By Dr. Jim Hamilton
Dr. Hamilton serves as Professor of Biblical Theology at SBTS and as Preaching Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. He’s also the author of the new book, Song of Songs: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation. Connect with Dr. Hamilton online at jimhamilton.info.
The smut is everywhere. On billboards, on TV screens, and eye-level in the checkout line at the grocery store, to say nothing of what is one click away on the device in your pocket or the screen on your desk. Beyond the superficial temptation of all the eye-catchers, the smut comes with a story. These sirens aren’t just singing an isolated hypnotizing song, they are selling a vision of the good life, appealing to your ideas about what pleasure is, about how you can have it now, and trying to convince you there won’t be a reckoning later. As though no one has ever foundered on the rocks trying to get to that shore.
These advertisements—from the billboards to the commercials to the mannequins—are all presenting themselves as icons that symbolize a wider story. They whisper in your ear: this is who you can be. This is how you can live. This is what you can look like. This is who you can have. And this life will satisfy all your longings.
But will it?
And if we’re convinced that there are longings deeper than the ones they’re stroking, how do we counter the intrusive message that saturates our surroundings? How do we convince other people that what they’re seeing is the harlot Babylon posing with that girl next door look? Can we woo them with something better, something that will entice them away from the lust that looses disaster?
Can I suggest to you that this is exactly why the Song of Songs is in the Bible?
What if there was something so beautiful it could break the spell of all that eye-candy? What if there was something so satisfying it would empower us to hear the siren song for what it is—an invitation to ruin and misery with the smoke of your destruction going up forever and ever?
Would God be so good to us that he would give us a book that could describe the lost intimacy of Eden? Not only describing it: holding it out as a possibility, offering it to us, inviting us to partake, inspiring us to imitate.
The Song of Songs, Solomon’s most sublime Song, is no more an isolated statement than those Viagra commercials are. The Song of Songs has to be read in the context of the story of the whole Bible.
That story starts with a couple in a garden, naked and without shame, in perfect harmony and bliss. Sin ruins their safety and shatters their intimacy, and they hide themselves from God and one another. God searches them out, and he promises a redeemer who will defeat the one who tempted them to sin. That redeemer’s line of descent is carefully traced, and eventually God promises that a descendant of David will rise up to redeem. When the prophets speak of what life will be like when he comes, it sounds like things will be better than they were in Eden before sin.
When God put that couple in the Garden in the beginning, he gave them to each other in marriage. Then when God made a covenant with the nation of Israel, he spoke of the relationship as a though it were a marriage. The unfaithfulness of Israel to the Lord was illustrated in the book of Hosea. The Lord commanded Hosea to marry a prostitute, and faithful Hosea stood for the Lord himself, while his wife’s promiscuity and unfaithfulness stood for Israel’s spiritual adultery.
The book of Hosea communicates the failure of the covenant between the Lord and Israel, leading to the “divorce” of the exile of the people from the land. There are plenty of indications in Hosea, however, that the Lord intends to make a new marital covenant with his people, after he has disciplined them for their sin (see esp. Hos 2:16–23).
If the book of Hosea presents a failed marriage, the Song of Songs presents a poetic success. The Song of Solomon depicts an idealized Solomon, scion of David, king in Jerusalem, who overcomes every barrier to intimacy between himself and his bride. This picture provides the wider backdrop that explains the way that carpenter’s kid from Nazareth came hailed as “the bridegroom.”
Once that Galilean had shown himself to be the long awaited Redeemer, the apostle Paul explained in Ephesians 5 that marriage exists so that the world will understand the relationship between him and his people: the new covenant between Christ and his Bride, the church. Then in Revelation 19 we read that the great celebration of his conquering kingdom is going to be a marriage feast.
The good life isn’t the lie of a non-stop, no-consequence orgy with the whore of Babylon. The good life is a permanent, exclusive, comprehensive union of one man and one woman in procreative marriage. In such marriages, husband and wife follow in the footsteps of the one who has made it so that the gates to the Garden of Eden stand open to those who keep his word.
Whatever those billboards say, your life is not about your looks and your identity and your pleasure. Your life is about God, in whose image you were made, and every marriage —including yours—is about Jesus and the church.
The Song of Songs is one movement in the Bible’s grand symphony. Heard in the context of the whole orchestral production, its movements, harmonies, and developments will ravish and purify, enrich and sanctify, deepen and delight. We need to listen closely. You need to preach it. So the Bride will be pure.