Lesson for Oct. 23, 2011: Finding True Love (Song of Solomon 4:1–5:1)

This week’s treatment of the International Sunday School Lesson (for October 23) is written by Mandy Smith, associate pastor at University Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio, and author of Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship, available at www.standardpub.com/makingamess.


Finding True Love (Song of Solomon 4:1–5:1)

By Mandy Smith

At first reading, the fourth chapter of Song of Solomon seems a little ridiculous to modern ears. In fact, when my Old Testament professor in college heard I like to draw, he asked me to create a literal depiction of these metaphors, and I ended up creating an illustration of a strange creature with sliced fruit on her face, grinning out at me through her livestock teeth.

Instead of getting caught up in imagery that may be distracting, given our cultural differences, let’s allow the imagery to reveal the heart of the poet. There is no doubt he’s besotted. The fact that he goes into such detail, using the most wonderful things in his world to describe each part of his beloved’s countenance, shows he has applied himself to a loving study of everything she is. With his words, he draws us into an intense scene that touches every sense—intoxicating aromas of frankincense and spices, the flavors of honey and milk, the whispers of flowing waters and northerly winds, and the sights, oh, the sights! And as the pace and intensity of his poetry builds, so does the pace and intensity of his heartbeat, and ours with it.

Bible background. Pronunciation guide. Real-life commentary. Discussion questions. Find it all in Standard Lesson Commentary

His mention of the heart (v. 9) is fitting, for it’s with our hearts that we should read his words, and, as we do, draw out a memory of a similar experience of our own. For some, it will be their wedding night. Or a precious moment stolen when at last the kids were asleep. For others it will be a moment of beauty or peace or joy outside the sphere of romantic love.


Human Love?

But do you, like me, wonder if it’s right for us to be sharing this moment with these lovers? When I read the passage, I feel my cheeks warm to a blush, not because what I read is improper, but because it’s so personal. Why has such a beautiful and intimate expression of romantic, human love become a part of our holy Scriptures to be shared with millions of readers across oceans and over centuries?

Many have supposed that this book is not about human love at all, but is an expression of the relationship between God and his people. I’m often disappointed when I read this view, not because it’s not possible that this was the writer’s intended purpose, but because I believe there is a place for us simply to celebrate human love. Human love is not separate from God’s love, but reflects his love for us. If we, as fallible beings, are able to love so deeply, how much more can he love?

As Jesus says, “If you, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children . . . (Matthew 7:11).


God’s Love

Speaking of gifts to children, just last week I took my daughter to her first live pop music concert. It involved all the usual elements of a preteen event—crowds crammed together, stretching to the stage, jumping, squealing, moving to the music. But in the midst of the lights and movement, something small and surprising took my breath away, a tiny moment of intimacy that anyone who cared to shift their eyes from the stage might have witnessed.

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When the very last song of the evening began, it was with a waltz tempo, and so things slowed and quieted a little. To my right, in the twinkling light, I saw a young couple, waltzing. While other teens continued to sway and clap and jump, these two somewhat gangly, self-conscious sweethearts looked tentatively to each other.

From where I stood, I could only see the face of the young man. And I hope I never forget it. While his grin and posture had all the usual hesitation of a teen, his eyes had the love of the grown man he was soon to become. In them I saw his hopes for a future, of the life they would live together, the moments they would have like this for years to come. Through the entire song, he smiled sweetly, gazing into the face of his beloved without flinching, seemingly oblivious to the pulsing crowd pressing in on them.

Certainly, it had a fairy-tale quality, but the reason I got misty-eyed was the glimpse of pure love in his eyes and the tiny taste of Heaven it represented. It was pure love, which, to me, is synonymous with pure beauty and pure truth. It’s what I long for when I call the name of my Father.

Which brings us back to the question today’s passage raises for me: If one fallible young man can have such love for one imperfect young woman, in one messed-up, broken world, how much love can our heavenly father have for us?


*Scripture quotations are from the New International Version.

October 17: Genesis 1:26-31
October 18: Genesis 2:18-24
October 19: Jeremiah 3:1-5
October 20: Hosea 2:16-23
October 21: 1 John 4:7-12
October 22: 1 Corinthians 13
October 23: Song of Solomon 4:1–-5:1



Mandy Smith is associate pastor at University Christian Church, Cincinnati, Ohio. She lives with her professor husband and two children in a little house where the teapot is always warm. Her Making a Mess and Meeting God: Unruly Ideas and Everyday Experiments for Worship is available at www.standardpub.com/makingamess and her weekly musings can be found at www.ClayfireCurator.org.

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