The Song of Songs is both a love song between Solomon and his wife, as well as an allegory of the love of God for Israel, prefiguring the incarnate love of Christ for His Bride, the Church.
When the Word became flesh, He “tabernacled” among us, dwelling with us like a faithful bridegroom, come for His faithless bride. When He came, He came to build a new house, the Church, which turns out is a feasting hall, but this is the kind of festival that organizes the participants into platoons and regiments. The love of God establishes the armies of God.
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song 4:2).
SUMMARY OF THE TEXT
Literally, the bride says that she has been brought to a “house of wine,” which may literally refer to King Solomon’s palace, but the broader allegorical allusion would be to the tabernacle and temple, where wine was regularly offered as a drink offering to the Lord (e.g. Ex. 29:38-40). But drinking wine was strictly prohibited in the presence of the Lord (Lev. 10:9). So it is very striking when Jesus turns around 150 gallons water of purification (for going into the temple) into wine at a wedding feast, and then He proceeds to establish a feast with wine in His presence that we celebrate until the end of the world (Jn. 2:1-11, 1 Cor. 11:26).
The word for “banner” can be translated as “ensign, military standard, or tribal division.” The same word is used elsewhere in the Song: “Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners… Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, andterrible as an army with banners?” (Song 6:4, 10). The book of Numbers also used the same word many times to describe the tribes of Israel arrayed as a war camp around the tabernacle and how they go out to battle (Num. 1:52, 2:2ff, 10:14ff).
AUGUSTINE’S WELL-ORDERED LOVE
In City of God, Augustine says, “It seems to me, a brief and true definition of virtue is ‘rightly ordered love’” (Book XV. 22). And he cites our text as it is translated into Greek: “That is why in the holy Song of Songs Christ’s bride, the City of God, sings, ‘Set love in order in me’.” The connotations of “banner” with the military organization of Israel make sense of this translation.
At Christmas, God came for His wayward bride in His love, but that love not only saves and rescues, it offers the wine of joy and celebration. And yet, this is not an anarchic joy, it is the joy of the Lord, and therefore, it is a joy that drives us to greater holiness, greater virtue, greater militance. Because Christ was born, we are the armies of God. Because Christ is born, our festivals are warfare. So guard your hearts. Guard your families. And guard this joy. “Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.” (Ps. 78:65).