Scripture has much to say about God’s purpose for marriage. But one book reveals more of the joy, beauty, and sacredness of marriage than any other: the Song of Songs. One of the oldest books in the Bible, the Song vividly and brightly unfolds how the bridegroom and the bride delight in each other.
In the Song of Songs, God has given us a divine manual on romantic relationships, taking us from the initial attraction between a couple through courtship, deepening intimacy, and marriage. What is God’s desire and plan for husbands and wives? What are God’s love lessons from the Song of Songs? Here are four lessons from this book that reveal God’s heart for marriage.
1. Love Is Mutual
The two-way conversation in this book is between a man and a woman who are deeply in love. Each contributes to the relationship. Each desires the other. Their love is reciprocal.
Playfully, delightedly, the man and woman describe each other and respond to these descriptions. They invite each other to enjoy and partake in their love; nothing can stand in the way of its fulfillment. And behind their words is a deep desire to build each other up.
The woman initiates the conversation in this book and expresses her eagerness first: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth . . . take me away with you—let us hurry!” (1:1, 4). We may think of women in the Middle East as being prudish, silently hiding behind veils. But this woman has a level of desire and passion every bit as powerful as the man’s. He is the focus of all her desire and passionate longing.
The man addresses her with a tender compliment, looking past her own perceived flaws to praise her beauty. Then he urges her to follow the tracks of his sheep as she brings her young goats to a place where they can be together, pointing to a place of common ground in the tending of their flocks. It may be that opposites attract, but mutual enjoyment of shared interests creates stability in a relationship.
The joyous repartee of the couple’s mutual admiration in 1:15-2:3 signals their growing intimacy. She calls him “beloved”; he reciprocates with “darling.” She describes herself as a “rose of Sharon” and a “lily of the valley.” In those days, both were common, everyday blossoms not especially noted for their beauty. She is modestly saying, “I’m not so pretty—really kind of average.” After which the man lifts her up: to him she is like a lily among thorns; her beauty far outclasses that of all others. She then repays his compliment with one of her own: compared to all of the young men, he is like a refreshing apple tree that is far more desirable than all the trees of the forest.
This scene highlights an important part of a healthy marriage: constructive conversation between a husband and a wife. Compliments cultivate love, but criticism inhibits growth.
2. Love Is Exclusive
Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife is a beautiful experience that expresses their oneness and the love they have for one another.
The Song of Songs teaches that love within marriage produces genuine sexual liberation—not liberation from marriage, but liberation in marriage. The most explicitly erotic passage in the entire book, chapters 7:1-8:4, depicts the vibrant sexual intimacy of the man and the woman as a married couple. Here they enjoy the fruit of their love: “I belong to my beloved, and his desire is for me. Come, my beloved . . . let us go early to the vineyards . . . there I will give you my love” (7:10-12).
Continuing the verbal and physical foreplay, the man uses the images of a locked garden and a sealed fountain to celebrate his beloved’s virginity. “You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain” (4:12). The garden suggests privacy, separation, sacredness, and security. A “sealed fountain” is protected; its water can only go to its rightful owner. Sex without marriage cannot compare with the joy of giving yourself completely to the beloved.
This language of exclusivity is expressed in something like a marriage vow: “My beloved is mine and I am his.” This phrase, often used by Jewish brides at weddings, is a statement of possession. It represents an exclusive covenant between a man and a woman who are saying to each other, “There is not much you can count on in this world—health, money, career, looks—but you can count on me. I will not give my heart and body to anyone else in the way I give it to you.”
Our culture perpetuates several myths with regard to this biblical teaching of sexual exclusiveness. One is that sex is such a powerful drive that it cannot be controlled. In fact, we are called to honor God, ourselves, and our future spouses by maintaining purity. Another myth is that sexual sin is unforgivable sin. But God offers forgiveness for all our sins in the cross of Jesus Christ. Through repentance and forgiveness we are offered a second chance to keep covenant again.
3. Love Is Total
Love is not just physical. Love is a commitment of heart, mind, soul, and body. The Song reminds us that the man and woman become one in every way, not just in the most obvious physical way. The woman says, “This is my beloved, this is my friend” (5:16). The two share erotic love, but they also share hopes, dreams, and aspirations as companions in life.
Friendship is the foundation of biblical love. In one study, couples were asked to rank a list of possible goals for their marriage. The single most important goal listed was to have a friend in one’s partner. This should not be surprising. God himself said, “It is not good for the man to be alone—I will make a helper suitable for him” (Gen. 2:18). A spouse who is a real friend is a loyal companion who “loves at all times” (Prov. 17:17).
This companionship is expressed by the man, who calls his lover “my sister, my bride” (4:9). She is not just a lover, she is also a friend. This friendship, together with the worship of God, is the foundation on which husbands and wives build intimacy.
4. Love Is Beautiful
Song of Songs is a celebration of the beauty of the marriage relationship. “My beloved spoke and said to me, ‘Arise, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me’” (2:10). The beauty of their relationship does not consist in physical outward beauty, but rather in the inward beauty of character and in the spiritual dimension of their relationship expressed in their commitment to God and his design for marriage. Each sees the other person as a beautiful gift of God. Like fine wine, beauty increases with age as God conforms us more and more into the image of Christ and makes us beautiful.
Ultimately, though, the Song of Songs makes us yearn for Christ. When Christ comes again, he will gather his bride, the church, from around the world to make ready for the wedding. “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb” (Rev. 19:9). This important New Testament passage, together with the Song of Songs, makes us yearn for the day when all of our relationships—married or single—will be governed by perfect love.
Revelation 19 points us to the day when no desire will be left unsatisfied, and we will finally fulfill the purpose for which we were made—to be with God in unbroken fellowship. The joy we celebrate at wedding feasts today will be surpassed when the church feasts with Christ face to face.