Love is as Strong as Death: A Valentine’s Day Post

Dearest Blogworld,
It’s Melissa over here on the other side of the World Wide Web.
Do you even remember me?

It has been FOREVER.

I’ve missed you.

So, what have you been up to?

I’ve been translating Hebrew. And Greek. And more Hebrew. And then even more Greek. And so on and back again. For now, since it is LOVE weekend, I want to tell you about my Song of Songs class that I recently completed. Without a doubt, my Song of Songs class was one of the most fascinating courses I have ever taken. I spent the bulk of the second half of last semester preparing for this class alone. Why the bulk of my time? Well, because the Song is composed of 9.2% Hapax Legomena. Hapax Legomena are words that are only used one time in a given corpus. This means that about one in every ten words used in the Song have never been used anywhere else in the Hebrew Bible. This makes translating the Song of Songs, well,

__Fill ___in___the_blank__with__your__own__Adjective__.

By the way, Hapax Legomena would be a really fun phrase for you to throw around on a date. Super dorky and dorky can be super attractive, right? I wouldn’t leave you without some dating advice on Valentine’s Day! Grin. Anyway, since several of you have been asking me to share some of what I am learning, I thought I would take the chance to walk you through a segment of the text I translated for my final paper.

So let’s just get right to it. If someone hasn’t broken the news to you yet, the Song of Songs is what most Scholars call “erotic poetry”. For some of you this is quite a thrilling thought, for others it is crude and crass. For those of you in either camp, what do you make of your own personal reaction to the Song’s place in the Canon? Or maybe this is a better question: do you think there are any significant theological implications that could be derived from the inclusion of erotic poetry in the Bible?

Rumor has it that ancient Israelites were forbidden to read the Song unless they were thirty years old or married. Oh and by the way, if you are either offended or irritated by me right now, will you please do yourself a favor and close out this blog immediately? I don’t want to upset anyone on Valentine’s Eve.

Now that I am dealing with the remnant, let me tell you, when you slow down enough to really dwell on the metaphors in the Song, things get super heated. I once had a Professor at Moody Bible Institute teach the Song of Songs with a garbage bag over his head the entire class period. He had cut out little holes for his eyes and mouth. Now I know why. Anyway, as I’ve been translating the Hebrew through this class I’ve literally had to fan myself on several occasions. I wrote my paper on the intersection between the erotic poetry in Song 8.1-7 and wisdom literature, like Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, for instance. I won’t bore you with all the technicalities but I do want to share with you part of the message of the passage I worked on. Here is my own English translation of a segment of the text from the Hebrew (vv. 3-7)

3 His left hand is under my head,
and his right hand embraces me.
4 I charge you daughters of Jerusalem,
Do not awaken or arouse love,
until it desires
5 Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
leaning on her lover?
Under the apple tree I aroused you,
there your mother conceived you,
there she conceived you, she gave birth to you.
6 Place me like a seal on your heart,
like a seal on your arm,
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as severe as Sheol.
Its flames are flames of fire,
An almighty flame.
7 Floods are not able to extinguish love,
nor can rivers sweep it away.

The passage begins as the main female character, the Shulammite, describes her lover’s embrace in v. 3. She says, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me” and then out of nowhere she gives the daughters of Jerusalem (and us, the reader!) a warning:

I charge you daughters of Jerusalem,
Do not awaken or arouse love,
until it desires.

There is a timeliness to love, she says. A right time and a wrong time. We must not prematurely awaken love. We don’t know what the consequences entail but we get the feeling there are indeed consequences. As the woman and her lover are walking away from the countryside from their private rendezvous toward the city they pass by a tree and the woman says, “Under the apple tree I aroused you; there your mother conceived you, there she conceived you, she gave birth to you.” That the woman has awakened her lover’s desire at the same place he was born hints that she has been bound to him all along, ever since he was born.

But having been bound to him from the past is not enough, for she commands him next, “Place me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm”. In the ancient world seals were pressed down or rolled across soft clay to make an impression and that impression signified an association with or even an ownership of the object being sealed (Tremper Longman, Song of Songs in New International Commentary of the Old Testament, 209). When the woman commands the man to place her like a seal over his heart she is seeking to possess the man, or as Longman says, “to allow her to own him, but not in any cheap kind of commercial sense; she wants him to willingly give himself to her” (210). The seal imagery also suggests finality, for once her seal is placed on his arm and his heart, the impression is for good. She is seeking an everlasting love, one that has encompassed the past and promises the future as well. She gives the reason for her command in the next verses which are arguably the most famous in the Song:

For love is as strong as death,

Jealousy as severe as Sheol.
Its flames are flames of fire,
An almighty flame.
Floods are not able to extinguish love,
nor can rivers sweep it away.

Notice that she is not saying that love is a victor over death but that love and death are equals. She is not saying love is stronger than death but that love is as strong as death. Moreover, love and jealousy are allies in this verse, not enemies. This is strange, right? Not a line you would expect in a Hallmark greeting card. Love is compared to some dark images here. Indeed, some of the darkest images that the Ancient Israelite could have imagined: death, Sheol (the abode of the dead), flames, and even chaotic waters. The mightiest waters, the most chaotic cosmic forces, cannot extinguish love’s flames. What do you make of these kind of images and metaphors?

I don’t know about you but I can truly resonate with the woman’s desire to possess her man with a seal. When I was engaged I remember having this fear about what would happen when all the desire and anticipation started fading. It made me sick to my stomach to even think about. I would hear married women speaking about how it was an “act of worship” to be intimate with their husbands and I would literally feel ill. I would think to myself, is it really going to be that hard?! I had such a fear of the intensity of our desire fading that it made me dread marriage in a sense. I wished that I could have pushed some kind of imaginary hold button and frozen the intensity of our yearning for one another for the rest of time. Love is not only powerful in its budding but it is powerful in its fading or even the fear of its fading. To feel love and passion at such extreme heights is like being on a drug and to sense it fading even a notch is like a crash. Human love, like death, is mortal to its core and mortality is fickle. Colin might wear a wedding ring but my name isn’t inscribed on his heart and I have no promises that I will be the object of his desire for the rest of my life. Yes, I know what you’re thinking, I have his promise that he will remain married to me for the rest of time. I hear you. But I don’t have the security of knowing that I will forever be his one and only desire. And let’s face it, we’re just human beings. We’re human beings who are surrounded by a whole lot of men and women who have broken these same promises. It’s frightening stuff we’re talking about here. But, like the poet says, love is like death. And death is scary. Sexual love is one of the greatest triumphs of the human experience. Yet you and I both know (*or ourselves are*) people who have been scarred and marred by the tragedy of sexual love as well.

On Valentine’s Day, a “holiday” some of us love and some of us pass off as a silly day driven by Greeting card companies, we are supposed to celebrate the gift of human love, especially romantic love. And I ain’t gonna lie, I am a sucker for romance. Have I mentioned that Colin’s and my two year anniversary is on Tuesday?! You know what they say, time flies when you’re having fun. Romance is an incredible gift from God. Its power is true mystery. I’ll spend some serious time thanking God for the love of my life tomorrow.
But above all else, I’ll thank God for Jesus Christ because I know of only one feeling that is greater than being wanted and loved by my man and that is the rest and peace I have found in Christ’s scandalous love for me. The flame of his love for me can never be quenched. His desire for me is never dependent upon my youth or my (fading!) sexual allure. I don’t feel threatened but thrilled that He loves my beautiful female neighbor as much as He loves me. I don’t sense the panic to mark Him with any sort of seal because at last, He sealed me first. This isn’t about Colin’s love falling short in any way, shape, or form. This is about needing something more than any human being on this earth could offer me. Some folks call it a divine romance. I don’t have words for it. All I know is His refrain has been reverberating since He came in the flesh several thousand years ago to save this world He loved:
“You are my beloved, and I am yours.”

The mystery is great-

But I am actually speaking with reference to Christ and the Church (Eph. 5.32)

And although you have not seen Him, you love Him. (1 Peter 1.8)

Happy Valentine’s Day!

You are so loved.


P.S. Here are some semi-recent photos of Colin and me!
Remaining Photo Credit goes to Leigh Germy Photography…


267 Responses to “Love is as Strong as Death: A Valentine’s Day Post”

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  1. 251
    Michele - didasko says:

    Hey Melissa! In one of my Ephesians commentaries, I just read that this letter contains a number of words not used elsewhere in the Bible.
    I quickly came back to this post to verify the term you used – Hapax Legomena!

    Thanks for helping me with my homework – haha!

  2. 252
    Marilyn says:

    Melissa – you are a great writer. Thanks for sharing – I'm sending it to my prayer partner – we are both extreme in wanting women to have biblical marriages. (We your mom's age).

  3. 253
    Heiress of God says:

    Wow… how I long for the day when I can share that kind of love with a man God has chosen for me… Very well written and I am honored your share your life with us… Thank you !!!

    Happy Anniversary and big love to you and your man.


  4. 254
    michelle says:

    Melissa- I think for me it was kinda ironic that I was reading Songs of Songs on Friday and Saturday, And just thinking how awesome God is that he also cares about our itimacy with our mate that he puts it in HIS WORD. While away this weekend and reading it while my husband was at his laptop working I was using some of the NLT verses on his to get him away from work (HA,HA,HA)
    Married for 23 years and yes romance doesn't have to feel as a duty but a luxury.

  5. 255
    Lora says:

    Interesting thoughts and questions posed. Once again, you make me think and reach for the dictionary. Love the pictures!

  6. 256
    Hannah says:

    Thanks for this post!! This was great brain food for me. It also took me back to my bible college days when my old test. prof. would get VERY excited talking about song. of solomon and exclaim how much he loved his wife, much to our embarresment!

  7. 257
    Lisa in Kinston says:

    Melissa, I absolutley love to read your post. They are always so powerful. I am so late reading & commenting on this but just had to say how much I enjoyed it. I have been married for 26 years and must say that as my relationship with Jesus and his unfailing love became stronger & the most important relationship in my life then all other relationships became stronger also. For valentines my husband gave me your moms new book with this written in the cover "For my loving wife, Everytime I look in your eyes I fall for you all over again, and when I look at you from across a room I still know I am the luckiest man in the world! I love you more than I ever have." WOW unfailing love and romance– I am sure the Lord knew what he was doing!!

  8. 258
    Tammy... says:

    You have your mom's gift of both communication and understanding the word of God… God be praised! Your thoughts on the Song of Solomon were insightful and brilliant! Great reminders to all of us…

    unconditionally loved… (25 years by my man… 44+ by my God)

  9. 259
    Lynn says:

    Beautiful post and pictures!
    I enjoy reading your thoughts on God's Word. I decided to go back to school (I just turned 40!) and finish my BS in Psychology with emphasis in Christian counseling. I'm taking my classes online with Liberty and Theology was my first class for this semester.

    I absolutely LOVE it! Some amazing reading – Core Christianity by Elmer Towns. Through what I'm learning in this class, I'm finally learning to STUDY the Bible and apply it more to my life.

    Keep those posts coming!

  10. 260
    katiegfromtennessee says:

    Hey all, I have a moment now to read all your posts I missed. All the happenings with you all…Happy birithday Jackson! Little Momma, you give me inspiration:)…Alright, number 4!Lots of women needing security, boy do we!?…cupcakes and tutu are awesome, and Melissa, beautiful post! I took a study on Song of Songs with my husband in my sun school, and he still jokes about the "mountains of Bether" Very funny. Ha.

    Love you all at LPM


  11. 261
    desiree says:

    I love thinking about the love relationship between Jesus and me. I needed to be reminded of it through the Song of Solomon again. Phenomenal writing Melissa.

  12. 262
    Kate says:

    I read this early this morning but didn't have time to comment. I loved it!! I thought about it all the way to work. It had me captivated. Thinking of the only love in my life, I am almost jealous that I have to share Christ with everyone else. 😉 Thank you for sharing this!

  13. 263
    Anonymous says:

    After reading this and studying it maybe you could do a post on it.
    I had not heard this before.
    The New Testament authors did not customarily refer to their written record as the Word of God. That subsequent Christian tradition tends to do this while the writers themselves hesitate to do it should tell us something. Evidently they distinguished the difference between the living, infinite Word and the written record more clearly than we do. If the written record is every called the Word, it is the Word only in a secondary, derivative or relational sense. It is not the Word in the absolute sense. Strictly speaking, the Scripture is the witness to the Word of God, and like a good witness, it does not speak of itself but points away from itself. –Robert D. Brinsmead

  14. 264
    shaley says:

    Mellisa, you should check out Jesus Culture's song "You Won't Relent" I liked this song before i read your post now i love it. I didn't realize the lyrics were from SOS 8:6-7…

  15. 265
    jennifer says:

    Awesome word! wondered if you've ever heard Jesus Culture's "You Won't Relent?" I happened to read your post, and then got in the car with my 12 year old daughter and started the iPod – this song came on. SWEET! It's the very verses that you had posted. God's so darling! check it out if you don't know it:

  16. 266
    Rebecca says:

    In reading your mom's post today, I remembered that I wanted to go back and read yours again. I have, like others, now copied and printed for study. I love it. I am so encouraged to hear this from someone close to my age, a Christian woman that I admire. May God bless you and Colin in your marriage.

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