His Desire is for Me: The Story of Solomon & the Shulammite
Bob Emery. Bench Press Publishing. 2011
by Todd Braye, CMC Co-Editor
Bob Emery’s His Desire is for Me is a thirty-day devotional on the Song of Songs (or Song of Solomon). It is masterfully written employing vivid and descriptive language, making the devotional’s added, and fictitious storyline engaging. The opening, introductory words drew me in immediately: “The Song of Songs” writes Emery, “is a spiritual treasure chest buried deep within the pages of Scripture. It contains some of the most precious and intimate revelations about the love of God for his people that have ever been penned” (p. 20, iBooks edition). Emery then supplies a brief, but helpful, overview of the historical interpretive approaches to this Song. After pointing out that the Song of Songs could be viewed as expressing the “sacredness of human love between a man and a woman,” he soon adds three other approaches: 1) allegorical, 2) as a story of Christ’s love for the church, and 3) as a message of God’s love for his saints. This last approach – a message of divine love for individuals – is the view Emery takes.
Aside from being well-written, the book has other praiseworthy elements. For example, modern evangelicalism needs to hear Emery’s emphasis on affections. Many pulpits cry the divine command to love God with all of our being. But how often is the exposition of Christ as a lover of souls preached and thus heard? Even the lover of your soul? Though Emery’s narrative often felt strange – and, at times, even inappropriate – when applying King Solomon’s love for his bride to Christ’s love for me, it cannot be denied: the ultimate purpose of marriage is to display Christ’s love for his bride, the Church (Ephesians 5:22-32). Even the physical union of husband and wife speaks of a far greater consummation at the end of the age.
Another strength is Emery’s use of typology – that is, when he gets it right. King Solomon is acknowledged as a picture, a dim picture, of Christ, the King of kings. The Shulammite, Solomon’s bride, typifies the church. Emery also makes clear that Christ is the antitypical, ultimate resting place. “Our inheritance is not a physical land. Our inheritance is Christ…Rest in union with him…” (p. 72, iBooks edition). One more:
“Any maiden who got near to the presence of the king loved to breathe in the smell of his pleasing, costly fragrances. Any believer who has ever spent time in the presence of Christ and has been ‘kissed’ with the displays of his affection wants to be drawn closer to him” (p. 35, iBooks edition).
And this gem deserves mention:
“The glowing mass that lights our universe serves only as a picture of the real sun, Christ, for the day will come when it will no longer be needed. It will have served its purpose. In the New Jerusalem, Revelation 21:23 tells us, there will be ‘no need of the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.'”
This is simply great, Christ-exalting, praise-eliciting stuff.
Although there is much to be commended in the book, I have serious concerns with it. My biggest concern is what seems to be an inadequate, if not low, view of Scripture. Misquotes, misapplication, and citing irrelevant texts occur with frequency. For example, when Emery writes “The words he speaks within us are spirit and are life,” he cites John 6:63 in support (p.79, iBooks edition). John 6:63 does not support this assertion. Not at all. In my judgment, Emery reads into the text at best. At worst, he twists the Scripture. In John 6:63, to be clear, Jesus says, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” Context rules out the notion of direct, inner revelation. Instead, the words of which Jesus speaks concern eternal life and the food which gives true, spiritual life. The verse refers to objective, definable, public revelation given long ago, not subjective, unverifiable, private revelation today. It seems Emery would have subjective experience trump objective Scripture.
Emery’s poor use of Scripture is also on display when he uses Galatians 4:26 (“But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother.”) to support his notion that “my mother’s house” (Song of Songs 3:4; 8:2) represents the church. This is simply wrong, an exegetical nightmare. Again, context confines the range of possible meanings and even makes authorial intent abundantly clear. In diametric opposition to Hagar, the Sinai Covenant, the children in bondage to the Sinai Covenant, and the “present Jerusalem,” Paul’s “Jerusalem above” is not the church, but as it corresponds with Sarah in Paul’s allegory (Gal. 4:21-27), is that “city” responsible for the very spiritual life given to its citizens. Thus, the city is not the Church, but the origin of and reason for it. Emery fails to see this and make the distinction. I am left to simply wonder why it seems that every detail must be spiritualized. Why can’t “my mother’s house” be simply that!
To furnish examples of other problems and areas of concern with the book would be tedious. But at the very least, I am compelled to list the specifics:
● Regular use of quotes from Roman Catholic and mystic sources
● The apparent disdain for authority, unless that authority comes from within
● Doctrinal confusion regarding justification and sanctification
● Apparent arbitrary hermeneutic with seemingly whimsical assignment of symbols and meanings
● Over-realized eschatology
● Gnostic influence?
● Failure to make a distinction between the elect and non-elect
● Expresses belief in the unbiblical doctrine of conditional election
● Falsely identifies two types of Christians: 1) superficial, 2) true Christ-lovers
● Highly questionable exegesis at several points
● View of Divine Revelation is evidently not sola Scriptura, but Charismatic.
● Unbiblical view of the elect, unbelieving bride of Christ. Prior to being dressed in the robes of righteousness by faith, beauty is not descriptive of the elect. Emery’s portrayal disagrees.
● Lots of encouragement to “turn within.” Though Christ indwells those united to him by faith, Scripture never exhorts Christians to look inwards for spiritual nourishment. On the contrary, believers turn to the written word to behold Christ.
● No appeal to calibrate Christian life to the objective standard of Holy Scripture
This book is a huge disappointment, a confession I make even as I again read the author’s introductory notes. He shows his hand in those first words, stating that The Song of Songs “allows for a mystical…and allegorical level of interpretation,” and that “it is not a book to approach intellectually…” These assertions ought to have lowered my expectations.
I do not recommend this work. Though it speaks some truth, the truth spoken is not pure but mixed with error. Doctrinal and theological orthodoxy and discernment is not the author’s forte. One may even wonder if he knows what a Christian is; how could anyone knowing the issues categorize a Roman Catholic and a mystic/Quietist as “spiritual giants?” Emery not only does this, but mentions John Bunyan in the same breath, lumping the great Baptist in with his other “giants.” This surely indicates a broad inclusivism only possible when Scripture takes a back seat.
His Desire is for Me is not for the undiscerning. Should you choose to read it, beware.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.