Chapter 1

God is love.

If you were going to write the “song of all songs” to be published in the Bible, what would you write about? What subject would you choose for the song that would be greater than any other song? I don’t know about you, but I suspect most Christians would choose to write a song of praise and worship to God. Don’t you think that’s what God would want? A song that exalted Him?

I’m not so sure.

For it is not a song about God that is given the prestigious title of “song of all songs.” It is, instead, a song about a love story between a man and a woman. A song about love and marriage and sex. This Song of Songs in the Bible is described as:

  • The most excellent of them all. (AMP)
  • The best of all songs. (MSG)
  • More wonderful than any other. (NLT)
  • The most beautiful of them all. (NLV)
  • The ultimate song. (CJB)

Why would the song-to-end-all-songs be about love and intimacy between a man and a woman? Oh, I know, lots of people say that this song is only in the Bible to symbolize Christ’s love for the church, but I don’t buy that. I mean, I think there are certain things that we can apply to Christ and the church from this song, but I think that the Song of Songs is primarily to be taken literally, not symbolically.

In the New Testament, John put it just about as plainly as possible: God is love (1 Jn 4:8). Everything He is, everything He says, everything He does is motivated by one thing—Love. And I believe that’s why He created us in the way that He did. He created us to exist in families, where one man and one woman unite in love and together (because of and through that love) create little people in their own image.

I think He did that because He wanted to help us understand (1) how He Himself exists in the unity of love within the Trinity and (2) that His motivation for creating is love! He intended that our creation of little people would only occur in an atmosphere of total love, trust, and intimacy because that’s the same environment out of which He creates.

In that sense, then, the “song of all songs” is a song about God, because any song about true love is also a reflection of our Creator—who is true love personified. That love is characterized by trust, honesty, loyalty, passion, commitment, friendship, and intimacy. This is how God loves us, and it is also how He has created us to love another in the context of a marital relationship.

God is love, and Love is the ultimate song.

Chapter 2

God, love, and other drugs.

I can totally identify with the woman’s words in chapter 2: “As an apricot tree stands out in the forest, my lover stands above the young men in town. All I want is to sit in his shade, to taste and savor his delicious love. He took me home with him for a festive meal, but his eyes feasted on me! Oh! Give me something refreshing to eat—and quickly! Apricots, raisins—anything. I’m about to faint with love! His left hand cradles my head, and his right arm encircles my waist!” (vs 3-6)

I will never forget the first time David held my hand. We were walking over a bridge in a city in England, and he reached down and slipped my hand into his, and I thought I was literally going to fly off the bridge. I think my stomach did a cartwheel. I can relate to the idea of feeling “faint with love”! However, as the years have passed, I have lamented more than once that I no longer get an electric shock when we touch.

There’s a reason we like to fall in love—because it feels good. And the reason it feels so good is phenethylamine, a hormone that floods our brain when we fall in love, leading to feelings of exhilaration and giddiness. (By the way, chocolate also triggers this hormone!) Researchers have found that this chemical spikes at the beginning of a budding love relationship but begins to decline after four or five years.

Guess what? Across several cultures, the rate of divorce spikes at about 4.5 years of marriage. As phenethylamine begins to wane, people mistakenly believe they are not “in love” anymore, or they have not taken the time during those first few years to build a strong foundation underneath all the giddy feelings—and once they’re gone, they move on to a new relationship in order to feel good again.

However, if some people would exercise a bit more patience during that transition period, they would discover that—also around the four-year mark—new pathways flooded with entirely different chemicals begin to take shape in the brain. One of these chemicals is oxytocin, a hormone that contributes to feelings of deep contentment, peace, and gratitude. (It is the same hormone related to the bonding of a mother with her infant.)

Some have suggested that this first four or five year phase is the attraction phase of a relationship, while what comes after is the attachment phase. But just because people choose to stay married more than five years doesn’t mean the “love” is lost forever. Researchers have discovered that the attraction phase recycles, and couples who have been married for a long time often experience the sensations of “falling in love” again—several times during their married life.

I really love this about God. I mean, we know He is all about the relationships. But now we have scientific evidence that He not only wants us to experience long-lasting love, but He has chemically hardwired us for that express purpose! And when we pursue love within the parameters He has designed, we will discover that there are no other drugs that can compare to the ones God has already put in our head.

Huh. Who knew you could read the Bible and come to the conclusion that it’s God who has all the best drugs?!

Chapter 3

God wants to be held.

In this chapter, the maiden is having a dream that she can’t find her beloved. She jumps out of bed in the middle of the night and scours the city, looking everywhere for him. Finally, she finds him: “Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go.” (vs 4)

As I read that, it made me think of how tightly we hold to something we think we might lose or something dear that we’ve lost and finally found. Letting go is sometimes the hardest thing to do, and when this maiden found her man, she certainly wasn’t going to lose him again!

Knowing that there are certain spiritual parallels to be made between the love relationship of these two people and the relationship God wants to have with us, this also made me think about how God doesn’t want us to let Him go. He wants to be held!

Think back to the story of Jacob the night he wrestled with God: “So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob replied, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’” (Gen 32:24-26) The “man” Jacob was wrestling with was God! And here, God was saying that if Jacob had not held tight to Him, He would have gone.

Jesus did something similar when He walked on the road to Emmaus with the disciples after His resurrection: “As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them.” (Lk 24:28-29) Again, Jesus would have gone on if the men hadn’t “held on to Him” and urged Him to stay.

Even in the midst of love, perhaps because of love, God will go if we do not hold on to Him. Of course, this doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care whether we want Him or not. He cares deeply! But love is a two-way street. God loves us and is always pursuing us, but if we don’t want Him, He will not force Himself on us. If we are willing to lose God’s company, He will go away from us. He is not intrusive.

God wants us to hold on to Him. He can be held—we may grasp His hand at this very moment by faith. He is willing to be held—He is seeking to win our love, not trying to escape from us! He Himself must be held—not a creed or tradition or doctrine. He wants to have a personal relationship with you.

I must admit that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten as worked up about spending time with God as I did with “the one my heart loves,” especially when we were first falling in love 11 years ago. But all of the love that grows and blossoms and spills out of our hearts for our mate was engineered, designed, and originated by God. He is the Author of all of it, and He gave us the ability to have an intimate love relationship with another human being so we could understand in some small measure how He feels about us.

God wants to be the One our heart loves. He wants us to hold Him and not let go!

Chapter 4

God is a safe and comfortable place.

When I lived in England, one of my favorite places to visit was Sylvia’s Garden—an out-of-the-way place with old stone benches, blooming flowers and bushes, a man-made pool, and lots of serenity. There was not a more peaceful, calming place in all the world. I went there a lot to think and pray.

And that’s why I loved how Solomon described his woman in this chapter: “Dear lover and friend, you’re a secret garden, a private and pure fountain. Body and soul, you are paradise, a whole orchard of succulent fruits—ripe apricots and peaches, oranges and pears; nut trees and cinnamon, and all scented woods; mint and lavender, and all herbs aromatic; a garden fountain, sparkling and splashing, fed by spring waters from the Lebanon mountains.” (vs 12-15)

This is the way true love was created to be and should be. Lovers should be safe and comfortable places for each other. They should be like private gardens, reserving the best parts of themselves for each other, not allowing anyone else to share in their secret thoughts, hopes, and dreams. Yes, this picture of love is of two people who are totally committed to each other, giving themselves wholeheartedly to one another.

This is also the kind of experience God offers us in a relationship. He is a safe and comfortable place where we can find rest and restoration. Nobody knows us like God does, and—even though God has created us to experience love in human relationships—nobody loves us like He does. When we seek God, we will find a refuge where we can let down our guard and just be ourselves, all while discovering the never-ending paradise of His presence.

To be with God is to be at peace. He is a safe and comfortable place, a secret garden, a private and pure fountain.

Chapter 5

God does not punish those who reject Him.

Unless you think love is all roses and sweet feelings, think again. One of the beauties of this book of the Bible is that it presents love in a truly realistic way—not as a fantasy, but as a real exchange between two people, incorporating highs and lows, thrills and frustrations. And, how does true love respond to this reality? More specifically, what is the response of true love when it is rebuffed? That is the subject of this chapter.

The beloved, Solomon, has come to the house of the maiden late at night. He knocks, and she hears him as he calls out to her: “Open to me, my sister, my darling, my dove, my flawless one. My head is drenched with dew, my hair with the dampness of the night.” (vs 2) To me, this was highly reminiscent of the picture in Revelation 3 of Jesus standing at the door of our hearts and knocking.

And, incredibly, the maiden does not get up immediately to open the door! “I have taken off my robe—must I put it on again? I have washed my feet—must I soil them again?” (vs 3) Wow! What happened to those feelings of lovesickness from the previous chapters? What happened to the vow of doing anything to be with her beloved? Somewhere, somehow the bloom disappeared from this love-rose.

Was it some hidden, harbored resentment that kept the maiden from going quickly to the door? Was it an attempt to “control” the relationship? (Hmph! I’ll show him that I don’t have to jump every time he calls!) Or was it simple laziness or self-indulgence? Regardless, the fact of the matter was that by the time the maiden decided to drag herself out of bed and answer the door, her beloved was gone.

And what did she find instead? “I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the bolt.” (vs 5) Dr. Craig Glickman, author of Solomon’s Song of Love, explains: “He simply left her a ‘love note’ and then went away. In their culture, a lover would leave this fragrant myrrh at the door as a sign that he had been there.”

Incredible. The response of the beloved, upon being rejected in the middle of the night by his lover, was not frustration or anger or stubborn insistence. It was a display of love. And, in this story, his unassuming display of love ended up awakening a love response from his maiden. She went out in search of her beloved, determined to find him, most likely filled with deep regret at not having opened the door for him sooner.

This principle of love is not only instructive for married couples as they weather storms of resentment and anger in their relationships; it also speaks to us of the response of God (who is true Love) when He is rejected. When we refuse to open the door, He will not beat it down or force His way in. He will, instead, leave us evidence of His love and give us time and space to consider our decision.

If love is true, it does not seek to destroy the beloved because it has not gotten what it wants! Thus, neither does God destroy those whom He loves with an everlasting love when they have not made the choice He wants. While there is still time to consider and reconsider, He will cover the door handle with myrrh, letting us know He was there and that He loves us, letting us know that He is not angry with us, letting us know that He will return.

God does not punish those who reject Him, but neither will He force His way into our hearts. If we want to continue to enjoy the company of the One we love, we must open the door!

Chapter 6

God made us to belong.

Love is a mysterious and powerful thing. We have a hard time truly defining it, yet we all know it can be exhilarating or devastating. It can bruise and it can heal. It can affirm us in the deepest part of our heart, or it can confront us about the need to change. This last part is, to me, one of the great mysteries of love—how it has the ability to “mature” us into better people.

My father used to talk about four stages of love and how we move through them at different points in life (although I’m not sure everyone gets to the last one):

  1. I love me for my sake.
  2. I love you for my sake.
  3. I love you for your sake.
  4. I love me for your sake.

As you can see, #1 is total selfishness, but I think many of us tend to stop at #3, believing that it represents the highest and truest and best form of love. Of course, this is not to say that true love doesn’t include loving another person for their sake, but perhaps true love also includes loving ourselves for the sake of others. My father (who was a teacher) would use the example of spending personal time in continuing education in order to make himself a better teacher for the sake of his students.

I think we catch a glimpse of this progression in the Song of Songs. In this chapter, the maiden declares, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.” (vs 3) If this sounds somewhat familiar, that’s because it is. A few chapters ago, she said something similar: “My beloved is mine and I am his.” (Song 2:16)

Did you notice the subtle difference in those two statements? In the first one, the maiden places the emphasis on “possessing” her man: my beloved is mine. In the second statement, she places the emphasis on “belonging” to her man: I am my beloved’s. Could this just be a literary coincidence? Perhaps. Maybe there is no significant meaning to the changing emphasis.

On the other hand, maybe it is significant. Maybe it clues us in to the fact that when we enter a love relationship, we do tend to start toward the top of the list of love stages: I love you for my sake. Perhaps our focus is on what we can get out of the relationship or what the other person can do for us. The truth is, many of us also start in this stage when it comes to God! How often does our worship revolve solely around what God has done for us?!

But I think Solomon is showing us that when we stick with love, it has the power to help us shift our focus—from possessing to belonging. By the time the maiden revisits her thought, she has embraced the concept of belonging. No longer does she live unto herself; no longer is she her own. No, now she belongs to another. Thus, loving herself would be for his sake, since she belongs to him. And yes, he belongs to her as well.

God made us to belong. He didn’t create marriage to be a 50/50 proposition, but a 100/100 commitment. He created us to “go all in” with our spouse, to invest ourselves fully, no turning back. And when we love ourselves for the sake of our spouse and they love themselves for our sake, love enters a whole new dimension.

God also made us to be this way in relationship with Him. He made us, and we belong to Him. But in the person of Jesus Christ, He has also made known His intention to belong to us. And so He does. Heaven bent down and became human, and humanity is now seated on the throne at the right hand of the Father. We belong to God, and He belongs to us. He has “gone all in” for all time, proving that He is 100% committed to loving us no matter what.

Chapter 7

God made you beautiful.

You are unique, special, one-of-a-kind. In the whole history of the human race, nobody has ever had your specific genetic makeup or your precise combination of gifts, talents, and abilities. You cannot be replaced, duplicated, or cloned. There is only one of you, and God made you beautiful.

In his commentary on this chapter of Song of Solomon, Dr. Dennis Kinlaw made a startling observation related to that idea: “It should be noticed that, though the Song is really the bride’s song, there are three occasions when the groom describes her beauty in detail and only one where she reciprocates. If the Song has any allegorical significance, it should indicate that God finds us much more delightful than we find him.”

God made us as beautiful one-of-a-kinds to spend life with another one-of-a-kind, both in the physical/emotional realm and the spiritual realm. In the physical realm, God has created us as and intended us to be monogamists: “The mandrakes send out their fragrance, and at our door is every delicacy, both new and old, that I have stored up for you, my beloved.” (vs 13) We are wired to save all of ourselves for our spouse, and when we find that person, we are to hold nothing back, but give of ourselves completely.

In the spiritual realm, God has created us as and intended us to be monotheists: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of . . . slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.” (Ex 20: 2-5) We are wired to share all of ourselves with the one true God, the only god who exists in heaven and earth.

God made you beautiful, and He finds you absolutely delightful. He created you to share the deepest and most intimate parts of your beauty with one other human being and one God. He created you to store up every fragrant, delicate part of yourself for your beloved.

Don’t squander your beauty in ways and places it was not meant to be shared or spent. As Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine.” (Matt 7:6) God made you beautiful, and He takes great delight in you. He is your beloved, the ultimate Lover of your soul. Make sure that, in all you do, you save all your beauty for Him and the one He has designed to love you!

Chapter 8

God designed love to be free and forever.

For me, this chapter holds one of the most beautiful passages ever written about love: “Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away. If one were to give all the wealth of one’s house for love, he would be utterly scorned.” (vs 6-7)

God designed love to be free and forever. Here, we see that love is designed to bind us to another person for life, that it literally places us like a seal or brand on the other. This love is as strong as death—it was intended to be that permanent, that irreversible. Nothing should be able to come between a man and woman who have pledged their lives to each other before God in marriage.

This love is also described as a fire. Perhaps that’s why, several times throughout the book, the maiden said, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (vs 4) Once you have lit the fuse of love, it’s like a raging fire that can’t be extinguished. Thus, we ought to be very careful about how, where, and with whom that spark is ignited!

This love was also designed to be free. You can’t buy love. That’s why the maiden said that if someone used all the wealth they had to “buy” love, they would be utterly scorned. By its very nature, love must be given. It can’t be bought. Sex can be bought. Companionship can be bought. But true love can only be given.

Love, as God designed it, was meant to be free and forever. It was never designed to be a temporary enterprise with strings attached, as we so often encounter it today. God created us to give and receive love in this way because that’s what His love is like. It is free—He loves all His creatures with an everlasting love. And it is forever—nothing we can do could make God love us more, and nothing we can do could make God love us less!

His love is stronger than death, and it cannot be quenched!