The movie An Indecent Proposal stars Robert Redford as a billionaire who meets Woody Harrelson and Demi Moore at a casino in Las Vegas. They’re a married couple who’ve lost their savings at the roulette table. Gambled on the hope of making enough money to fund a real estate development.
And the movie gets its title from the offer Redford makes them. He watches how in love they are, and he wants what they’ve got. He says, “I’ve got money, I’ve got businesses, I’ve got security. But you’ve got something I just don’t have. Love.”
Woody Harrelson replies, “I guess there’s limits to what money can buy.” “Not many,” says Redford. Demi Moore joins in, “Some things aren’t for sale. You can’t buy people.
And so Redford comes back with his INDECENT PROPOSAL. He says, “So what are you saying? You can’t buy love? That’s a bit of a cliché isn’t it? Let’s test the cliché.” And he turns to Harrelson, “Suppose I was to offer you one million dollars for one night with your wife.” And the rest of the movie is about how that choice plays out. About what LOVE is worth. About what SEX is worth. It’s about loyalty. And money. And jealousy. And power.
We think it’s A MODERN dilemma. But I’m pretty sure that’s what’s happening here in Song of Songs chapter 8. Around 1000 BC. And these last few verses of Ch 8 are the key that unlocks the meaning of the book. Solomon is used to getting any woman he wants. 1 Kings 11 tells us he had 700 wives and 300 concubines! And in v11, we read about his vineyard, with its tenants who look after it. 11 Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon; he let out his vineyard to tenants. Each was to bring for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver.
Almost certainly, that’s his HAREM, and its attendants. And their job included finding new girls, then offering the family 1000 shekels in payment, and then bringing the new addition into Solomon’s harem. But then they meet a girl who’s not so easily influenced by riches. V12 But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit.
She’s the only one who’ll offer her body, her vineyard, to anyone else. It’s not for the attendants to offer her. So, she tells Solomon he can KEEP his thousand shekels. And the attendants can keep their commission. She’s not open to offers. V10. She describes herself as a wall, with breast like towers. SHE chooses who she offers her comfort and contentment to.
And we can imagine as the news is reported back to Solomon. His first ever knockback. He wants to know what sort of woman turns down Solomon, the richest, wisest man alive. The greatest lover. And he arrives on the scene to see ANOTHER man calling out for his beloved, his wife. V13.You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice! And then she appears, and answers. 14 Come away, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains. And they walk off into the sunset, arm in arm. In love and enjoying each other.
Do as I say, not as I’ve done: The voice of experience
And as Solomon looks on as an outsider on this scene, he realises that he’s missed out. Just like Robert Redford’s character in the movie. He’s got more of everything than anyone else. He’s had more SEX than anyone. But he doesn’t know LOVE. He doesn’t know what THIS COUPLE have.
And may that be what THE WORLD realises as it looks at OUR marriages! It’s looking for love and satisfaction in all the wrong places. But when people look at Christian marriages, may they see enjoyment and contentment and satisfaction. May they look longingly at OUR marriages.
That’s Solomon. And so, he sets out to write a Song of Songs. The greatest song ever written. About true love and great sex. And how it’s NOT found with a cheque book, or in multiple partners or one night stands. And it CAN’T be rushed. And how it’s NOT necessarily better with expensive dates and gifts and romance. And how it’s WORTH waiting for the real thing, and letting it develop NATURALLY. It’s a song, I think, with the basic message “Do as I SAY, not as I’ve DONE.”
Frank Avent was telling me about his endocrinologist, who is the expert on the pancreas, and Frank’s diabetes, among other things. And his good advice is to watch your weight, and not eat sugar, and you’ll avoid type 2 diabetes. Except the doctor is very overweight, and has type 2 diabetes HIMSELF. So his message to Frank must be like Solomon’s. “Do as I SAY, not as I’ve DONE. Avoid the mistakes I’ve made.” That’s the message of the song.
And the stars are this couple. It’s a song that’s undoubtedly about SEX. And it CELEBRATES it. Which isn’t what people have THOUGHT was Christianity’s view about sex. So it comes as a surprise to lots of people. It CELEBRATES and DESCRIBES sex. But it’s not EXPLICIT. The language is DARING AND SUGGESTIVE. But it’s full of METAPHOR – often to do with fruit and gardens and fountains and eating and drinking. And we’re left to IMAGINE much of what’s going on. But it’s never OBVIOUS. In fact, there’s plenty of opinions about what almost every verse means.
Sex is about love
But the FIRST lesson we’re to learn about sex. Is that it’s about LOVE. Love is the FOUNDATION. By God’s design, great sex is ALWAYS within a LOVING, monogamous, committed relationship between a husband and wife. Look at 8:6. The woman declares her LOVE for her husband. 6 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.
This isn’t a CRUSH. A FLING. “I’m here FOREVER,” she says. “I’m superglued onto your heart. I’m tattooed onto your arm.” Why? Because LOVE IS STRONG AS DEATH. It’s unstoppable. Undefeatable. Or in v7, it’s like a fire you can’t put out. Like an oyster on a rock – you can’t wash it away.
And TRUE love is JEALOUS. Protective of the one it loves. THAT sort of jealousy is GOOD. Love FIGHTS for a marriage. It’s right for a wife to be jealous for her husband’s affections and attention. Jealousy like THAT is powerful. Stronger than sickness and poverty and childbirth and prostate surgery and temptations.
And in the second half of v7 she considers how VALUABLE love is. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned. YOU CAN’T BUY LOVE, she says. Perhaps there’s a hint there of Solomon’s indecent proposal?
Sex is about just two people
So, with that FOUNDATION (in Ch 8), let’s jump back to the BEGINNING, and skim through the song. And see what lessons Solomon wants to teach us. FIRST. Sex is about just TWO PEOPLE. Solomon got it SO WRONG! 1000 sexual partners. And he’s STILL not happy. But this couple only have eyes for each other. 2:14. The husband can’t wait to see his wife. 14 My dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside, show me your FACE, let me hear your VOICE; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely.
And then in 2:16, his wife responds. 16 My lover is mine and I am his; It’s perfectly RIGHT for there to be no sharing with anyone else. They belong to each other. It’s the same idea in 7:10 I belong to my lover, and his DESIRE is for me. If his wife is 150 cm with short brown hair and freckles. Then the type of woman he finds attractive and desirable is… 150cm tall with short brown hair and freckles! Nobody else!
Or jump over to Ch 4. It’s a long, adoring description from the husband about everything he finds so attractive and gorgeous about his wife’s body. And then, v 12, he says 12 You are a garden LOCKED UP, my sister, my bride; you are a spring ENCLOSED, a SEALED fountain. 13 Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, 14 nard and saffron, In other words, you’re modest and demure. You’re not a flirt. You don’t tantalise other men with revealing clothing, or suggestive looks or conversation.
But notice what ELSE he loves. Her garden might be locked up to OTHERS, but its delights are available to HIM. V13 “Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with choice fruits, with henna and nard,” and so on. And in v16, she invites HIM ALONE into her garden. To enjoy all it has to offer. 16 Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on MY garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into HIS garden and taste its choice fruits. And the husband is quick to respond. 5:1 I have come into MY garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. HER garden is now HIS garden. It doesn’t spell out exactly what they’re doing. But it doesn’t really NEED to, does it?
Sex is about words
Next point. Just in case you hadn’t noticed it already. Sex is about WORDS. Husbands can learn a thing or two from this man. The start of Ch 4 has an imaginative description of everything he loves about his wife’s body. You may be wise to avoid the connection between your wife’s hair and a flock of goats (v1). Or her TEETH and a flock of freshly shorn SHEEP (v2). But learn from his attention to detail. And his application to the task. And his single-minded determination. And his SHEER CREATIVITY!
And don’t stop with her BODY. STUDY her. Her LIFE. Her PREFERENCES. Spend time thinking about what you can do to PLEASE her. What might she like as a gift? Or as a thoughtful gesture?
And at the start of Ch 7 he’s on the job again. It’s a full-body inventory. From feet to head. He’s drinking in every detail. V8. May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, 9 and your mouth like the best wine. And notice how the woman RESPONDS to his words. V9 of Ch 7. May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth. 10 I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me.
He’s won her over. One commentator on these verses says, “Men require twenty-four SECONDS of foreplay. Women twenty-four HOURS. Husbands, we need to connect with her MIND before we connect with her BODY. But compliments have to be GENUINE. Flattery has an ulterior motive. But compliments are completely other person-centred. Gifts need to be “JUST BECAUSE I LOVE YOU”. Time and attention needs to be SINCERE. They’re NOT to come with an agenda. There’s to be no expectation of a FAVOUR IN RETURN. That’s not LOVE.
Sex is worth waiting for
ANOTHER lesson Solomon’s learned is that SEX IS WORTH WAITING FOR. Like every good song, this song has a chorus. And it’s always sung by THE WIFE. And it’s always sung to her friends, the DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM. And we hear it first at Ch 2 v6. She’s describing her husband’s embraces. 6 His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me. And here’s the chorus 7 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you by the gazelles and by the does of the field: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. And it’s there again in Ch 3 v5. And it’s there again in Ch 8 v4. Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires. In other words, this is GOOD. But that doesn’t mean RUSH INTO IT. It’s ONLY this good because it happened at the right TIME, with the right PERSON. In the right SITUATION. Sexual desire is an appetite, but you don’t HAVE to satisfy it. (Unlike what the world says). The reality is you CHOOSE when you satisfy it. YOU choose when to arouse, or awaken, love. Self-control is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
It’s a word for SINGLES. Don’t rush into marriage. It’s GOOD, but only if the timing, and the PERSON is right. If YOU’RE at the right place in your life to marry. Marriage to the WRONG person can be FAR WORSE than being single. And it’s a word to MARRIEDS TOO. Probably more to HUSBANDS. There’ll be SEASONS in your marriage. Times when it’s loving and right to NOT have sex. Love never DEMANDS. It’s always about the OTHER PERSON. Loving sex is NEVER just about you, and what YOU want. Whatever your situation, trust God’s perfect timing.
Sex in the real world
Solomon’s NEXT lesson is a dose of realism. About sex in the REAL world. One of the cruellest lies of pornography is that women have perfect bodies, and are always available. But the reality is more about mismatched libidos, cramps and crying babies. More about exhaustion and brains that won’t switch off and dodgy hips and yeast infections and erectile dysfunction and inconvenient phone calls. So, Ch 1, we see the wife’s insecurities about her body. V5. Dark am I, yet lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, dark like the tents of Kedar, like the tent curtains of Solomon. 6 Do not stare at me because I am dark, because I am darkened by the sun. My mother’s sons were angry with me and made me take care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have neglected. She’s suntanned, with callouses on her hands, and unwashed dirty hair.
She heads off to find her husband at his work as a shepherd. There’s no opportunity for a romantic date, so they make the most of what they’ve got. V7. Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. And when she arrives, they spread out their picnic on the grass. As good as any king at his rich banquet. V12. While the king was at HIS table, MY PERFUME spread its fragrance. And down in v16. How handsome you are, my lover! Oh, how charming! And our bed is verdant (A lush green pasture) 17 The beams of our house are CEDARS; our rafters are FIRS. They make themselves at home under shade of the trees. The REALITY of life doesn’t need to squeeze out the romance. Be creative and pro-active and imaginative.
Down in v13 of Ch 2, she invites him, “Arise, come, my darling, my beautiful one, come with me.” And he doesn’t need to be asked twice. Despite the outside picnic, and her unkept hair and tanned skin. V14.My dove in the clefts of the rock… show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. And then look at v15 Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom.
What are LITTLE FOXES? And why does he ask her to CATCH them? Well, remember that her vineyard is her body, or their intimacy together. And foxes RUIN vineyards. They’re a PEST. I think the little foxes are those distractions and annoying details that REAL LIFE is about. And they can upset a couple’s physical relationship. And he’s asking her to CATCH them. To not let them get in the way of their enjoyment of each other. It’s a call that they cooperate with honest communication. And that they’re creative and keep a sense of humour. When it comes to tiredness and teething babies and cramps and car alarms and mismatched libidos. And a hundred other excuses that can de-rail intimacy.
Husbands need to hear the word about WAITING UNTIL THE TIME IS RIGHT. Perhaps it’s WOMEN who need to hear the word about CATCHING LITTLE FOXES. Work against your natural inclination to get distracted by the dirty laundry or trouble at work. Work hard to be IN THE MOMENT with your husband.
REAL LIFE isn’t all romance, and perfect bodies, and perfect timing. But the couple are COMMITTED to making it work, because they’re COMMITTED to EACH OTHER.
Sex ISN’T just about two people
NEXT point. Sex is about two people. But it’s also NOT just about two people. All the way through the song, THE FRIENDS are looking on. Eyewitnesses of their relationship. Giving their approval, and guidance and support. A wedding is a PUBLIC ceremony, where promises are made before FRIENDS and FAMILY and before God. That’s a GOOD thing. For the stability of the marriage AND of SOCIETY. Because the community helps the married couple. And the married couple help the community. And you’ve got the daughters of Zion listening in. Learning the lessons from the experienced wife.
And advice flows THE OTHER WAY TOO. In Ch 8, we read about the place of the PARENTS in this marriage. V2, the wife says to her husband 2 I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house-SHE WHO HAS TAUGHT ME. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates. It seems like her mum’s taught her about THE ART OF INTIMACY. You might think that’s awkward, but who BETTER to do it? Her friends? The media?
Sex ISN’T just about two people. And that’s got implications for our modern debate on same sex marriage. Lots of people say it doesn’t matter what two consenting adults do behind closed doors. But the relationships of married couples influences society, and society influences a couple’s relationship. Society will SUFFER if marriage is re-defined to include same sex couples. And AS A CHURCH community, we can be helping our couples. Mentoring and supporting and guiding them. For the good of the individual family AND the CHURCH family.
Sex is good, but not ultimate
And finally, the message of the whole Bible is that sex is GOOD. But it’s not ULTIMATE. It’s not the greatest joy and satisfaction there is. Sex, like every OTHER good thing in God’s world, can become AN IDOL. Sex, like every other good thing, works best when it’s enjoyed with thankfulness to God who GAVE it. Rather than WORSHIPPING it. Rather than expecting it to complete or fulfil us. Sex is GOOD, but it’s not ultimate. Or supreme. Sex isn’t your right. . No one ever DIED from not having sex.
It’s not the solution. If you’re single, it won’t end your sexual frustration or cure your self-control if you got married tonight. It won’t change you. Only God can do that through the gospel. Our world screams at us that sex is the best thing on offer, and you’re sub-human if you’re not having sex every night. And to impose boundaries on who you can have sex with is cruel and inhumane. But Jesus was the most fulfilled and complete human being who ever lived. And yet he never married. And he never had sex
And, like everything else in this life, IT WON’T LAST. There’ll be no sex in eternity. There’ll be connection that’s FAR BETTER. And we won’t MISS IT. The connection and fulfilment of two people joining is a picture, a shadow, a signpost of a far deeper and longer-lasting connection. Something BETTER. We’ll look at this passage more next week. But Ephesians 5 describes that husband and wife is a picture of Jesus, the bridegroom, and THE CHURCH, his bride. And the honour and love and service we offer each other help us to UNDERSTAND and RECEIVE and LONG FOR all that Jesus DOES, and WILL, offer us. Here in Song of Songs, the imagery that’s used to describe their intimacy involves gardens and fruit and fountains. Creation BEGAN in a garden with fruit and fountains. And the NEW creation is ALSO described as a garden, and it’s got fruit and fountains. And as Revelation describes the new creation, there’s ANOTHER married couple at its centre. Jesus, the bridegroom, and HIS precious pure BRIDE, his CHURCH. And THAT connection and that pleasure and that intimacy are the REALITY that all our pleasures HERE are just SHADOWS of.
That’s the relationship you REALLY want to have. The one that’s worth FAR MORE than a million dollars. LONG for it. And EXPERIENCE it. And ENJOY it.
 O’Donnell, 37.