The first verse of chapter 5 belongs with the fourth chapter of the Song of Songs as we see the husband and wife come together for lovemaking. God is picturing the beauty of intimacy in marriage. Not only is intimacy in marriage commanded by God (Genesis 2:23; 1 Corinthians 7:2-4) but intimacy is the fruit of a good marriage. The first verse of chapter 5 concludes with the chorus telling to the couple to enjoy the love of one another.
Marriage Problems (5:2-8)
The next movement of this song shows that something has gone wrong in the marriage. There are now some problems in the marriage. This should not be surprising to us. Every marriage goes through problems and difficulties. Especially early on in the marriage there are problems that have to be worked through as two sinful humans try to obey Christ toward one another. As an individual, we are used to doing whatever we want. Now we are to yield our lives to another person. There can be many problems that arise as these two lives try to merge into one. I believe one of the reasons why so many divorces occur is the unwillingness to try to work through these problems. Too many people enter marriage with a Cinderella concept of living happily ever after. But that can only happen when there is a commitment to work through problems that will certainly come to the marriage.
The scene pictures the husband coming home and her unwillingness to open the door for him. She makes three excuses why she is unwilling to get up and open the door. First, she is lying in bed and nearly asleep or drifting off into sleep (5:2). Second, she has already taken off her clothes. She is in bed and does not want to have to put on clothes to open the door (5:3). Third, her feet are clean. She does not want to have to walk across the dirt floor to open the door because she will have to clean her feet again before she can get back in bed (5:3). In verse 2 you will notice that he makes overtures to her to open the door. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one.” He wants to be with her and for whatever reason (we have seen three terrible excuses) she is unwilling to let him in. Something has happened in the marriage. He is making calls to her. So it is not that he is ignoring her. But she has become cold to him so that she will not let him come in. Some amount of time passes and she decides to open the door for him, but it is too late (5:5-6). She has driven him away and she is full of regret. She cannot find him (5:6). She goes about the city looking for him but cannot find him. She is even suffering mistreatment by the guards trying to find him because she so desperately wants to find him but cannot (5:7). So she tells the chorus if they find her husband, tell him that she is sick with love (5:8). Tell him I am sorry and I want him.
Let’s start with some surface conclusions. It is important to recognize how strongly women set the tone in the marriage. Men without a doubt bear responsibility in the marriage. I am not saying that men do not bear an equal responsibility to the marriage as the women. But we see in this song that she has driven him away. She is upset about something and has taken it out on him in such a way that she has driven him away. The husband responds to the tone that is set by the wife. Our culture even understands this with the true cliché: “Happy wife, happy life.” Husbands understand that if the wife is unhappy, then life is unhappy. In marriage it does not take long for a husband to understand the need to keep the wife happy because they control the tone of the marriage. Men typically want the path of least resistance. They will do what is needed to keep peace in the home so they can have peace and relax. The point is this: both husbands and wives bear responsibility for problems that occur in marriage. Wives, however, are more frequently the ones who will turn the issue into a fight. This is what we see in this fifth chapter. We do not know what has happened. We do not know if he has done something. We do not know if she has done something. All we know is he is trying to draw close to her (5:2) but she refuses to welcome him back, which causes him to leave. She is creating the fight in this chapter by not allowing him to come close to her. A fight is not the way to accomplish what we want in our spouse. We are not to try to hurt each other to try to cause change. We are not in the business of trying to change each other or force each other to do things. Too often we try to use distance and coldness to try to communicate our displeasure and punish our spouse rather than expressing the problem and trying to solve it. We cannot try to hurt the other person just because we have been hurt. We need to talk through issues that arise, not push each other away.
Now, there is another level in this song that needs to be explored. It is likely that this is a sexual rebuff. We have noticed how this song has repeatedly used romantic, yet careful language to speak of highly sexual activities (see chapter 4). We noted in 4:12 the garden was not simply a garden but was speaking of her sexual area and the mountains and hills are poetic way to speak of her breasts. Notice in verse 4, “My beloved put his hand to the latch” (ESV). Other translations that he put his hand “through the opening” (NASB, HCSB, NRSV). The Hebrew word just means a “hole.” So this could easily mean that he is trying to reach his hand through the hole in the door for the key that would have been kept on the inside so that he can unlock the door. However, her response in verses 4-5 indicate a sexual rebuff. The scene has a poetic picture of him wanting to be with her sexually. He is trying to approach her sexually and she is excited about the prospect of a sexual encounter with her husband, but rebuffs his advances. So she is making excuses for not making love with him. She is already asleep. She is already changed. She is already in bed. She does not want to get dirty and have to clean up again before bed. She is saying no and her refusal has pushed him away.
One of the most important love languages for husbands is sex. To refuse sex is perhaps one of the most hurtful ways to attack a husband. This is why the apostle Paul gave the command in 1 Corinthians 7:2-4 for there not to be time apart sexually because it will tempt him to sexual immorality. Again, a wife sets the tone for the intimacy of the marriage. Refusal to be together damages the marriage in severe ways that perhaps women to do not fully understand. The parallel pain would perhaps be if a husband was unwilling to buy flowers or do something special for Valentine’s Day or your anniversary. It shows that he does not care. The refusal of intimacy shows him that she does not care. So we see the husband leaving in this song. She has driven him away from her and now regrets doing so. She has caused this distance to occur between them. Intimacy is not to be a tool of punishment against each other. Too often this happens when there are issues or disagreements. We try to use intimacy as a tool to try to make the other person change. This is condemned by God and must not be done. We are destroying the marriage and only hurting ourselves when we use these kinds of tactics.
Resolving Marriage Problems (5:9-16)
So what is the answer to resolve marital conflicts? The chorus helps her come to the solution. In verse 9 they ask her what makes her beloved better than others. So they want her to explain why he is so important to her. What makes him so special? How does he stand out from others?
This is an important practice in marriage especially when there are difficulties: focus on the positive, not the negative. No human is perfect. You are not perfect and your spouse is not perfect. Rather than ruining the marriage by focusing on all the things you do not like, focus on all the wonderful attributes that caused you to love your spouse. Marriages are ruined when we focus on each other’s failures. Consider that when we focus on each other’s failure we are not practicing a Christ-centered marriage. Focusing on each other’s mistakes is not what Paul commands of marriage in Ephesians 5. Christ does not focus on our failures but made a way for our sinfulness to be overcome by his love. We must replicate this model in our marriages. Do not focus on the failures but focus on loving your spouse in a way that overcomes those failures. We know how to do this because we did it when we were dating and we did it early in our marriage. We overlooked the negatives and focused on the positives. We must continue to do this in marriage. Marriages are not solved by focusing on the negatives. By the way, do you want your spouse to focus on all your deficiencies, weaknesses, and failures? Then why are you focusing on your spouse’s deficiencies, weaknesses, and failures? So the chorus brings her around to the proper way of thinking. What do you love about him? What makes him special? Why do you want to be with him? Focus on those things. Express those attributes. Part of solving marital problems is to be grateful for the person you have that has chosen you rather than being ungrateful because he or she is not perfect.
She goes on to explain what makes him her beloved and special to her (5:10-16). You will notice that she is physically attracted to him just as he is physically attracted to her. There is nothing wrong with this. We are to enjoy how each other look and we are to praise each other for that. But notice that it is not all physical. She ends with the most important attribute about him. He is her beloved and her friend (5:16). This is how the marriage relationship is supposed to work. Our spouse is our friend. It is natural to break away from our other friends and focus on the marriage relationship as our primary friendship. This does not mean that we do not have other friends. But our marriage is to be a friendship. We are not only to love each other but we are to like each other. Therefore, those who are preparing for marriage must ask the question if this is your friend. It is not enough to simply think you are love. Are you friends? Do you share your lives with each other? This gets more to the heart of marriage: the sharing of lives together. It is so sad to see so marriages turn into being roommates. The marriage partners do not want to spend time together, do not want to do things together, and do not want to talk with each other. There is something very wrong when that is the case. You should be able to say about each other that my spouse is my friend.
The message of chapter 5 is how to overcome problems in marriage. First, we should not make excuses to not be with our spouse and to not give our spouse the attention, time, or requests they need. When we fail to do this we are simply driving our spouse away. Second, never use these things as weapons against our spouse. We must never withhold attention, conversation, love, or intimacy from each other as a tool to hurt the other person. We have no right to do that. We are not given the right to punish the other person. Christ did not treat us this way. Christ dealt with our errors with an overflow of love, not punishment. Third, focus on the positive to rebuild the marriage and maintain the marriage. Focus on the good attributes in your spouse. Remember that you are not perfect and neither is your spouse. You do not want your spouse to focus on your weakness. So do not focus on theirs. Build your friendship with each other and grow your lives together.