Monday, February 11, 2019

Book Review: The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs

The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs. Philip Graham Ryken. 2019. [Feb 28] Crossway. 208 pages. [Source: Review copy]

First sentence: The woman slipped into the pew in front of me and sat down, alone, just a few minutes before the worship service began.

The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs is a commentary on the book Song of Songs or Song of Solomon--depending on your bible translation. Ryken guides readers verse by verse, chapter by chapter through this Old Testament wisdom book. He invites readers to think of this book as an album of love songs. There are tracks--songs--capturing the whole experience. Courtship. Wedding. Honeymoon. Being In Love. Fighting and making up again. The chapters of this one are poems--songs--and the story they tell isn't as straight-forward (if straight-forward at all) as other genres of Scripture--aka historical writings.

Why do believers need to study the Song of Songs?

In the introduction Ryken writes, "We live in a world where sexuality is ruined by sin, its beauty obscured by our brokenness. We need a divine vision for the way sex was meant to be, with a gospel that offers forgiveness for sexual sin and an empowering grace to live into the sexuality that God wants to give us."

Is the book about human sexuality and marriage? Is the book about Christ's love for the church? Every commentary has to pick a way to interpret the book. Ryken answers with a yes to both. He argues that it isn't about a historical couple--Solomon and one of his many wives. He argues that it is about an ideal couple--courtship and marriage as it should be even if it isn't always. He also believes that it can teach us a great deal about God's love for his people. When Ryken is through guiding us through the book Song of Songs, he takes a chapter to flash to the REAL happily-ever-after--Christ's marriage to the church as celebrated in the book of Revelation.

Who is this book for? Engaged couples? Married couples? Single people? Ryken's audience is all the above. He makes a case that the book is equally for the single. And not in the wimpy way that single people will one day marry and need to start preparing their hearts and marriage now for that moment when all the waiting will be over. He acknowledges that not every single person will marry--and that God's plan may include singleness. That God's good and perfect plan may never include marriage for some. To be single is not to be missing out on God's magnificent plan.

I had my doubts about how much I'd like this one. I am single. I didn't really know how applicable this one would ever be to me. But I found it worth reading.

Sexual restraint is spiritually fruitful. One day the cross-bearing we do with our sexual desires will be crowned with honor and consummated in the eternal life of Jesus Christ. 
We all have a choice to make, whether we are married or single, and whether we desire the same sex or the opposite sex. Will we let our sinful desires govern our reading of Scripture, or will we let the Bible teach us what we should want? Will we let temptation take control, or will we honor God with our bodies by embracing his purposes for our sexuality?
When obedience to God contradicts what I think will give me pleasure, let me ask myself if I love him. ~ Elisabeth Elliot
If I do love Jesus, I will choose purity for him over pleasure for myself. 
The Song of Songs is like the box top for a jigsaw puzzle. When you dump the pieces on the table, they're a total mess; you need a picture to help put them into place. The Song of Songs is a picture of love for people who are still figuring out how the pieces fit together. It doesn't show us everything that's broken, but mainly shows us the way things were always meant to be.
When the Bible says that God is our husband, and when it says that Jesus is the Bridegroom of our salvation, it means that we are loved with this kind of love--the ardent affection that we see in the Song of Songs. 
We need to be careful not to think that sexual sins are worse than other sins, or that they carry a special stigma. 
The sacrifice we make in pursuing sexual purity is a precious gift to God. Practicing celibacy is not merely refraining from any form of sexual intimacy; it is the active choice to dedicate our bodies to God. 
It only takes one person to forgive, but it takes at least two people to reconcile. This is the basic difference between forgiveness and reconciliation. 
The love of Jesus is as strong as death--no stronger! He loved you all the way to death on the cross, but his love did not die in the grave. His death was the defeat of death, and therefore on the third day he rose again with the power of eternal love. HIs triumphant love for you can never be extinguished by any doubt, drowned by any sorrow, or quenched by any enemy, which means that the song of his love for you will never, ever end.
When things go wrong, as they certainly will, we should remember that we are not off script. Instead, we should realize that whatever we are going through was always going to be part of our story.
Sin brings suffering into the world, and there is no way for anyone to escape it. But our trials are only temporary. We will have more joys and more sorrows until our story takes its final turn--one last twist in the plot. Then there will be no more death and no more pain forever!

© Becky Laney of Operation Actually Read Bible

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