Category Archives: Sex and Gender Issues

Rise Up, My Love (255): Holy Fire

Song of Solomon 8:1 “O that thou wert as my brother…” Although Solomon has used the term of intimate endearment, “my sister my spouse” four times in the Song, this is the first and only time that his wife uses the word “brother,” and then…she doesn’t really call him brother, she simply expresses the desire to be as affectionate with him in public as one can be with a true biological brother.

The  complete phrase (which I’m going to ask you to look up lest it sound inappropriate for anyone who reads on Face Book) implies a full, rather than only a half brother, since multiple wives but not multiple husbands sometimes occurred during that period. This is a significant differentiation since we know from the lives of Abraham and Sarah, Amnon and Tamar, etc. that half brothers and sisters could and sometimes did marry in ancient times, and therefore—apparently—public affection was socially uncensured only between true biological offspring of the same couple.

I was surprised to find that there is precious little commentary from anyone on this verse. Is it because we—as products of modern western culture—find it hard to understand what she’s feeling? From the remainder of the section (verses 1-4), it seems clear that her desire is not simply to be able to give him a sisterly greeting in public places, it is the desire to be able to draw him away from the public concourses into the privacy of home and initiate intimate communion without incurring public ridicule.

A biological sister could greet her brother affectionately in the market place and take him home to their mother’s house without arousing any suspicion or derision because it would be assumed that she had come on a legitimate business errand. But, this bride was on a romantic errand instead!

Why did she experience such a passion for intimacy during the day, and was the fear of being despised good or bad? As a wife, I can think of times when I’ve daydreamed about “kidnapping” my husband to carry him off for a romantic interlude. There are two common motivations, one selfish and one unselfish.

On the selfish side, such fantasies are often the result of feeling overwhelmed by present responsibilities or burdened by present griefs and trials. There is something almost irresistibly appealing about the thought of escaping to “somewhere” away from the fray with “someone” who loves you and will make you forget your worries. Haven’t you felt that sometimes too?

Although there are proper places and times for coming apart for refreshment (as modeled by our Lord Jesus, who would go apart with his Father and pray), I suspect the Lord doesn’t intend them nearly as often as we imagine! On the unselfish side, the ardent desire to be in communion with the one who is the object of our affection is ever a good thing, and although the pressures and responsibilities of the day often keep us apart for long periods of time, the eagerness of our hearts for reunion is simply an indication of the depths of our love.

Since the text gives no indication that outside pressures are distressing the bride, it seems reasonable to assume that her passion for union is driven simply by the intensity of her love. I wonder, do we share a similar unselfish passion for communion with our Savior…just to be with him not because we need something but because we want him? What about in our marriages? Do we long to be with our mates—not to get something from him or her such as help, reassurance, or sexual release, but “just because”…just because we love being together?

Dear God, please give us a passion for communion with our mate and with our Savior! Please grant us a passion for Christ like the passion we feel for physical union! Please develop in us a hunger and thirst for Christ that’s even greater than our drive for food and water! May we burn brightly with your holy fire.   PS—It didn’t occur to me 15+ years ago when I first studied this verse, but I think a very high percentage of adulterous relationships develop when people feel overwhelmed by life and work stresses but fail to go to God and their mate for help. As mates, we really need to be available to listen and soothe one another. If we’re always busy complaining and adding to our mate’s stress level, then pretty soon our mate will be tempted to go somewhere where they can feel less pressured, not more. However, that’s absolutely WRONG! If spending time with your mate makes you feel more stressed, tell your mate! Work together to find times when you can declare a “no stress zone,” and have times when you concentrate on bonding and having fun together instead of always grinding through issues and problems. The problems ye have with you always!

Rise Up, My Love (254): What Are Some New and Old Fruits We Can Give?

Song of Solomon 7:13 “…and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.” The term translated “pleasant fruits” in the KJV is the Hebrew word meged which means “costly” or “precious,” and the idea of fruit is interpolated, since it is not in the original text. (So, do you suppose it was really sushi? Just kidding!) Sapan is the Hebrew term translated “laid up” and means “to hide or to conceal.”*

Since the phrase “pleasant fruits” used in 4:16 is most often thought to be alluding metaphorically to marital bliss, most commentators interpret these costly delicacies—so carefully hidden away by the bride for her husband—to be the offerings of her own personal affections. As a wife, I can easily imagine that a husband would prize the offerings of love more highly than gifts of fresh and dried fruits, but—whether taken figuratively or literally—the invitation is a triple delight!  🙂

First, Solomon’s wife offers all types of that which is pleasantly appealing. Second, she offers both old and new delights. And third, she offers fruits which she has lovingly stored away just for him. “All manner of pleasant fruits…” All—every—not just some or a few favorite, but some of each of those that delight. Nothing held back; nothing excused; nothing missing. Oh, that our hearts might produce and store up for our beloved all the fruits that will delight him!  “New and old…” Here is a woman who knows what her husband loves but who continues to be freshly creative in finding new ways of pleasing him. Based on her experience of what he has loved in the past, she prepares for him a wealth of his “old favorites,” but that isn’t enough to satisfy her! She has experimented with new fruits that she believes will delight him also. Isn’t that the true nature of love? It is ever constant, yet constantly expanding…ever soothing by its familiarity, yet ever fresh and refreshing.

And spiritually, what could the new and old fruits be? Well, it has been said that “love is the golden thread that binds all together,” so surely it is a new fruit as well as an old fruit. Love is the first fruit, and the last fruit. It is the first work, and without it, any other work becomes “tinkling brass” without meaning or “a sounding gong” without melody. The bride has certainly demonstrated love in her plans and preparations.

What else? New fruits…old fruits. If I were thinking literally about my household, I would say that new fruits are mangoes and kiwis and old fruits are dates and raisins. Do you think that’s what the Bible is talking about? Let’s think beyond the literal story to its possible allegorical, spiritual meaning. New fruits…new efforts, new converts brought to Christ, new zeal and deepening commitment, fresh understanding about who he is and what his Word means, new enthusiasm to serve him, new appreciation for all his blessings and protections, new awareness of how much his presence means to us, a new sense of reverence for the majesty of his person, which rises in us like a great tidal wave sweeping over our souls.

Ah, how he longs for us to go on in our faith, learning new things about him and recognizing the new mercies that he lavishes on us morning by morning! How he wants us to conquer new territory, praying with Jabez: “Oh that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, and that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain” (1 Chronicles 6:10, NIV). New surrender, new courage, new hope, new strength, new confidence, new endurance. How our Lord longs for us to prepare such gifts for him!

And, what about old fruits? What might they be? Old honors and successes…not clinging to them in pride, but instead recognizing that it is not we ourselves but rather Jesus who does all things well and works through us to perform his good pleasure… looking ever forward to Christ alone as the goal and prize for which we strive. Old forgiveness…taking the sins that he’s forgiven and casting them behind our backs forever, refusing to ever speak or even think of them again…not only the sins that we’ve committed but the sins that others have committed against us.   Old saints, ripening for heaven, and old parents (whether saved or unsaved) who brought us up…do we truly give them the place of reverential honor that they deserve? Or, do we tend to blame them for our failures and despise their ever-increasing frailty and need for help? Wow. I believe God wants us to honor our earthly fathers and mothers as a reflection of the honor we feel for our heavenly Father. That’s a big one, but that is certainly an “old fruit” that we could store up to please our Lord!  Not only is it the cup of cold water given to a child in his name that pleases our Lord, it is the cup of kindness poured out to the elderly…that extra sacrificial time we take to bring them into our homes, to read to them, to talk to them, to pray with them, to bring them into our confidence. I had two very aged and needy parents when I wrote this (years ago now), and there was nothing that meant more to my father than just having me sit at his bedside, hold his hand, and spend some time with him. If we try to minister to our parents with the same tender love with which we’d attend Christ…that is a gift for him!

Indeed, in all of life, may the good that is produced in and through us be “laid up” all for Jesus, and for him alone.

“Thou God and I, none other:
Oh far from men to be!
Nay, midst the crowd and tumult,
Still Lord alone with Thee.
Still folded close upon Thy breast,
In field and mart and street.
Untroubled in that perfect rest,
That isolation sweet.”
(—L.M. McPhee, in The Romance of the Ages)

* Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 111.

Rise Up, My Love (253): Ever Wondered What Mandrakes Are?

Song of Solomon 7:13 “The mandrakes give a smell.” What in the world are mandrakes? They are only mentioned six times in Scripture: once in this verse and five times in Genesis 30:14-16, where Rachel bargains with her sister Leah, exchanging the privilege of sleeping with their husband Jacob for the mandrakes that Leah’s son Reuben found in the field. Why all the fuss about mandrakes, and what are they?

For a starter, it’s inconceivable to me that a woman would exchange a night of physical intimacy with her husband for anything! I believe God intended marital expression to be sacred and beyond price, as intimated in chapter 8: “If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.” How would you feel if your spouse “hired” you out for a bunch of whatevers?

That preposterous and degrading deal aside (an insight into the petty selfishness of our human nature, since we’ve all fallen prey to the temptation to exchange our souls for some trite pleasure from time to time…), let’s go back to the use of the term “mandrake” in Solomon’s song. The word translated “mandrake” is the Hebrew duda’im. It is consistently translated as “love apple” in the The Interlinear Bible and as something which induces love in Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew and English Lexicon (1).

In the final analysis, no one knows for sure what these “love apples” were, but the top two choices for “preferred guess” are either what we commonly call “may apples” today, or the Mandragora. May apples are common throughout temperate regions. In fact, we have colonies of them in our woods. In the spring each plant sprouts into a leafy one-foot umbrella with a single white blossom sheltered underneath, which becomes a yellowish, edible fruit about the size of a nutmeg in late May or June. The flowers have a very mild but pleasing scent, although the children and I have never found it perceptible from the path…only by studied trial. Also, may apples are edible but not especially flavorful, certainly nothing exotic or gourmet like the morel mushrooms that also sprout up in our woods about that time! It’s inconceivable to me that Rachel would have found anything in May apples compellingly attractive enough to tempt her to sell her husband’s affection!

On the other hand, the genus Mandragora has six species still common to the Mediterranean region which were used in antiquity as addictive aphrodisiacs. The Mandragora is a poisonous, perennial member of the potato family (Solanceae) (2).  It has tuberous roots that look almost like clusters of large grapes, and according to the World Book Encyclopedia(3) , these roots were often used as “narcotics, anesthetics, and in so-called love potions.” It is said that these mandrakes had a “very distinct and agreeable odor” and that “among the Arabs it was called both ‘the servant of love’ and the ruffah eshaitain or ‘Satan’s apples’ (4).”

It is conceivable to me that such a potent and powerfully addictive plant could arouse the passionate demands demonstrated in Rachel. In the Song of Solomon, there is no hint of evil or inordinate passion. The verse only mentions, “The mandrakes give a smell,” and perhaps the proper interpretive amplification of this comment might be, “It is the time for sharing love. Can’t you tell? Even the air is filled with the scent of love!” This is a good thing, and love should be everywhere about us. That is the bright and positive side of a good relationship.

On the dark side, perhaps this verse should cause us to reflect for a minute on our desires. Is there anything in our life that drives us…that controls our behavior…or is threatening to do so? Is there anything so powerful in our lives that we would choose to pursue it over pursuing time with our Lord and our spouse? Any person, any pass time, any passion? I find myself from time to time feeling the heavy hand of temptation luring me toward some lust. It can be something as simple but almost universal as the temptation to overeat. It can be the subtle pleasure of spending money on myself for something I want but don’t need. It can be the idle enjoyment of a wasted hour when there was much work to be done. It can be the deadly draw toward fascination with any man who is not my husband. The world, my flesh, and the devil conspire to surround me with temptations and lusts that are as powerfully addictive and attractive as the ancient mandrakes.

I wonder, are we being tempted by any mandrakes in our lives today? Don’t be driven to trade your spouse’s affection for a handful of “mandrakes,” whatever they are. What attractive scent is arousing passion in you? Food? Money? Leisure? Sex? Don’t trade your soul or your spouse’s love for a pot of poisonous (but narcotic) pottage! If there is good, find it, and let it arouse right desires. Eating is good; just don’t overeat. Money is good; just don’t overindulge. Leisure is good; just use it to restore rather than debilitate. Sex is good; just make sure that it’s with your mate! When the scent of mandrakes in your life is arousing you, learn to say, “Rise up, my love, and come away with me! Let me give you my love, and all the good things I’ve prepared for you!” Live for your Lord, and if you’re married, live joyfully with your spouse. (1) Brown, Francis, D.D., D. Litt. The Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1997, 188 (cf. pg. 188,“love-producing…as exciting sexual desire”).
(2) The Encyclopedia Americana.  Danbury, Connecticut: Grolier Inc., 1995, 227.
(3) The World Book Encyclopedia. Chicago: World Book—Childcraft International, Inc., 1980, 103.
(4) Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago:  Moody, 1986), 111.
(Photos from Wikipedia)

Rise Up, My Love (252): Add Some Dazzle to Your Calendar

Song of Solomon 7:12, “There will I give thee my loves.” Let’s take a few minutes to think about one of the best things a wife can do for her husband in a very practical way to show her love for him. It’s the concept of planning “mini honeymoons,” and it’s been one of the most transforming discoveries of my marriage…drawn from the inspiring example of Solomon’s wife. So, what’s a mini honeymoon, and how does it work?

A mini honeymoon is a time set apart for the wife to whisk her husband away from his normal responsibilities so she can focus on loving him. It can be as short as a twenty-four hour period or as long as a long weekend, depending on what will maximize your husband’s pleasure without causing him undo stress over time or financial concerns. The first and most important aspect of the mini honeymoon is the wife’s attitude. She needs to be committed to doing this not for her own pleasure, but for her husband’s, as her gift to him, thinking of what will best meet his needs and delight his heart.

It is a time apart for the husband to “taste and see” that his wife is good…for them to reconnect and bond…for the husband to enjoy his wife—body, soul, and spirit—and to receive love from her. “There will I give thee my loves.” So, there’s nothing in it for the wives? Oh, yes, there certainly is, although I hope that’s not our motive or focus. As wives, we will be richly rewarded over time by the revitalization of our marriage. I have found (and believe it will also be true for you) a new energy and loyalty in my spouse when I consciously take steps to “give him her [my] loves.”   And, the wife can usually begin by picking the special place for the honeymoon retreat, because the good news is that (at least this is true in my marriage, so hopefully it will be true in yours as well) a husband will go happily most anywhere to spend the night with the woman he loves. (You may have to surprise him or talk him into it the first time, but he’ll probably be asking, “When can we do this again??” before you return if it turns out well, because everyone loves being loved!)

So, to start with, pick any lovely place (relatively close to home) where the scenery is refreshing and the dinner will be romantic…some place that will make you both feel relaxed and open…some place where there’s nothing to make your husband think about other people or work-related pressures, and some place that makes you breathe in deeply and sigh with delight. Have you got such a place in mind? If so, start saving up to pay for it. If not, start asking around for suggestions.

My husband doesn’t usually like us to have to drive more than an hour or two; yours may not care, but try to be sensitive to the amount of time transportation will take. You need to be far enough away from home so that you feel “away,” but close enough so that the travel doesn’t rob you of too much time or make the driver tense. Once you’ve picked your place, find a free time in your husband’s schedule. I have often had to consult with a boss or secretary on this one, but I’ve been amazed at how willing people usually are to help out if given enough lead time.

For surprise getaways, I’ve found coworkers more than happy to help, even taking delight in making the schedule look especially difficult for the time when your dear husband is really going to be “sprung” from duty. (That is never my idea…but often theirs!) Once you have the place and the time, start preparing for the occasion. Notice how Solomon’s wife invited him to be a “fruit inspector.”

This will require a big commitment from you, because your husband will be checking out your fruitfulness! Are you bearing the fruits of love in your life? Are your thoughts in order concerning your husband? If he should “taste and see” the thoughts in your mind, will they be like the refreshing bursts of sweetness found in a pomegranate? How about the discipline of getting back into physical shape (preaching to myself on this one particularly!)? If you want him to be crazy about you the way he was when you were first married…how about trying to look something like you did back then? (I didn’t say we can really look like we did twenty or forty years ago…but we can at least try to look pretty by eating wisely, exercising properly, and dressing neatly.)

Is this too scary? Does it sound too hard? Impossible? If money is the biggest issue, find a friend who will watch your kids for a night and just creatively dress up your house. You could make funny little signs with crayons on sheets of white paper. That doesn’t cost much. Remember, it’s not about money; it’s about loving your mate! Or, perhaps you are saying to yourself, “I haven’t got a chance! I’ve gotten fat, and I feel ugly. All my thoughts are unhappy thoughts and I don’t even feel like I love my husband. In fact, why should I want to do anything for him? He’s a jerk.”

Well, if you’re reading this devotional commentary, you must have—at the very least—either some deep love for the Lord or your husband. If love for your husband is lacking, always remember that the burning core of our lives and motivation is our passion for the Lord. Start by doing what you do for the Lord’s sake. He instructs us to love others with a pure and fervent heart (I Peter 1:22)…and that includes loving our husband! This is a way of loving our husband, even if he seems totally unlovable.

Take the burden on your own shoulders of learning how to love. Do everything as if he were the most wonderful man in the world…as if he were Christ. What would you do for Jesus? Love your husband in that way. Prepare for your honeymoon with that much prayerful ingenuity. Take a few props…some pleasant-smelling lotion for a good massage, some bubbles for the bath tub, an appealing new nightgown (okay, so maybe new lounge pants and tee shirt if you’re a Millennial)…whatever you think would make him feel especially loved and desired.

Make a very conscious attempt to “dazzle” and “fascinate” your mate! (By the way, the husband can do all these same things for his wife; remember, at the beginning of the Song, it was the husband doing all the wooing. Wives will forever love being wooed!) Well, maybe you’re an old hand at mini vacations, but if not, I hope I’ve offered enough suggestions to get your mind turning. Let your own creativity and what you know of your husband’s tastes spark your imagination as you prayerfully plan a mini-honeymoon to live out this verse: “There will I give thee my loves.”

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.

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 (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?