Plant based romance
King Solomon is noted for having led the building of the temple in Jerusalem (1Ki 5-8). He is also famous for his great wisdom. Early in his career he went to the high place and offered a thousand offerings to God (1Ki 3). The Lord appeared to him in a dream at night and told him to ask what he would. This is like what we call today a blank check. What would most people ask given such an opportunity? What would a king ask? Solomon set aside all earthly, material possibilities and asked God for wisdom to lead His people and to discern good and evil. God was pleased with this request, and not only gave him wisdom above all others, He gave him the things he may have asked for otherwise: riches and honor, and long life if he kept God’s commandments. This is very much like the statement of Jesus: “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Mt 6:33).” Solomon’s wisdom was soon demonstrated in the case of the two prostitutes’ dispute over their babies in which he determined who the real mother was by her willingness to give up her child to see him live (1Ki 3:16-28). He also spoke 3,000 proverbs and composed 1,005 songs (1Ki 4:32).
There are 5 books of the Bible that are collectively called the wisdom books: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Solomon. Solomon wrote 3 of them. The book of Proverbs was written mostly by Solomon (Prov 1:1), but he did not write the last 2 chapters (Prov 30:1, Prov 31:1). The first 29 chapters have 851 verses, not all of which are single-line proverbs. So, we do not have over 2/3 of the proverbs he wrote. Of the 1,005 songs he wrote we only have one - the Song of Solomon which is also called the Song of Songs. This is a love poem which describes the love between Solomon and an unnamed girl. It includes statements of love between him and her, and conversations between her and other women about how much she loves him. We only have a few hints of who she might be. Song of Solomon 6:13 says she was a Shulamite, which means she was from the town of Shunem. The only other places a similar word appears are 1Kings 1-2 which describe a Shunammite girl named Abishag which helped king David keep warm in his old age, and 2Kings 4 which occurred over 100 years later. The words Shulamite and Shunammite mean the exact same thing with only a slight difference in spelling. When Solomon’s brother Adonijah asked to marry Abishag after David’s death, Solomon became so enraged he had him killed for that and for his attempt at a coup against their father (1Ki 2). Solomon ended up with 700 wives and 300 concubines (1Ki 11:3). He did not follow his own advice in Proverbs 1-9, and these women led his heart away from God. However, at the time Song of Solomon was written, he apparently had less. At that time Solomon wrote, “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her (S.O.S. 6:8-9).” So, apparently although he had many women, his deepest affections were directed to this one girl, whoever she was. This shows us that God’s original design for marriage being one man and one woman is the right one. Although people can violate the scripture and have multiple partners for sex, we are designed by God for only one true love. Sex outside that marital relationship demeans everyone and the meaning of intimacy.
The book of the Song of Solomon is very beautiful and intimate. Some people are even uncomfortable with it being in the Bible because it is romantically descriptive. Some think it is an allegory of the love between the Lord and His people. Israel is described as God’s wife in the Old Testament (Is 54:1 & 6, Is 62:5, Jer 2:2, Jer 3:1 & 20, Eze 16:32, Hos 1-2), and the church is called the bride of Christ in the New Testament (Mt 9:15, Mt 25:1, Jn 3:29, Rom 7:4, 1Cor 6:16-17, 2Cor 11:2, Eph 5:22-32, Rev 19:7-9, Rev 21:1-2 & 9-10 (Mt 5:14, Heb 12:22-23). Solomon calls the girl in his poem his spouse 6 times (S.O.S. 4:8-12, S.O.S. 5:1).
Solomon not only wrote of immaterial wisdom, He also “spake of trees, from the cedar tree that is in Lebanon even unto the hyssop that springeth out of the wall: he spake also of beasts, and of fowl, and of creeping things, and of fishes (1Ki 4:33)”. This is a recurring theme in this poem. Solomon and his wife talk of plants and their products repeatedly throughout. There are 28 kinds of plants and their fruits mentioned 85 times: wine, ointment, vineyards, spikenard, myrrh, camphire, rose, lily, apple, grapes, flowers, fig, frankincense, powders, pomegranate, spices, honey, cedar, gardens, fruits, saffron, aloes, cinnamon, calamus, nuts, wheat, palm, and mandrakes are all referred to in this poem. They also spoke of sheep, horse, dove, deer, foxes, milk, and goats in describing their love. Their manner of depicting their mutual affection relied heavily on nature, and mostly on plants. What does this reflect to us today? Most of the population of America and the world is concentrated in cities, sometimes very densely. This was not always the case. What the Bible often calls nations were more like city/states, and what we call cities were more like towns. Not only was the general population of the world smaller, it was not as densely concentrated. When Noah and his family left the ark, God told them to replenish the earth (Gen 9:1). This is the same word used in Genesis 1:28 where God told Adam and Eve to replenish the earth. It means to fill. On a side note, the use of this word in Genesis 1:28 does not support the false doctrine that there was a world before the one described as being created in Genesis 1-2. This will not be fully discussed here, but there is no such word as plenish. The prefix “re” does not always mean to do again. Some of the descendants of Noah gathered into one place after the flood and built the city of Babylon (Gen 11). This became the place from which all paganism spread throughout the world. God confused their one language, and they spread out and filled the earth anyway as God had said.
Many people today are very disconnected from nature. Years ago, I took a group of teens from the inner city to a church meeting in a rural area. On the way there they were amazed to see cows and horses for the first time in their lives, and even asked if they were real. They had never been outside of their immediate urban area. I also organized an overnight tent campout for a group of men. Some of them had never been outdoors like that before. My father grew up on the south side of Chicago, and his father kept goats and chickens at their home. They used to hunt pheasant and rabbit on the train tracks. Urban life is not a sin, and it has its advantages, but we should also remember that there is more to life than asphalt. The Song of Solomon reflects a more agricultural lifestyle. People grew their own food and interacted with nature as part of living. It is good for city dwellers to get out of town and experience the beauty of the natural world God created for us to enjoy. There is just something intangible about the tangible world God created. Sometimes we get so caught up in “living” that we don’t “take time to smell the flowers”. A gorgeous sunset goes unnoticed as we navigate traffic. The miracle of spring is over before we know it. Why do women find a gift of flowers to be so romantic? The man knows they will shrivel in week, but the smile on her face makes it worth it, not to mention the “Song of Solomon experience” that may follow. Our marriages can use a little plant-based romance. Our lives, our marriages, and our families could use a break from the routine, from the familiar, and from the business of life to enjoy the refreshing of some time spent focusing on the little things, on a change of pace, on a divine work of art called a sunset or a forest or a lake, on what really matters most. Don’t get caught up racing to the finish line and miss the journey. Turn off the electronics and talk to each other.