The adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem in the Song of Songs, thrice repeated, “Do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time” (2:7, 3:5, 8:4), has stubbed the toe of many commentators. Ellen Davis says that the “wording is ambiguous in Hebrew as in English.” Is the woman in the Song asking not to be disturbed while lovemaking? Paul Griffiths interprets it as the Groom giving the charge not to wake the woman. Or as most interpret it, is this the woman giving advice not to arouse love at the wrong time or with the wrong person? Wait for the proper covenantal context. Don’t settle. Don’t just fall in love and give of your whole self merely for love’s sake. If so, there’s a vertical element to this adjuration that is first in priority.
Again, the short commentary given by Ellen Davis gives me much to meditate on:
Although the Song is certainly not afraid of passion, it exposes that sentimental view of love as an illusion. Genuine love does not just happen to us. The woman’s repeated phrase—“the one whom my soul loves”—alerts us to the truth: love is soul-work, of the most demanding kind. Cultivating a true love relationship, with a person or with God, calls forth sustained effort from the core of our being. Therefore the soul must be prepared, even trained, to love well, just as the body must be trained for rigorous physical action. Faithful sexual love, like the love of God, requires that we learn habits of self-examination and repentance, that we acquire a capacity for self-sacrifice and forgiveness.
This adjuration, Davis notes, is the opposite of the secular message about love. The world promotes a culture of men and women looking for identity in sexual pleasure and sexual expression.The woman in the Song says, “Do not stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time.” And the church rightly wants to speak to this. But we seem to be in reaction-mode in trying to curb lust and debate all the sexuality issues of the day. Rather than response-mode, we need to get ahead of the issues and present a vision of beautiful sexuality. In my upcoming book, I aim to address the meaningfulness of our sexuality. And Davis just makes my heart sing in this section, going even deeper into LOVE:
But would not our spiritual vision be clearer, and our proclamation of the gospel be more persuasive, if we gave more attention to the bedrock ethical issue to which the woman’s words direct us: How do we make our souls ready for love? How does the passion of love enter into character and become stabilized as a habitual disposition of loving? What can the church do to foster the soul-work that “let[s] love be genuine” (Rom. 12:9)? Imagine what change would occur in the household of God if those questions were established at the heart of our common life, and all of us—youths and adults, single and married, seekers after human love partners and seekers after God—were committed to finding answers and living them out together.
There it is! This passage is meant to cause our minds and hearts to stumble. It isn’t just meant to teach us, it does something to us. Love is who God is. He doesn’t just have love or decide to love. Love isn’t a part of God—the triune God is LOVE. Everything he does and says is an outpouring of who he is. Nothing he does is lacking even a drip of his love. We cannot grasp this. But we need to be receivers of it. The Song reveals that this is the true end of our desires. And yet it is too intense and we deflect, misplace, pervert, and cheapen love. Even when we do our best and experience the great joy and sacrifices in the covenantal love of marriage between a man and a woman, we are only able to analogue but a glimpse of the love of Christ for his bride, the church.
You can’t merely teach love pedantically. The woman in the Song is the beloved. She pictures this for us in poetry, metaphor, typology, and imagery in ways doctrinal statements can never do. As I write in my upcoming book, the very dignity of the woman is measured in this order of love. It is a reciprocal love, as she wears, fructifies, and returns man’s love. We see this foremost in the spousal love of Christ. And that transforms the way we see ourselves and love others.
Isn’t this the aim of our sanctification—to prepare our souls for this love? Isn’t this a big mission of the church—to foster this soul-work? To train us for love? Do our churches reflect this?
We can’t grasp this pedantically. We have to live it. We are fallen beings living in a broken world. Our bodies, souls, and minds can only see parts of it now as sin has comprehensively marred our capacity. But oh, the wonder and beauty from the mere glimpses! God is preparing our souls for love! And we will live out the deuteronomic charge to love our God with all our hearts, souls, and might (Deut. 6:5)! That is true freedom in belonging. This is what we need to set our eyes and hearts on and practice. We must not settle for anything less! We must love each other enough to join in this adjuration. Because our Love is approaching. Listen! Look! (Song 2:8).