“Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the LORD.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.”
“‘Til death do us part” hangs on as a quaint slogan with no real meaning that is used in modern wedding ceremonies.
I have observed that many modern marriage ceremonies now include vows that declare the marriage will last “so long as love shall last.”
Of course, this is quite different from vowing fidelity so long as “both shall live.”
Where did the faithful get the idea of commitment expected from husband and wife so long as they both shall live?
How is it that the churches of our God stressed permanence in marriage so strongly?
Didn’t believers in an earlier era take into consideration the possibilities of family pressure, new love interests or temptation intruding into the lives of married couples?
Or why do Christian pastors fail to consider that people might fall out of love?
Perhaps theologians from an earlier era were so focused on esoteric concepts that they were incapable of thinking realistically?
Or, can it actually be possible that from earliest days believers accepted what is written in the Word as authoritative for life and practise?
The Song of Songs is a love poem.
This poem presents in graphic detail the love of Solomon for a young woman, and it expressively, colourfully speaks of the love with which she reciprocates.
There is passion—raw passion—in this poem.
However, there is an aspect of love that is absent from much of modern love underlying all that is written in this brief book.
I suspect that women in this day are as romantic as they ever were.
Every woman wants to be appreciated for who she is, loved for her own character and not only for what her lover can take.
Men still want companionship—someone who will stand with them as they move throughout the stages of life.
Both men and women today are inundated with the message that they must engage in an endless search for satisfaction; the reason the search is empty is that they are taught that personal gratification trumps selfless love that gives without thought of receiving.
I don’t know that I will convince the young that biblical lovemaking is truly gratifying; there is no way to know this until you have lived long enough to verify it as true.
I suspect that having been raised in the confused and confusing atmosphere of the modern pursuit of personal gratification, it will be nearly impossible to believe that one can find fulfilment through giving without reservation.
However, the precepts of the Word stand—commitment to one person and selfless giving to make her or him all that she or he should be still yields the richest rewards.
Before launching into the message proper, I believe it will prove beneficial to take the time to point out the different complexions of the word “love.”
The Hebrew term speaks of affection between two human beings [e.g.
GENESIS 22:2; EXODUS 21:8], as well as people loving God [e.g.
In a similar manner, God loves mankind, especially His chosen people Israel [e.g.
DEUTERONOMY 4:37; ISAIAH 43:4].
As an aside of perhaps some significance, nowhere are children commanded to love their parents; children are to revere, honour and obey their parents.
Husbands are to love their wives, and wives are to love their husbands [1 SAMUEL 1:5].
However, people may love things that are concrete or abstract.
Isaac “loved” delicious food [GENESIS 27:4].
Others are said to love wine and oil [PROVERBS 21:27] and bribes [ISAIAH 1:23].
The Psalmist loved God’s commandments [PSALM 119:47], His law [PSALM 119:97], His testimonies [PSALM 119:119] and His precepts [PSALM 119:159].
At other times, men are said to love death [PROVERBS 8:36], vain words [PSALM 4:2], cursing [PSALM 109:17] or a false oath [ZECHARIAH 8:17].
At other times, men are said to love truth and peace [ZECHARIAH 8:19], salvation [PSALM 40:16] and wisdom [PROVERBS 29:3].
Thus, it should be evident that the concept conveyed by the Hebrew word is akin to what is conveyed in the most neutral sense by our English term “love.”
In contradistinction, the Greek words translated into English by our word “love” break down into three concepts.
One word—not found in the Bible—refers to the act of love, the physical expression of love.
Another word speaks of affection such as would be expressed between family members.
However, the word usually associated with God’s love for mankind, and consequently the love that is urged on those who believe in the Son of God, is a selfless love that seeks to benefit the one loved.
This selfless, sacrificial love is in view in our text.
LOVE’S ACCEPTANCE —
“Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm.”
The verses of our text are not infrequently read at Christian weddings.
I’ve even heard them read at the weddings of non-believers.
They are powerful words, if we understand what is said.
The verses open with a plea for acceptance.
Love that meets the biblical criterion accepts the one loved and seeks acceptance from that one.
Thus, Shulammite—the young woman who is Solomon’s love interest in this poem [see SONG 6:13]—pleads for acceptance.
In that ancient day, seals were made with wood, clay or stone.
The seal was used to impress an image into lumps of clay or wax.
If the seal was cylindrical—worn on a cord around the neck, it could be rolled over a lump of clay, producing a distinctive image.
It the seal was on a finger ring, it might include a seal or a scarab.
Whichever form the seal might be it would be engraved with pictorial images, written text, or both.
The seal would be used to indicate ownership or for maintaining security.
“One would use a seal called a bulla to secure a treasury, to guarantee the authenticity of a royal edict or a deed, and to protect the contents of a scroll.”
Understanding the significance of the seal, its importance to the owner, many people understand that the young woman is asking Solomon to take possession of her.
If this is the case, she is offering herself to Solomon in an exclusive fashion.
This is not the idea of “free love” that seems to characterise modern relationships; rather, this points to exclusivity and commitment.
However, there is information here that is necessary in order to understand more perfectly what is being asked.
“Set me as a seal upon your heart,” is her request.
This plea is followed by the equally strong request to “[Set me] as a seal upon your arms.”
The English language no longer displays gender in its words, as is true for most languages of the world.
In the original language of our text, the endings for heart and arm are masculine, demonstrating that the Shulammite is asking to mark her lover as belonging to her; she is not asking to be possessed.
She is not pleading with Solomon to take possession of her; rather, she is asking him to commit himself to her, taking her love as the signature mark that he is committed to her.
This is a statement indicating the absolute devotion of a couple in love; the words are an expression of the love they have for one another.
Undoubtedly, the passion of young love is inherent in this portion of the poem; but the earlier portions of the poem provide ample evidence of the deep, burning passion that comes from commitment to one another and of the acceptance of one another.
These words of the text speak of unbreakable devotion.
Modern people sometimes object to such strong statements as these.
Some years past, I performed a wedding ceremony for a delightful couple.
As I require, the couple attended a series of premarital sessions designed to address the common problems that will threaten their love for one another.
During this time of study, we address such practical issues as holidays, making a budget and handling finances, learning how to have a healthy fight, and other matters that can mar a marriage.
At the last, we design the wedding ceremony, drafting the vows and actually planning for the wedding day.
I serve as an advocate for the bride, running interference with the bride’s mother to ensure that the ceremony is the bride’s, and not her mother’s wedding.
It was toward the end of our time together in these sessions; we were addressing these final matters when the bride—a brilliant young lawyer—stated, “I refuse to say that I will submit to him.”
I had known the couple for some years; I knew her to be of quite fiery temperament.
Rather than reacting to her adamant statement, I asked why she felt so strongly about this issue.
She stated that she was a modern woman, and she didn’t believe a woman should have to submit to anyone—not to him, not to anyone.
I asked her to open her Bible to a particular portion of the Word and to read what it said.
The Scripture passage was EPHESIANS 5:22-24.
“Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.
For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior.
Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.”
I pointed out that women are to cultivate a submissive attitude to their husbands.
This is not a cultural issue, nor is it an antiquated form of misogyny.
The requirement for an attitude of submission reveals the heart of a woman in love with the Master.
We walked through the matter as I pointed out that she was inviting her fiancé to assume his rightful place as spiritual head of the family.
By pledging her submission to her own husband, she was acknowledging that he bore responsibility to assume a role as the spiritual head of the family as God had assigned.
I also read 1 PETER 3:1-6 with the couple.