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矜持 Reserved

Sermon passage: (Song of Solomon 5:2-6:3) Spoken on: January 23, 2022
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Song of Songs

Tags: Song of songs

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About Rev. Wong Siow Hwee: Rev. Wong is currently serving as a pastor in the children and young family ministries, as well as the LED and worship ministries.

Title: Reserved 矜持
Preacher: Rev. Wong Siow Hwee
Date: 23rd Jan 2022

This is the fourth sermon in our Song of Songs sermon series [1] so I hope by now you would be more familiar with these Hebrew love poems. The beauty of poetry is that it is able to capture sentiments and expressions beyond its literal meaning; love is an art and not a science. But its shortcoming is that if the speaker and listener are not of the same frequency, the communication may break down. So the pastors have spent quite a bit of sermon time to help to decode the poetic lines. My passage today is further complicated by the key starting line of the poem “I slept but my heart was awake.” So is our song today describing an actual dream? Or is it a narrative of an event that actually happened to the female main character after she was awakened? My personal stand is that it is neither an actual dream nor an actual event, but something like a music video (MV), where scenes can sometimes be pieced together without narrative coherence, but they serve the purpose of “creating moods and sensations.” 【2】 For example, in 爱如潮水 [3]by Jeff Chang, the female character was suddenly found in a scene with a pole and raging fire. [4] In 遇上爱 [5]by Rainie Yang, she walked around with an antenna for detecting love. [6] In 我愿意 [7]by Faye Wong, she suddenly appeared alone before a church altar with images of the bible and the cross, when she was just previously by the lake. [8] These fictional scenes may appear far-fetched in the real world, but in an MV, each scene serves the purpose of stirring your emotions with impactful imageries as you think about the lyrics of the song. [9]

Let me first explain what is going on in our Song of Songs MV before we talk about what they might possibly mean. Today’s song is entirely from the female character’s point of view. [10] It starts with the scene where the lady was first lying on the bed half asleep. Next, we see the man knocking on the door drenched and wanting to come in. We are not sure if they are already married or not at this point, because it depends on whether you think this song should be linked to wedding scene in Song 3. But the lady was reluctant to let him in because of the hassle of getting out of bed. Men might not understand this reluctance, but some ladies can take hours just to be ready to step out of the house. But the man was insistent and continued to struggle with the lock and trying to get in, and the lady was aroused by his persistence. [11]

But by the time the lady opened the door, the man had left. Then the lady decided to seek the man on the streets, but she was found by the watchmen instead. These were the same watchmen who were first mentioned in Song 3. But this time, they beat her up badly, probably thinking that she was a loose woman for being out in the streets alone at night looking for a man. Then the woman asked her friends (the backup singers), where can I find my man? They asked her back, what makes your man so different from other men that you have to look for him like this?

Then she describes his entire body from head to toe. This is a waṣf [12](Arabic love poetry) as mentioned by Pastor Enoch. I don’t know your preferred dimensions of a perfect man, so maybe Michelangelo’s David might serve as a model for your imagination. You can also use Andy Lau, or Tom Holland, or Chris Hemsworth if you like. Then they asked her, where is he now? That would be a strange question because that was the question she asked them in the first place. Anyway, it turns out that she somehow knew all along that he was back in his garden, and there they finally met again. You can imagine a happy reunion scene in the MV at the end of this song.

What can we learn about love in today’s song? In the first three sermons on Song of Songs, the pastors have covered various aspects of the topic of romantic relationships from mutual acceptance and respect to the spiritual nourishment that love brings to our lives. Last week, Pastor Enoch also stressed on the importance of intimacy and devotion within an exclusive relationship. What they have covered continues to be relevant in today’s passage. In fact, the song ends with the key verse on commitment and belonging in Song 6: 3 I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. But I think it would be more beneficial for me to explore another aspect of love, which is challenge of communication.

Specifically, I will just focus on one question today: If you are female, and you are attracted to a male, would you confess your feelings? After asking the people around me, some said yes, but most said no. Logically speaking, of course everybody should just say exactly what they feel, and then man and woman can be paired up perfectly based on mutual attraction. You like him, he likes you, then you two should be together, case closed. But we know it doesn’t often work that way. We like honesty from others, but we seldom feel safe to be honest. [13] I think we know why we are so guarded against true honesty in love. It is because we are fearful of being hurt, just like how Adam and Eve immediately covered themselves when their eyes “were open and they realized they were naked.” (Genesis 3:7) We are fearful of being rejected, or that our love can be used against us, or that we might be judged by others.

I wonder if such open confession of love might be harder for the ladies than for men. In our song today, the lady was hesitant in being too quick to open her door, even though she acknowledged that the one knocking was her beloved. Was she being coy? Was it to avoid being perceived as easy or desperate? We see in the next scene that such reservations might be necessary when the watchmen beat her up on the streets. I interpret that as society in those days frowning upon a woman openly searching for her man. Such women were labeled as “nympho” (花痴). Thankfully, society has progressed over the years to make it much more equal between man and woman. So I think there are less expectations and stigma such as, “you must wait for the man must make the first move”, or “a woman with a sexy image must be promiscuous”. These days, I think it is a matter of taste instead of a matter of moral judgment. Some guys like girls with an innocent and demure image, while there are other guys who prefer those who are unreserved and consider them positively as courageous and strong-willed. I am a strong proponent of such equality, and hopefully a song like our passage today can be expressed openly without judgment. It should also be okay whether you have a high or low sex drive, whether as a male or female, as long as it is expressed in a committed relationship.

Back to our original question: If you are female, and you are attracted to a male, would you confess your feelings? Based on my reflection on our song today, I think I would say yes. But I must explain myself carefully just in case anybody interprets this as a sign to confess your love immediately. One, social norms are a reality we cannot avoid, so we should do what is socially appropriate. As stated in 1 Corinthians 13: 5 (Love) does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking. My point is, our confession of love must still be considerate and thoughtful to the other person.

Two, it is indeed a challenge to be vulnerable in confession. If it were easy to be honest with your feelings, there would not have been so many romance dramas and songs, most of them about miscommunication in love. The inability to be open is a genuine anguish we can connect with. My advice is to just be sincere. This is something cherished by both genders when listening to confessions of love. Sincerity is being true to your own heart, and also a form of respect to the other person. The opposite of sincerity is alienation and isolation. If we are too guarded to be truthful to others, how can others come into our lives?

Three, what should you say? Last week, Pastor Enoch mentioned that the waṣf from the man about the woman was probably non-physical, but my take on today’s passage is that the waṣf from the woman about the man was likely to be about his physical appearance. It is certainly unusual for a woman to be praising a man’s body openly even in our modern society, so context is very important. Here the woman was speaking to her friends, and not directly to the guy. But more importantly, you must understand that this was a love song written by a man and so it was not so much about what the woman wanted to say, but about what a man wished a woman would say to her beloved. I don’t know if I can speak for everyone, but I think most men want to be perceived as manly by his beloved even if his actual physical appearance is far from perfect. Manliness can mean bodily strength and athleticism. In tribal cultures and pop cultures, a man who can sing and dance is considered attractive and charming. As I wrote these words about manliness, I felt sorry for myself because I have a middle-aged body and can neither sing nor dance. So I asked my wife, do you think I’m manly? She said, of course you are manly. Every time I see a lizard, I will ask you to chase it away. This reminds me of a tactic that some girls would use. When they see a guy they like, they would pretend that they need help in opening a bottle or jar. But thankfully, based on my observations, women can also perceive manliness when a man is serious and competent in their work, or when they are sensitive and caring to their partners. Whether you are confessing your love or you have been married for a long time, if you want to affirm a guy’s manliness, I think you should just say what you value in the other person, physical or otherwise. Just a note that if you are complimenting the opposite gender in terms of physical attributes, do remember to be tactful, just in case you are perceived as objectifying the other person.

Lastly, I want to share my reflection on how we can apply this passage allegorically to the God-Man relationship. In this metaphor, the one knocking on the door is God, while the lady yearning for God represents us. Coincidentally, when I was sharing lesson 5 of 幸福小组, the lesson title is 当上帝来敲门. It is based on the verse in Revelations 3: 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. What we can learn from today is that though it might not be easy to open up, it is important to be sincere with God. If you are at a loss for words when it comes to communicating with God, you can try using the Psalms which covers all kinds of situations. And worship songs help us to express our praises freely to God. God is a partner who we can fully trust and depend on. We can bring all our happiness, pain and vulnerabilities to him. May we be fully open to God to let him into our lives. Amen.

[2] Longman, Song of Songs (NICOT)
[9] Unfortunately, my sermon title today矜持, a song also by Faye Wong, has no MV.
[10] If you need a mental picture, you can think of Faye Wong in the 我愿意MV, because our female character also feels similarly these lyrics 我无力抗拒特别是夜里喔, 想你到无法呼吸, 恨不能立即朝你狂奔去, 大声的告诉你, 我愿意为你。
[11] Take note that many commentators think that these imageries of door and lock and so on may have sexual connotations, but I will not be explaining them in that direction so that my sermon can be family friendly. You can reread this song in your privacy and come to your own conclusions if this is a song about sexual frustrations. See: Walsh, C. E. (1998). A Startling Voice: Woman's Desire in the Song of Songs. Biblical Theology Bulletin, 28(4), 129-134.
[13] Dating apps makes it feel slightly safer as one can swipe left and right with slight anonymity, but until you see a person face-to-face and have an actual conversation, the swiping is just based on a general impression and not a true knowing of one another based on honest self-revelations. See also interesting survey on the topic of 「男追女隔座山,女追男隔層紗 」:

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