When I was a kid growing up, my older sister bought Jimmy Rodgers’s popular song, “Kisses sweeter than wine.” If you remember that song, you go back to the 1950s. I was pretty young, and I had never been kissed. Well, I had never been kissed by a girl. I quickly identified with the first part of the song, “Well, when I was a young man, and never been kissed, I got to thinkin’ it over- how much I had missed. So I got me a girl and I kissed her and then, and then Oh, lordy, well I kissed ‘er again, because she had kisses sweeter than wine. She had, mmm, mmm, kisses sweeter than wine.” The first girl I kissed was wearing cherry-flavored lipstick or something sweet. And I remember thinking about that song. Yep, it was sweet, OK!

I had never tasted wine, so I had to take that part for granted! Of course, as I grew up and kissed other girls (not that many!) I discovered that their lips weren’t sweet tasting at all. But the experience was sweet. It was figurative language. When Solomon recounts the words of his love, he recalls her saying, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.” Now I know where Jimmy Rodgers got the name for his song. There’s one thing that both Solomon and Jimmy Rodgers have in common: they both wrote songs.

But the Song of Solomon is the song “of all songs.” A song has long been acknowledged as the only adequate way to communicate such deep feelings. Hubbard writes, “Overwhelmed by our desire to give ourselves away for the sake of another and to receive from that other more than we dare ask, we do not derive a formula, concoct a recipe, recite a ritual, draw a map, lay out a graph. We sing a song. In the Song treasured in Holy Writ, we sing the best song possible.”[1] Solomon’s song has lyrics about tasting and touching, but they are not crude or immodest in any way. Unlike many of the X-rated lyrics of today’s music (if you can even call it that), O’Donnell says, “This Song guides us to see with Scriptural sensibilities ‘that the way of a man with a woman is too wonderful” (Proverbs 30:18, 19), and that marriage is not simply a concession to the necessity of procreation but an affirmation of the beauty, chastity, and sacredness of human love. Amen and amen.”[2]

But not everyone wants to read the Song of Solomon that way. They ask, “Is this an appropriate subject for the Bible?” Many think not! Nicholas of Lyra (1270–1349) could speak of the love between a bride and groom as “proper” but not the proper subject of Scripture and thus not of this Song. In his words, such fleshly love even within marriage has “a certain dishonorable and improper quality about it.” Similarly, Theodoret of Cyrus (c. 393–c. 457) wrote that those who give the Song a “corporeal [fleshly] interpretation” have committed an “awful blasphemy.” Yet, I can’t help but agree with Hubbard, “A document that elevates the beauty and purity of marital love is surely charged with holiness. So idyllic is the mood of the Song that it sounds like a return to Eden. Nothing foul, vile, filthy, nor selfish tarnishes the scene.” Could not this be the song that Adam sang when God brought Eve to him? There were no fig leaves before the fall, and they had no shame. Hubbard goes on, “The fall that triggered such lust and fear and perversion in our human attitudes to sexuality seems suspended” in the attitudes of the two lovers in the Song of Solomon. “Sin appears to be excluded. What once was, what again can be, in the pure desire of one partner for another, is described.”[3]

[1] Hubbard, David A., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1991. Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Vol. 16. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. 2012. The Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy. Edited by R. Kent Hughes. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway.

[3] Hubbard, David A., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1991. Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon. Vol. 16. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.