“Lean On Your Lover” the Song of Songs

Yesterday’s post “Some kind of Wonderful” seemed to really hit the mark, resulting in the highest number of hits in the blogs history. My wife and Jesus as the main characters obviously had a lot to do with its success.  They are my favorite topics as well.  As things go, I normally don’t post again for a few days.  However, in the providence of the Lord, that really weird thing happened this morning where God puts before me, without any effort on my part, more information on the same theme I had been thinking about.  God continues the conversation to make sure I get the message.

If you have been following me you know of my relationship with Thomas Boston.  Well at least posthumously.  As God would have it, the sermon I read this morning, delivered  to his Congregation in the summer of 1721, fell perfectly in line with the topic of yesterday’s post, marriages, both humanly and spiritually.  He preached a series that summer on Song of Songs 8:5 “Who is this coming from the wilderness leaning on her lover?”  The summer sermon series in rural Scotland in the 18th Century was the highlight of preachers efforts.  Good weather and long days meant that everyone in the congregation could attend, because they would not generally be hindered by bad weather or sickness.  Unlike today, the pastor nor the congregation were taking vacations, so the pews were full.  Now I wouldn’t expect to see this verse on the marque of the typical Church building you drive by today, with the catch phrase “Lean On Your Lover.”  For Boston, however, there was much to unpack in this fragment of one verse.

The ancient customs of the Jews had some traditions about the wedding ceremony that we might find a little strange today.  The betrothed would go out into a field, or woods or some place away from the eyes and ears of attendees and express to one another their nuptial-song.  Something like the exchanging of that sappy stuff where modern couples make up their own little “I love you because” spiels and say them to each other nervously in front of the very uncomfortable spectators, at least from the men’s pespective.  Not my cup of tea, but each to his own.  In this culture that stuff was done privately.  Their return to the wedding guests signified that the marriage was official, in that the bride would be physically leaning on and being led by the husband as they walked back from the wilderness..  They would walk straight to the house of the bridegroom’s father and not return publically until the next day.  I suppose I left out what they would be doing there, but you get the idea.  He was leading the bride to her new home, her new family, under his care and responsibility, and she was going willingly, dependently, faithfully, and permanently.

Do you see the beauty of this?  Do you get the significance?  I’m afraid this ancient near east tradition gets lost in translation today.  Spiritually this is the picture of Christ leading us home as his most treasured possession.  He has said his nuptial song to us by his word, the gospel, and being applied by the Holy Spirit.  His covenant cannot be broken.  We are betrothed, wed, vowed to by him, and sealed in his blood.  As his bride, like the bride at this wedding, we should not be looking back at the world we are leaving and not blindly following behind him like a train of servants trailing some earthly prince.  Rather we should lean on him, being supported, and never wanting to fall behind.  Our home now is his father’s kingdom, a place he has prepared for us full of our new relations, the Church.

God speaks to us often in scripture in the framework of marriage.  The prophet Hosea, speaking for God about the reconciliation of the children of Israel, says, “I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion.” (Hosea 2:19)  A betrothal was a contractual agreement, typically involving the paying of the bride-price to the future father in-law.  Do you get the picture?  Christ paid the bride price to our adoptive Father, and bought us for himself and the promissory note was his righteousness, justice, love, and compassion.  We are given to Christ to be his bride because of his covenant made with God the Father, and the Holy Spirit.  This is no partnership, where we share responsibility to uphold the contractual agreement or the contract becomes void. In fact partnerships are not biblical.  Abraham did not form an LLC with Lot.  He gave him the land he wanted and he took what was left.  No chance of falling out over who profited most from which fleece.   Do you even see where we, the bride, even play a role in the negotiations?   We are responsive to the contractors, in that their faithfulness to uphold the terms elicits our loving devotion.  Isn’t that convenient because we are by nature contract breakers and our signing the contract would be no guarantee of surety.  We have no dowery. I love the legalese of Scripture.

Practically, is this the picture you get of marriage today, even “Christian” marriage?  I think, more often than not, marriage today doesn’t even resemble biblical marriage.  For example, the picture of this ancient Jewish wedding, with the bride leaning on the bride-groom, her lover, as Solomon puts it, is only symbolically reproduced when the bride takes the arm of the groom as they recede down the aisle.  How does any of this square today?  Why is she leaning? She is trusting where he’s leading her. This is how the scriptural command of submission by the wife is defined. Paul tells the Ephesians, “Wives submit to your husbands.” (5:22) A commentary on this passage defines submission as living in grateful acknowledgement of her husband’s care and leadership.  The picture in the Jewish wedding is not the husband dragging the bride by her hair, nor is she blindfolded and gagged.  In contrast neither are they holding hands skipping down the isle.  She is allowing herself to be gently led and willingly walking.

Recently I found out that someone I knew was in the process of a divorce.  I attended this couple’s wedding and witnessed their vows.  When the minister got to the bride’s vow, he led her to promise to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and cherish, till death do us part.  Wait, did my ears deceive me? Did their Pastor have a senior moment? Something was missing. A four letter word was left out. Was it intentional?  It should have been right between the cherishing part and the death part.  Did you catch it?  What happened to the “obey” part.  Me being me, I had to find out.  Later on I cornered the unsuspecting padre and asked him about his omission.  “I’m a little curious,”, I lied to him, I was a lot curious.  “Did you mean to leave out of the vows for her to obey her husband?”  The Pastor’s response floored me.  He said that the vow to obey was not required “anymore.”  I had to bid him adieu before I came unglued.  Where did he come off saying that God no longer required, as if the scriptures had an appendix, the wife to obey her husband?  Wasn’t this a Protestant and evangelical denomination?  How did we come to this point?

For one thing, it’s just plain bad theology.  The Roman Catholic church has never required the obedience vow. Don’t call yourself a protestant if you’re not willing to protest the Roman Catholic traditions. The Roman Empire brought about mutual consent marriages. That is, they did away with betrothal for commoners.   Anyone could marry anyone and if it didn’t work out they could have a do-over. They allowed the publicans to do about anything they wanted as long as there allegiance to the emperor was maintained.  Well you know what happened to the Romans.

A poor definition of obedience is another reason for the deletion of the vow.  Go back to the picture of the Jewish ceremony.  Does that look like oppression or tyranny?  The definition of obedience is even more clearly explained by Paul when he tells the Ephesian wives why they must submit.  “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” (Ephes. 5:22) I’m obviously not a wife.  I tread on dangerous ground here as I am quite aware that yesterday’s post was mostly read by my wife’s facebook friends, and if you are following with this post you may be ready to click off.  Just hang on I’m coming to the best part.

In Paul’s reasoning for the wife’s required obedience he says more to husbands than wives. Husbands you must be Christ to your wife.  What does that entail?  In simple terms, when Paul goes on to husbands in verse 25 he says to love your wives as Christ loved the church.  You know the story.  You are to sacrifice yourself for her up to and including death.  Do you know what that entails?  Read the gospel accounts of Christ’s life.  From birth in a dirty animal pen, to an agonizing death at the hands of his oppressors, as Christ you must love her actively by your willingness to sacrifice. You must be willing to live a life of a man without status, tempted by Satan and the world, rejected by men, even your own family, for the sake of your wife.  You must even be willing to endure the scorn of those who you are sacrificing for as Christ endures our scorn manifested in our disobedience. Why did Christ give up a throne in heaven, to condescend to human form?  Not for himself but for the Glory of the Father and the good of his bride.  Are you willing to make her obedience easy?  Christ did ours.  Her ability to obey you is directly dependent on your willingness to love her. We love Christ because he first loved us, and gave himself as a propitiation , a covering to shield us from the wrath of God.  You are her shield.  In fact you are to love her in spite of her obedience. Now man up!  Ok ladies. You may now share this post with your husbands?  They can hate me more now than yesterday.

For those of you who are old hats at this marriage thing, you know what I’m saying.  You know the lows and highs of it.  For some of you this may all be new and overwhelming.  For some of you God may intend that you not be distracted by living in union with another sinner, but rather he intends for you to live as his bride only.  Regardless of your situation, the picture of marriage in the Song of Songs, the prophets, the histories and law, the visions, the Psalms, the Proverbs, the gospel accounts, and the epistles all apply to you and me.  I am not qualified to counsel you on this topic but God is.  Use the word of God to guide you through this pilgrimage in this wilderness and lean on you lover, Christ our Lord.

God willing, I rest my case.

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