The Song of Songs and God’s Good Gifts: Wisdom’s Way with Food, Sexuality and WineAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Contemporary Ethics, Culture, Discipleship, Hebrew Bible, Proverbs, Song of Songs
Biblical wisdom literature deserves constant and prayerful reading for disciples of Christ. The Spirit gave them as tools to navigate in a good but fallen world. Often in life there is no mathematical formula for what to do. We need “wisdom” or “discernment” of what we should do. Wisdom rarely gives a specific rule. Rather Wisdom wants to make us wise for the various kinds of situations that come up. So we read “Answer not a fool according to his folly.” But in the very next verse we read “ANSWER a fool according to his folly” (cf. Pr 26.4 & 5). Which is it? The answer is, it depends! The wise person will know if the circumstances warrant a reply or ignoring. Wisdom is knowing when to say something, to know if the circumstances warrant a reply.
Form of Religion but No Power
Wisdom applies this principle to the big areas of abuse in our lives. Those are Food, Sexuality and Wine. Many Evangelical/Restoration type Christians want to make an ironclad law, “wine is sin.” No discernment. Just sin.
The position is utterly unbiblical not only in what it claims but also in its approach. Scripture never teaches, and no one in history ever imagined until the American Temperance Movement in the 19th century, that consumption of wine/alcohol was in itself sinful. No Jew and no Christian ever taught such a thing previously.
The Bible teaches “wisdom” in regard to these matters (food, sex, wine). Indeed biblical wisdom places gluttony, or over eating, in the same category as drunkenness but extremists always either deny it or ignore it. But the Sage says clearly,
“Do not be among the winebibbers,
or among the GLUTTONOUS eaters of meat;
FOR the drunkard and the glutton will
come to poverty, and drowsiness
will clothe them with rags”
Both food and wine are gifts that are abused by the unwise. They are moral equivalents here and other places. Indeed God seems to take gluttony with utter seriousness and nuked Sodom for its excess in this matter.
“Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She was arrogant, OVERFED and unconcerned for the poor” (Ezekiel 16.49)
However I have never seen Evangelicals condemning 10 ounce steaks at the Outback as sin. Nor do I see them, based on Pr 23.20-21 saying that eating meat is sin. Yet gluttony and drunkenness, both examples of a lack of self-control and over indulgence, are exactly the same. They are behaviors of the unwise.
Food, Sex, Wine are all divine gifts of grace. Each one has the potential to be very harmful if abused. None is sinful. Wisdom teaches gratitude and respect for each.
I was publicly castigated for suggesting this rather plainly taught Scriptural truth. So I visited the book that most Christians forget exists, Song of Songs. Our ignoring this brilliant and beautiful Spiritual book shows itself in our leaning toward pagan ascetic attitudes. As unpopular as it may be with some, there is not the slightest hint in Scripture that wine is any more toxic than sexuality or food. It is their abuse that is condemned. Here is the biblical Wisdom Triad:
Food is Gift from God. Gluttony is abuse of gift and sin.
Sex is Gift from God. Fornication is abuse of gift and sin.
Wine is Gift from God. Drunkenness is abuse of gift and sin.
Though these are repeatedly mentioned as gifts to be thankful for some extremists embrace nearly Gnostic attitudes of asceticism which Scripture refuses to endorse. Paul explicitly condemns ascetic attitudes and directly connects it to God as Creator, 1 Timothy 4.3-5,
“through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences are seared with a hot iron. They forbid marriage [= abstain from sex because it is bad and produces a faux spirituality] and demand abstinence from foods [= abstain because it produces a faux spirituality], WHICH GOD CREATED to be received with THANKSGIVING by those who believe and know the truth. For EVERYTHING created by God is GOOD, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with THANKSGIVING; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer.”
Paul will have nothing to do with the Creation denying false and pagan spirituality of asceticism. When he speaks here he is channeling the entire Hebrew Bible and Second Temple Judaism … these are pagan notions (these have been manifest in Christian history as neo-Platonism and Gnosticism) not Hebraic ones that he condemns in 1 Timothy 4.1-5.
But these gifts of grace (Food, Sex, Wine) are held together beautifully in Scripture itself. I have two daughters. We have a gun. I have not told my girls that having a gun is a sin. It is a sort of hobby nothing else. I have not taught them to fear guns. I have not taught them that having a gun is a sin. The biblical path of wisdom on food, sex and wine is respect them it as God gave them.
So Proverbs warns about adultery. But also praises sex as God intended it. So Proverbs warns of excessive eating (gluttony). But also teaches us to be thankful for food. So Proverbs warns of drunkenness. But also teaches gratitude and proper use (see Proverbs 3.9-10; 9.1-6; 31.6-9 for grateful use of wine; see 20.1; 23.20-21; 23.29-35 on abuse of wine).
This is what we do with guns. We teach how to respect and properly use this gun. It can cause serious pain and suffering if not respected and can even kill. Guns can be extremely dangerous in the hands of a fool. Just as food, sex and wine are dangerous in the hands of a fool. Thus I have taught my girls about boys … I do not want them to live in fear of men. I pray that a godly man will come to both my girls. But they also need to know that there are dangers in any any relationship. Be wise in that relationship.
Song of Songs & Divine Gifts of Grace
But these (Food, Sex, and Wine) are held together repeatedly. I have quipped in the past that Song of Songs is a book that most Christians pretend does not exist. Some do not even read it. Clearly the Song exerts no discernible affect on most disciples theology/doctrine. But that is why it is there! One of the greatest treasures, not the only one, of the Song is that it vaccinates God’s people from the faux pagan spiritualities of neo-platonism and neo-Gnosticism both of which major in denying the inherent goodness of Creation itself.
But Song of Songs will have none of these neo-gnostic tendencies that deny the goodness of God’s creation (bodies, sex, food, wine, etc). These are GOOD.
And Song of Songs is not shy about WINE. It embraces the goodness of wine just like it does the goodness of sexuality. And it uses food and wine to talk about sex as GIFT from God. Indeed love, food and wine go together in the Song of Songs like a horse and carriage.
Further the Song compares the intoxicating nature of love with the intoxicating nature of wine. There is not the slightest hint in Song of Songs … something that God wrote thru the Holy Spirit … there is not the slightest hint that there is something morally tainted about 1) food 2) sex 3) wine. Lets look,
1.2 “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For/because your LOVE is better than WINE”
For this comparison to have any validity the wine not only has to be some pretty potent stuff but also morally desirable other wise the metaphor does not work.
1.4 “We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love MORE than WINE”
Here again this comparison is based on the potency of the wine. The JOY of love is even more intoxicating that wine.
4.10 “How sweet is your love, my sister, my bride!
how much BETTER is your love than wine”
once again this image is based on the nearly narcotic (to use a fitting metaphor) effect of wine. She is even more addictive than wine. This is how the “compliment” works.
5.1, “I come to my garden, my sister my bride;
I gather my myrrh with my spice,
I eat my honeycomb with my honey
I DRINK MY WINE with my milk”
Then the text uses two imperatives:
“EAT, DRINK, friends and be DRUNK with love”
This text in 5.1 is a direct and explicit comparison of the intoxication of wine and the intoxication of sexual love. And for the critic’s sake, note how Food, Sex and Wine all are in this verse and celebrated.
7.2 “Your navel is a rounded bowl
that never lacks mixed wine”
This text is so self-evident how can we even begin to imagine that it is a NEGATIVE comment on wine or that the author thinks yayin is Kool-aid!! Now the Platonists and the neo-Gnostics hated this stuff. The Platonists allogorized it away and the Gnostics simply chunked it out of scripture.
7.9 “your kisses like the finest wine
goes down smoothly,
gliding over the lips and teeth”
this is pure celebration by the Spirit guided author. Kissing is good. Kissing is enjoyable. Kissing is exciting … it even more powerful than wine. For this image to have any legitimacy the WINE has to be powerful stuff!
8.2 “I would give you spiced wine to drink,
the juice of my pomegranates”
I do not think this can be misunderstood. The image utterly fails if the comparison is to “kool aid,” Dr Pepper or water. Sexual love does something to human beings that is like what sexual love does to human beings. And she not only compares it to wine but “spiced” wine. This is Good. This is Godly. This is celebration. It is Food as gift. It is Sex as gift. It is Wine as Gift!!
There are a number of other allusions to intoxications in the Song of Songs. They merit serious study and appreciation. Further the images of food, sexuality and wine mingle all thru the book under the Holy Spirit’s supervision. Each points to the GOODNESS and the GREATNESS of the divine gift.
In the Bible, these (Food, Sex, Wine) are inherently good. Thus we see wine and other intoxicating drinks were used in the worship of God being poured over sacrificial offerings on the altar as drink offerings (look them up, Exodus 29:40; Leviticus 23:13; Numbers 15:5,7,10 18:12; 28:7,14; Deuteronomy 18:4; 1 Samuel 1:24; 2 Chronicles 31:5; Ezra 6:9; 7:22; Nehemiah 5:11; 10:37,39; 13:12). And the ministers were even paid with wine! The Levites received wine for themselves from the tithes given by the worshipers (Numbers 18:30).
In the Song these things (Food, Wine & Sexuality) are celebrated.
There is not the slightest hint of embarrassment.
There is not the slightest suggestion that God is displeased.
In fact it may be an insult TO God according to the Song to imply such a thing.
These are pure gift of divine grace to humanity.
Song of Songs illustrates the plain statements of other scriptures:
“you give wine to gladden the human heart” (Ps 104.14)
“Go, eat your bread [food = gift] with enjoyment,
drink your WINE with a merry heart [wine = gift]
FOR GOD APPROVES OF THIS …
Enjoy life with your wife whom you love [intimacy/love = gift]”
Wine is stated, explicitly, to be a REWARD or BLESSING from God for faithfulness and obedience to his covenant,
“If you heed these ordinances, by diligently observing them, the LORD your God will maintain with you the covenant of love … he will love you, bless you … [with] grain, WINE …” (Deut 7.12-13; see 11.14 and 33.28 among many other places)
Conclusion: Biblical Wisdom is Gratitude and Respect
We really should read the Song of Songs more. It will liberate us from neo-platonic and neo-gnostic tendencies that attack the doctrine of creation and lead toward paganism in asceticism. The Bible teaches respect and gratitude for the gifts of grace God has given.
Food is gift to be thankful for. Gluttony is an abuse of the gift and sin.
Sex is a gift to thank God for. Fornication is an abuse of the gift and sin.
Wine is a gift of grace to rejoice and thank God for. Drunkenness is an abuse of God’s gift and sin.
Wisdom teaches gratitude for God’s gifts. Wisdom teaches respect for God’s gifts of grace. Wisdom teaches proper use of God’s gifts. Wisdom teaches us to celebrate the goodness of divine gifts and caution against abuse of them. But there is no where in biblical wisdom for asceticism. Such is a pagan notion and there is nothing spiritual about it. Rather food, sex and wine are all grace and celebrated with passion in the Song of Songs. We would have a far healthier view of our world if we heard the greatest of all Songs more. It is Holy Scripture and it is good for doctrine, righteousness and equipping the person of God for all good works and things (2 Timothy 3.15-16).
For other thoughts along these lines see my Beer & the Bible: What the Bible Really Says.
See also my series of blogs on the Song of Songs, Holy of Holies: Returning to Eden, The Song of Songs, Sexuality & Spirituality