Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine.
Like Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon elicits questions along the lines of “What’s this doing in the Bible?” With all its talk of climbing palm trees and milk and honey under the tongue, it presents a problem to those who equate the enjoyment of sex with sin. Often attempts are made to explain away its subject matter as allegory: it’s not really about sexual love but the love of God for his people Israel. That approach would seem to make God extremely kinky, to say the least, and I don’t agree with it. I think it is exactly what it appears to be: a celebration of sexual love which utilizes rather graphic imagery. Perhaps the Song of Songs was used as a part of a wedding-night ritual similar to the more recent tradition of Shivaree.
So why is Song of Solomon in our Bible, and what can we learn from it? According to Genesis, after creating the world with all its variety of biological life, God pronounced it “very good”. The Hebrews understood human beings to be living souls, composed of both flesh and spirit. Dualistic philosophies which divided creation into matter (bad) and spirit (good) were not part of their theological framework. God created humans with the desire for intimate “one flesh” relationship with other human beings. While it is true that Mosaic law contained some rather strict rules about what kind of sexual relationships were permissible, the idea that sex itself is inherently “bad” or owes more to Gnosticism and related philosophies than to the Hebrew Bible. Sexuality was an integral part of the “very good” world God created and commanded to “be fruitful and multiply”
I’m glad Song of Solomon made its way into the canon, because what it says to me is that God affirms the material world He created, which happens to include sexual attraction and enjoyment. There are some theologies which see the world and everything in it as impossibly ruined and evil, fated to one day be burned up in the fires of God’s judgement. But there are other visions of the future in the Bible: Isaiah’s peaceable kingdom where swords are beaten into plowshares and everyone sits under his own vine and fig tree; Ezekiel’s vision of a river of life flowing out of the Temple and healing everything in its path; Jesus’s invitation to come to a heavenly banquet with abundant food and choice wines.
I don’t think the Bible teaches that the material world is evil. I think it teaches that the material world disconnected from God is broken and in need of redemption. The material world, when connected to God, is very good. That’s what God intended, is working to accomplish with a little help from his human friends, and what will finally be. And that’s good news to me.