Christian marriage speakers and writers like myself have long pointed to the book of Song of Songs in the Old Testament as an illustration of marital passion.
Song of Songs, nestled between Ecclesiastes and Isaiah, contains numerous verses that are commonly interpreted as references to sex between a husband and wife.
In a more specific sense, it contains the verses that are most quoted in support of oral sex being permissible in marriage (Song of Songs 2:3, 4:16).
But the entire book is told in allegory and metaphor.
Allegory is when a story or other descriptive work is used to express a more abstract human experience or philosophy.
For example, a poem or story or painting could be used to encapsulate the human experience of love or strife. Characters or events, for example, could be used to represent ideas or philosophies. If you ever read Animal Farm by George Orwell, you read a classic allegory that is really about the rise of communism.
One interpretation of Song of Songs is that it is an allegorical expression of love between a husband and wife, and it uses a story to tell this.
Metaphor is a figure of speech. It’s when words or phrases that have one literal meaning are used to actually describe a similar concept or idea. Here are a few examples from Song of Songs:
4:1—”Your eyes are doves, behind your veil.”
4:4—”Your lips are like a scarlet thread and your mouth is lovely.”
4:6—”Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies.”
Allegory and metaphor are figurative language, and as such, they are not always easy to understand. Read the entire book of Song of Songs and it may feel more like a jibber jabber mashup of bizarre stuff rather than a romantic love story.
Adding to the complexity of this book is that there are longstanding debates throughout the years as to whether it is primarily a description of love between God and His people OR if it is primarily a description of love between a husband and wife OR if it is both at the same time.
I fall in the camp that it is both at the same time, because scripture is God breathed and alive, and if anyone can use one book to convey two things, it’s God.
But I know there are many people who think it’s about God and His people, and that attributing sexual meaning to certain pieces of scripture in the book is a stretch. I also know there are people who think it is about a husband and a wife, and all those interpretations of sexual passion are spot on.
Certainly it would be easy to get tripped up in where we disagree. I think a better approach is that when we encounter interpretation disagreements about Song of Songs, we should strive to find some common ground.
Broadly speaking, we know this is a passionate book. It is a book of the Bible that speaks of profound love. We know from other Scripture in the Bible that marriage is a God-designed covenant that reflects the love God has for His people. There are sacrificial aspects of love between a husband and wife that mirror to some degree the sacrificial aspects of love between God and His people.
If the argument is made that Song of Song is a book only about the love between God and His people, we still can learn from this example to make our marriage stronger and more loving.
From a sexual standpoint, we know that when sex is held in its right context of love and commitment and covenant, it contributes to oneness in the marriage. God is a passionate God. And as such, we have an example as to how to live marriage (including sex within marriage) with authentic and holy passion.
Whether you do a deep dive into commentaries on Song of Songs being about God and His people or a deep dive into commentaries on Song of Songs being about a husband and wife—or if you do a deep dive into both types of commentaries—you’re going to arrive at a better understanding of passionate love.
And you and your marriage will be richer for it.
Copyright 2020, Julie Sibert. Intimacy in Marriage Blog. Links may be monetized.