Do not awaken love until it so desires

Do not awaken love until it so desires

Song of Songs is a love song, and it has a chorus. While metaphors are occasionally re-used through the Song, there is only one verse that is repeated, and that verse is repeated three times with only minor variations (in 2:7, 3:5 and 8:4):

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases. (Song 2:7 ESV)

When something is repeated, we should pay attention to it. Especially when it is in a book where little is repeated. The author is drawing our attention to this line as the central message of this book.

But what does it mean? Stripping away the poetic language, this is a call to not encourage romantic love until it pleases. On first read, that doesn’t seem like it is saying much at all. Does it mean that when romantic love pleases, then it is fine to stir it up? Does it mean that when we feel a certain way about someone, then it is fine to pursue that?

To be clearer on this, we need to look at the context. Where exactly are the three repetitions of this idea in the book? Without going into too much detail, we see they turn up here:

  • 2:7 At the end of the woman’s expression of passion for her man, she adds this verse at the end. While she is keen to pursue a relationship with him, she knows that she needs to be careful not to move too quickly.
  • 3:5 After refusing to leave with her man into the wilderness, she instead brings him into her mother’s house in preparation for their wedding in the following verses. In this context, the chorus is showing that while the time was wrong to pursue their love by leaving earlier, now it is right to pursue it in the right context.
  • 8:4 Right near the end of the book, after they have gone through conflict and again reunited, the woman calls out the chorus again. In the right time, within marriage, it is right to stir up love. It is a great gift in the right context.

Putting these three repetitions together gives us a clearer picture of what this verse means. It means that there is the right time and context for romantic love and the wrong context for it. Perhaps it would be clearer to say that we should not awaken love until God pleases, or until the right context according to God’s pattern for the world.

While this is an ancient book, this core message remains just as relevant today. Many people seek romantic love as the meaning of life. They are keen to rush quickly into physical intimacy and quick to move from partner to partner. Some find themselves in a range of ‘situationships’ where they seek love and connection with a range of different people at once. This can only be destructive and against God’s intent. Romantic love is a great gift in the right place and a terrible destructive force in the wrong one.

How then should Christians navigate the complex world of romantic love? There are clear things that our culture encourages that we need to reject. The idea of recreational dating must be rejected; dating should be a means of exploring a permanent marriage relationship, not just some fun. And even when in a relationship, each person must be careful to work on developing the relationship in the right manner. When a man and a woman come together in marriage in the right way it is a joy to them and a blessing to those around them.

Don’t mess with romantic love in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Use God’s gift well to His glory.