Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot sweep it away.
If one were to give
all the wealth of one’s house for love,
it would be utterly scorned. (New International Version)
Throughout most of church history, the Old Testament poem of Solomon’s Song of Songs has been interpreted allegorically as the love between God and God’s people.
A more literal hermeneutic views the Song as an actual relationship between a man and woman – which has it’s merits in that it acknowledges and affirms our bodily nature.
Yet, no matter what interpretive grid one uses for the Song, this wondrous and unique biblical book is an Ode to Love, lifting the centrality and power of Love as the greatest force in the world.
As for me, I believe it’s likely that the Song purposely has both the literal and allegorical in view. There are many places throughout Holy Scripture which have intended double and even triple meanings to the text. However one chooses to see the Song, love begins with God, and gives shape to our own human love for God, one another, and one’s lover.
We learn a great deal of love from God. The Lord is a jealous God. That doesn’t mean the Lord is some weird stalker deity with insecurities about losing the devotion of worshipers. No, instead, divine jealousy is the positive quality of showing steadfast love and commitment, being completely devoted to following through with divine promises and presence.
The Song is far from the only place in Scripture which likens the relationship between God and God’s people as a marriage of lovers. In fact, God’s covenant relationship with people is at the heart of understanding the whole of Scripture.
In the prophecy of Hosea, God expressed a longing for Israel to remain faithful, because the Lord loves her. Hosea had an unfaithful wife, and throughout the book of Hosea the relationship between him and his wife Gomer mirrored the relationship between God and Israel. Just as Hosea kept showing faithful love to Gomer, even though she was brazenly unfaithful, so too, God looked at Israel with affection and steadfast love, not bearing to give her up.
The love of God shall always win the day, despite our own human love, which can wax and wane according to mood or circumstance. Grace, mercy, and love are deep in the nature of God; Love is who God is, not just what God does.
The one marrying you is the one who made you—
the Lord of heavenly forces is his name.
The one redeeming you is the holy one of Israel,
the one called the God of all the earth.
As an abandoned and dejected woman the Lord has summoned you;
as a young wife when she is rejected,
says your God.
For a brief moment I abandoned you,
but with great mercy I will bring you back.
In an outburst of rage,
I hid my face from you for a moment,
but with everlasting love I have consoled you,
says your redeemer, the Lord.
These are like the days of Noah for me,
when I promised that Noah’s waters would never again cover the earth.
Likewise I promise not to rage against you or rebuke you.
The mountains may shift,
and the hills may be shaken,
but my faithful love won’t shift from you,
and my covenant of peace won’t be shaken,
says the Lord, the one who pities you. (Isaiah 54:5-10, CEB)
As the Old Testament draws toward the end, God’s love remains constant, desiring the people to hold fast to their Lord:
This is what the Lord All-Powerful says: “I have a very strong love for Jerusalem. My strong love for her is like a fire burning in me.” (Zechariah 8:2, NCV)
Into the New Testament, the love of God continues to burn for God’s people. In the Gospels, Jesus showed committed love to all sorts of people, going so far as to be the ultimate martyr, giving himself as sacrifice of atonement on behalf of a world who mostly rejected him.
“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” (Luke 7:44-47, NIV)
One of Christ’s disciples, the Apostle John, learned to channel his passionate anger into passionate love. John knew that people’s needs are supremely and fully met through the Lord who loves them – and not through alternate avenues of love:
Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world. And this world is fading away, along with everything that people crave. But anyone who does what pleases God will live forever. (1 John 2:15-17, NLT)
God knows that going elsewhere to satisfy our needs, ultimately gets us nowhere, especially our need for love. God yearns, passionately, for us to find our pleasure and enjoyment in him. God waits with loving patience to show grace and compassion.
“The Love of God” by Frederick M. Lehman, 1917
The love of God is greater far
than tongue or pen can ever tell;
it goes beyond the highest star,
and reaches to the lowest hell.
The wand’ring child is reconciled
by God’s beloved Son.
The aching soul again made whole,
and priceless pardon won.
O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure—
the saints’ and angels’ song.