Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.
In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).
This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).
Covenants and Romance
So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrashon Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).
Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea: Read more →
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you probably know my favorite way of looking at the Lord’s relationship with His people is as a love story. This seems to be one of God’s favorite analogies as well, since He weaves betrothal and marriage imagery throughout His word.
Pentecost, which takes place tomorrow, isn’t often talked about in the context of God’s love story. It’s best known among Christians as the day when the disciples received the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 and as a harvest festival from the Old Testament. But just a little digging into this day’s context within a Hebrew mindset and Jewish tradition reveals how strongly it’s connected with the love story God is writing between Him and His people.
A Promise To Come Back
The Jewish name for Pentecost is Shavuot, which means “sevens” in reference to counting seven weeks of seven days from the Sabbath after Passover. Pentecost is then kept on the Sunday after the seventh Sabbath (hence the name “Pentecost,” which means count fifty). The root word for Shavuot is shaba, which means the number seven as well as an oath or pledge (TWOT entry 2318 and 2319).
In Jewish wedding traditions, brides are chosen by the groom’s father just as God the Father chooses whom to call into relationship with His Son. The groom pays a bride price for her, just as Jesus (or Yeshua, to use His Hebrew name) bought us with His own blood (1 Cor. 6:15-20). The betrothal agreement was a covenant, the same type of relationship that God has made with His people at least as far back as Noah. Once the bride consents to this arrangement the marriage covenant was sealed with a cup of wine, as Yeshua sealed His covenant with us at Passover (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).
Then the bridegroom went away to prepare a home for His bride, which is what Yeshua told His disciples He’d be doing while He was gone (John 14:1-3). A Jewish bridegroom would be gone for about one to two years before returning to claim his bride. He didn’t just drop off the face of the earth, though. He left a gift with her and made an oath or pledge to come back.
When Abraham’s servant found a wife for Isaac, he “brought out jewels of silver, and jewels of gold, and clothing, and gave them to Rebekah” (Gen. 24:53, WEB). Similarly, Yahweh talks about the lavish gifts of clothing and jewelry He gave Israel when He entered into covenant with them (Ezk. 16:8-14). Our bridegroom, Yeshua, did something similar for us on the day of Pentecost. Read more →
Do you ever feel like God just loves you because that’s something He does for everyone, not because He actually likes you?
That’s how I started the seminar I gave back in December, which I’m finally getting around to sharing on this blog. I’m willing to say that I’m not the only person who’s ever felt this way about God’s love, at least some of the time. There are a couple different things that play-in to this idea, but I think at least part of it is that usually when we talk about love in the Bible, we focus on the Greek word agape, which describes God’s unconditional love for all people. But there’s another word for love that talks about God’s affection for His friends. Depending on which resource you look at there are up to eight different words for “love” in Greek, though most people focus on these four:
Agape — selfless, benevolent love
Philos — friendly, affectionate love
Storge — natural, family love
Eros — passionate, romantic love
We’re going to talk about agape and phileo, since those are the two used in the Bible. Together, agape and the root word agapao appear a total of 263 times in the New Testament. Philos and the closely related word phileo are used only 54 times, though it also appears in several compound words like philadelphos (brotherly love) and philostorgos (family love).
It would be pretty easy to look at these numbers and say agape is the most important kind of love in the Bible. And considering it’s the word used in the phrase, “God is love,” I’d say that’s a pretty good description. It’s also the word for love that’s defined in 1 Corinthians 13. There isn’t any other word gets such a thorough analysis in scripture. But maybe our emphasis on agape, even though it’s correct, comes at the expense of a good understanding of another important word, phileo.
Do You Love Me?
The difference between agape and philos might not seem significant at first glance. But there’s a conversation in John’s gospel that illustrates how different these two words for love can be. This conversation takes place after Jesus’ resurrection. His disciples had gone fishing and He met them on the beach, had dinner with them, and then asked Peter a question. In most Bible versions I’m familiar with, both agape and philos are translated in these verses as “love.” I like the World English Bible, since it makes clear that there are two different concepts at play. Read more →
I recently finished reading, and then immediately re-reading, Fill These Hearts by Christopher West. It’s a powerful rebuttal to the lie that Christianity is a joyless religion of laws and suppressed desires. West touches on many points regarding marriage and the plan of God that I hit in my book God’s Love Story, a subject you know is dear to my heart. I could probably write half a dozen posts inspired by Fill These Hearts (I already quoted from it in last week’s post), but here’s the part I want to focus on today:
Christianity is the religion of desire — the religion that redeemseros — and its saints are the ones who have had the courage to feel the abyss of longing in their souls and in their bodies and to open … all their desires for love and union to the Love and Union that alone can satisfy. … the saints have learned to open eros (their yearning for love) to Eros (God’s passionate love for them).” (p. 39)
Seeing God’s love described as Eros might make you a little uncomfortable at first (it had that effect on me). Eros is the Greek word for passionate or sexual love. This word doesn’t even appear in scripture, although erotic love is alluded to. The word we usually associate with God’s love — and rightly so — is agape.Read more →
Sometimes, Bible study ideas can come from an unexpected source. One of the speakers at our Feast of Tabernacles site last month was a man whose messages rarely catch my attention, but he gave an excellent sermonette about falling in “true love” with God.
Though the holy days for this year are several weeks in the past, these subjects are relevant year-round. Since the Feast, or Sukkot, pictures Christ’s millennial reign, it’s also connected with the marriage to His church, which takes place a little earlier. We will be living and reigning with Jesus as His bride, teaching and serving alongside Him (Rev. 20:4). But first, we have to get there.
God is love. it’s not just something God has like a person can have feelings of happiness or a sense of humor. Love (and the word is agape) is God. All real love — that selfless seeking of another’s good because you care about them so much — is of God.
And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him. (1 John 4:16)
When we’re filled with love, we’re filled with God’s essential character. “If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). The opposite is true as well: it’s impossible to love God or abide in Him while harboring an attitude of hate (1 John. 4:20).
He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him. … If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:21, 23)
Love creates relationship with God. It’s also inseparably connected to commandment keeping — if we love God, we’ll live as He said to, thereby showing love for God. This results in a relationship Jesus described as “abiding in” Him and His Father, and Them in us.
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. (John 15:9-10)
Perfect love results in perfect unity — mutual indwelling like the Father and Jesus have together and want to share with us (John 17:21-23). God’s love is the only love that can build the kind of relationship that leads to eternity, and that’s why we have to keep sharing the same love we’re being given (John 13:34; 15:12).
We’ve spent quite a lot of time on this blog, and in my God’s Love Story ebook (which you can download free), talking about what God’s love is like. Our love for God and each other is supposed to be exactly like God’s love for us. It’s selfless, sacrificial love. it’s unabashed seeking of what is best for the beloved. It’s love shared between the best of friends. It’s the highest form of romantic love (non-sexual; we’re talking about agape, not eros).
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm; for love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a flame of YAH. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised. (Song 8:6-7)
You might say these lovely verses from the Song of Songs are the Old Testament companion scripture to 1 Corinthians 13. Love is a fire fueled by YAH (which is a poetic form of YHWH usually hidden in English translations of this verse). Love like that can’t be put-out by anything the world throws at it, and it can’t be bought anymore than you can buy the holy spirit (Acts 8:18-21).
After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). He walked with them incognito and “expounded to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself.” After they were allowed to recognize Him over dinner and He “vanished out of their sight” these disciples make an interesting observation (which I’m indebted to the aforementioned sermonette for connecting with the subject of God’s love).
And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?”(Luke 24:32)
They recognized that “burning hearts” was a sign of Jesus being alongside them. When we’re abiding in Him and walking in obedience, we will be filled with the unquenchable love of God like a burning fire.
The Greek word translated “burn” in Luke 24 can refer to a literal flame, but there are several other places in scripture where it’s used to describe a condition inside people (G2545, kaio). John the baptist was described as “the burning and shining lamp” (John 5:35). We’re told to be watchful servants and ordered, “Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning (Luke 12:35). Kaio is also the word used when Jesus talks about us letting our lights shine like a burning lamp in the world (Matt. 5:14-16).
We need to let our lights, fueled by God’s love, burn so they can be seen. As we walk in the love of God, keeping His commandments and abiding in Him, unquenchable love should flow out from us to our brethren and neighbors.
In honor of the fall Holy Days season, which we kicked-off yesterday with Yom Teruah (Feast of Trumpets), I’m re-releasing an updated version of my “God’s Love Story” booklet. It’s now available in multiple e-book formats through Smashwords and Amazon (the book is free on Smashwords, but Amazon doesn’t have that option when you’re setting up a new e-book).
Throughout history, God calls out to His people asking one simple question, “Do you love Me?” Christianity isn’t a boring “let’s go to church and sit in a pew for an hour” sort of religion. It’s a romance with the creator of the universe; a “fairy tale” staring the Prince of Peace, Who laid down His life to rescue His bride from captivity to sin.