song of Solomon was given to Israel. All the writings are holy, but the Song of Songs is most Holy….”
Marriage done the world’s way malfunctions and fails, sooner or later; but as we love to say in our church, “Marriage done God’s way works, every time, without fail!”
‘Yes, but how?!,’ you might ask. In our world of broken homes and failed marriages, with all its bitter pain and ugly fruits, Song of Solomon is the Creator’s answer for marital success. This book skilfully maps out godly romance for us like no other book of the Bible, or in all the world’s literature!
‘Boy meets girl’ is a song that all of Scripture sings, not just Song of Solomon. There’s nothing here off-key, or out of tune, with the rest of Scripture, from the very beginning. Genesis 1-2 show us that Adam and Eve’s joining together was part of what God called, “very good” (Gen. 1:31). Marriage was God’s solution to the only “not good” thing in an otherwise perfectly good Paradise: Adam being alone, unaccompanied.
Song of Solomon is a long, eight-chapter commentary on one of Moses’ most famous lines of all time, that a man shall “be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen. 2:24). Song of Solomon portrays sexuality as a good thing protected by marriage, not an evil thing made permissible by marriage.
How do you cultivate and maintain deep oneness and lasting intimacy in a marriage? Read and obey Song of Solomon. Ever noticed that in the entire book, there is not a single mention of procreation (though Scripture is clear that is one of God’s purposes for marriage)? Because wise loving means learning that God’s primary goal for marital intimacy is companionship, not childbearing; it’s more about bonding than about babies. While Western and urban culture under-emphasise procreation, African and other traditional cultures over-emphasise it at the expense of friendship being most foundational and primary in marriage.[viii]
E.J. Young again writes:
Song of Solomon celebrates the dignity and purity of human love. …It comes to us in this world of sin, where lust and passion are on every hand, where fierce temptations assail us and try to turn us aside from the God-given standard of marriage. Song of Solomon reminds us, in particularly beautiful fashion, how pure and noble true love is.
Or as another scholar well states:
This book presents a strong warning against an unbiblical dualism which holds the physical and material in lower regard than the spiritual, and which exalts the unmarried state as more virtuous than the state of matrimony.
…The reading of this book, far from raising sensuous thoughts in our minds, should lead us to praise the Creator who created man in His own image, who made the human body beautiful, who awoke in Adam the longing for a companion like himself yet different, and who led the first bride – the very climax of the works of creation – to her admiring bridegroom.[ix]
This is why Scripture so often affirms the goodness of marriage as a creation ordinance (Gen. 2:18-25; Mal. 2:14-16; Matt. 19:3-9; 1 Tim. 4:1-5, etc.). Song of Solomon only turns up the volume on what all the Bible says about marriage. It shows us how to keep singing marriage’s song, making sure this twisted, grumpy old world never drowns it out. When we reach the book’s climax we’ll all join in the bride’s crescendo to her groom:
“Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
Its flames are flames of fire,
The flame of the LORD.”
“Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers flood over it;
If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
It would be utterly despised.” (8:6-7)
As Martin Luther once wrote, “There is no more lovely, friendly, and charming relationship, communion, or company than a good marriage.”[x] As my parents often say after nearly 55 years of Christian marriage, “You don’t marry a soulmate; you become soulmates.” Solomon’s inspired serenade will teach us how.
(4) We Need Song of Solomon because of Youth’s Impatience.
Has there ever been an age as addicted as ours to instant gratification and instant-everything? We live in a culture of ‘Now!’, from advanced technologies in medicine and travel, to our information age of internet, perpetual wi-fi, smartphones and smart watches, and microwaves and takeaway foods galore – you almost never have to wait for anything. Into this frenzied and impulsive age, the call of Christ rings out in the starkest contrast – calling for self-denial, delayed gratification, and Spirit-filled self-control (Mk 8:34-38; Tit. 2:11-14; Gal. 5:22-23).
This is exactly where Song of Solomon speaks with greatest force and power. Amidst all its interpretive challenges, the purpose of Solomon’s book is crystal clear. With triple emphasis, we hear the main chorus and central refrain: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it pleases” (2:7; 3:5; 8:4; as rightly translated in the KJV, ESV, and NIV). In other words, ‘Keep romantic love asleep until it’s time. Stay a virgin until marriage. Flee temptation. Save yourself for your spouse. True love waits!’ Song of Solomon is primarily aimed at singles. Why then are the unmarried in our churches often deprived of the very book the Holy Spirit has tailor-made for them?
Solomon illustrates in each of his eight chapters this biblical principle: The greater the passion, the greater the need for patience. It is a loud call to premarital chastity for all unmarried and married alike. Here is how our sons and daughters can “come out from their midst and be separate” from this debauched world (2 Cor. 6:17). When society mocks at virginity and celebrates unchastity, our youth must be galvinised by the Word of God. They must learn that uncompromising purity now brings unquenchable passion then, on your wedding night. Ask any happily married couple.
This commentator captures well why marital intimacy is worth the wait:
…[Song of Solomon is] a linked chain of lyrics depicting love in all its spontaneity, beauty, power and exclusiveness – experienced in its varied moments of separation and intimacy, anguish and ecstasy, tension and contentment. …God intends that such love, grossly distorted and abused by both ancient and modern people, be a normal part of marital life in his good creation.[xi]
Conclusion & Hope for the Fallen
Next time, we’ll learn more reasons why today’s Church must rediscover the riches of Solomon’s best song. Praise God that His Word not only warns us but woos us. He tells us what to ‘flee’ and ‘put off’, but also what to replace it with – what we must ‘put on’ and follow after. Without Song of Solomon, our Bible would have a gaping hole when it comes to a positive, detailed portrayal of human sexuality and marital bliss.
In the meantime, what about those who’ve fallen? What if you’ve blown it – lost your virginity, fallen into immorality, or even ruined your marriage? Is there any hope?
If that is you, dear friend, I plead with you to lift your eyes upward to “the God of all hope”, the “Father of mercies and God of all comfort”, and a “God of all grace” (Rom. 15:13; 2 Cor. 1:3; 1 Pet. 5:10). We proclaim a risen Lord – whose tomb is empty and whose throne is occupied, reigning in Heaven as sovereign over all evil for His wise and good purposes (Matt. 28:18; Rom. 8:28-39; Eph. 1:15-33). There is no pit so deep that His grace cannot go deeper. “Where sin abounds, His grace super abounds” (Rom. 5:12-21).
This is where you need a good local church more than ever! Find a Bible-teaching congregation that will care for your soul, and seek truly biblical counselling that can heal the deepest wounds and break the most stubborn habits. Here are also some helpful and hope-filled biblical resources:
– R.T Chindongo offers much wise counsel and hope in his book, Rethinking Guy/Girl Relationships.
– Puritan pastor, Thomas Watson, wrote the classic work on biblical repentance and restoration: https://www.monergism.com/doctrine-repentance-ebook
– Here’s a 3-part sermon series I preached from Psalm 51 on the doctrine of repentance:
– See also David Powlison, Making All Things New: Restoring Joy to the Sexually Broken. Here is the original text and audio of his sermon:
Here is the full book that it became:
[i] Tim serves as Sr. Pastor of Antioch Bible Church, and President & Lecturer at Shepherds’ Seminary, both based in Johannesburg, South Africa.
[iii] As illustrated here by a S. African scholar, H. Zandman, biblically assessing the influence of the 1960s on today’s ethics, morality and sexuality: https://indieskriflig.org.za/index.php/skriflig/article/view/215
[v] p. 19, Maintaining Sexual Purity.
[vi] https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/owen/Mortification%20of%20Sin%20-%20John%20Owen.pdf; https://www.antiochbiblechurch.org.za/multimedia-archive/killing-sin-rom-812-13/ (sermon I preached on this doctrine); http://gracefellowshipdataprod.s3-website-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/TC1%20How%20to%20kill%20sin.mp3 (seminar I did at a pastor’s conference)
[vii] p. 16, ibid.
[viii] p. 51, A Biblical Approach to Marriage & Family in Africa (by Theological Advisory Group, Scott Theological College, Kenya).
[ix] pp. 595-96, Wycliffe Bible Commentary
[xi] p. 997, NIV Study Bible (1995)