The Romance Of Passover

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 midrash on 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

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Courage To Feel

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 redeems eros — 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

Love On Fire

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.

Love On Fire | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: Indi Samarajiva, CC BY via Flickr

True Love

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).

Burning Love

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).

Love On Fire | marissabaker.wordpress.com
photo credit: Ashton, CC BY-SA, via Flickr

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.

Mighty Women

It seems odd to me that I’ve read the “virtuous woman” passage scores of times without bothering to look up the word “virtuous.” The Hebrew word, chayil, was mentioned in the first message given as my Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) site this year. I even had it in my notes, but forgot about it. God brought it to my attention again at the end of the Feast, when a man handed me a booklet titled “A Mighty Warrior: The Hebrew-Biblical View of A Woman” by Dr. Frank T. Seekins. I can take a hint — one Bible study/blog post coming right up!

Mighty Women | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Into The Hebrew

Chayil (H2428) carries the basic meaning of “‘strength,’ from which follow ‘army’ and ‘wealth'”(Theological Wordbook OT, entry 624). It’s used about 20 times of God’s might or power, and about 85 times to describe an attribute of people.

When chayil is used of people, there’s a marked difference in how it’s translated for men and women. For men, we find translations like “mighty man” or “mighty men of valor.” The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament notes, “The individual designated seems to be the elite warrior similar to the hero of the Homeric epic.” For women, however, “it is translated ‘virtuous’ (ASV, RSV ‘worthy’ or ‘good’), but it may well be that a woman of this caliber had all the attributes of her male counterpart.”

While Biblical women were not typically warriors and did not serve in the army, we do have the example of Deborah acting the part of a “mighty woman of valor.” We also know from passages like Ephesians 6:11-13 and 2 Timothy 2:3-4 that all Christians are spiritual warriors. God’s women must be just as valiant as His men!

Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men. (Song 4:4)

O my love, you are as beautiful as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners! (Song 6:4)

Both these passages from Song of Solomon are descriptions that the male lover, who represents Christ, uses toward the female lover, who represents the church. Great men aren’t frightened of strong women; they embrace them as allies.

A Little More History

You might wonder why English translators decided to use “virtuous” or “good”for chayil when the Hebrew leans more toward “strong” and “mighty.” I suspect there were two reasons. Firstly, the original meaning of “virtue” in English was closer to chayil. It arrived in English around 1200 from Old French with the meanings, “force; strength; vigor; moral strength.” Originally, the Latin virtatum meant “high character; goodness; manliness; valor; bravery” (Online Etymology Dictionary).

Secondly, with prevailing attitudes of gender around the time early Bibles like the 1611 King James Version were released, translators were probably hesitant to call women “mighty” or “powerful.” By the 1590s, “virtuous” was losing the more martial aspects of the meaning, shifting toward moral characteristics. In reference to women, “virtuous” became used as a synonym for “chastity.” In the King James Version you can still see this word used for “power” in the New Testament passages where dunamis (G1411) is translated “virtue” (Mark 5:30; Luke 6:19, 8:46). In the New King James, references to Christ were changed from “virtue” to “power,” but the “virtuous woman” in Proverbs 31 only changes to a “virtuous wife.”

It’s true that high moral standards are essential for godly women. Commands regarding modesty and chastity are recorded elsewhere (1 Tim. 2:9), and the character of the Proverbs 31 woman is beyond reproach. But there’s more to being a “virtuous woman” than we might assume from what we’ve grown up hearing about “traditional gender roles.” The word “virtue” has suffered a similar fate as “meekness,” which our culture thinks of as synonymous with “doormat” while the original meaning carried the idea of strength submitted to God.

Mighty Women | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Allies in Battle

God created men and women to fight for Him together. They’re both supposed to be strong and they’re both supposed to support each other.

Men and women were created by God to be allies. As a culture, we have lost the concept of powerful allies; the very thing that Proverbs 31 is telling men to value. …

When a woman’s power is undercut, a situation is created where men and women become enemies. Instead of supporting each other, we battle and undermine God’s call to reflect Jesus relationship with His bride, the church. …

The Biblical concept is clear — A woman of power is to be valued and supported. It is God’s call for women (and men) to become mighty and powerful. (Seekins, p. 2)

I think many women balk at the Proverbs 31 model because it seems so domestic and submissive. “I don’t want to be a stay-at-home barefoot-and-pregnant good little wife,” some protest. “Why would God ask for such an outdated model of femininity?” But when we look closer at Proverbs 31, we find that’s not actually what it’s saying.

The first two descriptions show a woman who does her husband “good and not evil,” and who has earned his complete trust (Prov. 31:11-12). Her husband is respected by all, and it’s implied this is in no small part owing to her support as his ally (Prov. 31:23). In addition, she cares for the poor and needy, practicing the command to “love your neighbor” (Prov. 31:20). She’s respected by her children, husband and the community, and her opinion is highly valued (Prov. 31:28-29, 31).

The Proverbs 31 woman is shown actively doing productive things. She works with her hands, engages in trade “like the merchant’s ships,” and oversees workers in her household (Prov. 31:13-16, 19, 22, 24). She’s not full of anxiety because she has confidence in her ability to care for her business and family (Prov. 31:18, 21, 27).

Strength and honor are her clothing; she shall rejoice in time to come. She opens her mouth with wisdom, and on her tongue is the law of kindness. (Prov. 31:25-26)

It’s still an intimidating picture to try and live up to, but there’s no reason to reject it as demeaning to women. If anything, this “outdated” model is far more powerful than anything modern women’s empowerment movements have come up with.

When a woman understands her calling to be a mighty warrior and a perfect ally, she will conquer and control life. She will remember that the men in her life are not the enemy; her weapons are not meant to be used against them. The weapons of her strength and power are to be used against their enemies (Seekins, p. 23).

God calls all of us to “be strong in the Lord and in the power of His might” (Eph. 6:10). Both men and women need to recognize this, and embrace our roles as “heirs together of the grace of life” (1 Pet. 3:7), fighting as allies for and alongside the Captain of our Salvation, Jesus Christ.

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Unveiled

How many people do you really open up to? Even if you’re an “open book,” there are probably things you don’t share with everyone. There are secrets, aspects of our personality, and thoughts that we only show closest friends, family or a spouse. You may have parts of you hidden so deep no one sees them.

not sure who to credit; found on Pinterest

What about in your relationship with God? Even though He knows everything about us, we can still chose to hold things back from Him. We can tell Him to stay away, keeping Him at arms length and refusing to let go and surrender to His work in us.

Opening up and letting myself be seen is a challenge I face in human relationships, and in this fall holy day season I’ve been thinking about whether I try to do the same thing with God. I think that I’m more open with Him than with anyone else, but are there still things that I’m trying to hold back or hide?

Open To Me

Jesus is supposed to be our friend and lover. He wants to know you more thoroughly than anyone else ever will, but He wants you to chose that relationship. He won’t force Himself into your life, though He will knock.

I sleep, but my heart is awake; it is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, “Open for me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one; for my head is covered with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” (Song 5:2)

The woman in this part of the Song of Songs has “slumbered and slept,” and now Christ is outside asking to come in. “He sues for entrance who may demand it; he knocks who could easily knock the door down” (Matthew Henry’s Commentary). He doesn’t upbraid her for shutting Him out — He just wants her to let Him in. Have we also locked Him out? perhaps through carelessness if not deliberately?

she did not say, I will not open, but, How shall I? Note, Frivolous excuses are the language of prevailing slothfulness in religion; Christ calls to us to open to him, but we pretend we have no mind, or we have no strength, or we have no time (Matthew Henry)

Matthew Henry talks about this as “The slights which careless souls put upon Jesus Christ,” and which actually demonstrate “a great contempt” for their savior. When we ignore Jesus’ request to come into our lives, we reject His work in us.

Here, in the Song, the woman finally opens the door when she sees His hand at the door. Unfortunately, she waited too long for welcoming Christ in to be easy.

I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer. The watchmen who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took my veil away from me. (Song 5:6-7)

If we aren’t willing to open ourselves up to Christ when He knocks, He will be harder to find. If we don’t unveil ourselves to Him, we might find ourselves lost, alone and stripped of our covering pretenses before we find Him again. This can happen multiple times in a Christian’s life, just as this pattern is repeated in the Song (Song 3:1-4). Our lives are often a dance of drifting away and coming back to Christ.

Torn Veils

Unveiled | marissabaker.wordpress.comVeils keep us from fully experiencing God. The veil in the temple separated the Holy of Holies — where God’s spirit appeared — from the rest of the temple complex. Prior to Christ’s sacrifice, only the High Priest could enter, and only once a year (Heb. 9:1-8). The moment Jesus died, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Matt. 27:51). His death removed the most visible separation between God and His people.

There was another veil mentioned in the Old Testament that Paul talks about in the New. After Moses spoke to God, he shone so much with God’s reflected glory that Israel feared him. Moses wore a veil to hide his shining face before everyone but God (Ex. 34:29-35). Paul wrote about this veil in his second letter to Corinth.

But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Cor. 3:14-16)

Christ has torn away all the veils between the Lord and His people. The temple veil which tore at His death opened the way into His sanctuary, and when we turn our hearts to Him He takes away the veil shielding true understanding of the Torah.

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Cor. 3:18)

We have to unveil our faces if we want to see His unvelied face. To know Him, we must want to be known. He took the first step — will we be equally open with Him?

Being Seen

Psalm 139 talks about God knowing us thoroughly — all our thoughts, every part of our personality. It also includes a very important line where David invites God into this deep, intimate relationship.

Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me, and know my anxieties; and see if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. (Ps. 139:23-24)

David’s willingness to be seen by God, and his request that God know him, are key to the sort of closeness described earlier in Psalm 139. Today, we can have that same sort of intimacy with our Lord if we let Him in.

Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev. 3:20)

Our Beloved is knocking on our doors, asking us to let Him in. Turn your face to Him, take off the barriers you’re putting up between you and Jesus. See, and be seen.

Unveiled | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Credits for photos used in blog images this week:

  • Veil” by Dan Thoburn, CC BY via Flickr
  • Red Drapery” by Sherrie Thai, CC BY via Flickr
  • Diamond Samples” by Seth Lemmons, CC BY via Flickr
  • Song 7:5” by Raffaele Esposito, CC BY via Flickr

Lovers of God

loveAs long as I can remember, and I’m told well before that, “Why are we here?” has been a familiar refrain in sermons. I’m not sure if other churches ask this question so religiously, but in mine it’s trundled out every Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot), and at least once more on other Holy Days and/or Sabbaths throughout the year.

The answers are equally familiar by now: “Because God called us,” “Because today is a commanded assembly,” “Because you’ve been given understanding the rest of the world doesn’t have.” Last time I heard this question was a few weeks ago, and that time I tried to think beyond why I was sitting in an uncomfortable blue-upholstered chair on a Saturday afternoon. When we really boil it all down to the question of why God called us in the first place, why are we really here? What is our purpose as followers of God?

A Great Mystery

From the very beginning God’s focus has been on relationships. Looking back to Genesis 1, we see God speaking the world into existence, and proclaiming that it was good. Finally we come to the pinnacle of God’s creation.

Then God said, “Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness” (Gen. 1:26)

This is the first time in the Bible where we see both The Word/Jesus Christ and God The Father talking about something together. I’m sure they collaborated on the rest of creation as well (Eph. 3:9), but mankind is the one creative act where They made sure we knew They acted together. “Let Us make man” is a collaborative, relational statement, announcing Their intent to make people “in Our Image,” and therefore capable of relationship.

The specific way humans were created also points out the importance of relationships. With other creatures, both male and female were apparently created at the same time. With humans, however, man was created first. This gave God a chance to point out, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18). As Paul explains much later in the scriptures, the marriage relationship created here is a picture of the relationship God wants with His church.”

“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. (Eph. 5:31-32)

Here, Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 to teach us a great mystery about the relationship between Jesus Christ and the New Testament church. At its core, the goal of “Let Us make man” was to build familial relationships. We are made children of God and co-inheritors with Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:15-17), and betrothed to our adopted Brother (2 Cor. 11:2). We are designed to be in relationship with our Creator.

Lovers of God

In 2 Timothy, Paul describes “the last days,” warning that bad things are going to happen because men will turn away from loving God.

But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away! (2 Tim. 3:4-5)

Note that these people have a “form of godliness.” As bad as they sound, they aren’t just people outside the churches — there are some inside our groups as well trying to pass themselves off as godly. But because they are not truly “lovers of God,” they are denying His true power and refusing to walk in His ways.

What does a “lover of God” look like? We’ve quoted John 14:15 several times over the past few weeks, where Christ says, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” He expands on this idea through chapter 15 as well.

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)

Obedience is key to being in a relationship with God. If we ignore His commands, we’re telling Him we don’t care about a relationship with Him. But if we keep His commandments, we’re saying how much we love Him and want to be close to Him.

Dearly Beloved

When was the last time you heard Song of Solomon quoted in a sermon? For that matter, how many Christians do you think would have included it in the Bible if canonization had been up to them? No one seems quite sure what to do with it. My KeyWord study Bible says that portions of the Song were sung at Passover, though, so with that coming up next week maybe today is the perfect time to take another look at the Song of Songs.

Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Second Isaiah and Lamentations all use this metaphor; the rabbis merely amplified what they had already found in the Bible. The Song of Songs, to the rabbis, was the completion of the metaphor. The prophets may have denounced infidelity but the Song of Songs spoke of reunion and love, the kind of love that the believing rabbinic Jew felt for God. Even the Psalms do not talk about God as the lover or bridegroom of Israel. The Song of Songs is seen as a dialogue between God and Israel, and this provides the book with a unique religious intensity.” (Benjamin Edidin Scolnic, “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?”, page 4)

Lovers of God | marissabaker.wordpress.comScholars can’t agree on who wrote the Song of Songs or when, much less how to interpret it. Some claim that it’s nothing more than a secular love song, others say it only has allegorical applications. The more balanced view is that it operates on two levels — as an account of human love, and as a picture of Christ’s love for the church and/or God’s love for Israel. That’s the one I like, and there is much to learn when we read this book looking for insight into our relationship with God.

I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me. (Song 7:10)

Do you feel like this about your relationship with Jesus? We should, for we do belong to Him since He desired us so much that he redeemed us by giving His own life. The only time we see God’s name in the Song of Songs, it is not translated into English. It’s in chapter 8:6, and “Thus at the end of the Song the woman describes her love for her man as being like ‘YHWH’s Flame,’ the love between them will not only be as strong as death; it will be as strong as YHWH’s love for His people” (Andrew Greele, quoted by Scolnic, page 6). With a love so strong offered to us, we should offer all our love to God in return. What’s why we are here — to be lovers of God.