Love Stronger Than Death

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 8.6-7
6 Place me like a seal over your heart, 
like a seal on your arm; 
for love is as strong as death, 
its jealousy unyielding as the grave. 
It burns like blazing fire, 
like a mighty flame. 
7 Many waters cannot quench love; 
rivers cannot sweep it away. 
If one were to give 
all the wealth of one’s house for love, 
it would be utterly scorned. 

Hosea 1.2
2 When the Lord began to speak through Hosea, the Lord said to him, “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her, for like an adulterous wife this land is guilty of unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

Reflection: Love Stronger Than Death
By John Tillman

Today, we conclude Song of Songs and move, over the weekend, into Hosea. What a contrast!

From the idyllic, passionate love poetry in Song of Songs, we turn to the tear-stained legal documents and pleadings of a marriage in crisis. It’s like turning from a Hallmark love story to a gritty, true-crime documentary. 

The beloved’s poem about the strength of love is one of the most well-known passages of the Bible. It is often quoted as a positive. “Many waters cannot quench love” is on the mausoleum dedicated to Ida And Isidor Straus, who chose to die together on the Titanic as it sank, rather than be separated. Ida is reported to have quoted Ruth, “Where you go, I will go,” as she refused to get on a lifeboat without her husband. (Ruth 1.16)

However, there is also a warning within this passage. Love strong as death, like a blazing fire, unable to be quenched, unable to be bought off, or denied…this is a confession. Human love can be twisted, becoming sinful jealousy that destroys what it can no longer possess or takes with force what will not yield to it. This leads to rape, domestic violence, abuse, and often murder. This unyielding love can lead to wickedness in humans, but in God it is the motivation for the gospel. The holy jealousy of God leads not to destruction but to redemption and salvation.

Hosea is God’s stand-in depicting this. His anger and hurt are real and justifiable. His love burns. His jealousy rises. Hosea’s human love is as strong as death and by Jewish law, he could have demanded death for Gomer.

God chose, rather than let us sink in the titanic disaster of our sin, to sink himself. His love is so great, that he did not die with us, sinking into oblivion. Rather, he died instead of us and when he sank into the grave, it was only to lift us up after him.

God’s love is stronger than death. His love breaks the unyielding hold of the grave. His love burns through any barrier that would come between us. His love quenches the fires of sin that would burn us. His love gave all the wealth of his house, becoming poor that we can become rich. (2 Corinthians 8.9

Who could scorn this kind of love?

Music: “Love As Strong As Death” – Canticle of Plains by Kevin Max / Rich Mullins

Video: Overview of Hosea by The Bible Project

Divine Hours Prayer: The Request for Presence
Be pleased, O God, to deliver me; O Lord, make haste to help me. — Psalm 70.1

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 8Listen – 2:23)
Psalm 123-125(Listen -1:52)

This Weekend’s Readings
Hosea 1Listen – 2:08)Psalm 126-128(Listen -1:158)
Hosea 2Listen – 3:48)Psalm 129-131(Listen -2:03)

Read more about The Naked Emotion of God
Hosea. This shows us a God unashamed of shame, nakedly confessing his love for the unlovable.

Read more about He Stoops to Raise
He strips himself.
He lays aside
His Heaven
His throne
His clothes
His life

Proper Desire

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 7.10-12
10 I belong to my beloved,
    and his desire is for me.
11 Come, my beloved, let us go to the countryside,
    let us spend the night in the villages.
12 Let us go early to the vineyards
    to see if the vines have budded,
if their blossoms have opened,
    and if the pomegranates are in bloom—
    there I will give you my love.

Reflection: Proper Desire
By Erin Newton

If we overheard this kind of mushy, lovey-dovey, colorful language, many of us would turn red. In this chapter, we are privy to the most intimate description of the woman. It is incredibly flattering; he loves everything about her.

In response, she suggests that they run off to a romantic getaway. Interjected into this proposal, she reaffirms their mutual commitment. 

Just like the previous chapter, she is for her lover. In this case, the second half of the line declares that her lover’s desire is for her. Is this sexual impulse, authoritarian rule, or something more?

Debate has occurred over the term “desire.” It is used only three times in the Old Testament. After the fall in Genesis 3, the woman is said to desire her husband. Sin desires to consume Cain due to jealousy. And finally, the lover desires the woman. The rarity of the word draws attention to its use.

In Genesis 3, the mutual relationship between the man and woman in Eden was suddenly disrupted. This fall from paradise produces “one of the most grievous ills of our world: the unequal power relation between woman and man that has been a feature of nearly every society from biblical times to the present” (Ellen Davis). Her desire after the Fall still entailed her longing for the man as it was in Eden but the new order was a distortion of their relationship.

When viewed in light of creation and the fall, it is desire which seeks to return people to proper communion. Aimee Byrd, in The Sexual Reformation, sees desire as the longing to restore the pre-Fall relationship between men and women.

In the Song of Songs, restoration between the man and woman is exemplified in the lovers’ relationship. She is fully committed to him. He longs for her in a way that echoes the woman’s desire in Genesis 3. Let us redirect our desire to restore unity that was lost in Genesis. 

In this picturesque view of intimacy, it is important to realize that despite the ideal nature of their relationship, the lovers can never satisfy their deepest longings. Aimee Byrd aptly warns, “Unlike the many resources marketed to Christians today, it isn’t found in so-called biblical manhood or womanhood. Unlike the many who oppose them, it isn’t found in egalitarianism…Joy is found in properly oriented desire.” And that desire is found in Christ, our Bridegroom. 

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
My eyes are upon the faithful in the land, that they may dwell with me. — Psalm 101.6

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 7Listen – 1:55)
Psalm 120-122(Listen -2:12)

Read more about Love is Not a Panacea
Why would we interpret sin on her part for being slow to rise and not sin on the man’s part for being absent in the first place?

Read more about Love Without Red Flags
“I am for my lover, and my lover is for me.” This literal translation reveals the self-giving attitude of the husband and of the wife. They are for one another.

Love without Red Flags

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 6.3
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
    he browses among the lilies.

Reflection: Love without Red Flags
By Erin Newton

…the lover’s pursuit continues. The friends ask (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) where her lover has gone. The woman replies that he has gone away but adds the comment: I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. Maybe she was threatened by the interest of the friends. Or maybe it’s another praise of the fidelity of the lovers’ relationship.

What is she trying to say about their relationship? Is this a statement about dominance or authority? Is she simply warding off the possibility of seduction by laying claim to the man? If we understand this phrase as a sexual commitment of two lovers, 1 Corinthians 7.4 echoes this same sentiment. “A wife does not have the right over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right over his own body, but his wife does.” (CSB translation)

Couples will likely give a hardy, “Amen,” to the suggestion of their spouse giving their bodies to one another in the context of sex. The guidance given to the Corinthians reveals the mutual equality of the relationship between these lovers. The idea moves beyond the concept of one person domineering the other; the husband and wife have the same instructions.

“The words express not clutching possessiveness but full belonging, one to the other,” Ellen Davis states. This is the ideal relationship. No red flags. No manipulation. This is the caring, selfless love of two people who seek the best for one another. It is easy to fulfill the desires of your spouse when that sense of mutual commitment and love is present.

This phrase which seems to summarize the essence of the ideal relationship is a four-word Hebrew phrase. You could translate it simply, “I am for my lover, and my lover is for me.” This literal translation reveals more of the self-giving attitude of the husband and the same self-giving attitude of the wife. They are for one another.

On Mount Sinai, God told the Israelites he would be their God and they would be his people (Leviticus 26.12). This relentless, fully committed love from God is our model.

A healthy relationship is a two-way street. The lovers share the same vision of respect, care, and desire for one another. In these statements, it can be hard to differentiate the words of the man and the words of the lover. Love is not self-seeking.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Greeting
Let all peoples know that you, whose Name is Yahweh, you alone are the Most High over all the earth. — Psalm 83.18

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 6Listen – 1:48)
Psalm 119:145-176 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Sexuality and Spirituality
True love seeks to move beyond the self-absorption that is common in our culture.

Read more about You’re The Top
Balancing humility and honesty while receiving compliments is complex. Neither self-inflated pride nor self-effacing despair are healthy.

Love is Not a Panacea

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 5.6-7
6 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. 
7 The watchmen found me 
as they made their rounds in the city. 
They beat me, they bruised me; 
they took away my cloak, 
those watchmen of the walls! 

Reflection: Love is Not a Panacea
By John Tillman

After the consummation of their marriage, the beloved tells us of a frightening and disturbing dream.

Some interpreters feel this vision shows a cooling of the relationship after the marriage. The beloved hesitates to open to her lover for trivial reasons—not wanting to dirty her feet or retrieve her robe. In dreamlike fashion, once she does rouse herself to the door, he is gone. Then, searching for him in the streets she is harmed by the very watchmen who helped her search for her lover in a previous passage.

We should be careful analogizing the woman’s hesitation to mean indifference or sin on her part. These passages have been abused by some who interpret this as the woman refusing sexual relations with her husband and suffering the consequences. Women have often been harmed by misreadings of texts related to sexuality. Texts like this one are too often twisted to teach women that being sexually available anything less than one-hundred percent of the time will place blame for infidelity in their lap. This is poor reading of the text, to say the least. Why would we interpret sin on her part for being slow to rise and not sin on the man’s part for being absent in the first place? 

The passage doesn’t seem intent on blaming one partner or the other, but it does seem to imply that even between the most loving of couples there can be problems and difficult times. The beloved’s dream shows us that she fears loss, indifference, and separation. She struggles against difficult obstacles and unexpected challenges. “The course of true love never did run smooth” (A Midsummer Night’s Dream I.i.:137)

This realistic note in the midst of what is, at times, a near-erotic love poem is striking. This grounds the more lofty passages and short circuits any thought that life and love will always reach the heights of pleasure previously depicted. It cautions those who would enter marriage or sexual love flippantly or in naivete.

Love, especially sexual love, is not a panacea. There is a reason marriage vows often include “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness or in health.” Stay married long enough and worse will come. Poorer will come. Sickness will come. What you do then is a truer consummation of your love than what occurs on the wedding night.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
I will walk in the presence of the Lord in the land of the living. — Psalm 116.8

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 5 (Listen – 2:43)
Psalm 119:121-144 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about You’re The Top
In an image-obsessed culture, how do we healthily praise each other…process body image issues…outrageous cultural expectations of beauty?

Read more about Hitting the Mark of Reconciliation
The gospel has the power to resurrect dead relationships just as it has the power to resurrect our souls and our physical bodies.

You’re The Top

Scripture Focus: Song of Songs 4.2, 4
2 Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, 
coming up from the washing. 
Each has its twin; 
not one of them is alone.

4 Your neck is like the tower of David, 
built with courses of stone; 
on it hang a thousand shields, 
all of them shields of warriors. 

Reflection: You’re The Top
By John Tillman

The abundant praise of the bride uses over the top, lavish language with references that don’t always land for modern readers.

It’s not that unusual to compare our loved ones to things our culture values. Cole Porter’s 1934 song, “You’re The Top” is one example. The duet between complimentary lovers contains cultural references that might be enigmatic for today’s listeners.

You’re the top.
You’re a Waldorf salad.
You’re the top.
You’re a Berlin ballad.

The “Waldorf” salad was created in 1896 at the original Waldorf Hotel in New York City and swept the country as a new sensation and mark of refinement. Modern listeners might wonder why Germany’s capital is known for ballads, but the lyrics refer to famous American songwriter, Irving Berlin.

If we have difficulty deciphering metaphors written in our native tongue less than a century ago, we should have humility with older cultural references, written in a language we don’t speak. We don’t have to understand them completely, however, to realize every phrase carries the writer’s highest praise.

Who can live up to giving or receiving these praises? Who can live up to being called by Cole Porter, “the tower of Pisa,” or by Solomon, “the Tower of David”? Can we praise our own lovers in this way? Can we accept praise such as this? 

In my own life, I have a habit of pushing away compliments, especially about my appearance or talents. I drop my eyes, shake my head, and say, “no,” or I deflect with self-deprecation. Porter does this too. After saying his lover is the “smile on the Mona Lisa” he says, “I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop”

In an image-obsessed culture, how do we healthily praise each other? How do we process body image issues and outrageous cultural expectations of beauty? Balancing humility and honesty while receiving compliments is complex. Neither self-inflated pride nor self-effacing despair are healthy.

We are liable to fail, not only in words we attempt to say but in attempting to live up to what our lovers say in return or what we feel our lovers expect.

Grace for ourselves and our loved ones is required. We must learn not only to love but to be loved and celebrated.

Leaning on and using the poetry and praise of others can help. Perhaps we can begin to say and accept from one another, “You’re the top.”

Music: “You’re the Top” performed by Sutton Foster and Collin Donnell

Divine Hours Prayer: The Refrain for the Morning Lessons
For who is God, but the Lord? Who is the Rock, except our God? — Psalm 18.32

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Springtime by Phyllis Tickle.

Today’s Readings
Song of Songs 4 (Listen – 2:46)
Psalm 119:97-120 (Listen – 15:14)

Read more about Sexuality and Spirituality
The Song should encourage us to apply holiness to our intimate sexual relationships.

Read more about Love Guided Thoughts
Oh what a happy spring of meditation, is a rooted, predominant love of God! Love him strongly, and you cannot forget him.