The following is a guest post by my son, Mark Eaton.
When it comes to seeing the love of Christ in the Song of Songs, errors can be made in two opposite extremes. Often, every word is presented as part of an allegory of Jesus and the Church, or Jesus is removed altogether and is interpreted only as a love poem. However, there is a healthy middle ground. Many understand that the Song of Songs is a book about love; it does not take a deep read to figure that out. The love that is so beautifully illustrated in this song goes much deeper than the simple love story it appears to be. Because of this, it is crucial to analyze the author’s use of the word ‘love’ and how it fits in the context of the Bible.
One of the most frequent uses of the word ‘love’ throughout this song is as a name or title for someone. As the song paints a picture of two people in love, the title ‘love’ or ‘my love’ seems appropriate as they are a source of love for one another. This use of love can be seen in Song 1:15, as the man speaks of the beauty of the woman, in 2:2, as the man compares the woman to a flower among brambles, and in 2:10, as the woman recognizes the man’s use of that nickname, as well as 2:13, 4:1, 4:7, 5:2, 6:4, and 7:6. Although these uses of ‘love’ may seem like a cute sobriquet overused by a couple hopelessly in love—similar to the way many people use it today—in the context of Scripture, this title of love alludes to something much more profound. Often accompanied by rich compliments and faithful anticipation—as seen in Song 5:2 and Ephesians 5:32—the relationship between the man and the woman is symbolic of the relationship between Christ and the Church.
The second-way Solomon uses “love” in the Song is as action. The act of love in this song stretches beyond the simple use of the word. The actions of each of these individuals alone demonstrate their true love for one another, but there is still something to be recognized in the use of the word. The first instance is in 1:2. This verse speaks of love in the form of a kiss, and this action serves as a demonstration and testament to the very love mentioned. The second and slightly different use of love as the action is in the following verse (1:3). This verse states that virgins love the man because he smells nice and his “name is oil poured out.” In this verse, the virgins actively love him for his very nature and being. Song 1:4 is similar in that the man’s very nature causes people to love him. In the image of Christ being the man and the Church being his bride, we can see that Christ’s very nature should cause those who know him to love him. Other verses that include this use, depicting love as an action, are 1:7, 3:1, 3:2, 3:3, and 3:4. Song 3:1-4 speaks of the one “whom my [the woman] soul loves,” which expresses the love the Church has for the Christ.
The third way the word ‘love’ is used in the Song of Songs is as personified or as a part of a metaphor—usually, something that someone possesses and can share. The first time we see love described this way is in Song 2:4, which describes this love as a banner over the woman. A better example of this comes from the following verse in which the woman states she is sick with love—the love the man shared with her (2:5). Song 3:5 describes love as something that can be awakened. Contrastingly, in Song 3:10, love is depicted as an object that can usefully decorate a carriage. Although it is evident that love is not a physical object and cannot literally decorate a carriage, it is interesting to recognize how Solomon uses it in a metaphor. Other examples of ‘love’ used this way can be found in Song 4:10, 5:1, 5:8, 7:12, 8:4, 8:6, and 8:7, in which love is depicted as an undefeatable force. Many of these examples use the word ‘love’ as a metaphor. This metaphoric use of the word seems to reflect how the song, as a whole, represents our relationship with Christ; however, it could simply be a characteristic of the type of poetry it is. Similarly, these examples include a personification of the word ‘love’ which could represent Christ’s nature. For instance, Song 8:6 reads, “for love is as strong as death,” which does resemble Christ’s characteristics, alluding to the fact that Jesus would conquer death.
The idea that marriage is symbolic of Christ and the Church is made explicitly clear in Ephesians 5:32. Throughout the Song of Songs, love often encompasses a sense of eager anticipation. This longing can be seen in Song 2:7, 2:10, 3:5, 8:4, and 8:14, as the woman awaits the man’s return. In the New Testament—continuing with the symbolism that Christ is represented by the man and the Church, his bride, as seen in Ephesians 5.23—we are given glimpses of how Christ will satisfy this anticipation. Because we are in the “already/not yet,” we await a day on which Christ will return. We are made sure of His return in Revelation 22:20. Just as the return of her husband will satisfy the woman’s anticipation in the Song of Songs, so will the return of Jesus Christ satisfy our anticipation. But until that day comes, the Song of Songs should also be a model of how Christians love their spouses to glorify God.
In my life, the anticipation for the return of the one whom my soul loves—Christ Jesus—is ever-present. Since the day I truly understood the significance of Christ and my faith in him, I have been like the woman awaiting her husband. Even when my faith is at its strongest, this fallen world is still difficult to live in, and I find myself hoping the return of the Lord will be soon. Just as sex in the Song of Songs is the most intimate way a woman and man can be together, communion is the most intimate way the Church can be with Christ (5:1). This significantly affects my relationship with the Lord. I often find myself anticipating communion with my church because I understand its significance. Additionally, in Ephesians 5:25-26, we see that when a man gives himself up for a woman, she is sanctified. In my walk with the Lord, I am encouraged daily that, as a part of the bride of Christ, I am sanctified through the life Christ gave up for me.