Forty women: 40. The Shulammite
When I started writing these posts, on something of a whim on Ash Wednesday, I wasn’t really sure I would make it to the end. It seemed rather risky to name the series ‘Forty women’, but here we are.
A couple of people have asked whether it was easy to find forty women, or if I was scratching around to make up the numbers. It’s been pretty easy. There’s quite a few women who were on an early version of the list, to be later replaced by others I’d forgotten but knew I wanted to include. I think it would be possible to find 52 women, to do a weekly version in a year, but I would struggle to make 365 for a year’s worth of posts, even if I did include the NT women.
But of course, there’s one woman who has been on every version of the list. The bride. The beautiful darling. The vineyard, the garden, the orchard of fruits. The stately palm tree, beautiful as armies, lovely as Jerusalem.
She’s one of just a handful of unnamed women on the list, and she’s the only one who probably isn’t a historical figure. She’s the Shulammite, that is, the Solomoness. She’s the wise woman who teaches the daughters of Jerusalem, how to love wisely but not too soon. She’s the bride of the king, brought up out of the wilderness on the arm of her beloved, who will be crowned on his wedding day.
She’s not afraid to go after what she wants, even when it takes her out into the dangers of the city streets. She’s not ashamed to bring her lover home to meet her mother. She’s proud to be the one beloved of just one man, unlike the many myriad wives and concubines of Solomon.
She’s in love, you see. She is her beloved’s and he is hers. She’s longing for his kisses and his embrace. Every moment apart from him is agony and every moment in his presence is deep rest.
For the first time since the curse fell on Adam and Eve, mutual desire is unencumbered with manipulative oppression. When she speaks, she no longer needs to say ‘My desire is for him but he rules over me’ (see Genesis 3:16). This woman can say ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me’ (Song 7:10).
This is no ordinary woman, and her lover is no ordinary man. Their love does not belong in a broken, barren, sinful world. Their love belongs in a sanctuary. In a safe space, unthreatened by serpents and sin. In a place inhabited where the Lord himself walks among the trees and flowers.
She’s longing to be there, in that paradise, with her beloved, forever, with nothing to separate them.
She’s still longing.
Her book ends with her longing for her lover: “Come away, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains.” (Song 8:14)
We’re all still longing.
‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” (Revelation 22:17)
Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.