Category Archives: Sex and Gender Issues

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?

Rise Up, My Love (241): How to Have Fresh Breath

Song of Solomon 7:8 Second, the king refers to the smell of her nose as being like apples, or, if my understanding is correct, he likens the smell of the breath coming from her nose to the subtle spiciness of apples. That was a curiosity to me, since I have always felt self-conscious about my breath…and frankly have never noticed especially liking the smell of anyone else’s breath either (unless they were chewing flavored gum or breath mints).

I guess in some cultures, body odors are very attractive, but most Americans are taught to minimize their natural human scents and often go to great pains to mask them with toothpaste, mouth wash, fragranced soaps, deodorant, flavored chap sticks and lipsticks, hand creams, face creams, perfumes…and even make ups and powders. I mean, we even scent facial tissues and toilet paper. Among all this armament of aromatic accouterments, I have yet to smell the sweetness of apples…have you?

“How would someone’s breath smell like apples?” I asked my husband, who as a physician daily experiences dozens of people’s breath. (…“Say ‘Ah!’ please.”)

“The only way I know of would be if the person had just finished eating an apple.” That made perfect sense to me, so I researched the word “apple” in the Scripture to see if I could discover its spiritual significance. First, the word “apple” or “apples” is only used eleven times in the Scripture, four of which are in the Song of Solomon! Of the seven uses outside the Song, five are the expression “apple of the eye,” such as in Psalm 17:8, “Keep me as the apple of the eye, hide me under the shadow of thy wings.”

So, nearly half of the uses of apple in Scripture refer to the center of the eye, or that which is central to one’s heart, affections, and attentions. Of the two remaining uses of apple, believe it or not, do not include the fruit that Eve picked in the Garden of Eden! That fruit is not mentioned by name and has probably long since disappeared, or at least it hasn’t been an option for snacking in the last 6,000 years!

However, Proverbs 25:11 teaches that “a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver,” and so perhaps given the context, apples could be associated with wisdom and discretion. Finally, the apple tree is mentioned with a list of the most important fruit trees that were withered during a time of judgment “because joy is withered away from the sons of men” (Joel 1:12). So, the apple is associated with wisdom, abundance and joy.

Within the Song of Solomon, the three other references to “apple” are 2:3, where the groom is likened to an apple tree: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.” Here we see the apple as the greatest of its type, providing delightful protection and sweet sustenance. Shortly thereafter (v. 5), the bride cries out, “Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.” Here, the apple seems associated with that which stabilizes and comforts. The final reference is 8:5, where the bridegroom says, “I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth…”

Obviously, this is all symbolic, since the bride certainly had not lived her entire life from birth through the early years of marriage under the shade of a singular apple tree. What did this apple tree symbolize? A composite of all the other occurrences used in Scripture depict the apple as symbolic of that which was central to one’s heart, attention, and affection, full of wisdom and discretion, joy and abundance…that which was the greatest of its type, providing delightful protection and sweet sustenance, stabilization, and comfort.

Could that be anything but a picture of Christ himself? He was the apple tree under which she was brought forth by her mother, and where she was raised up. Why did her breath smell like apples? Because she had just “eaten an apple.” Spiritually, she was feeding off the One who proclaimed, “I am the living bread which came down from heaven: if any man eat of this bread, he shall live for ever…For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed” (John 6: 51,55).

In a spiritual mystery that has baffled and revolted unbelievers ever since Christ propounded this doctrine, we are taught to so take in Christ spiritually that he becomes bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh, even as we become bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh. Why did the bride have fragrant breath? Because she had the breath of Eternal Life! She had eaten the apple of Christ. She had been abiding in the Vine until her spiritual breasts had become like voluptuous clusters of grapes. She had been feeding on the Living Bread until the “smell of her nose”—the smell of her face and the very air coming out from her inmost being—had a subtle spiciness…the unmistakable fragrance of Christ…the invisible aroma of his eternally fresh and vibrant Holy Spirit being exhaled from her life. Oh, beloved, if you don’t get anything else out of this devotional commentary, understand the secret of spiritual fresh breath: Feed on the living Christ!

Rise Up, My Love (238): Cake and Frosting

Song of Solomon 7:8 “I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof…” The word for “boughs” is sansinna and is only used this once in the Bible, although it has been linked to the Akkadian sinnsinu, which refers to the “topmost branches of a palm.”*  So, the term “boughs” may refer to the bride’s hair or arms, but perhaps the best interpretation comes from Patterson who said the term “refers to the shoots or branches of the palm tree on which hang the clusters of its fruit…which will please him like clusters of the vine” (Patterson, 108). The Hebrew for “take hold” is ahaz and is variably translated “seize” or “grasp” such as in Judges 1:6 and 12:6 where it refers to the hot pursuit of battle!  Is it time for a friendly, “I told you so!”? Solomon was rather like that shipwrecked sailor, wasn’t he?…run aground by a hurricane of love…overwhelmed by emotion…and ready to climb that tree in hot pursuit of that fruit! (A note to men: Need I remind you that the breast has already been described as a fawn? That “hot pursuit” requires the utmost care in preparing your wife [as Solomon did his wife] for your impassioned advances!)  In this verse, Solomon goes from admiring his wife to expressing his intention to make love to her. The beauty of the passage is the purity and unabashed goodness…the rightness…of a man observing his wife’s beauties and declaring his desire to “ascend” to dizzying heights in order to delight in her as if she were a magnificent palm crowned with delicious clusters of the most delectable fruit!  Oh, dear brides who cannot understand why your husband is so driven sexually all the time, see yourself as he sees you! Understand that a young man craves his wife’s body like a shipwrecked sailor craves the bursting sweetness of coconut milk! Older women who wonder why your husbands haven’t ever “gotten over it,” meditate on the fact that when your husband sees you, he’s not focusing on the extra weight that makes you so self-conscious and reticent…he’s a thirsty man looking for a long, refreshing drink from the fountain of his youth—you “Ah,” but you say, “How could he still be interested in me? I’m so….(you can fill in your own blank). For me—and probably for the majority of older women— “overweight” would fit nicely in that blank. That twenty-four inch waistline came and went all too fast. I used to worry chronically about being overweight to the point of being uncomfortable undressed. I wondered how my husband could really even find me attractive. Now I know that the most important thing for us as wives is to forget how we look and focus on loving our husbands instead!  That’s not to say that looks aren’t important. It’s good for our health and our marriages to keep fit as much as possible, so I am not condoning a lack of dietary discipline. But, what a man needs most of all is a good woman who loves him deeply. That is the cake. The rest is just frosting. (I know, frosting is my favorite part too…so let’s keep working on looking our best…but let’s not forget the cake!)

*G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984), 162.

Rise Up, My Love (237): Clusters of Fruit

Song of Solomon 7:7  The Hebrew word in this comparison is ‘eskol, which is translated “cluster” in verse fourteen of chapter one (where it refers to a cluster of camphire). Because the Hebrew word is also used to name the Valley of Eshcol (Numbers 13:23), where the children of Israel found fabulously large clusters of grapes, the authorized version adds the words “of grapes” to harmonize with the imagery of verse 8. But, according to Carr, “there is no need to shift the image in this colon. The picture is…of the ‘sweetness’ the heavy, dark fruit provided.”*   As the earlier part of the verse compares Solomon’s wife to a palm tree, a more consistent continuation of the thought might be comparing her breasts to clusters of dates or some similar fruit of the palm. Perhaps the imagery of the bride’s breasts being like clusters of ripe fruit is a natural simile for men, or maybe even for most women, but it wasn’t a natural for me at first. I think of a cluster of fruits—be it grapes, dates, or coconuts— as being lumpy and bumpy, and I think of a breast as being one soft, round entity, more like a peach.   However, as I meditated on what our Lord—the living Word and the eternal author of this song—might have been trying to teach, I remembered back to the days when I used to nurse my infant children. As a girl, I assumed that milk flowed from a mother’s nipple in a single stream, rather like a kitchen faucet. I’ll never forget the first night my infant son started drowning because he couldn’t keep up with the flow of milk! He choked and began to cough, releasing his grip on the nipple. Milk sprayed in no less than seven distinct streams a good three feet away from us in all directions…including his tiny face!

That really enraged him, and I realized with amazement that a woman’s breast is not a “single fruit”…it is really a cluster of “fruits!” Indeed, studying an encyclopedia reassured me that I wasn’t abnormal; a woman’s nipple consists of “fifteen to twenty-five irregularly shaped lobes…Leading from each lobe is a duct, the lactiferous duct, which opens to the outside at the nipple” (The Encyclopedia Americana, 1995, 491).  So, here is another example of the correctness and perfection of the Word. A woman’s breast, although soft and smooth externally, is indeed like a cluster of fruit organically and internally! Also, Solomon—the human author—was a brilliant man and an avid student of natural history, and he could have perceived with appreciation the essential nature of his wife’s breasts as “clusters” of fruit.But, let’s not spend our whole time thinking technically! What is the meaning of this striking simile? As mentioned earlier, the focus should be on the sweetness and not the shape of the breasts. Her breasts attracted Solomon like the discovery of an oasis on a desert island would attract the attention of a shipwrecked sailor! What? You don’t think so? Then you haven’t been a young wife yet!  🙂…Well, perhaps that’s a little overstated, but without a doubt, the idea of Solomon’s wife as a statuesque palm laden with clusters of fruit is a most sensuous and appealing thought! Can you picture such a beautiful tree in your mind’s eye? What is the setting? To me, I envision the palm as a striking centerpiece on a tropical isle floating in an emerald sea. I remember visiting one such isle when my husband and I cruised through the French Polynesian Islands in the South Pacific. The sky was sapphire blue, and the crystal waters of the ocean were lapping at the sandy shoreline. Imagine with me. Can you see?  The palm is laden with luscious clusters of fruit that appear temptingly from time to time as the palm fronds ripple in the breeze. As my mind’s eye drifts down from the beautiful palm, I see the backdrop of a pristine beach in a hidden cove. There are no people in the picture, and the only sounds are the rhythmic throbbing of the surf and the stir of gentle breezes in the top of the palm…with perhaps the distant call of an island bird piercing the air from time to time. The scene I remember gives a haunting call to return to that little South Pacific paradise… “Bali Hai… come to me!” Romantic, hidden, wonderful, exotic…paradise just waiting to be found… delight just waiting to be enjoyed… adventure just waiting to begin.

*G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984), p. 161.

Rise Up, My Love (235): The Foreshadowing of Spiritual Union

Song of Solomon 7:6 “How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!” Verse six is the pivotal point in this one particular ode. It is as if the husband concludes his observations with a final seal of approving commendation that also transitions him from simply observing her beauties (verses 1-5)…to beginning to remember the pleasure of experiencing them (verse 6)…to declaring that he will enjoy them again (verses 7-8).

And here, perhaps it would be good to sit and rest a while, savoring this verse as the groom reflected on thoughts of his wife. Synonyms from other translations and commentators describing the husband’s feelings for his wife provide much room for meditation: “How beautiful; how entrancing; how charming; how pleasing.” “Good.” “Gracious.” “Delectable maiden, with your delights.” “Daughter of delights.” “My delight”… “soft, delicate, delightful, luxurious…”  Last June our family just picked cherries from a neighboring orchard…sweet black cherries, sun-sweetened at the tops of the trees. Some years we’re able to harvest big handfuls just by standing on the ground, but last year we had to climb way up high on very tall ladders in order to find many cherries. But…oh, how sweet! This verse is like those wonderful, hard-to-come–by cherries, so stop to taste each one as if it were a plump fruit. Indeed, biting into each adjective gives a spurt of spiritual sweetness like cherry juice!   Go back and read the list again slowly, meditating on each with the understanding that this is the way our Heavenly Lover feels about us as his bride! Truly? Does my Lord find my spiritual openness and submission to him as beautiful… entrancing… delectable?? Wow! It seems unimaginable that I can bring such pleasure to my Lord!

The other thing that may take some mental and spiritual energy is understanding and appropriating the distinctly physical nature of this verse. Although many verses in The Song of Solomon are hotly contested, this verse is unanimously agreed upon: It is a direct reference to the delights of lovemaking. Frankly, to many people, sex is an embarrassing, uncomfortable subject. Young children, especially, sometimes express concern that the whole idea seems “yucky.”  Can you remember when you first heard about sex? I’ll never forget the first time it was explained to me. I was twelve and had just recently become a Christian when my older sister sat down and told me the story behind “the birds and the bees.” My first thought was, “How awful! I’m sure my Sunday school teacher (who was also my spiritual mother and mentor) would never do that!” My husband remembers (at about the same age: prepubescent) thinking a girl’s body seemed “gross.”

These are probably not atypical responses. We are taught our whole lives to be modest and “keep your hands off!” All of a sudden we’re told that within marriage two people are to become totally uninhibited, that our bodies are nothing to be ashamed of or kept hidden, and that loving “hands on” is good, not bad. How does one make the transition?   As with so much of life, I think it is something that must be accepted and acted upon by faith. Our world is so tainted by pornography and sexually perverse practices that sex has become a commonplace topic with a terrible reputation. The wonders of a happy marital relationship are not put on public display; they are sacred and private, and parents don’t usually discuss sexual issues with young children lest they be defrauded (except as they need instruction for their own protection and safety).

However, the world seems to think of nothing else. Immoral sexual behavior is so much in the news and gossip that sex seems synonymous with sin. From the whispers and snickers and innuendoes that all children and young people are inevitably exposed to in our culture, “sinless sex” seems like an oxymoron, and the ideas of purity and privilege simply aren’t championed. Nevertheless, the teaching of the Bible is clear that “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4).

As an innocent young person, the idea of the purity of sex within marriage needs to be accepted by faith. However, just as usually happens in the experience of salvation…appropriate emotions generally follow. In fact, the usual pattern is that maintaining sexual purity before marriage becomes one of a young person’s greatest challenges. Once people mature and fall in love, by some “magic,” their attitudes towards the physical closeness that leads to intercourse radically change, and the desire to become one rather than two becomes an overwhelming passion if not severely restrained by “bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).   Even so, by some sacred mystery, the pure passion of Christ to make us one with him, even as he is one with the Father (John 17), is a spiritual truth that we accept by faith and mature into as we grow up in Christ…learning at first by shadows and types and visions through dark looking glasses…but which will someday become our sole passion when we behold him face to face. This is not a physical experience; it is a spiritual experience…something that far exceeds but is only mysteriously suggested by physical union.

Rise Up, My Love (224): Twin Fawns in Fields of Lilies

112-newborn-fawn  Song of Solomon 7:3 The praise given in this verse is a beautiful metaphor repeated from the husband’s earlier description of his bride, where he speaks of twin fawns feeding among a field of lilies. Can’t you just imagine such a wonderful scene from nature as if you were a hiker who had the privilege of being at just the right place at just the right moment? You are out walking in the woods on a sunny spring day. You’ve been following a gurgling stream lined with azure-blue forget-me-nots and wild purple irises, and suddenly you come out into a meadow where an open, breezy hill rises in front of you. The hill is covered—not with “a host, a crowd of golden daffodils”— but with the breathtaking splendor of huge, white-throated lilies, and high on the crest of the hill you see a fawn, up to its neck in flowers, with only its head peeking out as it grazes silently.

Double that image, and you have the sense of wonder the husband feels when he sees his beloved’s body. It is as if her breasts were hills covered by vast fields of snow white lilies dappled with two young deer—perfectly symmetrical twins, soft and rounded—quietly grazing among the flowers. And, for the wayfaring pilgrim who lingers to meditate thoughtfully on the picture, a message on gentleness appears.

twin-fawns-09-14-04What would be your first reaction to seeing a young fawn? Oh, how soft and lovely! Wouldn’t you love to be able to touch and pet it? to befriend it? to be gentle enough to win its trust? But, what would happen if you rushed up the side of the hill in an attempt to capture the fawn? It would disappear instantly! The analogy is obvious and instructive. Just as a man couldn’t win the trust of a fawn by rushing at it, so he will not be able to win the privilege of “petting” his wife without the long process of building and maintaining trust through love and gentleness…the way one might win the friendship of a fawn.

113-spring-twin-fawnsFor any husband who feels the frustration of not being given enough liberty with his wife’s body…try a new approach. Try thinking of your wife as if she were a fawn…easily startled…reactive to perceived aggression even if no harm is meant…slow to trust if trust has been broken…saddled with an inborn sense of vulnerability and insecurity…quick to flee rather than fight.

No matter how hardened women may appear on the outside, this delicate emotional nature is their almost universal heritage, and—except when they are driven by lust—women will react instinctively to advances not couched in genuine, gentle love! Does your wife brush off your advances? If so, ask yourself, “Do I truly love her…with the sacrificial love of Christ?” Are you thinking about what she needs more than what you need? Perhaps the most common cause of a woman’s rejection is just plain tiredness. Ask yourself, “Is my wife exhausted and in need of my help instead of my indulging my own desire to have my physical needs met?”

I never cease to marvel at how much more energy my husband has than I. He sleeps about an hour or two less most days. At that rate (if we live to 70), I’d have to live eight years longer than he lives just to be awake as many hours. (I wonder if that has anything to do with why women typically live longer!) Did you know the average man’s hemoglobin count is about fourteen…two points higher than the average woman’s? Unfortunately, a woman can’t just take iron pills to put more “iron” in her blood, because her blood won’t assimilate it beyond her genetically determined point.

Men, by the biological giftedness of God, tend to be stronger and have more energy. I have no trouble believing that women are indeed weaker than men, and I am glad for I Peter 3:7 which teaches, “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them (wives) according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life; that your prayers be not hindered.” If a man sees that his wife is exhausted, the loving thing to do is help her with her work, not add to her load!

Wives, on the other hand, need to understand that their husbands have tremendous physical needs that are the wife’s responsibility and privilege to meet. Yes, of course you’re tired at the end of the day. And yes, you probably aren’t as driven for sex as your husband is (if you’re more in the middle of the bell-shaped curve). Wives generally are more driven emotionally and experience the lion’s share of appetite for emotional intimacy, but husbands typically possess the lion’s share of physical drive. Just as women normally don’t need as much food as their husbands require, neither do they crave as much physical intimacy and release.

If I ate as much as my husband did, I’d be fat in no time, and yet there are plenty of times that I’ll fix him a snack and sip a cup of tea while he eats just to keep him company. As women, we need to be willing to be do the same thing for our husbands sexually. Even if we aren’t “hungry” for love, can’t we at least minister to our husbands’ needs by accepting their love?

My theory is that if “I ain’t dead yet” then I can be a conduit of God’s love by accepting my husband’s love. Sound right? This, I believe, is the sensitively worded meaning of I Corinthians 7:2-5. “…The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other…”

Rise Up, My Love (221): A Heap of Wheat and Sweet Communion

monet-haystacks-dorsay-museumSong of Solomon 7:2 “Thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.” We can’t leave this beautiful text yet, because there’s still a lot left to glean! During the fall harvest festival, piles of wheat decorated with flowers were often placed in parallel rows on the eastern threshing floors. At this time of harvest, the wheat was fully ripe and glowed with a golden sheen, and to these middle-easterners, a body the color of wheat was believed to be the most beautiful.* (Lloyd Carr. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 554).sheaf-of-wheat-holland-miIt is easy to imagine Solomon thinking back to the beauty of an abundant harvest festival…noticing in his wife’s belly the same golden sheen and soft roundness that reminded him of “a heap of wheat set about by lilies.” Lilies—trumpets fragranced with an almost intoxicating scent— but the snow-white symbol of purity. “Set about with lilies” can mean “to be decorated with,” but it can also mean “to be guarded by.” white-lily-chateau-de-chenonceau-05-15-16Her belly, the overlay of her womb, was enhanced by an almost irresistible aroma but also guarded by her purity. The secret passageway to her womb was “set about with lilies”— wondrous, but kept only for him. And here, we are brought once again to the tabernacle door where we sense the glow of the Shekinah glory within. bread-and-wine-juiceHer navel like wine…her belly like wheat…wine and bread…the two staples of a feast…the two elements of communion. How often in marriage I have sensed the holiness of the marital sex and recognized it as the physical counterpart to spiritual communion. Truly the marriage bed is holy (Hebrews 13:4), and marriage is intended as the physical testimony in this world to the spiritual realities that exist in the marriage between Christ and his bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:21-32).  Is anything blocking your fellowship, or are you celebrating communion with joy these days?