Harem? Eunuch? Or Shulammite?

Believe it or not, this is not a post about the election.  It is a post about world systems and injustice.

In the opening of the Song of Solomon, we see King Solomon’s harem whispering among themselves as King Solomon enters the harem to pick out his lover for the day:

“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (Song 1:2).

Desperate, they approach King Solomon begging for his attention:

“For your love is better than wine, your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is perfume poured out” (Sol 1:2-3).

The Eunuchs guarding the women, anxious for the king to be pleased with the women in their care, pile it on too:

“No wonder the maidens love you” (Sol 1:3).

The King’s harem was made up of wives and concubines guarded by men whom the King had had castrated. The women were no more than sex slaves. Furthermore, these women had bought into an unjust world system that said it was okay for the King to enslave them. Therefore, instead of resisting their situation – resisting the King – they vied for the best spot in the harem – a competition where the King picked the winner. It kept the women hungry to please him. It filled their otherwise purposeless days with something to work for. Who could be the prettiest, the sexiest, the one the King would choose to be with?

Before it was over the King would have 1,000 women at his disposal while the nation looked the other way ignorant to the fact that the King was ruining the lives of the women he held.

Until one day, the King’s men bring him the wrong addition to his harem – a young Shulammite woman who has known the true love of the Shepherd. She resists the King.

One would think that the harem would see her as their leader and fall in behind her with their own resistance. However, they don’t. Instead, they mock her:

“What is your beloved more than another beloved, O fairest among women?” (Sol 5:9).

In other words, “What is so great about this lowly Shepherd that you love?” The harem can’t understand why she’d want a shepherd when she could have the King and all the benefit that went with it – jewels and nice clothing.

In the CNN video below, we see the harem at work. These women have bought into the unjust system that says it is okay for men to treat women as sex objects.  In the subtext, they affirm that bragging about sexually assaulting a woman is okay while intimidating women who are speaking out against the behavior. In their minds, because they have bought into the unjust treatment of women they stand by their men, while pointing out that others are just being ridiculous!

In doing so they promote the long-standing unjust system that claims, “Women are most valued as sex objects.” This system keeps women from being paid equally to men, from using all their gifts and talents, from holding roles of leadership within the church. For that matter, it is a system that puts them in high heels, causes them to destroy their bodies with plastic surgery, and diet until they develop eating disorders.

Nevertheless, the young Shulammite resists the system. She speaks truth to power. She refuses to accept the King’s vulgarities toward her as love. She contrasts the King’s lust with the Shepherd’s love for her. She tells the harem that the Shepherd’s “intention toward her is love!” (Sol 2:4). The Shepherd, of course, throughout scripture is a symbol for our creator.

In the end she claims her body, her vineyard, as hers alone:

“My vineyard, my very own, is for myself; you, O Solomon, may have the thousand, and the keepers of the fruit two hundred!” (Sol 8:12 NRS).

She has followed the Good Shepherd out of the harem into freedom.

Be the Shulammite! Not the Harem. And certainly not the Eunuchs.

Check out April’s Books, Disorderly Parable Bible Studies, for group and individual study. She has an excellent book on the Song of Solomon called “Dismantling Injustice.”


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