“my own vineyard I have neglected”
Song of Songs 1:6
“my own vineyard is mine to give”
Song of Songs 8:12
Like the muse in Janis Ian’s Grammy-winning, “At Seventeen,” the young bride in the Bible’s Song of Songs feels the sadness in lyrics like “dreams were all they gave for free to ugly duckling girls like me.” Three thousand years earlier, she expressed similar feelings when she sang:
Do not stare at me because I am dark, darkened by the sun.
. . . my own vineyard I have neglected.
Song of Songs 1:6
Although she shares her emotions using a different comparison – “my own vineyard” (her body and soul) “I have neglected,”1 the feelings are much the same. No matter the metaphor, whenever we compare ourselves to someone else, the “ugly duckling” feelings find a way of taking over the emotional ponds we swim in. Like most contemporary couples, the young bride of the Song knows a negative view of herself can depress her marriage – and so, in a kind of forlorn embarrassment, she asks her audience not to “stare” at her.
But, her love song, like our own, doesn’t end in the first aria. In the narrative of the Song, she finds redemption.
According to Alden, in the last chapter, her feelings are reversed.2 There is a type of contrast between her thoughts about her value in the first chapter and the last. Rich and I believe that because of her husband’s wisdom, this young bride begins to see herself as a gift. “My own vineyard I have neglected” (1:6), becomes “my own vineyard is mine to give” (8:12). What in the lyrics of the Song changes her feelings about her identity and value? What helps her begin to view herself as a gift? Love does.
Secondly, her lack of confidence in her beauty seen in her words “do not stare at me” (1:6), changes at the end of the Song to “I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment” (8:10). What transforms her expressed desire to remain unseen into an expression of thankfulness for being seen? Love does.
These parallels between the first and last chapters uncover a life-changing truth in the Song of Songs – that God wants to use romantic love to help us see our physical and emotional selves as gifts – that all aspects of the love between a husband and wife can be part of His redemptive process. It makes sense that the Bible’s main themes of redemption and transformation would also show up in this song. In this extended musical dialogue, the husband’s warm words, tender touches, generous gifts, and intimate expressions transform his wife’s feelings about herself. She’s different in the final chapter – more understanding of her value, more aware of how appreciated she is, and more conscious of her contributions. He’s changed too. The romance in married love can do that.
The Song’s wisdom reverses the brokenness of the fall and the sorrows associated with sin and changes us – transforming our troubled thoughts and behaviors into warm and deeply meaningful moments of shared understanding, forgiveness, intimacy, and contentment (8:10).
In the same way that C.S. Lewis’ great lion, Aslan, explains to Lucy and Susan that the White Witch had missed the deeper magic in redeeming love, God’s Song shows us we have too! After Aslan rises from the stone table, he answers a question the children asked about the strange magic they had witnessed,
It means that though the Witch knew the Deep Magic, there is a magic deeper still that she did not know. Her knowledge goes back only to the dawn of time. But if she could have looked a little further back, into the stillness and the darkness before Time dawned, she would have read there a different incantation.
What “incantation” is Aslan referring to? The magic of redeeming love. Much like the winter of the witch-controlled Narnia, we have learned from our world cultures only one level of the mystery in marriage. The Song shows us, that there is a magic far deeper, far more powerful and engaging than anything the best romances and relational research could offer. The Songs’ wise conversations and actions help couples transform marriage’s winters into springs.
“I thought the best part of marriage would be the sex,” Desmond said as he and Leah sat in my (Rich’s) office catching me up on the past fourteen years. “I can remember thinking, ‘I hope I don’t start getting used to it’ – and that thought scared me some, but the truth is, it just gets better!” He nodded at Leah. “She’s changed me,” he continued. “Her love makes me feel like my life matters like I’m a better man than I was before. I’m less nervous around people, more comfortable at work, and more friendly at church. She’s opened up a new world for me – and it makes me feel even more passionate toward her.”
Leah laughed, “Please don’t tell us that’s about to change.”
Desmond and Leah’s experience and question are common. Couples who’ve read together the romance expressed in the Song of Songs often wonder – can this continue? In our 60 combined years of counseling, Rich and I have found that it can, and it does.
If we allow God to change our thinking about the most intoxicating aspects of romance and intimacy, we can experience a love that grows deeper, a love that dances longer. When we allow ourselves to sense deeply the way physical and emotional intimacies change us, we experience a different kind of physical and emotional eroticism – a kind where we become comfortable knowing God watches from Heaven, approving each embrace, using each intimate moment to draw us toward Himself.3 This is the deep magic our media struggles to produce, the magic our dark world finds difficult to bring into the light. It is the incantation of the Spirit, the whisper in wisdom’s song.
The Song of Songs presents itself as more than a sex manual, more than a clever correlation of metaphors related to God’s love for His people, more than a list of Sunday-schooled sentiments. It is the kind of song that melts marshmallow romances down to their base sentimentalities that crescendos idyllic whispers in Elizabethan sonnets. It is the music that announces Robert Browning to Elizabeth and welcomes every married couple. It is the most beautiful of the celebrations of human conversation and, simultaneously, a most friendly rhapsody on love. It is an incantation of the Spirit that sacraments Eros and helps us see ourselves the way He sees us. This is God’s Song of Songs – His romance of redeeming love.
Why Not the Song of Songs?
Most couples are comfortable using love songs to impact their thoughts and feelings. Most music sites even have a genre dedicated to romance. Why, then, do we avoid using the Song of Songs this way? John Fischer’s blog, The Fishtank, includes a surprising and insightful example. Back in the eighties, when John recorded “Roses on Wednesday,” a husband, after hearing the lyrics, brought his wife a bouquet.
It’s easy to love when it’s easy, when you’re in a Friday frame of mind,
But loving when living gets busy is what love was waiting for all the time.
Give her roses on Wednesday.
The husband’s response encouraged her so much that she posted her feelings to John’s blog, but that’s not the end of the story – according to the wife, he has brought her flowers every Wednesday since! When I (Marty) asked my wife what that kind of gesture might mean to a woman, her first response was, “Why don’t you find out?” Later we talked about how the husband’s consistency and sacrifice likely made his wife feel significant and treasured – the first fruits of the romantic “contentment” described at the end of the Song (8:10).
When each Wednesday’s flowers arrive, does this woman feel, again, the newness of love? Does she feel through his love, the love of the Father? Does she feel supported, valued, seen – even changed? Only the recipient of extravagant love like this can answer these questions, but this consecration of song lyrics in a husband’s heart reminds us that God’s Song can change us, too. Its wisdom can profoundly impact what we think and feel about ourselves and His gift of married love.
The deep magic Lewis wrote about still calls to us. It shouts in the city streets and raises its voice in the public square (Proverbs 1:20). Its wisdom reveals a magic far deeper and more engaging than our best novels and movies. It is the romance the Father desires for every married couple – a love portrayed in the conversations of the Song’s husband and wife. We hope you will find in each aria of this ancient, carefully constructed love song, new ways to communicate and new insights that deepen your appreciation for each other. We also hope you will share the activity below as a gift from your “own vineyard,” and that it will increase the closeness you feel and help you experience the redemptive magic in her words “my own vineyard is mine to give” (Song of Songs 8:12).
Redeeming Love Activity
- YouTube the popular “Extra Gum Commercial,” The Story of Sarah and Juan, and watch it together.
- Next, go to the store together and buy a package of your favorite gum.
- Open a stick of gum and save the wrapper.
- Sitting in a favorite spot or eatery, draw a picture on one of the gum wrappers of one significant time in your marriage when you felt changed by your spouse’s love. (The above commercial will provide ideas.)
- Give your gum wrapper picture to your partner and share your related thoughts.
- Use the emotions from this activity to create new redemptive moments together!
 The Song uses her “vineyard” as a metaphor to talk about her entire person (her inner being and her physical presentation). See chapter 2:14 “voice” and “face” for a similar designation.
 Alden, Robert. “An Outline of the Song of Songs Which is Solomon’s.” Unpublished paper. Denver Seminary, December 1987.
 For further discussion see Rollins & Trammell, Love Lock: Creating Lasting Connections with the One You Love, Crosslink Publishing, 2019.
Photo by Vince Fleming on Unsplash