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!
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.