A “Delightful Reciprocity” in Marriage (Dorsey)

I’ve been studying and preaching through the Song of Songs. So far it’s been a rewarding experience! One helpful resource for me has been David Dorsey’s The Literary Structure of the Old Testament. I appreciate how Dorsey breaks down the Song into various parts with themes and key words. If you haven’t seen this resource, you should check it out! I also want to point out Dorsey’s helpful conclusion to his section on the Song of Songs. Although I’m still undecided in terms of the authorship of the Song of Songs, Dorsey’s insights are super helpful. Notice how he highlights the romance between the man and the woman in the comments below:

Although there is room to speculate regarding the prehistory of the various constituent pieces comprising the Song of Songs, the foregoing analysis suggests, at the very least, that the final author intensively reshaped the material of the Song from beginning to end. The sophistication and homogeneity of the Song’s surface-structure design strongly suggests a unified poem that was composed by a single author.

The author’s structuring designs reinforce and enhance the Song’s main themes. The most prominent of these themes is the idea of the reciprocity, or mutuality, of the lovers’ love. The carefully designed alternation of speeches, initiation, and invitations underscores the mutuality of the lovers’ passion for one another. The theme is also conveyed by the matching of reciprocal expressions of love, such as the matching of his speech admiring her body from the feet up with her speech admiring his body from the head down (both mentioning ten body parts). Similarly, his invitation to her to join him in the countryside is matched by her invitation to him to join her in the countryside. Such matchings of reciprocal speeches occur throughout the Song.

These structuring techniques underscore the point that the two lovers are equally in love, equally adore one another, and are equally ready to initiate, to suggest, to invite. The ideal conveyed by the author’s structure (as well as by the contents of the speeches) is an egalitarianism and mutuality in romantic love that is virtually unparalleled in ancient Near Eastern literature. In a world that was strongly patriarchal, where love lyrics often portrayed the man as a “bull” and the woman as something less than his equal, the Song of Songs represents surprisingly high view of women and a remarkable vision of the ideal of equality and delightful reciprocity in the marriage relationship.

David Dorsey, The Literary Structure of the Old Testament, p. 213.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

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