In our last reading, we met Shulamith in her despair having turned away her husband. Her indifference to him then shifted, but Solomon had already left her. What we see in today’s passage are several stanzas of the poem that will help start the reconciliation process between the two lovers.
We can imagine the scene leading up to this moment. Solomon had been working late doing his kingly duties. Shulamith had spent the evening alone, missing her man. I can identify a bit with her here having been a pastor’s wife. There were many nights, particularly Saturday nights when David was finishing up his sermon, that I would be alone. It didn’t happen often, but there were times I resented his work and wished he could spend time with me like “normal” husbands did with their wives.
We see in our reading today the reality of relationships. The honeymoon phase doesn’t last forever. Problems will arise. It’s not like this happened the very next day. The sections of this poetry are like snap shots in time revealing for us how relationships evolve. Interesting that this seems to be portrayed in a dream in some translations. Perhaps a nightmare that Shulamith hopes she wakes up from to find herself in Solomon’s arms once again.
You can probably see yourself in the story on some level. It’s all too common to be “too tired” or “not in the mood” when our spouse approaches us. We may have been on the receiving end as well of a “rejection.” It’s helpful to remember a good marriage relationship isn’t all about sex, but sex is of great significance. The closeness of an encounter provides a bond and connection that no other action can replace. Whether a dream or not, there are some important things to see in this passage.
This is a passage you probably didn’t expect to see in the Bible! Yet how perfect is this beautiful, tender scene of two lovers about to experience each other for the first time. The use of poetry is such a nice touch. Using slang or medical terms would have just not done justice to this moment. It is clear that God wanted us to know his ideal for the marriage bed and how couples are to relate to each other.
A bit of context may help for just a few of the images we see. When you think of a garden, what do you picture? Rows of beans, corn, and cucumbers, or perhaps a flower garden complete with dirt and weeds? That doesn’t sound all that romantic. For purposes of our reading, picture what would be a garden at the time. A walled off section of a yard, private, and filled with beautiful plants and flowers, a place of respite and tranquility. That sets the scene for the “garden” of our reading just a bit better, I think.
I’m not sure if every girl dreams of a fairy tale wedding, but I think every girl should dream for a man who cherishes her like King Solomon cherishes Shulamith. While some of these descriptions may seem a little strange to us, they are highly romantic. He is caressing her with his words, starting with her eyes.
When I first read today’s passage, I pictured the bride and groom standing before the preacher as Solomon took in her appearance. I think it was the veil that got me. Yet the veil is also a symbol for innocence and purity. Solomon was over the moon to be uniting with this woman. Bible scholars also suggest this is the start of their wedding night. Solomon is enjoying her beauty and telling her so. Music to Shulamith’s ears.
If you are like me, when you first read today’s text you wondered, “now what’s happening?” We’re not used to seeing the traditional Hebrew custom of marriage playing out. It’s when the groom will pick up his bride and take her from her home to his own. The one “who is sweeping in from the wilderness” is indeed our bride. Can you imagine how she was feeling in this moment? The wedding procession had begun at last!
The king may or may not have been with her during her long travel from her home in Lebanon. However, he surely sent protection to assure she safely arrived at the palace. Sixty military men, presumably dressed recognizably, all providing for the escort of their soon-to-be queen.