Category Archives: Marriage and Family Counsel

Rise Up, My Love (244): What’s Hidden Under Your Palate?

Song of Solomon 7:9 “…that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” What in the world (or in heaven!) does this mean? The verb translated “goeth down” is the Hebrew halak, also rendered “flowing, going, or walking” in other passages (Carr, 163). The Hebrew word translated “sweetly” is meshar, more literally translated as “evenness; equity; smoothness; uprightness; righteously.”* It is the same Hebrew word used in 1:4, “We will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.”   I believe there is a key in this repetition from an earlier theme, but let’s come back to it in a few moments. What the KJV renders “cause…to speak” is the Hebrew dabab, and is unknown in Hebrew apart from this use, although the Akkadian dababu “plot; plan” and the Arabic dabub, “talebearer” may be cognates according to Carr (163).** Other translations use such alternate terms as “gliding” or “flowing gently” (although why…I don’t know!). The last two Hebrew words in the passage are sipte (literally rendered “lips”) and yesenim (“sleeping ones”). Perhaps one of the more accurate alternate translation for this portion of the phrase is: “stirring the lips of sleepers”.*** (Gordis, 97).   This seems consistent with both the literal meaning of the Hebrew words and the KJV but does not shed much additional light on what the text means. So, put it all together, and what do we have? First, the subject is “the roof of thy mouth,” i.e. the wife’s palate. Everyone knows what the literal roof of the mouth is, so physically there’s no mystery. It seems most likely that King Solomon was indeed commenting on how much he loved french-kissing his wife (although the pleasure didn’t yet have such a name, since there were no “French” in those days!)   The rest of the verse is still somewhat of a puzzle in the physical realm, although the best explanation I found was this: “…one thing emerges as certain: Shulamith’s kisses have an intoxicating effect on Solomon. However, there were no ill side effects, and Solomon could enjoy this ‘wine’ continually.”* (Patterson, 109).

Spiritually, I would hazard a guess that the palate refers to the highest subject of the wife’s speech…and I can think of no loftier subject than the praises of her Lord and God, which “flow sweetly…uprightly.” Expanding a little on the thoughts of Henry van Dyke, what is a more noble delight than taking the colors and forms of our life’s experience and weaving them into a beautiful garment to clothe our thoughts of God? So, the taste of his wife’s praises are like the “best wine,” i.e. his greatest joy. Perhaps it is the husband’s use of this imagery that reminds the bride of her earlier exclamation: “We will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee” (1:4). His love is even more wonderful than her greatest earthly joy, and all those who are “upright” (true believers?) love him too.

Gary Smalley, in his wonderful series, Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships, points out that men need to feel “adequate.” Let’s add that to our list of “A” words: assure him that he’s more than adequate! Adulate him, even as our Lord loves adulation and praise! Could it have been such a thought that caused her to join him at this point and add, “for my beloved!” Her praises are all for him! There is no one else—there is nothing else—that causes her lips to overflow with such joyous speech. Her praises flow “sweetly” and “smoothly,” in righteousness and uprightness. There is nothing rough or sullied or impure about the praises or the one being praised; all is holy and beautiful…as is our Lord!    “Causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” After a month of asking everyone wise friend I knew, even “men in high places”…although no one spontaneously interpreted the passage the same way I did, no one refuted my interpretation either. Could it be that the “sleeping ones” are those who are “sleeping” in sin, i.e. the unbelievers, or at the least those who because of sin have become insensible to spiritual things?  It is the bride who is speaking. She is speaking in praise of her bridegroom husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. She is extolling his wonders. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the highest thoughts of her heart—her adulation of her wonderful savior and king—will be so irresistibly sweet that it will arouse those who have been stupefied into lethargy by their sinful lives to speak…to “plot,” to “plan” to “tell tales”…to ask questions…to be aroused into dissatisfaction with their existential lives and search for this marvelous love and lover? Oh, Lord, may our speech be as sweet to you! May our praises cause even the lips of those who are sleeping yet in their sins to speak of you and search for you!

(All photos taken a few days ago at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids.)

*Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 108-109.

** G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984), 163.

*** R. Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations, (KTAV, 1974), 97.

Chicago Baby

“We’ve left our house in Spokane and are moving to a department (apartment) in Chicago,”  Amélie confided soberly. Moving is NO FUN! I was just Amélie’s age (5) when our family moved from Indiana to Michigan, and I was heart broken, particularly because I wasn’t sure how I’d find my way back home so I could marry my boyfriend (also 5) when we grew up. It was the summer of 1956, and “Que Sera, Sera” was playing on radios everywhere! “Whatever will be will be.”  Somehow, I found the words comforting and remember singing them to myself as I explored our new home in East Lansing. Little people feel things with every bit as much passion as adults! In an effort to soothe the kids, Jon gave us all a little slide show of their home and friends from Spokane, and I think it might have helped Amélie in her efforts to process everything, but poor little Sophie (3) burst into gales of inconsolable tears. Jon and Linda have been doing everything they can to ease the way, but there’s no doubt about it: Moving is tremendously unsettling! Yes, it’s fun to spend some time with Nana and Grandpa, and yes, it will be fun to spend some time in Germany and visit with Gerlinde’s family, but leaving all their friends and moving from their lovely home out west into Chicago—one of America’s biggest (and scariest) cities—is paramount to panic!  Are you facing a move? I think it’s good to get in touch with our feelings during transitions, but I also think it’s important to track our thoughts. We shouldn’t just listen to ourselves, we should talk to ourselves too…speaking truths into our lives to give us courage, such as Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.”  God loves us. He is doing a good work in us to make us more like Himself! Rather than being fearful about the future, let’s ask God for the grace to claim Isaiah 26:3,  “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on thee: because he trusteth in thee.”  P.S.—I am so thankful for my courageous daughter-in-law, who is a beautiful example of Sarah from the Bible (and her mother Sarah, who left her homeland and followed her husband to the mission field in Tanzania). “Even as Sara obeyed Abraham, calling him lord: whose daughters ye are, as long as ye do well, and are not afraid with any amazement” (I Peter 3:6).

“When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother
What will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me

“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

“When I grew up and fell in love
I asked my sweetheart
What lies ahead
Will we have rainbows
Day after day
Here’s what my sweetheart said

“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be

“Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother
What will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
I tell them tenderly

“Que sera, sera
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que sera, sera
What will be, will be
Que Sera, Sera.” (—Composed by Jay Livingston)

Rise Up, My Love (243): Wedding Vows

Song of Solomon 7:9 “For my beloved.” Yes, all that we are and have is for our beloved. In this physical world we give such allegiance to our beloved spouse, but in a deeper sense—in a way that encompasses both the physical and the spiritual—we give all that we are and have to our beloved bridegroom, the Lord Jesus Christ…for time and for all eternity.

Tell me, have you kept your wedding vows? Do you remember them? Perhaps you wrote your own and had them all memorized…can you still repeat them? It would be a good exercise to keep a written copy somewhere special—maybe in your family Bible—and repeat them every year on your anniversary. My husband and I used the aged formula that we had heard so oft repeated from our earliest childhood memories of weddings… “and forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him/her so long as ye both shall live…to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death us do part.”

Our first, ever continuing obligation is to forsake all others. It is also God’s first commandment: “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3). Just as every wife wants her husband to have eyes for only her (and visa-versa), so God wants us to only have eyes for Him! Do you ever allow your eyes to stray when a pretty woman or a handsome man walks by? You will break your beloved’s heart and trust.

In our country, we aren’t typically tempted to worship literal, handmade image-idols from other nations. You don’t hear of many people converting to Buddhism or Shintoism. Do you know why? Because the god that appeals to Americans is the “almighty” dollar. Money and leisure have become national gods, and Americans who don’t worship Jesus typically chase materialistic pleasures. So, don’t be tempted to relax and say, “Well, at least I’ve forsaken all other gods! I don’t have eyes for anyone but God.” The real test is not, “Do you keep figurines on an idol shelf?” but, “Do you find yourself tempted to make decisions based on material gain or selfish pleasure rather than on your perception of its being God’s will…being right and for His pleasure?”

“To have and to hold.” Yes, Jesus, above all else, I am yours to have and to hold. Isn’t it strange that during the easy times of life many hearts are tempted to wander, but during the hard times, we are more likely to seek the comfort and support of a companion? Why is that? “For better or worse.” When things are “better,” it should be simple to remain faithful, but how easily people grow careless with each other and become intent on pursuing idle pleasures that distract rather than bind them together. When things are “better,” how easily people forget God and go their own way!

How much like sheep, who wander off on the sunny days until they have stumbled and fallen…and then bleat pitifully in their helpless pain and fear as the night falls! When it’s “for better,” humans tend to grow selfish and not want to be “bothered.” When it’s “for worse…” well, if it’s our problem, we want help and compassion…now!! But, if it’s our spouse’s problem…do we rush to his aid…and then endure patiently as needed? Our ability not only to “endure” but to take joy in being able to show love for our spouse through sacrifice is a rare and noble quality indeed.

“‘Joy is a duty’—so with golden lore
The Hebrew rabbis taught in days of yore.
And happy human hearts heard in their speech
Almost the highest wisdom man can reach.
But one bright peak still rises far above,
And there the Master stands whose name is Love,
Saying to those whom weary tasks employ:
‘Life is divine when Duty is a joy.’”
—Henry van Dyke

What a comfort it is as we grow older “to have and to hold” a life mate. I often used to tell my children that getting married is like putting money in a bank. Our oldest, shrewd financial steward that he is, tucked away $20,000 from his first year’s salary for his retirement, knowing that if all continues for the next fifty years as it has for the past fifty (which it probably won’t), that small (but significant) investment will grow into an ample retirement pension. Now, a twenty-five year old young man could think of many ways to spend 20K, but he will be very happy for his sacrifice in years to come.

Likewise, young adults may find it very difficult…even painfully sacrificial… to pour their time, energy, and money into developing a strong marriage and rearing a family. How much easier it would be to just “do their own thing.” But, all the sacrifices we make in our youth pay tremendous spiritual, emotional, and even physical benefits as we age.

Although it was simply by faith that my husband and I invested in a large family (based on believing Psalm 127:3, “Lo, children are an heritage of the Lord: and the fruit of the womb is his reward”), there is nothing on this earth that brings us more genuine pleasure now than our family. If you asked my husband, “Was it hard?”, I’m sure he would say, “Harder than I could have ever imagined when I asked Kathi to marry me!” When I asked him if it was worth it, he said, “Next to getting saved, it’s been the greatest joy of my life.” To which I would add a hearty “Amen!”

“For my beloved.” Yes, keep all you have and are for your beloved, “to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish till death” parts you! And for our beloved, let us keep all we are and have for him until death brings us to his arms forever!

Have You Ever Experienced a Season of Heartbreak?

I suppose there’s no one alive who hasn’t experienced a season of heartbreak at some point. Isn’t it a universal part of each human tapestry? Every person who has loved deeply has had to cope with loss. It might not be as traumatic as losing a child or experiencing divorce. It could be something as natural as losing an aged parent or parting with your adult children when they move out of your home for the joy of marriage, or to transfer locations in order to further their career.

Although Mark Karris’s book focuses mainly on the issues facing those who’ve experienced the heartache of a major breakup, the strategies for grieving well and overcoming heartache are helpful for anyone who’s feeling the pain of loss—or even for those of us trying to prepare for the inevitable future as we see loved ones (and ourselves!) aging. Mark’s objective was to “provide a powerful, life-giving resource that will help you not only survive your season of grief but also thrive and be transformed.” That, I thought, was a very lofty goal, and personally I felt he succeeded, at least in how his book impacted my life.

But, Mark was even more ambitious that that! He also aspired to finding “powerful practices to help me embrace grieving as a liberating spiritual discipline.” Wow! Come again? Is that possible? Actually, by the time I finished the book, I understood what he meant. I can’t say that I’m free from heartache as a result of being liberated by developing appropriate spiritual disciplines to deal with grief, but I can say that I understand the many principles and practices he taught, and it’s helped me explore areas of grief that were hidden in the crevices of my heart, forgotten but unhealed because I never knew what to do with them!

I intend to keep my copy of Season of Heartbreak as a reference book, knowing that in the years ahead I will inevitably experience my own intense seasons of grief, either as I pass through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, or as I watch loved ones passing on from this life to the next. However, I’m willing to lend you my copy if you’ll promise to return it! Otherwise, it’s available on Amazon, although if you’re willing to buy it from Kregel Publishers directly, then they don’t have to pay a commission to Amazon. The link is:

http://kregel.christianbook.com/season-heartbreak-healing-heart-brain-soul/mark-karris/9780825444715/pd/44471X

If you’ve experienced heartache and never really addressed it, or if you’re still actively feeling the sting of pain from the loss of love, please consider reading Mark’s book. As a family advocacy and support specialist for the United States Navy as well as an ordained pastor and licensed marriage and family therapist, Mark Karris has a wealth of experience in identifying the issues, and he’s done a masterful job of teaching strategies for coping and overcoming. He has insightful chapters with provocative titles like “In Need of Story Catchers,” “Forgive to Live,” “Holy Huddle,” and “A Theology of Suffering.” And…about a dozen more!

In ostensible theory, I chose this book because I have over a thousand young adults who follow my blog, and I thought it might be helpful for them. In experiential reality, the book opened my heart to some buried, unhealed griefs and helped me in my own spiritual journey. If you have a heart that’s still beating, it’s a worthy read!

“He healeth the broken in heart, and bindeth up their wounds” (Psalm 147:3).

Rise Up, My Love (242): The Best Wine

Song of Solomon 7:9 “And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” Some verses appear difficult at a distance but easily yield their meaning when studied. Other verses appear simple with a cursory reading but actually become very difficult to understand when scrutinized carefully. This verse has been extremely difficult to “cut open.” At first reading, my tendency was to paraphrase it something like this: “I love french-kissing you! It’s better than the best wine, which flows down so smoothly that it even wakes up those who are sleeping.”

But, is that what the verse is really saying, and even if it is…what spiritual truth is the Lord conveying? One thing that complicates trying to understand the verse’s meaning is the little phrase “my beloved.” Does “my beloved” refer to the husband, or his wife? The husband has obviously been talking. “And the roof of thy mouth” is a continuation of the husband’s description of his wife; i.e.: the roof of her mouth. The suffix on the Hebrew noun translated “your mouth” is feminine, so it is definitely the wife being described up to that point.

But if the husband actually says that the roof of her mouth is like the best wine “for my beloved,” a proper continuation of the thought would demand that “my beloved” is the wife, so the husband is not saying that the wine slides smoothly down his throat, but hers. In other words, he would not be saying that he responds to french-kissing his wife as if he were drinking the best wine, but rather that her taste is like wine for herself. What’s the problem with that?

Well, first, most people assume that the intended imagery is that the wife’s sweet kisses are as pleasurable to the husband as drinking the best wine. But, if the wine is going down her throat, not his, then he is describing her pleasure, not his, which has not happened heretofore in the book. The second problem is simply one of usage. The term “beloved” is used 103 times in Scripture, and twenty-six of those usages (fully one-fourth of all instances) are in the Song of Solomon. In every other instance, “beloved” clearly refers to the husband. The term “my beloved” is similar. It is used forty-two times in Scripture, and over half (twenty-two) of the instances are in Song of Solomon…always speaking of the husband unless 7:9 is an exception.

“My beloved” is used elsewhere nine times to refer to Christ, nine times by Paul and James to refer to Christian brethren or sons in the faith, once in reference to God, and once—only once in all those occasions…but still, once—of Israel, in the feminine form, as the adulterous wife of God (Jeremiah 11:15). Commentators don’t just split the ballot over this issue, they splinter it! Because the most ancient Hebrew had no punctuation marks (those written in present day texts were added centuries later), it isn’t possible to reason that verses eight and nine all had to be spoken by the same person “because it’s all one sentence.” This is true in the King James Version’s English translation,  but the original text doesn’t have any demarcations.

No one doubts but that the wife picks up the conversation in verse 10. Although some commentators ascribe verses eight and nine to the husband in their entirety, many modern translations, including the New King James and the NIV, now punctuate the text with “And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine,” as the husband’s concluding comment, and have the wife begin her speech with, “For my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.”

After prayerfully wrestling with the text for three weeks, I now believe that verse nine should indeed be split. Hikek is the Hebrew word here translated “roof of thy mouth.” Some translations render it as “kisses,” but this is somewhat interpretive, since the word is common and used elsewhere with the more straightforward meaning of palate (as in this verse), mouth (5:16), or taste (2:3) . “…like the best wine…” The value and symbolic significance of wine in the Bible have already been discussed at length. Wine is symbolic of joy and abundant living. In chapter one, verse four, the bride declares, “We will remember thy love more than wine.” Here the husband returns the compliment and makes it superlative by saying that his wife’s kisses are “like the best wine.” Loving her produces a joy in him that is the very best of the best! “…for my beloved.”

Given that in every other instance in the entire book “my beloved” is a name used as a term of endearment by the wife for her husband, the evidence overwhelmingly supports the idea that at this juncture the husband’s praises end, and the wife begins her response. In that light, it is easy to understand the husband’s final comment as a beautiful capstone on his delicate adulation of this most wondrously intimate experience of marriage. The couple had just enjoyed sexual union, and lying in each other’s arms during the quiet glow that followed— breathing in her very breath and drinking in her kisses—he summed up his delight in her as if he’d just partaken of the world’s most highly prized and delectable beverage.

Use a more general definition of hikek and you have: “Your taste is like the best wine!” Oh, beloved of God, meditate on the marvel that Christ has no greater joy than our yielded union with him. It is to us that he declares, “Your taste is like the best wine!”

Rise Up, My Love (240): Perfect Breath and Perfect Foods

Song of Solomon 7:8 “…and the smell of thy nose like apples.” As the husband draws into union with his wife, he becomes so intimately entwined with her that he can smell her face and finds he is breathing the very air she breathes. No bad breath here! I wonder if the bride just brushed her teeth…and if so, what type of toothpaste she used, because the word for “smell” is the Hebrew riah, which is used earlier in the book to describe the fragrance of perfumes and garden spices.

How does one get breath so fresh and appealing? I don’t suppose three thousand years ago they had toothpaste and mouth wash (although they may have had their own versions that have not as yet been discovered). Perhaps her breath was the natural result of proper hygiene and good nutrition. Whatever…I would love to have breath as fragrant as apples, wouldn’t you?

Although I may not know the secret to delectable breath, I believe our heavenly bridegroom is trying to teach us a secret about spiritual attractiveness in this passage, because—as compelling as the imagery of sexual union is—the insight into spiritual oneness is even more overwhelming.

Let’s consider these two aspects of union: breasts as clusters of grapes, and breath like apples. First, the king describes her breasts as clusters of grapes. The breasts only develop in a woman as she matures, and the anatomic function of the breasts is to provide nourishment for the offspring of her union with her husband. Spiritually, the breasts…those clusters of the vine…the “fruit of the Spirit”… also develop as we mature by “abiding in the Vine” (see John 15:1-5).

We have already considered the fruit of the Spirit, but let’s read the passage thoughtfully again: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance” (Galatians 5:22-23). Notice that there are nine qualities mentioned, but one “fruit.” Does that ring a bell? It makes me think of the breast…just one breast, but multiple lobes within that breast producing milk. “The fruit of the spirit is…” Singular. The breasts take lactose, protein, minerals such as calcium, phosphorus, and riboflavin, vitamins (particularly A, B1 and B12), water, and milk fat to produce one glorious, perfectly balanced product: milk, which is considered nature’s most perfect food because it contains almost all the nutrients essential for human growth.  The Spirit likewise develops in us the essential qualities of love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, goodness, faith, humility, and self-control to produce one glorious character: Christ’s, which will equip us for nurturing the spiritual offspring that result from our joyful union with Him. Oh, Lord, please develop in us a passion for you that results in spiritual maturity, fullness, and truly Christ-like character!

Rise Up, My Love (239): Quadruple A Formula (of Maybe Quintuple B-A Formula)

Song of Solomon 7:8  As the wife of a physician who works at a psychiatric hospital, I have heard many tragic stories of marital infidelity. Once I (accidentally) caught a glimpse of a woman who had been promiscuous and attracted multiple lovers (and was emotionally devastated as a result). I used to assume that all such women would be extremely beautiful, so I was shocked when Alan said that more often than not the women are very average looking!  “What is it about these women that attract men?” I asked my husband. From his evaluation, he has surmised that it is a woman’s capacity to convey love and compassionate support that most attracts mature men.  From that I developed my own Quadruple A Formula for helping keep husbands from falling prey to “strange women:” Be attractive; admire; appreciate; and be available to give and receive affection. (I know I shared this earlier, but I believe it’s critically important and worth repeating.)  In fact, I’ll add another “Be A” term: Be active. Pro-active! Don’t criticize what he does wrong all the time; admire what he does right. Don’t be a chronic complainer, brooding on the difficult aspects of life; think of positive things to tell him when he comes home…especially about himself…things that will encourage him and let him know how much you appreciate him. (Remember, he’s been getting battered by the world all day.) And, don’t rebuff him when he wants sexual intimacy. He craves sex like a woman craves affection. Give him what he needs; don’t push him away. Forget about yourself as much as you can and just concentrate on loving him! Learn to be unselfish. (I’m preaching to the choir here!)   Do you suppose a palm tree would push away the man who was climbing up its long trunk reaching for the fruit? No, palms are by nature flexible and giving. They sway in the wind and often have a gentle curve that makes climbing easier. Their fruits yield to the touch and fall to the ground when fully ripe. (Note: green fruits don’t yield to the touch, and neither should a young, unmarried woman!) Can’t you just imagine the palm fronds lashing out at the man, whipping his head and hands, trying to keep him from enjoying the fruits? I’m afraid all married women have probably been guilty of not being very good palm trees at some point in our lives! (If I asked for a show of hands, my hand would be the first up, so I confess my guilt.)  Welcome your precious husband to your body. Let him feel the strength of your love. Let a tidal wave of your passion wash over his soul. Men need that sense of “filling up” that comes from long and satisfying times of physical intimacy every bit as much as women crave emotional connection and intimacy. I have read that there is nothing that makes a man feel more like a man than the sweet surrender of his wife. And, we wives need it just as much…even if we don’t realize it! Is it time to rediscover how refreshing it is to relax completely and forget everything but loving our mate for a while? I’ve also discovered that when I start thinking of myself as a fruitful palm tree, I even start feeling better and more relaxed about how I look. What’s so special about a palm tree, anyway, since there are billions of them on the planet? It’s not how it looks, it’s the life-giving sustenance it provides. Can we be there for our husbands?