I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure. I looked for him but did not find him. I called him but he did not answer. (Song of Solomon 5:6, N.I.V.)
A honeymoon night that is filled with lustful passion and sexual relations? That’s expected. But a marriage that maintains that level of passion and sex? That’s not expected. So, would Solomon and his wife, The Shulamite, be able to keep the fires of romance burning red hot? Let’s find out.
When last we left the couple, they had just gotten married and consummated their marriage. The wedding feast was in full swing, and the sexual relationship between the newlyweds was idyllic. It is at this point, however, that Solomon (the writer of The Song of Solomon) takes the story in a different direction.
The Shulamite goes to bed one night but Solomon isn’t with her. That night she has a dream in which she hears him knocking at her door, asking her to open for him (5:2). She wants to be with him, but she hesitates to go to the door because she has already undressed for the evening (5:3-4). It isn’t long, though, before her desire to be with him compels her to rise from her bed and open the door (5:5).
As the dream continues, she opens the door only to find that Solomon has already left (5:6). After calling to him and receiving no answer, she ventures out into the city in an effort to find him. Jerusalem’s nightwatchmen, not realizing who she is, mistake her for a spy or an intruder and strike her (5:7). Realizing that she can’t find Solomon on her own, she then asks the young women of Jerusalem to find him and tell him that she is lovesick for him (5:8). Keep in mind now that this is all still a dream.
Her request of the young women prompts a dialogue between her and them. They ask her, basically, “What makes your beloved so special that we should go looking for him?” (5:9). Her answer comes by way of a lengthy description of his physical attributes. He is white and ruddy and has wavy black hair (5:10-11). He has dove’s eyes, attractive cheeks, and lips that drip with liquid myrrh (5:12-13). His hands are rods of gold, his body is carved ivory, his legs are pillars of marble, his mouth his sweet, and he is altogether lovely (5:14-16). But the relationship she has with him isn’t just based upon sex or lust. No, he is also her friend (5:16).
Impressed by her answer, the young women ask, “Where has your beloved gone that we may help you find him?” (6:1). In response, The Shulamite tells them that he has gone to tend his garden and feed his flock (6:2-3). This means that he is away on business. Her answer indicates that Solomon has left her in the royal palace in Jerusalem while he has taken a trip to tend to some of his gardens and flocks (Ecclesiastes 2:4-7). It’s probable that he has gone to the hill country of Shunem, the area where he and The Shulamite first met and fell in love.
While this account of The Shulamite’s difficult night, complete with a troubling dream, is similar to a night and a dream she experienced before they were married (3:1-5), it isn’t hard to understand that this section of The Song of Solomon is the book’s depiction of how life can come between a husband and a wife and keep them apart. In the case of Solomon and The Shulamite, the separation was physical, but any marriage counselor will attest that the separation can also be emotional. The potential hindrances to a married couple’s intimacy and sex life are many but one thing is for sure: the honeymoon period in which they can focus solely upon each other is over far too quickly!
Apparently, Solomon somehow receives word about his wife’s nightmare and acts quickly to reassure her that he still finds her wildly attractive. He does this by sending her a fresh round of praise for her beauty (6:4-10). He praises her eyes (6:5), hair (6:5), teeth (6:6), and temples (6:7) and calls her his “dove” (6:9) and “perfect one” (6:9). Clearly, he wants her to know that him being separated from her hasn’t diminished his attraction to her. If anything, it has made him desire her all the more. And what does The Shulamite do when she receives Solomon’s message? She promptly leaves Jerusalem and makes her way — no doubt traveling by royal escort — to where Solomon is (6:11-12). Solomon responds to the news of her coming by encouraging her to get there so that he and his friends can look upon her beauty (6:13).
Once The Shulamite arrives and she and Solomon are reunited, he takes his praise of her looks to an even higher level. Reading his praise through the lens of The New King James Version translation, we find that:
- Her feet are beautiful in sandals (7:1).
- The curves of her thighs are like jewels, the work of a skilled craftsman (7:1).
- Her navel is a rounded goblet (7:2).
- Her waist is like a heap of wheat (7:2).
- Her breasts are like two fawns, the twin offspring of a gazelle (7:3).
- Her neck is like an ivory tower (7:4).
- Her eyes are like pools (7:4).
- Her nose is like a tower (7:4).
- Her head crowns her (7:5).
- The tresses of her hair hold him captive (7:5).
- Her stature is like that of a palm tree, the branches of which he wants to climb (7:7-8).
- Her breasts are like clusters of fruit that he wants to grab (7:8).
- Her breath is as sweet as apples (7:8).
- The roof of her mouth is like the best wine (7:9).
Most any wife would be sexually aroused by such praise, and The Shulamite is no different. She invites Solomon to go with her out to the field and the vineyards (7:11-12). Once they find the best location, she will give her love to him (7:12). It will all be reminiscent of the romantic times they had shared outdoors before they were married (1:7-10; 16-17).
Another reason The Shulamite wants to take Solomon out to the field and the vineyards is because she is frustrated that she can’t shower him with physical affection in public. In those days, public displays of affection between family members were the only such displays deemed socially acceptable. This explains why she says to him, “Oh, that you were my brother…If I should find you outside, I would kiss you…” (8:1, N.K.J.V.).
Next, she talks about his left hand being under her head while his right hand embraces her (8:3). Previously when she mentioned him holding her this way they weren’t married (2:6), which explains why she followed it up by warning the young women of Jerusalem not to stir up or awaken love until the appropriate time (2:7, N.L.T.). Here again she offers that same warning (8:4) even though she and Solomon are now married and can sinlessly engage in sex.
Upon the return of Solomon and The Shulamite from their romantic day in the outdoors, the next voice we hear is the voice of a relative of The Shulamite. The relative asks, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, Leaning upon her beloved?” (8:5, N.K.J.V..). The Hebrew word translated as “wilderness” in the N.K.J.V. and many other translations is midbar, and it can refer to a pasture or an open field. It’s the same Hebrew word that is used in verse 6 of chapter 3 in reference to where Solomon and his wedding entourage came from to retrieve The Shulamite for the wedding between her and Solomon. Therefore, the picture here is one of The Shulamite being hugged up to Solomon as they approach the house together following their day of alone time together. The relative then talks about being present when The Shulamite had been born (8:5), the implication being that the girl who had once been a baby has now obviously grown into a mature woman.
In the closing passages of The Song of Solomon, The Shulamite begs Solomon to set her as a seal upon his heart and continue to love her with a love that cannot be quenched or drowned (8:6-7). The Shulamite’s brothers then chime in with a word about how they will treat another sister of theirs, a younger one, when she comes of age. If she is a wall who resists the sexual advances of men before marriage, they will bless her, but if she is promiscuous they will keep close tabs on her at home (8:9). The Shulamite, in looking back upon her own youth, affirms that she herself was such a wall and that her chastity was rewarded in her adulthood by how Solomon now looks upon her (8:10). She recalls the time when she and he first met. Apparently, it was at his vineyard at a site called Baal Hamon, a vineyard which he leased to workers with the plan being that they would produce enough wine to make a profit of 1,000 silver coins per year for him, 200 of which he would pay them in return as wages (8:11-12). Finally, the book closes with Solomon requesting to hear The Shulamite’s voice (8:13) and her requesting that he come to her with the speed of a gazelle or a stag (8:14). After being temporarily separated for a time due to the business of life, the two have now come back together and are as eager to be with each other as ever.
Isn’t that a perfect way to end such a love song? After all that praising of his wife’s looks, Solomon has now reached a level where he simply longs to hear her voice. And that’s a very important level to reach in marriage because, let’s face it, looks fade over the years. As for her, the song concludes with her encouraging him to make haste to get to her. Is this a reference to her desire to have sex with him? It could be, but it might just mean that she merely wants him by her side whatever she is doing. After all, the two were friends as well as lovers (5:16).
So, it’s here that we will leave Solomon and The Shulamite. Like all good fairy-tale romances, their relationship ends with a “happily ever after.” While it’s highly doubtful that in reality the couple’s relationship remained on such a lofty plane, we should let The Song of Solomon stand as written. After all, with the scores of accounts of bad marriages out there, it’s good to find one that depicts God’s ideal for marriage. Can you imagine what our world would be like if all our marriages were like the one described in The Song of Solomon? Divorce, adultery, and spousal addiction to pornography would be virtually non existent. Marriage counselors would be put out of business. And our societies would revert back to a time when marriage was the foundation upon which they stood. Will we ever reach such a state? I’m afraid the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean that all of us married folks should ever stop striving for it. Even if we never attain it, our marriages will surely be better for the effort.