This post is part of a reflective Lenten series, originally published as Facebook posts on my personal account.
Lenten practice: day #18.
Reference: Songs 4:1-16
In the last post, I mentioned some interesting things about the way that the author of songs describes the bridegroom. I also said that I wasn’t sure how the bride’s description lines up, but I was hoping it would be a nice parallel. Turns out, it both aligns and complements it.
It aligns, first of all, because it looks at the bride both in her own wonder as well as the wonder of how she interacts with her lover.
It complements the bridegroom description, on the other hand, because it provides another important way of looking at the human person. The description has two basic parts. The first part describes the most “evident” part of femininity, as modern society sees it: her physical appearance. While it certainly doesn’t make up a woman (more on that later), the physical is an integral part of everyone—man or woman. What woman doesn’t appreciate being told she’s attractive? What man doesn’t appreciate being told he’s handsome? The Bible is sure not to neglect this. Although interpretations sometimes don’t catch it, the Bible is actually overwhelmingly affirmative of the human body.
However, the Bible doesn’t stop there. It saves the best for last: the beauty of her virtue. The bridegroom barely has words for it: “How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride! … Honey and milk are under your tongue … A garden locked is my sister, my bride / a garden locked, a fountain sealed.” Of course it’s all symbolic, but I picked out some of the more telling phrases to quote here. Her love—the way she wills his good selflessly—how sweet that is! What a beautiful virtue, and she practices it so well! The words of her tongue are sweet—she’s gentle and nurturing. All in all, she’s a locked garden a fountain sealed: she is alluring because of the beauty inside of her and her incredible potential.
So the bridegroom’s description shows that he has value on his own and in relation to others, and the bride’s description shows that she has value equally in her body and in her soul. (Clarification: the value of her body comes from being made in God’s image, not because it’s attractive. The attractiveness is an added bonus.) Aligning yet complimentary. Man, I love this stuff.
Also, I’d like to point out that the imagery strikes our ears in a very different way than it did ancient readers. For instance, on an average day, I would not appreciate being told my hair is like a goat. However, understanding that an ancient shepherd or goatherd would see an image like a bunch of goats racing down a hill as a sign of health and prosperity, it’s an understandable way for a man to describe the beautiful hair of his love tumbling and flowing over her shoulders. Just trust me on that.