The freedom Paul talks about isn’t a commodity you can buy or earn. Freedom isn’t something you get to save for a rainy day. Rather, freedom is a gift from God that increases in value when you use it wisely and can be lost if you misuse or abuse it. This gift is ours because Jesus took on our humanity and sacrificed himself for us.
With all the talk of the law leading up to this short passage, I was surprised that Paul said this. “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” *emphasis added. While it is true that many of the commandments are focused on acting in ways that show our love for others, he is missing the other part of this. We need to love God with our whole heart as well. When we focus on loving God and others, we are living how God intends for us to live. We are thereby following the “law” because of our best practices in the love department.
We conclude our time in this book by returning again to the courtship and even before. The beautiful, voluptuous woman we know as Shulamith was once a young girl. Can you still remember the innocence of your youth? I can still hear my mother telling me, “be careful of boys,” “protect your reputation,” “save yourself for marriage.” All those messages seemed hard to understand at the time hormones were raging through my body. Perhaps if she had shown me theses verses in the Song of Solomon it would have made more sense to me.
I was a rebellious teen, so you can imagine why she was telling me these things. There was no vineyard in our family where she could hide me away from the world as I blossomed into a woman. Shulamith’s family did that for her. As she toiled in the hot sun, shut off from friends and meeting boys, she probably wondered how in the world she would ever meet Mr. Right.
Under an apple tree doesn’t sound like it would be the most comfortable of settings for love, does it? But when the mood strikes and the opportunity is there, it can be a thrill to share your love in unexpected places. Too often we limit ourselves. Imagine how many opportunities you’ve missed to make a beautiful memory under the stars, or in a deserted parking lot, or even in your backyard in the middle of the day! The “where” isn’t important. It’s the reckless abandon to show your lover how much you want him/her.
I also learned that the apple tree was a familiar symbol for love in Solomon and Shulamith’s culture. It was the sweetheart tree of the ancient world. So maybe the reference wasn’t meaning an actual tree at all. In other words, it could be love was awakened at the right time. The time for romance can be different for different people. Sometimes there will be pain if the couple’s timing is off. We always want to be in tune to our mate’s needs and sensitive to appropriate timing.
Why isn’t hugging and kissing in public (otherwise known as “public displays of affection) appropriate? I remember when the kids were younger, they would often remind David and me, “get a room” if our embrace was a little longer than they were comfortable with. Here in Mexico, we see a lot of affection being displayed, on sidewalks, park benches, etc. At least before COVID-19 came to town.
In our short passage today, we see it was a “thing,” even back in the day for our couple in love. Still today, it’s okay to hug or kiss a relative but not a spouse. Interesting dynamic. Shulamith lets her desire be known that she wants to be free to unashamedly kiss her husband in public as well as in private.
We can probably all agree – nobody is perfect (except Jesus that is). We may try to be perfect or beat ourselves up if something we are working on isn’t perfect, but bottom line—we are not perfect. In our passage today, we see that Solomon is telling Shulamith she is even more perfect than before.
I come up with the word “perfect” because of the number of attributes used both times we see these words of affirmation. On their wedding night, the number was 7. In the Bible, that is a word to show “perfection” and completeness. Already on their wedding night, Solomon was thinking his wife was pretty wonderful. Now that time has passed, the couple has gotten past the “honeymoon phase” of exploration. They have entered a new season in their relationship and now we see ten attributes he’s sharing. The number 10 signifies even more perfect!