Where Has My Beloved Gone?
It is the darkest time of the night, just before the sun’s rays begin to creep over the horizon. The city streets are quiet. Out of the shadows, a young woman emerges.
She is disheveled, as though she has just left her bed. She is weeping and trembling. She is walking from one street to another and frantically looking in every direction.
She approaches two men, the only people in the streets. They are the watchmen, just finishing their night patrol: “Have you seen my lover? He must have come this way. Where could he be?” They tell her to go home and stay out of trouble, but she ignores them and plunges on, still looking everywhere for… someone—but whom?
It is the stuff of a lurid novel or a movie, we might be embarrassed to watch. And yet, this scene can be found, of all places, in the Bible—twice!
In the Old Testament…
From the Song of Songs, we read the following:
…and the New Testament
Here we may put faces to the two primary characters. The young woman is Mary Magdalene, and her Beloved is, of course, the Lord Jesus Christ. From John 20 we read:
So much might be said about these parallel passages. They deserve a thorough study; but for now, just a few thoughts:
- The phrase in Song of Songs 5:7 describes city watchmen beating the young woman. The counterpart in John 20 has angelic watchmen greeting Mary Magdalene. As believers in Christ, we can receive both during our lives of faith: occasional tribulations interspersed with messages of promise and hope (cp. Matt 28:6,7; Mark 16:6; Luke 24:6: “He has risen”).
- In the Song of Songs, the young woman clings to her Beloved and will not let him go (3:4). In John 20, Mary seems to have clung to her beloved Jesus in the same way, even though the narrative omits that point. The KJV reads, “Touch me not.” (v. 17), but the better translation would be, “Do not keep holding me.”
A Final Thought
In the Song of Songs, the believer’s fervent desire for Christ to return is likened to a young woman longing to see her sweetheart again. In the Gospels, Mary Magdalene personifies this same desire.
However, the woman in the Song of Songs expresses such intense love for her chosen one that we may shy away from reading parts of this book. The imagery of the Song of Songs is more sensual than any other part of Scripture. In the inspired writings of the Old Testament, the love of a man for a woman (or the love of a woman for a man) is described by the same Hebrew word (“ahava”) as the love for family, the love for neighbors, and even the love for strangers—as well as the believer’s love for God! Such a profound love as this last one appears to be the same kind of love as all the others, but at the same time a step up to a higher plane.
Our problem with this element in the Song of Songs is that we have been culturally conditioned to avoid such open expressions of erotic love. But if we can appreciate that other cultures, in the Middle East, for example, embraced such poems as valid expressions of both sensual love and divine love, then we can find real spiritual value in the Song of Songs.
(Austin Leander, TX)