Song of Solomon 8:6 “…for love is strong as death…” The word for strong is ’az meaning “an irresistible assailant” or “an immovable defender.”* It is used in Judges 14:18 to refer to superlative strength: “What is stronger than a lion?” In Numbers 13:28 ’az is used to describe the giants in the Kadesh Barnea who were so fearsome that the children of Israel refused to enter the Promised Land.
Love has a strength that is as irresistible and unconquerable as death. Notice that in this text, love and death are not being put in contest with each other, as if to test which is greater. It is a comparative rather than a superlative statement. Love is being likened to death. How is love like death? In its universal strength and power. Just as death is a universal experience that cannot be denied, resisted, or subdued, so is love. Death comes to all, and God—who is love—comes to all, showering mankind with new mercies every morning…the warmth of sunshine and the blessings of rain…to begin a list that has no end.The fear of death is a universal experience, and we have inborn instincts to avoid its pain. The desire for love is also universally felt, and we all have inborn drives to acquire its pleasure. Unfortunately, we often fail to understand how to avoid the pain and acquire the pleasure! The answer really has something to do with that “God-sized hole” in the human heart that only God can truly fill, first described by St. Augustine over 1700 years ago.
World around, people stand in awe of the power of love and death. Of course, they mostly seek love and shun death, but thinking people acknowledge the existence of both. People may deny death…for a while, but eventually all men come face to face with death, and often those who have tried to deny it find death before those who acknowledge and avoid it! People may deny love…for a while. But, ultimately, all men will come face to face with Love…if not in this life, then in the next, because we are told that one day every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:10-11). Oh that men would taste and see that the Lord is good during their tenure here on this earth!
“Love is strong as death.” This is an amazing statement when you stop to think about it, because it doesn’t have any qualifiers. The Scripture doesn’t say “true love,” or “the best love,” or even “sometimes love.” It is simply saying that real love, by definition, is invincible and cannot be conquered or put off, any more than death can be.In our day and age of convenience friendships and throwaway relationships, this definition should be inscribed on our foreheads at birth…and carved deeply into the heart of every bride and groom. When we are tempted to give up on someone we think we love, remember that real love never stops pursuing any more than death gives up pursuit. When our hearts would fail us, we must align our heads with the Scripture and make our actions conform to God’s truth.
Consider the definition of love given in I Corinthians 13. True love behaves in the most wonderful ways! Love is patient and kind. It does not envy or brag. It is not proud or inappropriate. It is not self-seeking or easily angered. It thinks no evil and does not celebrate evil. Rather, it celebrates the truth. It bears all things, believes everything, and is unceasingly hopeful. It endures everything and never gives up or fails.
That is love. And, it is strong as death. I wonder how many of us understand or know how to love. My best attempts at loving others fall dismally short of this definition. No wonder disillusioned unbelievers sometimes think that real love doesn’t exist. Outside of God’s love, there is no such experience of pure love. As C.S. Lewis expressed it: “When we see the face of God we shall know that we have always known it. He has been…within, all our earthly experiences of innocent love. All that was true love in them was, even on earth, far more His than ours, and ours only because His.”When we experience real love, we experience God, and when we see the face of love, we are looking into the eyes of God! My love, like unrefined gold, is full of impurities. Oh, I may feel that I have great love for others, but when I examine my ability to love my husband…the one on earth who deserves my purest love…I find that I fail in every area. I am not always patient. I am not always kind. I am not always humble. I do want my way sometimes (many times!) and become very frustrated and angry when I feel that my needs are being ignored. I suspect my husband’s motives sometimes. I certainly don’t bear all things and always believe the best. I can remember a time when I wished one of us would just drop dead, and I didn’t care whom. My husband even had to endure hearing me verbalize such miserable unlove!
Here we are approaching our forty-fifth anniversary, and I still fail at times! Almost fifty years of trying to learn how to love, and I still don’t have it down pat. Will I ever get it right?? Despite our greatest desires and best intentions, it appears that we will continue to struggle to love better until the day we see Jesus face to face and are conformed to his image.
In the meantime, every time we feel the power of true love—however transitory it might be—we know that we have experienced God. This is part of the eternal life that all humans crave with every cell in their bodies, and because of this, we will struggle on, continuing to seek love just as we struggle on continuing to shun death. Love is indeed “strong as death.”
* G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984), 170.