One of the agonizing aspects of being in love but not yet married is the need to wait. You long for the day when your lives will be so intertwined that every aspect will be linked together, including sexually. This agony is not helped by the fact that we live in a sex-saturated culture where our eyes and minds are bombarded on all sides by the message that your sexuality is simply another appetite to be satisfied, like hunger and thirst. In such a context, it is easy to imagine that you are the only one waiting for sex until you are married.
Into this cauldron of unfulfilled desire the Song of Songs speaks with calm and reassuring wisdom when it says to the young women of Jerusalem, “Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” This caution is so important to the Song’s portrayal of the beauty and power of love that it is repeated three times (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). This repetition is not because the Song has reservations about the goodness of love and sex in its proper place, within marriage. On the contrary, it depicts and praises the breathtaking intensity of a unique, lifelong, committed relationship between one man and one woman — what we might call, “Friendship on fire.”
The way in which the Song persuades us to wait for marriage to have sex is striking, however. Often Christians focus on the various rules that the Bible gives us about our sexuality — the “Thou shalt not’s.” There is certainly biblical wisdom behind those rules. Yet what the Song adds to the rules are reasons. Rules are like walls and fences: They can mark out where proper boundaries exist. Yet walls and fences are of only limited help in keeping people in their proper place: They can easily be tunneled under, climbed over, or broken down. It is much more likely that we will stay on the proper side of the wall until marriage if we have a reason rather than simply a rule.
Intriguingly, the Song compares waiting for marriage to guarding a vineyard. In the springtime of the year, when flowers are in bloom and all nature is telling you to go forth, be fruitful and multiply, the woman warns us of the little foxes that can damage the fragile blossoms of the vineyard, with serious long-term consequences for its fruitfulness (2:15). She reminds us that the farmer who invests his energy in protecting the integrity of the vineyard will not regret it later, even though the benefits of this painful perseverance won’t be reaped until the time is fully ripe.
Vineyard tending is a long, patient process of waiting and watching in which one failure doesn’t bring the whole endeavor to nothing. The farmer who fails doesn’t have to give up the vineyard as damaged goods. He can repent and rebuild the broken wall and start again to watch and wait. Equally, while keeping the walls is important in vineyard tending, it is not the only thing. It’s about taking care of tender blossoms. Tending your sexual vineyard is therefore not simply about actual physical sexual intercourse; it is about protecting your mind from habitual lust, romantic fantasy, and pornography, all of which can have long-term damaging effects. You can have a vineyard whose walls are still intact but whose blossoms have been trampled into the muddy dirt in other ways.