1. Song of Solomon 8:4 (ESV)
  2. Exposition

Why does the woman warn the young women of Jerusalem not to awaken love until it pleases?

Song of Solomon 8:4 (ESV)

4 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.

In yet another refrain that runs through the Song, she again warns the young women of Jerusalem to not stir up love until it pleases. Love that cannot be celebrated by the wider society is love that is incomplete and frustrating. The power of love is intense, and those who pursue it unwisely will end up burned by it, not warmed by its enchanting fire.1

The previous section (Song of Solomon 5:2 – 6:3) reminded us that God’s good design of love and sexual intimacy in the context of marriage between one man and one woman is not always easy in a broken sinful world. A husband and wife can experience times of coldness and distance in their relationship. But this section of the Song Song of Solomon 6:4 – 8:4) has shown the reader that when two people have committed themselves to each other there is a way back to intimacy and happiness. The delight of union and intimacy are restored as the man and woman once again focus on giving themselves to each other in selfless love. Both actively rejoice in the other. Both sing the praises of the one they have chosen to love. In this way their desire for each other is re-ignited and there is once again a powerful willingness to give themselves to each other in a way that is focused not on themselves but on the person they love. It is a celebration of selfless love and it reminds the reader of the couple who stood in the Garden of Eden naked and felt no shame. The destructive and alienating power of sin and selfishness in their marriage has been overcome by true, self-giving love. The implication of course is that this battle is not over, there is no suggestion in the Song that their love will not be threatened by sin again. True love in a fallen world is not easy and must be nurtured and deliberately pursued.

Another important implication of this section is the nature of true sexual desire. The language and imagery used to express the sexual desire that this couple has for each other is unambiguous and powerful. The reader is left in no doubt at all about the delight they find in each other’s bodies and the desire to experience the joy of sexual intimacy. But at no stage is there any sense of perversion. Not once do you get the feeling that the human body is being objectified as an instrument of mere sexual pleasure. Compare this to so much of the pornography and nudity on the internet and in modern entertainment today. Sexual desire is a good and powerful gift from God when it is celebrated by a man and woman in the context of marriage. Delighting in each other, and desiring each other as an act of selfless love, is a powerful force that strengthens marriage. But when that powerful desire is taken outside of marriage and is used simply in a self-centred pursuit of pleasure for the sake of pleasure it becomes incredibly destructive to everyone involved.

The good and powerful desire that the couple expresses for each other in this passage and their commitment to self-giving love, points us to an even greater passion and self-giving love. God is the One who gives perfect love. God is the one who commits himself to his people in the most powerful act of self-giving love, witnessed most clearly on the cross. God delights in those he loves with a passion that never dies or fades. He never stops giving himself to them even when they withdraw from him, even when they turn in on themselves in a selfish pursuit of pleasure. Even when they stop giving themselves to him. The joy of self-giving love in marriage is simply a picture of this greater love and in the end every human being, married or single, will only find their desire for another fully satisfied in their love for this God who gives himself to them.