Weddings in Israelite history and culture were different from ours. The groom prepared the home where the newlyweds would one day live (Jn. 14:1-4). When the dwelling was ready, the groom would show up at the bride’s home at an unexpected hour (Matt. 25:1-13) to take her away. You read about that in chapter 3 as Solomon pulled up in his luxurious carriage to take her away. What followed, then, was a wedding feast/celebration that could last for days. Even though many gathered for the celebration (Jn. 2), the marriage was consummated on the couple’s first night.
What you just read was a description of the wedding night. Thankfully, the author did not go into great detail. Hopefully, the shade of your blush of embarrassment is not too deep. But Solomon does attempt to give words to what he sees, smells, and touches. He describes his bride’s beauty in terms of goats and sheep, of ribbons, of pomegranates and towers. While those are not necessarily the symbols of beauty that one would use today, she would have considered them complimentary. And those from an Old Testament pastoral setting would have found them commonplace and poetic.
Indeed, there is much here that is worthy of further discussion, but let’s push through the awkwardness with these two thoughts:
- The attention to the spouse. Sexual intimacy is not ultimately a self-serving focus on “I, me, and my.” When enjoyed properly within marriage, it draws attention to the mate and his/her needs and pleasures. It is designed to express love and give joy to the other.
- The value of purity (v. 12). Solomon saw his new wife as a “garden locked up,” “a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.” It seems that she had kept herself reserved only for him. Of course, this is a two-way street. God’s desire is that sexual intimacy be a joyful expression for a husband and wife in marriage. He has designed it only for that context. If you are married, give yourselves regularly to (1 Cor. 7:1-7) and keep yourselves only for one another. If you are not married, don’t give yourself away until you are married.