THE ART OF CHOOSING A MATE
THE SONG OF SOLOMON 1:26
Stephen M. Crotts
Well I remember the starry-eyed couple who came up to me at a college retreat. Arm in arm, with great feeling, they told me of their love for one another, how they were thinking of marriage, and that since both their parents were divorced, they were frightened they’d make the wrong decision and end up hurting one another.
“How,” they insisted “do you know you’ve met the right one and should get married?” Do you recall what your grandparents said: You’ll just know! My grandmother used to tell me, “Don’t marry a woman you can live with. Marry someone you can’t live without.”
The Scottish tell their children You know you’re in love when you experience an outward inexpressibility of an inward all-overishness.
In the deep South love is explained as an itching in your heart you can’t scratch!
And in New England marrying love is described as a feeling that you feel when you feel that you’re feeling a feeling that you never felt before.
In the Old Testament there is a tiny book, the Song of Solomon, which gives a sane answer to the question. The booklet provides seven snapshots, seven Kodak moments of a loving relationship. The first picture is of a couple happily married looking back to remembering where they first met and what attracted them to each other.
WHAT SHE SAW IN HIM
The woman looked at the man and exuded, “Your name is oil poured out.” Which translates “Your character is a sweet smelling perfume! You are a healing balm, a pleasant fragrance!”
In Hebrew the word name is shame, and it literally translates position, authority, or character. To have character is to be a clay pot deeply etched with a sharp instrument.
If we paint the design on a clay vessel it will fade off in the sun or wash off with the rain But if the design is etched on the pot while the clay is wet it will remain as long as the pot lasts. So character or a good name is the deep and lasting imprint of God’s word and the resulting good behavior etched upon us by the Holy Spirit.
We’ve all seen a lovely young woman being courted by a man of dubious reputation. He quits drinking, starts going to church, and makes all the proper sounds. She marries him and six weeks later he goes back to his old habits. The man was not etched but only printed. As soon as he got the girl his real nature began to be revealed.
This woman in Solomon’s song thoroughly checks out Solomon’s etchings. In chapter 1 verse 3 she finds out what other women say of him, and then in 3:4 she even brings him home that her mother might discern his character. She is diligent to see that his character is not whitewash.
The Jewish standard of character for a marriageable man is extremely high. A Hebrew male first settled and matured his relationship with God. Then he established himself in a useful career. Next he would build his house. And finally he’d settle on one woman, woo her, and make her his wife.
Jesus followed this pattern of character. In the temptation story one can see him settling his relationship with God. Then he launched his career in the gospel, saying about his work from the cross, “It is finished!” Now he is building his house. John 14 tells us Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions. I go to prepare a place for you.” When all is in readiness, Jesus will come for his bride, you and me, the church.
See the firm foundation a man of character brings to a marriage—God, career, house? Such makes marriage less stressful. It allows a couple to focus on the relationship. It is, therefore, forever worth saying that marriage then is not so much finding the right person as being the right person.
Now, let’s watch as this deeply etched man is smitten by a woman!
WHAT HE SAW IN HER
Verses 5 and 6 let us know the young woman’s father is deceased. So her brothers watch over her. She must’ve been a pretty thing, always primping in the mirror, adjusting her lipstick, changing clothes, and fussing with her hair. So her brothers got mad over her self-absorbed adolescent behavior and told her to get in the vineyard and work like the rest of the family.
There she had to learn servanthood. There she sweated, became a team worker, set aside her own wishes to do what was needed. One day while she was hard at work Solomon visited and he was quite taken with her. Sure her hair was mussed, she wore no lipstick, and was sweaty. Still, Solomon was smitten with her.
Yet she protested his gaze. Don’t look at me! My skin is bronze. I’m not presentable. But Solomon said, “No, my love, you are altogether lovely!”
When I was in college I used to date the prom queens, the pom-pom girls, the cheerleaders. But as I grew older and matured, I realized looks weren’t all that vital. Nor were clothes. What began to interest me was women who were kind, serving, frugal, and in love with Jesus. In short I began to look for servanthood.
Did you hear about the man who proposed to his best girl saying, “Will you watch 11 miles of dirty dishes for me, vacuum up 4.2 tons of dirt? Will you wash 14 tons of soiled clothing, cook 24,000 meals, drive 180,000 miles of car pools, deal with 86,000 hours of kids’ temper tantrums, change 144,000 diapers, all the while living on a budget, with me?” Such is the daunting task, the average workload of a twenty year marriage with three kids. So you see, it takes a hard-working woman to make a family.
Two Bible stories here, one from the book of Ruth. Widowed, destitute, and desperate, Ruth and Naomi limp back too Bethlehem. Ruth gleans in the field for hers and Naomi’s supper. It’s hot, dusty, and requires long hours. Then Boaz, the land owner, spots her. And he does a double take. What makes her lovely is not her lipstick or hair or clothing. It is her servanthood. That begins a love story.
The second Bible story is in Genesis 24. Abraham seeks a wife for his son Isaac. He doesn’t know who she is, just what sort of person she is. And he sends his servant back to the promised land to prayerfully search. The servant arriving there, sits himself by a well. Lots of women are coming and going. Yet one called Rebekah stands out among the others for she is a servant-hearted woman who offered water to a stranger and draws water for his camel as well. The fact that she was pretty was incidental.
Clearly then, if you are looking for a wife date cautiously, prayerfully. Look for a woman in the promised land of the church. See if she is interested in being served or if she is a helpmate, a servant at heart. Let your love summer, fall, winter, and spring to be certain she is etched deeply by Jesus and not just shallow-painted to get a man.
if you do not find character and servanthood in one another, wait! Postpone marriage! For as musicians will tell you, it is better to play solo than to be poorly accompanied.
The Song of Solomon tells us it takes two to be married— a man of character and a woman with a servant’s heart.
One of the things that brings this couple together is passion —sexual passion. It is as we shall see the kindling of the marriage fire. But the logs that burn a lifetime are service and character. Without these two things the fire is a quick starting kindling that never quite burns hot enough to ignite the logs. So you get ashes, a smoldering set of charred half-burned logs with no heat.
If you do not have character and servanthood, please, please, please, please stay single. Do not inflict yourself on another human being. Rather use your energies to work on yourself; let the Holy Spirit etch you, and mature in service. I tell young men and women all the time everywhere to trust Jesus and start running after God in the great race of faith. Then look around you. Is there a potential mate keeping pace with you? Yes? Then do a few laps with them, and if you like each other get married. But don’t slow down for anyone!