Prayer zone for a better, empowering, inspiring, promoting, prospering, progressing and more successful life through Christ Jesus

Posts tagged ‘Poetry’

Behind the mask…


By Pastor Bobby Schuller

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”
1 Corinthians 13:4-5

We live in a culture where love is a bit confusing. We say, “I love you, wife.” “I love you, girlfriend.” “I love you, dog.” “I love you, chocolate cake.” Love can mean that we want to devour a person. Love can mean something we enjoy watching on television.

However, love can also mean, “I would do anything to make this person’s life better.” Now, that’s real love. Real love doesn’t care about beauty or funniness. Love doesn’t care about education. Love doesn’t care about skills. Love goes much deeper. It’s care for human good. It’s the willingness to sacrifice things that you like so that somebody else can have it better. That’s love.

Often, to receive that kind of love, we build masks to try to trick people into loving us. And what we’re really doing is trying to get people to consume us, as they would consume a product. To look at us, analyze us, and say, “Yes, I want that. I want to consume that.” That’s not what real love does. Love doesn’t consume someone else. Love gives.

The greatest love, then, is love that goes beyond the mask. Real love is comes from someone who knows what mask you’re wearing, doesn’t really mind it, and says, “I love you anyway just the way you are.” The greatest love is love without masks, beyond the masks, beyond the fake things that you feel that you have to do to earn love. The greatest love is the kind that goes beyond that.

The greatest love is unconditional…the way God loves us his children.

Prayer: Dear Lord, help me to be my true self, just as you have designed me. Help me to see myself, and others, as you see and love us. Amen.

Reflection: What mask do you wear to encourage people to love you?

Who Killed Iyayi? Who Owns Nigeria’s Roads? By Ogaga Ifowodo.


Columnist:

Ogaga Ifowodo

If you were looking for further proof that Nigerians are yet to attain the status of citizen, then look no further than the murder of Professor Festus Iyayi on 12 November 2013 by a driver to the convoy-death-and-injury-happy governor of Kogi State, Idris Wada. And now you should ask: Who killed Iyayi? The obvious answer is a yet unnamed driver under the influence of “power-drug,” the narcotic on which Nigeria’s ruling class and those in its circle are permanently stoned. But you would be wrong to hold the driver solely responsible for Iyayi’s murder.

The other culprit is Governor Wada who despite a previous convoy accident that claimed the life of his aide-de-camp had done nothing to prevent another needless death. Also in the dock is the federal government for fomenting the circumstance that put Iyayi and his injured colleagues on the road at the haunted hour of Governor Wada’s lethal convoy. By neglecting its duty to education, by signing one agreement after another with the Academic Staff Union of Universities for the rehabilitation of our dilapidated universities only to back out of its obligations the next day, the federal government created a needless crisis.

But Iyayi was slaughtered on a public highway, so you should also ask: Who owns Nigeria’s roads? The answer by our convoy-loving men and women of power is that they, and not all of us, own the roads. So they recruit and train drivers and policemen to drive us out of THEIR roads with whips and gun-butts. And where we do not get out fast enough, they smash our vehicles with intent to maim or kill so that we may never again dare to use THEIR roads, for they are never to be impeded when hurrying off to one more urgent business of dispossessing us. You may think these to be the grief-soaked words of one mourning the avoidable death of a friend and mentor, a pillar of integrity and courage. But I say “with intent to maim or kill” advisedly, as a person must be deemed to intend the natural consequences of his or her action. The salient fact of the fatal “accident” — that the driver swerved recklessly out of his lane in a bid to overtake all other vehicles and take a position at or near the head of the convoy — fixes him with the presumption of knowledge of probable death or grievous bodily harm resulting from his action.

In 1985 when I entered the University of Benin intending to study law but nursing a burning desire to be a writer, I looked up to Iyayi more as the author of three exemplary novels that told the stories of the poor and powerless in which the depravity of the powerful was in full exhibition than as a teacher of business methods. It wasn’t long before I sought him out, eager to show him some of the half-formed poems I had written; in particular, the one that had just won me a consolation prize in a national anti-apartheid poetry contest and that would bring me to Lagos for the first time. That was when I witnessed the charming humility that endeared him to all, except the sworn enemies of the people. “So you are a poet?” he had said, with a slanted smile. “I’m a novelist. Perhaps you will teach me to understand poetry!” Many years later, as I grappled with a poem for his 60th birthday, the lesson of that first encounter became clear to me: he had sought to put the nervous aspiring writer at ease the better to remove any obstacle to full communion.  Iyayi loathed nothing more than the artificial boundaries created by power and privilege.

But the riveting idealism of his social vision, I would learn, was matched by an earthy philosophy. When finally I overcame my doubts and showed him the first decent draft of my poem, he once again put me at ease. I had hesitated out of the fear that its rather pessimistic ending disdained his struggle and sacrifice. As I watched him face with equanimity his dismissal and eviction from the University of Benin, the many subsequent acts of official malice aimed at breaking him, the snail pace of his case of wrongful dismissal all the way to the Supreme Court, then his return to teaching on being vindicated, the respect and admiration spawned in my mind by that first meeting rose to the point where I might get up and leave the room if anyone spoke ill of him.

This was the man murdered by a power-drugged driver on a public highway. We have reached the dangerous point where powerful public officials and their minions believe that the people are their slaves, not citizens with inalienable rights to whom they are accountable. They own Nigeria and we live in it at their pleasure. It is time we reclaimed our roads, symbols of our shared heritage, of our collective existence as a nation. Time to reassert our citizenship rights, starting with the prosecution of the reckless driver. Iyayi’s widowed wife and half-orphaned children must seek, through civil action, punitive and exemplary damages against the Kogi state government. And we must demand an immediate end to official convoys; or, at the very least, their strict subjection to traffic regulations.

omoliho@gmail.com

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Kofi Awoonor, Guardian Of The Sacred Word By Niyi Osundare.


 

Eni re dara ile       A splendid man has joined the earth

Gbee gbee, ofere gbee Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Kofi loo, o digba     Kofi has gone, adieu

Gbee gbee gbeee       Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Ofere gbeeeeeeee      Carry him, carry him, good wind, carry him

Kofi Awoonor was not just a prominent African poet; he was one of those pioneers of the art that showed succeeding generations how to do it. At a time when his contemporaries were trying to out-Eliot TS Eliot and match Ezra pound for pound in a hot imitation of Euro-Modernism, he took a decision to look inwards, to his African roots, and he reclaimed our voices with the beauty and power of the traditional oral verse of the Ewe: its deeply elegiac tonality, its rich allusive idioms, its essentially humanistic preoccupation. In a classic case of what anthropologist call participant observation, he was a Western-educated Ewe man who lived among Ewe poets, broke bread with them, asked them for some of their creative secrets, studied them, then gave their predominantly oral verses the wing and wonder of the written medium. And he did all this without stealing the fire from the forge of the traditional poets; without striving to override his indigenous benefactors. As the Yoruba would say, Kofi m’o woo we, o ba’gba je (Kofi knew how to wash his hands; so he ate with the elders). He served faithfully at the temple of indigenous wisdom; the gods rewarded him with laakaye(wisdom, insight, profundity).

This loric wisdom, this tellurian capability illuminated all his thinking, all his writing: his prose fiction (This Earth, My Brother); his literary/cultural criticism (The Breast of the Earth); and, of course, his numerous poems. No high school student of my generation would forget ‘Song of Sorrow’ in a hurry (‘Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus. . . .’ ). That is an Ewe-poem-in-English whose delicate simplicity and affective magnetism bring happy intimations of the lines of JP Clark and the wistful lamentations of Okot p’Bitek. Bless Ulli Beier and Gerald Moore who made these poems available to us in a compact Penguin edition. Yes, they did, and transformed the landscape of written modern African poetry for ever.

The debt African poetry owes Kofi Awoonor is huge and many-sided. Kofi Anyidoho (who was lucky to have been a hunter in the same cultural/linguistic forest as Kofi Awoonor) would bear me out. So would Atukwei Okai, Kwadzo Opoku-Agyemang, Femi Osofisan, Tanure Ojaide, Odia Ofeimun (of the ‘New Broom’ sensibility), Obiora Udechukwu, Jack Mapanje, Akeem Lasisi, Ademola Dasylva, Remi Raji, and yes, Niyi Osundare. Awoonor opened our eyes to the infinite but long ignored (and often long denied) possibilities of oral literature, and its positive, liberating indigeneity. He showed the world that African Guardians of the Word sang and danced before Homer was born; they sang and performed their lyric before the advent of the earthy tales of Chaucer. Awoonor taught us to honour our tongue the way we do our pen.

A poet who enlightened creative sensibility with a healthy dose of socio-political sensitivity, Awoonor combined the liberation of Africa’s literary idiom with the liberation of Africa’s politics. A proud and committed pan-Africanist, he spent most of his time and energy as Ghana’s Ambassador to the United Nations as Chairman of the Organization’s Anti-Apartheid Committee where he rallied world opinion against that racist scourge and contributed significantly to the bolstering of world opinion which eventually sent the Apartheid monster back to hell where it truly belonged.

We will never forget the violence that took this gem away from us, the authors of that violence, and the urgent need for a juster, safer, saner world free of the current bestialities and the monstrous mayhems that are their tragic offspring.

We will miss Kofi Awoonor’s large heart, the melody of his mind, the sizzle of his songs, his boldly interrogative impulse,  the thunder of his laughter, his sheer joie de vivre, that ‘blue-black’ beauty of his proudly Ghanaian face. . . . .

A mighty tree has fallen

The birds have scattered with the wind

Behold their songs like flying seeds

In the wondering sky

 

 

Niyi Osundare

New Orleans  2013.

Source: SAHARA REPORTERS.

Father’s Day Poems.


A Collection of Christian Father’s Day Poems

This selection of Christian Father’s Day poems includes one I wrote for my special dad. Perhaps you’ll find just the right words to bless your earthly father with one of these poems, chosen specifically with Christian dads in mind.

My Earthly Dad

With these three words,
“Dear Heavenly Father,”
I begin my every prayer,
But the man I see
While on bended knee
Is always my earthly dad.

He is the image
Of the Father divine
Reflecting the nature of God,
For his love and care
And the faith he shared
Pointed me to my Father above.

–Mary Fairchild

Thank You, Dad

Thank you for the laughter,
For the good times that we share,
Thanks for always listening,
For trying to be fair.

Thank you for your comfort,
When things are going bad,
Thank you for the shoulder,
To cry on when I’m sad.

This poem’s a reminder that
All my life through,
I’ll be thanking heaven
For a special dad like you.

–Anonymous

My Hero

My hero is the quiet type,
No marching bands, no media hype,
But through my eyes it’s plain to see,
A hero, God has sent to me.

With gentle strength and quiet pride,
All self-concern is set aside,
To reach out to his fellow man,
And be there with a helping hand.

Heroes are a rarity,
A blessing to humanity.
With all they give and all they do,
I’ll bet the thing you never knew,
My hero has always been you.

–Anonymous

By , About.com Guide

Weekly Prayers & Poems – Lord, Your Voice.


This week’s post is a member-submitted Christian poem called Lord, Your Voice. It describes the many ways we hear God‘s voice in our daily lives and even in the sounds of creation.

Weekly Prayers & Poems
Photo: Christine Balderas / Getty Images

Lord, Your Voice

In the song of a bird,
Lord, thy voice can be heard.

In the rush of the wind,
Lord, I hear you sing.

In the soft coo of a child,
Lord, I hear your voice so meek and mild.

Read more … Lord, Your Voice by Mark Tatro.

Do you have an original Christian prayer that would encourage or benefit a fellow believer? Perhaps you’ve written a unique poem you’d like to share with others. We are looking for Christian prayers and poems to encourage our readers in their communication with God. To submit your original prayer or poem, please fill out this Submission Form.

By , About.com Guide

{ Day 110 }.


Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! 1 John 4:8-10; 3:1

Through a series of divine coincidences and interventions, some friends of mine who had remained childless through twenty-three years of marriage, and who hadn’t even had their names on an adoption list because they were considered over the age limit to adopt, were blessed with a beautiful little boy just a few days old. They knew they would love their little son devotedly whether or not he ever returned their love, but they set out to win the child’s love by demonstrating their love and affection for him. Then the day came when the couple’s little son began to return their affection. The father’s heart melted. What he felt was just a small expression of what our heavenly Father feels when His children start returning love back to Him.

{ PRAYER STARTER }

Let me fill Your heart with joy and love as I return to You a portion of the great love You have given to me. Teach me how to praise You better, to love You more, and to express my heart to You in thankfulness for all that You have done for me.

We will never exhaust the fullness of the depth of love
God has demonstrated for us by making us
His sons and daughters in His own house.

By MIKE BICKLE.

Solomon’s Song of Love.


 

Each day before school, I gather my children for Bible time. I read a short passage from the Bible and then ask them some questions based on it. When I began preparing for this sermon series in the spring of 2010, I read through a number of commentaries. One morning at breakfast Evelyn, my six-year-old at the time, came up to me and asked, “What are you reading?” I said, “A commentary. It’s a book that talks about the Bible.” Now, in this commentary there was a verse indented from the rest of the text. Evelyn pointed to that verse and said, “Why don’t we just read that verse for Bible time?” It was Song 1:4, as translated by Richard S. Hess, the commentator. Here’s part of Hess’s translation:

We will indeed rejoice and be happy for you.
We will indeed recall your lovemaking more than wine.1

I told Evelyn we would read something else.

Afterward I was just glad she didn’t approach me the day before when I was reading Ariel and Chana Bloch’s translation of 1:2:

Kiss me, make me drunk with your kisses!2

It’s hard to explain to my six-year-old daughter how the two things that I will do my best in the next decade to teach her to avoid—kissing boys and comparing such kissing to alcoholic consumption—made it into God’s Holy Word, and that they are fitting for our Bible time as a church, but not her Bible time as a child.

In this study, as we move from the tame title—“The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (1:1)—into the titillating text of 1:2–4, I want you to note that there is “no gradual acclimation” into this Song’s theme.3 The Song does not warm us up to the ideas ahead. Instead it’s a baptism by fire. Twentieth-century film director Sam Goldwyn once suggested that “for a successful film you need to start with an earthquake and then work up to the climax!”4 Well, here’s an earthquake of eros.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! (1:2a)

That’s how it starts! Rupert of Deutz (c. 1075–1129), the medieval Benedictine monk, wrote concerning this verse: “What means this cry, so loud, so startling?”5 Charles Simeon (1759–1836), the famous vicar of Holy Trinity Church Cambridge, said, “The abruptness with which the poem opens is very remarkable.”6 Indeed it was so very remarkable that first-century Jewish rabbis warned the young men of their congregations not to read the Song until they turned thirty. And Christian preacher Adam Clarke counseled pastors, saying, “I advise all young preachers to avoid preaching on Solomon’s Song.”7 This is indeed a delicate and dangerous portion of Scripture. And left to the immature imagination or a godless guide, these inspired words, which were written to make us wise unto salvation—to teach, correct, rebuke, and train us in righteousness (and in love!)—could have the opposite effect.

Yes, what a way to start! It’s an earthquake of eros. But it’s also a “beginning without a beginning,” as Bernard of Clairvaux put it.8 That is, we are introduced to this theme of physical love, but we are not told about the love story. Who is speaking? Who is her man? What is their history? Are they married?

All this is intentional. It’s not that their love story is unimportant; rather it’s that the tone of their love is of primary importance. We will get bits and pieces of their story as the Song unfolds, but here we start with a full-blown flame, a tone that we’re to touch. The earth is shaking. The house is on fire. She wants to be kissed—“Let him kiss me” (v. 2)—and she gets more than just his lips: “The king has brought me into his chambers” (v. 4). And then this short opening scene ends with the choir of virgins rising and singing, “We will exult and rejoice . . . in your love,” or as Hess puts it, “in your lovemaking.” There you have it. Welcome to the Song of Songs. It’s the hottest book in the Bible.

What Is the Poetry Doing?

John Milton said that true poetry is “simple, sensuous, and passionate.”9 If so, the Song is certainly true poetry. And this opening poem (1:2–4) is true poetry indeed! In what follows, let me explain this true poem and then attempt to truly apply it.

The poem begins with a woman’s voice. Thus the ESV, like many translations, places “SHE” abovevv. 2–4b and then “OTHERS” above v. 4cde. We know it is a woman talking about a man from the gender of the words used—“Let him kiss me with . . . his mouth.” The speaker of verses 2–4b later describes herself with the feminine adjectives in verse 5, confirming that it is a woman talking about her man.

This woman, about whom we will learn more in the next study, is the main speaker throughout this Song—though we never learn quite as much about her as we would like. (There is poetic intention to the vague character descriptions: This woman and man represent every woman and every man who have ever been in love;10 if you say too much about a character, you limit his or her appeal to a broader audience. This couple appeals to all.) She speaks 53 percent of the time, the man 34 percent, and the others, including the “daughters of Jerusalem,” 13 percent of the time.11 Thus David Hubbard rightly calls her “the star of the Song.”12

This star begins her first solo with a provocative plea. This ancient woman boldly invites intimacy. She is neither passive nor weak; she is neither silent nor shy. Colorfully and with unbridled expression, she voices her longings and sheer delight in the joyful prospect of the wedding night experience. She wants to be kissed, “and not just a formal peck on the cheek from cold,” apathetic lips,13 but a kiss that is warm and long and loving (and perhaps not limited to her lips!).14 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (1:2a).

The sequence of the verb “kiss” with the noun “kisses” provides a nice poetic effect, but the context provides clarity as to what kind of kiss she wants. This is not a kiss of honor for a king (“you may kiss my ring”), or a kiss of peace for a fellow believer (the “greet one another with a holy kiss” of the New Testament), or a kiss of friendship or familial affection (“Oh, Aunt Gertrude, so good to see you”). This is a romantic kiss.15 This is the climax of the wedding celebration—“You may kiss your bride”—where the first public kiss turns into many private kisses that continue into the bridal chamber and onto the wedding bed and on through the wedding night.

Next, she moves from his lips to his love. She wants to be kissed, not merely because his kissing is so great, but because his love is so great: “For your love [not, your kiss] is better than wine” (1:2b). With this metaphor of wine she stays very tactile. His love is like something you can touch and taste and smell. Wine is something sweet and aromatic, and the overall effect is intoxicating. That’s what his love is like.

However, unlike other poetry, she does not employ this metaphor of wine (mentioned seven times in this Song)16 merely because it connotes intoxication. An Egyptian love song from 1300 b.c. says,

I kiss her,
her lips open,
and I am drunk
without a beer.17

More recently, Pablo Neruda wrote,

Drunk as drunk on turpentine
From your open kisses.18

Instead of drunkenness, she uses the metaphor of wine to connote pleasure. In the Bible, wine often symbolizes pleasure or the greatest earthly delights, as in Psalm 104:15 where wine is said to “gladden the heart of man,” or Judges 9:13, where “wine,” we learn, “cheers God and men.”19Jesus first manifested his glory by turning water to wine at a wedding (John 2:1–11); and he showed humanity the joy that he alone can bring to earth, a joy we celebrate in the Lord’s Supper, our “love feast” of bread and wine (cf. 1 Corinthians 11:17–34), and a joy we will celebrate eternally at the Messianic banquet, where the finest wine will never run out.

In verse 3 she continues her praise by moving from a physical description to a nonphysical one, as she did in verse 2, from the way he smells (“your anointing oils are fragrant”) to his character (“your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you”). Sexual attraction, as perfume companies well know, comes as often through our noses as through our eyes. Her lover would have worn perfumes to mask his natural body odor. So the oils of the perfume and the oils of his body likely produced a scent that was uniquely his, a scent that now represents his very person.

When my wife is gone and I’m sleeping alone, I have on occasion rolled over onto her pillow and given it a whiff because her pillow has her smell, which I like. Sometimes in secret, as I’m picking out clothes to wear for Sunday morning, I lift one of her dresses to my nose and take it all in. That’s my Emily. I love her smell.

Now, let’s move past my strange smelling obsessions, as this young woman does her lover’s smell. Beyond this physical, sensuous attraction, she is likewise attracted by the fragrance of her lover’sname. In the Bible, one’s name represents one’s character (e.g., 1 Samuel 25:25Ruth 4:14). We are baptized in the name of the Father, Son, and Spirit (Matthew 28:19), and there is no other name than Jesus under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved (see Acts 4:11, 12). What she is saying here is that his name—his fine reputation and noble character—is irresistibly attractive to her.

So the physical fragrance of his perfume and the metaphorical fragrance of his character overwhelm her. Thus she continues her plea:

Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers. (1:4)

Her refrain throughout this Song is to wait for love. Three times she addresses her virgin bridesmaids, “[Do] not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (2:73:58:4). But she has waited all her life for this moment—for her wedding day; thus, she is now justifiably impatient. Now is the time for her to arouse and awaken love.

However, note that as much as she has been aggressive—“kiss me . . . draw me”—she hasn’t reversed traditional gender roles. She asks the man to come and kiss her and whisk her away.20There is actually a beautiful give and take. She is not like the leading ladies in today’s movies. She doesn’t pull his tie and kiss him deeply. No, she pulls his tie and says, “Kiss me deeply.” Then she waits willingly for him to come and carry her into his chambers, the bridal chambers, his bedroom (1 King 1:15; cf. Judges 15:1Joel 2:16). Yes, it’s like the old picture of the groom lifting his bride over the threshold into their new house, kicking the door closed with his foot.

As we move to the final lines of this opening poem, I want you to notice some of the subtle poetic details. For example, see how she shifts from addressing her lover in the third person to addressing him in the second—“him” has turned into “you.” This occurs in the middle of verse 2and remains until verse 4a. This slight grammatical alteration, a common device found in Hebrew poetry,21 is used to enhance the intimacy of the scene, an intimacy that grows with each verse.

She begins, “Let him kiss me.” That sounds far off, as if she is calling out from her balcony. Then she says “your”—“your love . . . your anointing oils . . . your name.” He is close enough to hear her. But then . . . then he’s there! You “draw me after you.” You take me away. Has he climbed up to her? Who knows? Who cares? She doesn’t. You are here!

So we move from “him” to “your,” then to “you.” Finally, we move from third person (him) to second person (you) to first person plural: “Let us run.” The two have become one. And then grammatically (isn’t grammar fun?), verse 4 creates some distance by switching back to third person—“the king.” This final switch, however, I suggest is the most intimate verse yet. I say that because of what she says: “The king has brought me into his chambers.” She calls her lover a “king.” She will describe him as a shepherd in 1:7. He could be a king and a shepherd literally, like King David. But it is more likely that he is a shepherd literally and a “king” metaphorically.22 “He is her king,”23 her “triumphant king.”24 In other words, she reaches for an image to adorn his honor, worth, and greatness in her eyes. King? Yes that will do.

In the Orthodox Church today, the bride and groom are called “king” and “queen” for their wedding day. I remember attending a wedding of a childhood friend, and the Orthodox priest placed a crown upon the groom’s head, and then all the men surrounded him and congratulated him as king. King for a day! It’s a wonderful, Bible-based tradition.

To her, he is a king. And to her their first night together is majestic. It has a royal righteousness about it. She is not whisked away by some joker at a singles bar to some cheap motel or the backseat of an old Buick. Rather, she is taken captive by the king and brought into his private chambers.25 There the lights dim, the dark curtains close, the scene ends, and the kissing with the kisses of the mouth begins. It is the ideal wedding night.

The only thing left is for the choir to sing. And that they do. Announcing their approval, boasting of their blessing, the voices of the virgins fills the air: “We will exult and rejoice in you” (v. 4c). Yes, your man is right for you. Yes, your time for pleasure is now. Yes, your love, in your own words, dear bride, is better than wine.

What Are We to Do?

So that’s what the poetry is doing. I hope you understand it and feel it. I hope you get close enough to feel the flame. Now we turn from the question, what is the poetry doing? to the question, what are we to do? In other words, how do we apply this ancient Hebrew poem to our contemporary American lives? Below are four applications.

Desire Is Not Demonic

The first application is this: desire is not demonic. Or if you’d like: Eros is not evil. Pick whichever alliteration you like better. That is, this desire for sexual intimacy expressed here so obviously is not only natural but can be (should be) naturally good.

When God created the world he said, “It is good . . . good . . . good . . . good . . . good . . . good” (Genesis 1:4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25). And when he created the pinnacle of his creation—human beings made of flesh and bones and with desires for intimacy—he said, “It is very good” (Genesis 1:31). Although we are now fallen creatures and cover our bodies in shame (as we should), and our natural desires can so easily be distorted and debased (contrast 1 Corinthians 7:9 with 7:37), there is still something very good about this natural desire for intimacy.

However, we must be careful. Our desires are dangerous. Ask Tiger Woods. Ask Bill Clinton. Ask Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, and Ted Haggard. This is why we are warned throughout Scripture that we must battle against immorality and that giving in to sexual desires outside of the covenant of marriage is evil, what Paul calls “the works of the flesh [the sinful nature]” (Galatians 5:19), such as fornication (sex before marriage), adultery (sex with someone other than your spouse), and homosexuality (sex with a person of the same gender as you). Eros alone is not evil, but eros outside of God’s ethics is. Thus, Christians are repeatedly told in the New Testament to “put to death . . . whatever is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion [i.e., lust], evil desire”; and we are told to do so because of God’s judgment: “On account of these the wrath of God is coming” (Colossians 3:5, 6; cf. Hebrews 12:16). It is natural to desire, but don’t let the natural neutralize the ethical. We are to glorify God with our bodies (1 Corinthians 6:20), and glorifying God means playing by his rules.

The Bible doesn’t deny strong sexual desires before marriage and in marriage. It acknowledges them, warns of their potential danger, but also rejoices in their right expression. And that’s what we have here. In this passage, intimacy within marriage is received with thanksgiving, as all of God’s created gifts should be (see 1 Timothy 4:4). Here right love is rightly exalted. Here desire and the fulfillment of that desire are celebrated.

So, desire is dangerous but not demonic.

Let me add one disclaimer to this first point of application. Desire is natural, and the consummation of that desire in marriage is good, but it is not necessary. People have died falling from ladders. People have died by being stung by a swarm of killer bees. People have died for lack of food and water. But no one has died for lack of sex.

I’m not denying that we are sexual beings, but I am denying the myth that to be truly human is to be sexually active. While it’s true that the human race would go the way of the woolly mammoth or the stilt-legged llama without sex, you individually would not. This is an important point. It’s important because the most fulfilled human being ever—our Lord Jesus Christ—lived without it. And so did John the Baptist and many of Jesus’ followers who came after him. Jesus was and is a virgin. That’s an important reality to remind ourselves of today and every day.

Thus when considering eschatological realities—the kingdom of God being at hand and soon to come in full glory (1 Corinthians 7:29–31)—Paul writes that it is “even better” if one remains unmarried (v. 38). He says earlier that “it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (v. 9), but it is “even better” to be so gospel centered that sex is not only unnecessary but also undesirable when compared to one’s devotion to the Lord.

For all of us the lesson is this: putting Christ and his kingdom first means putting sex second or third or fiftieth; and for those gifted with singleness, putting God’s kingdom first means sex never. Jesus is celibate. And Jesus celebrates the celibate, those who have, in his words, “made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12). He celebrates celibacy. And so should we.26

Character and Chemistry Both Matter in the Matters of Love

The second application is that character and chemistry both matter in the matters of love. In our text we see two reasons why she loves him. The first reason is his character. She esteems his name. He is a king to her. She respects him, and so do her friends. His good reputation has spread like perfume. Both verses 3 and 4 say that the virgins “love” him. In other words, they highly approve. They aren’t saying to themselves, “What does she see in him?” No, they see the same character traits she sees.

The second reason she loves him is their chemistry. He loves her (v. 2), and she likes that he loves her. This is the first time this persistent theme in the Song is made. Throughout the Song, their touches and talks (and teases!) are filled with chemistry.

Both character and chemistry matter in the matters of love. Know that. Apply that. To marry someone who lacks character—“but she’s so stunningly beautiful,” or “he’s so filthy rich”—is just stupid. Don’t be stupid. Young ladies, you are to look for a man who now emulates the characteristics of the godly husband in Scripture: a man who is “understanding” (1 Peter 3:7), “not . . . harsh” (Colossians 3:19), sacrificially loving like Christ (Ephesians 5:25, 28), and able to lead and nourish you in your faith (Ephesians 5:23, 26–29).27 Young men, you are to look for a woman who now emulates the characteristics of the godly wife: a woman who has a submissive spirit (Colossians 3:18Ephesians 5:22, 241 Peter 3:1, 6), is pure in conduct (1 Peter 3:2), and values the internal “beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit” more than external beauty (1 Peter 3:3, 4).

So, character counts, but so also does chemistry. When looking for the right person to marry we should ask: “Is his/her character commendable?” But we should also ask, “How do I feel about him/her?” When William Smith, a pastor in Alabama, interviews couples wishing to marry, before he addresses their readiness to sustain a lifelong commitment, he first asks, “Do you love each other with Song of Solomon love?”28 That is, are there “hot emotions, physical desire and rich romance” in your relationship?29 That’s what the Bible is asking here in an indirect way. You see, Jane Austen wasn’t the first to bring to the world’s attention that one shouldn’t marry for convenience, economic security, or social advancement. The Bible teaches that same truth here, and even as early as Genesis it depicts a love-struck Jacob who will work fourteen years for beautiful-eyed Rachel. The Bible is not against chemistry, as we call it: two people marry because they romantically love each other. Although it might be true that covenant loyalty and godly character are listed above chemistry, chemistry is listed nevertheless. It’s listed, in my reading of the broad Scriptural witness of what it means to love another person, a close third. So don’t dismiss it in the matters of love.

That First Flame Need Not Fizzle

The third application is that that first flame of desire (which is depicted colorfully here) need not (ought not!) die out after the honeymoon. Put more succinctly: that first flame need not fizzle.

Often when I meet one-on-one with the men of my church—“Mondays with a Man,” is what I call it—I will ask the married men, “Do you love your wife?” I have yet to have a man fold his arms and say, “No.” Thus far everyone has said, “Yes.” And that “yes” is simply the “yes” of commitment. Yes, I love her enough not to divorce her and to stay faithful to her. Now, the man can mean more than that, but he certainly (and thankfully so) at least means that. He loves her. Love equals commitment.

But then sometimes I will follow up with a second question: “Do you like her?” Those who have a healthy and enjoyable marriage will often laugh and say, “Of course. Yes, I like my wife very much.” But those who are struggling in their marriage—whether they have been struggling for a long or short time, over a major or minor issue—won’t laugh. Instead they’ll open up. They’ll share—“Recently things haven’t been that great”—and on they go.

I have yet to add a third question (one I think is based on this text): “Do you desire your wife?” The American Puritan poet Edward Taylor described his desire for his wife as “a golden ball of pure fire.”30 (Oh, so puritanical!) Husband, does your love for your wife burn like a golden ball of pure fire? That’s my new question.

Do you desire your spouse? If so, thank God for that gift. If not, I’ll give you three steps to renew your marital intimacy. The first step is to pray. Ask God, who is in the business of changing hard hearts, to soften yours and your spouse’s.

I came across a wonderful poem by Steve Scafidi called “Prayer for a Marriage,” in which the poet talks about him and his wife kissing on their wedding day, and he prays that the desire they shared then will not fade—“from the wild first surprising [kisses] to the lower dizzy ten thousand infinitely slower ones.” He ends, “and I hope while we stand there in the kitchen [later in life] making tea and kissing, the whistle of the teapot wakes the neighbors.”31 Pray for your marriage. Pray for desire. Pray for prolonged kissing in the kitchen.

My second step is to remember. Remember what fueled that first flame.

The other night when my wife and I were lying in bed, I reached over and placed Emily’s hand in mine. I then shared with her how the first time I reached over and grabbed her hand (when we were dating) was the most wonderful physical sensation I have ever experienced. Honestly. And she said, “I know what you mean.” She then added, “You’re crushing my hand.” And I was, I was holding it so tightly.

That short recollection (and the laugh about me crushing her hand) brought us closer together. We desired each other more. After that, to continue the playful mood, I asked her, “So, am I the best kisser you’ve ever known?” (She has never kissed anyone but me—that’s why I asked.) She responded, “You are the best kisser I’ve known . . . and the worst.” (Another good laugh . . . for her, and maybe for you.)

Step one—pray (ask for God’s help); step two—remember (recall old times; ask your spouse today why he/she first loved you); and step three—understand (grasp that desire follows love). That’s what is in our text. She wants to be kissed (she desires him) because/“for” (v. 2b) he loves her. Start loving each other.

Men, especially, take the lead and start loving your wife. I tell Emily that when I desire her physically, “It’s my way of saying, ‘I love you.’” She will then say to me, “Hmm, no, when you discipline the kids, wash the dishes, or pick up after yourself—when you sacrifice for me—then I know you love me . . . and then I desire you.” Men require twenty-four seconds of foreplay, women twenty-four hours. But how healthy! If we men never had to learn to love, we would never be desirable to our wives.

In his book Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, C. J. Mahaney gives a memorable word to men on this point. He writes, “Before you touch her body, touch her heart and mind.”32 Isn’t that great? (The wives reading this are nodding.) Before you touch her body, touch her heart and mind. Husbands, do you ever study your wife the way you did when you were trying to win her? Do you know what pleases her, excites her, honors her, encourages her, refreshes her, and helps her?33Do you spend any time during the week thinking about what she might like—a weekly date (that you plan), a daily phone call, a spontaneous love letter, a gift of clothing, jewelry, a book, a vacation, or two hours free from the kids?34

Pray (step one), remember (step two), and understand (step three)—these three steps will keep that first flame aflame.

Desiring Christ

Our final application is an application to all Christians, and it has to do with our desire for Christ: Just as your desire for intimacy with your spouse is a reliable indicator of your marital health, so too your desire for intimacy with Christ is a reliable indicator of your spiritual health.

Here I’m not making a connection with Christ by means of allegory—that when the bride sings of kissing, it is the Church singing of its spiritual union with the King of kings or whatever. I’m merely making a thematic connection, which is done throughout Scripture when the topic of marriage is addressed. In Ephesians 5, for example, when Paul is talking about husbands and wives, he naturally moves from that theme to the theme of the relationship of Christ and the Church (v. 32). And he doesn’t even explain the shift. He just shifts, assuming his readers are saturated enough with the Bible to grasp the shift. The same happens in Hebrews 1:8, 9, where the author quotesPsalm 45:6, 7—a wedding poem—drawing reference to Jesus as the divine representation of the Davidic king. So, within the canon of Scripture, one should not think of marriage without thinking of Christ, and this is because marriage was always intended to point to him.

Our desire for Christ is a good indication of the health of our relationship. We are saved by faith alone in Christ alone. But genuine faith has its effects on our affections. Those who are in Christ, not always (all the time) but often (most of the time), desire him. It’s our overall disposition. I’ll put it this way, the way Jesus puts it: there is a greater love for Christ than anyone or anything else (seeMatthew 10:371 Corinthians 16:22). So, if you can pant as Paul does in Philippians 1:23 as he speaks of his “desire . . . to depart and be with Christ,” or as Bernard of Clairvaux phrased it, “Jesus, the very thought of thee with sweetness fills the breast; but sweeter far thy face to see, and in thy presence rest,” then thank God. Thank God for those God-given affections. That’s what we all want and need. But if you are struggling to desire the divine Bridegroom, then I offer some free marital counseling: the same three steps in reverse order.

Step one: Understand. Understand that desire follows love. Here, of course, the roles are reversed. As his bride we lose our desire for Christ, but not because he’s a bad husband. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for a friend, and Jesus has laid down his life for friends and enemies alike. The bride is to blame here. We are to blame.

The barrier to intimacy with Christ is sin. Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Since we sin and don’t obey his commandments perfectly, this is evidence that we don’t love and desire him the way we should. If a husband comes to me and says, “My wife and I are having difficulties lately; oh, by the way, I’m having an affair.” What! I will counsel him, “Stop the affair!” Yes, Christians, stop having affairs with the world. You don’t desire Christ because you’re not living for Christ. You’re cheating on him spiritually. You’re denying him as Lord. Each time you indulge in this or that sinful activity, you are saying, “I do not love Christ. I do not desire intimacy.”

Step two: Remember. This is what we do when we partake of the Lord’s Supper. We remember what Jesus has done for us. It is important to remember both the benefits of Christ’s death and how God has worked in the past so we can love, trust, and desire him in the present. Psalm 73 is a wonderful example of this. In that Psalm, the psalmist is at first envious of the arrogant. Why do the bad guys get off scot-free? And why do they prosper? But then he remembers God’s justice in the past, which leads him to trust God in the present for future vindication. Once he grasps this, he ends by saying,

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
(Psalm 73:25, 26)

If you want to desire Christ more, remember his person and his works.

Step three: Pray. Fittingly, John Piper begins his book When I Don’t Desire God with these words: “I hope you will not be offended if I open this book by praying for you. There is a reason. When all is said and done, only God can create joy in God.”35 Yes, only God can create desire for God. So, if you have lost your first love (see Revelation 2:4), pray for it. Pray 1 Peter 1:8, that “though you have not seen him, you [would] love him.” Or pray Psalm 51:12: “Restore to me the joy of your salvation.” Or pray one of the great hymns of the faith, such as Augustus Toplady’s “Compared with Christ, in All Besides”:

The sense of thy expiring love
Into my soul convey;
Thyself bestow, for thee alone,
My all in all, I pray.36

Or pray the words of that old Keith Green chorus, lyrics linguistically and thematically fitting to end on:

My eyes are dry
My faith is old
My heart is hard
My prayers are cold
And I know how I ought to be
Alive to You and dead to me.

But what can be done
For an old heart like mine
Soften it up
With oil and wine
The oil is You, Your Spirit of love
Please wash me anew
With the wine of Your Blood.37

By Douglas Sean O’Donnell


Notes

1. Richard S. Hess, Song of Songs, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms(Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), p. 52.

2. Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs: A New Translation (Berkeley, CA: University of California, 1995).

3. Hess, Song of Songs, p. 50.

4. Gary Brady, Heavenly Love: The Song of Songs Simply Explained, Welwyn Commentary Series (Darlington, UK: Evangelical, 2006), p. 28.

5. Richard A. Norris Jr., trans. and ed., The Song of Songs: Interpreted by Early Christian and Medieval Commentators, The Church’s Bible, gen. ed. Robert Louis Wilken (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2003), p. 24.

6. Charles Simeon, “Canticles,” Expository Outlines on the Whole Bible, 21 vols. (repr. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1956), 7:421.

7. Adam Clarke, The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments: The text printed from the most correct copies of the present authorized translation, including the marginal readings and parallel texts with a commentary and critical notes, Vol. 3 (New York: Azor Hoyt, Printer, 1828), p. 610.

8. Bernard, quoted in Tremper Longman III, Song of Songs, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2001), p. 89.

9. Milton, quoted in T. J. Meek, H. T. Kerr, and H. T. Kerr Jr., The Song of Songs, The Interpreter’s Bible (New York and Nashville: Abingdon, 1956), p. 99.

10. As Longman notes, “The characters of the Song are not specific. That is, the woman is not a particular woman but stands for all women. The same may be said for the man. These characters are developed intentionally in a nonspecific way since they are not reporting about a particular couple. These poems invite later readers to place themselves in the position of the woman and the man. In this way, the Song is similar to the book of Psalms, where the reader is implicitly encouraged to put him or herself in the place of the first person speaker” (Song of Songs, p. 91).

11. Athalya Brenner shows that the woman’s voice constitutes 53 percent of the text, the man’s 34 percent, the chorus 6 percent, and headings and dubious cases 7 percent. The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in Biblical Narrative (Sheffield, UK: JSOT, 1985), pp. 46–50.

12. David A. Hubbard, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, The Communicator’s Commentary (Dallas: Word, 1991), p. 275.

13. Tom Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, The Bible Speaks Today (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), p. 94.

14. Duane Garrett says, “Of course, the man’s kisses may reach other parts of the woman’s body as well, and the language suggests that Song of Songs will explore their sexual relationship” (“Song of Songs,” in Duane Garrett and Paul R. House, Song of Songs/Lamentations, Word Biblical Commentary [Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004], p. 129).

15. Michael V. Fox states that a kiss with the mouth was “the most intimate and sensual kiss” (The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Song [Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985], p. 97).

16. Unlike Proverbs, in which we have warnings about wine (Proverbs 23:29–3531:4, 5), here in the Song wine is always viewed positively (Song 1:2, 42:4 [margin]; 4:105:17:98:2).

17. Cairo Love Songs, group A, no. 20G. W. K. Simpson, trans., The Literature of Ancient Egypt: An Anthology of Stories, Instructions, and Poetry, ed. W. K. Simpson (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1973), p. 311.

18. Pablo Neruda, “Drunk as Drunk,” in Love Poems, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets, ed. Peter Washington (New York: Knopf, 1995), p. 109.

19. See also the Jewish sage Ben Sira of Jerusalem (early second century b.c.): “What is life to one who is without wine?” (Sirach 31:27); “Wine and music gladden the heart, but the love of [lovers] is better than either” (40:20).

20. Many commentators, even those who are not purely allegorists, see Yahweh’s drawing power in verse 4. While it is true that the same verb is used of the drawing/dragging strength of divine love in the Old Testament (see Hosea 11:4Jeremiah 31:2), note that the subject of this verse is the bride, not the groom. She asks to be drawn away, which is slightly different from God, who without provocation tenderly beckons his people to follow.

21. For example, John G. Snaith lists Deuteronomy 32:15Psalm 23:1–3, 4, 5Jeremiah 22:24;Micah 7:19 (Song of Songs, New Century Bible Commentary [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1993], p. 14).

22. While “shepherd” is used as a metaphor for “king” in the Bible, only two of the sixteen uses of the word “shepherd” from Genesis through Ecclesiastes reference royalty. In 2 Samuel 5:2 (which is the same as 1 Chronicles 11:2) “shepherd” is paralleled with “prince.”

23. Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, p. 96.

24. Othmar Keel, Song of Songs, trans. Frederick J. Gaiser, A Continental Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), p. 45.

25. I agree with Longman when he writes, “It is verses like these that render attempts to build a narrative out of the Song, climaxing (poetically and sexually) at the end of the fourth chapter, so wrong-minded” (Song of Songs, p. 93).

26. For an excellent treatment on this theme, see Barry Danylak, Redeeming Singleness: How the Storyline of Scripture Affirms the Single Life (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

27. For a good illustration of what to look for in a future husband, see Elisabeth Elliot’s description of Jim Elliot in Passion and Purity: Learning to Bring Your Love Life under Christ’s Control (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1984), pp. 32–34.

28. Brady, Heavenly Love, p. 33.

29. Ibid.

30. Ibid.

31. Steve Scafidi, “Prayer for a Marriage,” Sparks from a Nine-Pound Hammer (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2001), p. 55.

32. C. J. Mahaney, Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God: What Every Christian Husband Needs to Know (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), p. 27.

33. Ibid., p. 28.

34. See especially ibid., pp. 37–46.

35. John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight for Joy (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004), p. 9.

36. The lyrics to this hymn are worth quoting in full:

Compared with Christ, in all beside
No comeliness I see;
The one thing needful, dearest Lord,
Is to be one with thee.
The sense of thy expiring love
Into my soul convey;
Thyself bestow, for thee alone,
My all in all, I pray.
Loved of God, for him again
With love intense I’d burn;
Chosen of thee ere time began,
I choose thee in return.

37. Keith Gordon Green, “My Eyes Are Dry,” The Ministry Years, Vol. 1 (Sparrow Records, 1998), emphasis mine.


Song of SolomonTaken from The Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy by Douglas Sean O’Donnell. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Il 60187, www.crossway.org.

While this biblical text has been subject to a broader range of interpretation probably than any other book in the Bible, Wisdom Literature expert Doug O’Donnell offers this comprehensible guide to help uncoil its complexities and solve its riddles. He explores the poetry, themes, and wisdom of this song from a Christocentric perspective, and gives us a profound, rich, and witty reflection that encourages right thinking and behavior.

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