Love Stronger Than Death, 2

Love Stronger Than Death, 2 October 27, 2015

“Put me like a seal on your heart, like a seal on your arm,” says the Bride in the Song of Songs (8:6).

Seals mark something with the name of the owner. A letter is sealed as proof of its author (1 Kings 21:8). The high priest’s golden plate is engraved with the name of God like a seal, to mark the priest as one “holy to Yahweh.” Zerubbabel is placed “like a seal” as a mark that the kingdom of Israel is Yahweh’s kingdom (Haggai 2:23).

To say that the Bridegroom wears the bride as a seal is to say that the Bride stamps her name on him. Of course there is mutual ownership: I am my beloved’s, my beloved is mine. But the seal image highlights the Bride’s ownership of her Husband: Thus also the Israel’s ownership of Yahweh. Yahweh has so committed Himself to His bride, that His identity and hers are bound up together. He is so fully devoted to her that she owns Him. He has freely decided, freely chosen and elected, that He will not be God without His Bride, that He will not be God except by being the Divine Bridegroom of Israel.

Heart and arm are sealed. Heart because the Bridegroom’s heart is captivated by the bride (cf. Song 7:5), arm because the arm symbolizes strength – the strength of Yahweh’s arm stretched out against Egypt (Exodus 6:6; 15:16; Deuteronomy 4:34; 5:15; 26:8), the strength of the everlasting arms that defend Israel (Deuteronomy 33:17), the strength of the hosts of Yahweh (cf. Daniel 11:15, 22). The Bridegroom’s arm, like his heart, belongs to the Bride. So, too, Yahweh’s heart and arm belong to His bride. Yahweh has Israel on His heart; she is at the center of His purposes, His desires, His plans. Yahweh has Israel on His arm, a promise that He will devote all His strength, all the power of His love, on behalf of His bride.

Love is as strong as the grave, Solomon adds, comparing love to a fire that not even water can quench. Though this also says something about the power of human love and passion, it is finally about the love of Yahweh.

The obstacles to love, the enemies of love, come from Canaanite religion. “Mot” or “Death” is the god that did battle with Baal; Sheol is the grave, but also the underworld; “flame” translates “Reseph,” the Canaanite god of pestilence. The contest of love and death, love and the grave, is not merely a contest of two powers, but a battle of gods. It’s Yahweh’s love that overcomes the Canaanite deities of death, the grave, the chaos waters.

The last line of verse 6 reinforces this, though it doesn’t come out in many translations. The word “flame” has a suffix “Yah” that some take to mean merely “powerful.” But it is a short form of the name Yahweh, and the NASB rightly translates this as “flame of Yah.” The fire of love that burns as strong as death, that is as hard as the grave, is the flame of Yah’s love.

“Jealousy” hints at the same point. Jealousy here refers to a relentless and exclusive passion and attachment. It is as hard as the grave. Once someone goes into the grave, the grave doesn’t yield him back up. Jealousy is like that. It is “that aspect of love in which love also does not give up what it claims” (Robert Jenson). Jealousy is an aspect of any genuine, deep love; jealousy reminds us that love always seeks ownership of the other, seeks to know and have the other’s regard and affection in response to our own passion. But as an adjective or name, “jealous” is used in Scripture only of Yahweh, because He is the only one whose love is undivided and undistracted by the possibility more attractive lovers. Only Yahweh’s love really refuses to give up what it embraces as its own.

These claims about love summarize the whole history of Israel: Israel’s story is a story of a love as strong as the Mot, the god of death; a jealousy as strong as grave, a flame too fiery to be quenched by many waters.

*The waters of the creation were no match for the flame of the Spirit that hovered over the waters and formed the formless and dark void into the glory of creation.

*The waters of the Red Sea cannot stand in the way of the fiery cloud. The flame of Yahweh takes them through on dry land.

*The waters that covered the altar of Elijah don’t quench the flame of this love; on the contrary, the flame licks up the water.

*The deep waters that took the prophet Jonah, the “dove” of Israel, to the gates of Sheol cannot stand in the way of the flame of Yahweh, who reaches to the roots of the earth to raise His prophet, and His people, from the grave.

*When Babylonians flooded the land of Israel, destroyed the city, burned the temple, that was nothing to Yahweh. The flame of His love brought Israel back from exile, back from the grave.

Nothing stands in the way of the flame of Yahweh’s love. Nothing can hinder the One who is a consuming fire. On the contrary, everything, literally everything, is fuel for this fire, and only makes it burn brighter, whiter, hotter.

This is Israel’s history, and it is our story too.

If the Song celebrates Yahweh’s love for Israel, Solomon’s for His bride, it also celebrates by anticipation the love of Jesus for His church. Jesus is the new Adam, the bridegroom in the restored garden. Jesus is Yahweh incarnate, and so the one who meets His people who are the new temple. Jesus is the greater Solomon, the King whose passion impels Him to give Himself for His Bride.

According to the Song, death and Sheol (Hades) meet their match in “love” (“the Love” in 2:7; 3:5; 8:4, 7), the love that is then described as the “very flame of Yah” (8:6). Love is personified.

John’s description of Jesus in Revelation 1 depicts Jesus as the One with the keys to “death and Hades” (Revelation 1:18). Jesus is that love incarnate; He is the incarnate “flame of Yah,” who is not consumed by many waters, the lover who consumes death in pursuit of His bride.

Jesus is the flame of God incarnate, the unquenchable love of Yahweh, Jealousy in human flesh. And He above all is proof of Solomon’s claim. Jesus dies, and it looks as if death is stronger than love. But then Jesus is raised, and death itself is overturned, death is swallowed up in victory, the flame of God’s love licks up the waters of the grave. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the great historical demonstration of the power of Yahweh’s love, His passionate devotion to His Bride, His jealousy that is harder than Sheol.

And that is God’s love for you, God’s love in you. It is the love of Jesus, the flame of the Spirit, the love that is strong as death and stronger. Ultimately, Solomon is simply proclaiming the gospel, the gospel that announces the triumph of God’s love.

This is the fiery love that falls from heaven through the Spirit on Pentecost, and makes the apostles burn with tongues of fire, and fills them with jealous zeal to preach the gospel. This is the love that is poured out in our hearts. Not a calm, peaceful, domesticated, warm love; but the burning, consuming, obsessive, imprudent love, a love that is not under our control, a love that makes us lose ourselves so that we can find ourselves. This is the love that impels us to seek the lost; the incautious love that drove the early martyrs and missionaries; the love that drove Luther and Calvin to the madness of the Reformation. “Do not quench the Spirit,” Paul says; do not, he’s saying, calm the compulsive love that God has poured out in your heart.

This is the also jealous love that stands behind the Lord’s promise to you: Whatever waters overwhelm you, whatever death threatens, it cannot stand before the Love, the Love that is Yahweh, the Love that is Jesus. The flame of Yah consumes many waters, consumes Sheol, consumes death, and transforms it all into life.

For love is as strong as death, jealousy as hard as Sheol. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the flame of Yah. Many waters cannot quench this love.

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