(The Shulammite Celebration of Gender, Part II)
When we dig into the Bible book, The Song of Songs, we find a lot of gender distinction in the urgings of the Shulammite Bride. As she calls us to a vision of the ideal love, her vision can help us in our marriages. As we explored in our recent sermon series at Iron Works Church, these practical principles of gender are very similar to those outlined by the Apostle Paul (1Corinthians 11:7-10). In the motions of the song, for example, we see the asymmetry of intent (1Corinthians 11:9), in which a wife empowers a mission which her husband apprehends. The Song of Songs man at his best leads, calling her to follow after on the flock tracks (Sos 1:8), to arise and come away (Sos 2:10, 2:13). At the same time, the woman is not passive but empowers the task, seeking to make the relationship work as it should. So from the beginning, she pleads, “Draw me after you!” (Sos 1:4, some translations: “Take me away with you!”) and encourages the making of their relationship public (Sos 7:11). The intergendered relationship to which the song beckons us is one in which the husband is leading them on a journey and the wife is bringing divine empowerment to that journey. Even today, a couple that wants to deepen intimacy can follow these tracks.
We also see operating in the book what we can call the asymmetry of origin, after the distinction in Eve and Adam (1Corinthians 11:8), in which a husband secures his wife while she brings him to peace. Her very name, the “Shulammite” is derived from shalom—she brings him peace, well-being. She gives him peace through her breasts: “I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace” (Sos 8:10). In their dwelling, she lays up the choicest fruit, offering him repose (Sos 7:11-13). She seeks to make him a home like her mother who taught her (Sos 8:1-2). Even in the lovemaking, she describes her body like a bed, giving rest: “My beloved like a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts” (Sos 1:13). The way a woman brings rest to a man would be different for different guys, but the book is definitely holding forth how a true woman finds out what that is and seeks to do it.
On the other side of the aisle, the man approaches her, or should, with actions that bring her life security. The woman has the physical protection of brothers before being joined to this man (Sos 1:6, 8:8-9). Thereafter she finds shielding in his shade (Sos 2:3). In fact, when he is not there (in her dream), she is prone to beatings by the watchmen on walls (Sos 5:7). The bridegroom issues the call, “Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards” (Sos 4:8). What is he saying? Come, let me take you from the dangerous mountain peaks, where leopards and lions and all kinds of threats prowl, to a place of security in your soul. In the central wedding scene, the Bridegroom comes with 60 mighty armed guards for her (Sos 3:7-8). Now that is security.
Again, the particulars in other relationships will differ for different women. As I often say, does a gun in the house make her more secure (get it!) or less (get rid of it!). Find out what increasingly secures your beloved and do that. Therein is manliness.
The operation of gender in our romantic relationships is pretty straightforward to grasp. It’s not voodoo. It makes marriages grow. It helps husbands and wives understand their identities. It propels them to intimacy. I hope, then, that the church, instead of ignoring it, can make better use of this Bible book to help our marriages.