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God’s Word for You

Song of Solomon 2:7 Gazelles and Does

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Sunday, October 15, 2023

7 Daughters of Jerusalem,
  Swear an oath to me, by the gazelles and by the does of the field:
  Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

The phrases “by the gazelles and by the does of the field” look similar to “the heavenly Hosts (sabaoth)” and “the Almighty God (El Shaddai).” We can’t insist that this is right; Solomon (our author) enjoyed deer and gazelle as part of his usual diet (1 Kings 4:23). He may have used these terms because they are so similar to those names or titles of God, but the wife in the Song is asking for an oath whichever way we take the terms.

But shouldn’t we be concerned that the wife asks her friends, the “daughters of Jerusalem,” to swear by something that is not God? Doesn’t Christ our Lord forbid this in Matthew 5:34-37? When Jesus was preaching his Sermon, he took many things that were either commanded or forbidden under the Old Testament law and explained them more clearly. There were various oaths sworn in the Old Testament. The people cried, “Long live the king!” (1 Samuel 10:24, 16:16; 1 Kings 1:25; 2 Kings 11:12). They said those words in the form of an oath that isn’t easy to express in English. Again, they would say, “As your soul lives” as an oath (1 Samuel 17:55; 2 Samuel 11:11; 2 Kings 2:4). And Jacob was in the habit of swearing “by the Fear of (his) father Isaac” (Genesis 31:53). All of those things are not directly oaths to God, but they imply that the one swearing has faith in God. Swearing any oath is a serious matter, and should be taken very seriously. But as Luther says, “this very passage (Song of Solomon 2:7) offers proof of the Jewish people’s custom of swearing by creatures” (LW 15:216).

Her concern is that love should not be aroused too soon. In the Song, this statement appears whenever the language of love is about to become explicit, and the author turns away our attention. In the context of the Song, this serves as a dramatic reminder that a couple’s sexual life is a matter for their own privacy.

The whole basis of marriage is that the man and the woman each give themselves to the other. They promise to remain faithful to one another and not to give themselves to any other. “By binding themselves to each other, and surrendering themselves to each other, the way is barred to the body of anyone else, and they content themselves in the marriage bed with their one companion. In this way God sees to it that the flesh is subdued so as not to rage wherever and however it pleases, and, within this ‘plighted troth’ [archaic for “pledge of loyalty”], he permits even more occasion than necessary for the begetting of children” (Dr. Luther, A Sermon on the Estate of Marriage).

By adjuring the daughters of Jerusalem, the bride is telling them to wait until the moment is right for lovemaking in a marriage. The animals in the oath formula serve as examples of this: does and female gazelles will not mate except when the moment is just right, and the buck’s task is partly to ward off other bucks and fight them, if necessary. The does are skittish and shy, and they spook easily. They are never receptive to mating before the time is right. In a marriage, the husband must be sure the moment is right and not force his wife. For even though her body is not her own (1 Corinthians 7:3-4), love will override a husband’s lawful desire, and he will wait until she is ready. On the other hand, if either a husband or wife enters into a marriage unprepared to ever be intimate with their spouse (or very rarely), they are violating part of God’s purpose for marriage, and there may be a question as to whether there is a marriage there at all.

But the author is surely speaking to the unmarried as well as to the married. “Do not seek intimacy before its time” goes for the unmarried even more than for married. The unmarried must wait until they, too, have a spouse. This will keep them from the judgment of God, for “the acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity, and debauchery… those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19,21). And for those who think they cannot help themselves and give in to their lusts, they should be warned: “God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:24). And this was always so, for “Shechem had done a disgraceful thing in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter Dinah (without being married to her)—a thing that should not be done” (Genesis 34:7).

Therefore, just as there are delightful blessings for waiting for sex within marriage, there are also serious consequences for failing to wait. So we will, as we have said before, “lead a pure and decent life in words and actions, that husband and wife love and honor each other.”

Spiritually, this verse runs so close to the literal, marital meaning that the wheels seem to be in the same ruts, as it were. But surely we can remember that entering into the kingdom of God is not a matter of human decision or choice, but is only a matter of the invitation that comes from God through the gospel. For he is the one who has chosen us, as we confess in the Third Article: “I believe that I cannot by my own thinking or choosing believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith. In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith. In this Christian church he daily and fully forgives all sins to me and all believers.”

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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