Certain love stories — like Cinderella, Snow White, Beauty and the Beast — have stood the test of time. The story that follows is, I believe, the inspiration for every great love story ever written.
A Shepherd Groom
Once upon a time, in the region of Lebanon in the Middle East, there lived a girl named Cindy. Her family grew grapes and raised sheep and goats. Unfortunately, the father had passed away by the time this story begins, and Cindy’s lazy brothers were running the farm.
Under the hot sun, Cindy was pruning grapevines. “You’re not working hard enough!” shouted one of her brothers. His siblings laughed and took another gulp of wine in a shady grove, passing the wineskin among each other.
“Yeah,” said another brother as he wiped his mouth on his sleeve, “you still need to water the goats.”
“Nice suntan!” joked a third brother. “All the girls must be jealous!” The young men laughed uncontrollably. Cindy turned away so her brothers wouldn’t see her tears, which would only cause them to increase their merciless teasing.
One day her brothers went off to town to party with friends. Cindy diligently worked in the vineyards, trimming some branches, lifting limbs from the ground so they wouldn’t rot in the rain or be eaten by animals. She was tempted to sit and rest, but there was much work to do, and she simply couldn’t let down her mother — the family depended on the revenue from these grapes.
Suddenly, Cindy noticed a young man staring at her from a knoll just beyond the vineyard. She kept working, hoping he would leave — she was uncomfortable with his stares. But he didn’t leave. She could see he was studying her, with a big grin on his face. So she stopped working and stared back.
The young man stood and announced, “The young lily has noticed me.”
“Who, me?” Cindy had been called many names, none of them a flower.
“Yes, you are a lily among thorns!”
Cindy had to laugh at the young man’s brashness. “Me! I’ve spent too much time in the sun. I’m darker than any of the girls in this area.”
The young man bounded down toward her as he said, “Ah, you are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever laid eyes on. Let me take a closer look.” He stopped in front of her and nodded his head as he gently said, “Yes, you are a hard worker. Yet you are the most delicate and beautiful of roses. Your eyes are gentle like doves.”
Cindy blushed, then laughed. “My, my, you sure are sweet with words. Who are you? I’ve never seen you around here before.”
“You haven’t! I’m shocked. Surely you must know who I am!”
Cindy shook her head. “No, I’m sure I would have recognized you. What is your name?”
“Let’s just say I’m a shepherd lad.”
He said it in such a winsome way that she could only laugh and play along. “Okay, shepherd lad. Where are your sheep?”
“Oh, they’re all around. Can’t you see them?”
“You’re teasing me. I don’t see any sheep.”
“You don’t? Well, they are around. I have lots and lots of sheep.”
The young woman blushed again, and the young man backed away. “I’ll be back,” he said. “Can I find you here tomorrow? About this time?”
“Oh, yes. I’m not going anywhere. My work keeps me chained to this vineyard.”
“Then tomorrow it is!” And quickly the young man scampered over the knoll and disappeared.
True to his word, the young man returned the next day, and the day after, and in no time Cindy was madly in love. One afternoon, the shepherd boy helped her finish her work by gathering the goats and filling the water trough. The animals seemed very comfortable with this man. Then he said, “I have a surprise.” He led her over the knoll, and there, in a grove by the stream, was a beautiful meal spread out for them. It was some of the finest food she’d ever tasted. For a moment she wondered how a shepherd boy was able to prepare such a magnificent meal.
During that dinner the shepherd proposed. “May I speak to your father about us?” he said, indicating the desire to negotiate a marriage arrangement.
“My father is dead,” Cindy answered.
“May I speak to your mother, then?”
“I’m afraid my brothers will have more say in this matter. They won’t want to lose my labor.”
“I see.” The shepherd had a sly grin. “I think I know how to handle them. Just leave it all to me.”
Cindy was skeptical, but she loved him so much. If anyone could handle her brothers, this man could.
“I have to go away for a while,” he said. “Will you wait for me?”
“Of course, I will wait.” Her heart leaped at the thought of living with this simple peasant man, yet she also ached at the thought of waiting. “Please, don’t be too long. I don’t think I can stand being separated from you.”
“I will be back soon. Until then, I will think only of your lovely face. And hear in my heart your sweet voice.” Quickly, without a heartrending good-bye, he was off.
How significantly Cindy’s life had changed. One day she was simply a laborer in the fields, the next an engaged woman anticipating an escape from the tyranny of her brothers. Of course, she still labored, but she knew it would not last much longer, for her lover, a rugged, handsome shepherd was coming back for her. All her thoughts dwelt on how happy they would be together.
Then her heart lurched. She didn’t even know his name! If he was but a shepherd, then how could he afford the bride price? Her brothers would certainly drive a hard bargain. Where would this man get the money to buy her freedom?
How love overcomes such obstacles! Her lover seemed so confident. He must have options. She would trust him to find a way.
Every thought of Cindy’s was for her love. How she missed him. How she longed for his return. But as weeks and months passed moments of doubts increasingly invaded her thoughts. The shepherd boy had forgotten her. He’d found another and decided not to marry her after all. He couldn’t meet the bride price and didn’t have the heart to tell her there would be no wedding. But she banished all such thoughts, for she had gazed into his eyes and seen true love. Deep in her heart, she knew he had to return.
One day, as Cindy labored in the vineyard, she heard a shout from the neighboring field. She looked up toward the desert and saw a column of dust and smoke, announcing the arrival of a large caravan. “The king is coming! The king is coming!” went the shouts.
She ran to the road to watch the entourage enter the village. The sun caught the shields of the first row of soldiers. Cindy shuddered as she noted the swords on their sides. These were fierce-looking men who could surely protect their king. They passed by her, two by two. Then she heard a command to halt, and the royal carriage stopped right in front of her!
A face popped out of the window, and with a sly smile, the king looked right into Cindy’s eyes and said, “How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Like a lily among thorns is my darling among the maidens.”
Cindy’s heart jumped at the voice — the voice of the shepherd, her lover! The king nimbly stepped out of the carriage and faced her. Gently he grasped her shoulders and looked her over. “Arise my darling, my beautiful one, and come with me.”
The next hours were a blur. There were lavish gifts for her and her family. Cindy was dressed in the finest linen for the trip to the capital and the king’s palace. The celebration was greater than any dream she could have imagined. There were courtiers, noblemen, ladies to meet her every need, and singers to entertain them. “We rejoice and delight in you,” they sang. “We will praise your love more than wine.” She had to keep pinching herself to tell herself this wasn’t a dream. Never could she have imagined such joy.
Then the party was over and the two of them were alone in the king’s chambers. Tenderly, the king said, “Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely.” Cindy blushed while savoring his words. “You have stolen my heart, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes.” Then he put a necklace around her neck. “You are a garden locked up, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.”
If this was a dream, Cindy didn’t wake up. Poetry poured from her lips: “Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.” With those words the king blew out the candle and led her to his bed.
Song of Solomon
This story is more than 3,000 years old. It is the drama behind the poetry in the Song of Solomon — the story of how King Solomon discovered a beautiful woman and fell in love with her. I chose the name of Cindy because we don’t know the name of the Shulamite woman (and because it sounds a little like “Cinderella,” a story that could have been inspired by the Song of Solomon).
Why is Song of Solomon in the canon of Scripture? There is no mention of God in its eight chapters. In fact, the open expression of sensuality makes some uncomfortable, wondering if such words should even be published in our holy book.
Jewish and Christian scholars generally agree that Song of Solomon is part of Scripture for two reasons. First, it upholds a picture of marital love as it was intended. Here is a glimpse of what God desired when He joined man and wife in the Garden of Eden and told them to “be fruitful and multiply.” For centuries marriages have occurred for many reasons — for economic or political benefits, because the families got along, because the man needed an heir, because it was convenient and that’s what young people did. But marriage primarily for reasons of love has become commonplace only in the last couple of centuries, and not in all parts of the world.
Is that what God really wanted marriage to be — an expression of passionate love? In the Song of Solomon we glimpse the possibilities: Man and woman can thoroughly enjoy each other for life within the confines of marriage. Whether marriage emerges from a romance or is arranged, God’s intention is that every married couple experience the fullness of romantic love for each other.
Part 1: Happily Ever After?
Part 2: Covenant Marriages
Part 3: Passionate Marrages
Part 4: Fighting Marriages
Part 5: Heroic Marriages
From The Marriage Masterpiece, by Al Janssen, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2001, Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.