By David Faust
Recently I read a list of the “Top 100 Love Songs of All Time.” The list included familiar titles often heard at wedding receptions, like “You Are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, “I’ll Be There” by The Jackson Five, “I Will Always Love You,” by Whitney Houston, and “Always on My Mind,” by Willie Nelson.
Strangely (and presumptuously), the oldest song on the list was Elvis Presley’s 1956 hit, “Love Me Tender.” To list all of the greatest love songs “of all time,” surely we’d need to go back earlier than 1956. And why assume that all of history’s great love songs have been written and sung in English? (Among others, our Spanish-speaking friends would certainly disagree.)
One of the greatest love songs of all time was written first in Hebrew. It’s the biblical poem known as the Song of Songs.
The Romance of Mutual Admiration
Remember Joe Cocker’s 1975 melody, “You Are So Beautiful”? It’s on the Top 100 List. In the Song of Songs two lovers lavishly compliment each other’s beauty with language so affectionate and sensual that, according to ancient tradition, the Jews weren’t allowed to read the book until they were at least 30 years of age. The NIV Study Bible notes, “No one who reads the Song with care can question the artistry of the poet. The subtle delicacy with which he evokes intense sensuous awareness while avoiding crude titillation is one of the chief marks of his achievement.”
In the Song, the groom says to his bride, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes are doves.” She responds, “How handsome you are, my beloved! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant” (1:15, 16).
Using imagery that sounds oddly amusing to us, the man compares his beloved’s eyes to doves, her hair to a flock of goats, her teeth to a flock of sheep, her lips to a scarlet ribbon, her temples to the halves of a pomegranate, her neck to a tower, and her breasts to two fawns. He concludes, “You are altogether beautiful, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (4:1-7).
In turn, she compares his arms to rods of gold and his legs to pillars of marble, insisting, “My beloved is radiant . . . outstanding among ten thousand” (5:10-16). These compliments sound a little over-the-top; but the fact is, marriages thrive when husbands and wives sincerely verbalize their admiration for each other.
The Security of Long-Term Commitment
While sex is part of a healthy marriage, it’s not the foundation. Newlyweds know passion; their love “burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame” (8:6). But couples married 65 years understand perseverance; they’ve learned that “Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot sweep it away” (8:7).
Scholars debate the primary purpose of the Song of Songs. Is it mainly about God’s love for Israel? Christ’s love for his bride the church? The love of a husband and wife? These messages are intertwined, for marriage serves as a living illustration of God’s love (Ephesians 5:21-33). Mutual admiration and long-term commitment contribute to a healthy relationship, whether it’s with God or with one’s spouse.
The sweet melody of the ancient Song of Songs puts it at the top of the list of all-time greats, for it reminds us that “the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13).
1. What do you think is the primary message of the Song of Songs?
2. What is the Lord saying to you today about your own sexual purity?
David Faust is president of Cincinnati Christian University, Cincinnati, Ohio, and past Executive Editor of The Lookout.
Use this guide to read through the Bible in 12 months. Follow David Faust’s comments on the highlighted text in every issue of The Lookout.
The Lookout.’s Bible Reading Plan for October 21, 2012
1 Peter 3:1–7
Song of Songs 4:1–7
1 Peter 3:8–12
Song of Songs 4:8–16
1 Peter 3:13–22
Song of Songs 5
1 Peter 4:1–11
Song of Songs 6
1 Peter 4:12–19
Song of Songs 7
1 Peter 5:1–7
Song of Songs 8:1–7