PLEASE NOTE: This e-teaching is not appropriate for children, preadolescents, and many adolescents.
She was a Ukrainian beauty, no denying that. Her long, dark hair hung past her shoulders, standing in sharp contrast to all the other women in the church, who had their hair in buns or tucked up under bonnets. She sported a blouse and skirt, while they all wore long dresses. She was wearing bright red lipstick and some rouge on her cheeks; every other female face was unembellished. They knew the Bible reported that wicked queen Jezebel had once “painted her eyes” (2 Kings 9:30).
The church was on the outskirts of Keiv, Ukraine’s capital, and it was the early 1990s. Ukraine had recently been released from the iron grip of the former Soviet Union, and its formerly-persecuted churches were experiencing freedom for the first time in decades. I was with a team of American pastors who were traveling around Ukraine preaching in churches, and on one occasion, even at a regular meeting of local communist party members.
On this particular cold winter Sunday, we were visiting a Pentecostal congregation that was meeting in their middle-aged pastor’s house. It was jammed full of sincere folks who sat on backless wooden pews. Men and women were segregated into sections. The dark-haired young beauty whom I previously mentioned had innocently seated herself in one of the men’s sections, a fact to which she never became aware during the morning’s hymn singing and several sermons. I noticed a number of the younger women in a different corner of the house looking at her and laughing amongst themselves.
Near the end of the service, when the pastor extended an invitation for salvation, she walked forward. He instructed her to fall to her knees and confess her sins, which she did, out loud and with tears.
I wondered if she was a backslidden Pentecostal who was “coming back to the Lord,” or if she had no religious background and was one of the hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans whose empty hearts were being stirred spiritually after the demise of communism. And I couldn’t help but wonder what she would look like once she adopted the Pentecostal dress code and rule book, and what her friends, family and co-workers would think about it. Would it help draw them towards the gospel, or would it help drive them away from it?
And this brings me to my general subject of this chapter: female beauty, and its role in male attraction and marital sex. There is certainly a spectrum of opinion within Christian circles regarding female beauty. At one end of that spectrum are those who seem to equate female holiness with unattractiveness. They sometimes point to words by Peter and Paul to support their stance:
Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:3-4).
Likewise, I want women to adorn themselves with proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments, but rather by means of good works, as is proper for women making a claim to godliness (1 Tim. 2:9-10).
On the other end of the spectrum are those who completely ignore Peter and Paul’s words. Not only is female obsession with outward appearance and adornment OK with them, but they also see nothing wrong with women displaying their God-given beauty in such a way as to send sexual signals to every male they encounter.
As is so often the case, a balanced perspective is the biblical one. Let’s see if we can find that balance in the Bible. And just as the previous chapter was written primarily, but not exclusively, to men (hopefully eliciting some female cheers), this chapter is written primarily, but not exclusively, to women (and will likely evoke some male applause). Ladies and gentlemen, trust me—I do have both of your best interests at heart.
The Creator of Female Beauty
Hopefully we can all agree that female beauty was God’s idea originally, and so was male attraction to female beauty. As some preliminary proof, here’s a biblical passage found quite early in Genesis:
Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose…. The Nephilim were on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men, and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown. (Gen. 6:1-2, 4).
Apart from raising questions regarding the identity and activity of the “sons of God,”  this passage unsurprisingly assigns the trait of beauty to females, beauty that attracted the sons of God so much that they desired to marry them. In that respect, most men can relate to the “sons of God,” whoever they were. Men are attracted to female beauty. It is a visual attraction, an almost universal male trait I’ve repeatedly mentioned in previous chapters.
Beyond that, the clear implication of this passage is that female beauty was evident to the “sons of God” prior to any marriage with those females, and that the fullness of female beauty was not revealed until after marriage, the anticipation of which is what created the desire among the “sons of God” to marry the “daughters of men.” To put it plainly, the “sons of God” liked what they saw, and they wanted to see it more often and more fully.
So the “daughters of men” weren’t covered head-to-toe in shapeless burqas prior to marriage, otherwise they would have possessed very little beauty, if any, that would have attracted the sons of God. Female Ugliness Advocates, please take note! Female beauty, which is God-given and designed to be visually attractive to men, requires some degree of revealing if it is to be attractive. That revealing should, of course, be modest in relationship to all men other than one’s husband, something taught in the biblical passage under consideration, as well as consistently throughout the rest of Scripture.
Incidentally, when Peter admonished women regarding their adornment not being external but internal in 1 Peter 3:3-4 (that I quoted earlier), he cited Abraham’s wife, Sarah, as one who set a good example of that practice (see 1 Pet. 3:5-6). Recall, however, Scripture states that Sarah was “very beautiful” (Gen. 12:14), and so much so that Abraham feared the Egyptians might kill him on account of her beauty. So there is the balance. Sarah, a “holy” (1 Pet. 3:5-6) woman who did not focus excessively on outward adornment, was noticeably beautiful to other men besides her husband.
Holiness and physical beauty are not mutually exclusive, as the two passages I’ve mentioned indicate. Again, female beauty is God-given, and so is male attraction to female beauty. Neither are morally wrong. In fact, both are morally good, since both come from God.
Forbidden Female Beauty Enhancement?
But what about the propriety of Christian women attempting to enhance their beauty? Were Peter and Paul forbidding that?
It is worth noting that the translators of the New American Standard Bible felt justified in adding the word “merely” before Peter’s caution to women about outward adornment: Here are his words again:
Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God (1 Pet. 3:3-4).
The NASB translators were persuaded that Peter was not forbidding any and all hair braiding, jewelry and dresses. If he was, we should be telling Christian women that it is inappropriate for them to wear dresses. In fact, the Greek word translated “dresses” in 1 Peter 3:4 can be rightly translated as “clothing” or “apparel” (as it is in the King James Version). Peter certainly wasn’t forbidding Christian women from wearing clothing! Rather, he was cautioning against an over-emphasis on outward adornment at the expense of more important “inward adornment.”
Regarding the propriety of women wearing some jewelry, not only did our Shulammite wear earrings and a necklace (Song 1:10; 4:9) and Rebeka wear a gold ring and two bracelets given to her by Abraham via his servant (Gen. 24:22, 30), but God Himself once metaphorically referred to the people of Israel as His own wife whom he lovingly adorned with fine clothing and jewelry:
“I also clothed you with embroidered cloth and put sandals of porpoise skin on your feet; and I wrapped you with fine linen and covered you with silk. I adorned you with ornaments, put bracelets on your hands and a necklace around your neck. I also put a ring in your nostril, earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your dress was of fine linen, silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour, honey and oil; so you were exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. Then your fame went forth among the nations on account of your beauty, for it was perfect because of My splendor which I bestowed on you,” declares the Lord God (Ezek. 16:10-14).
It would seem unlikely that God would use such an analogy if He considered the metaphorical actions He attributed to Himself to be sinful on some level. On the contrary, He portrayed Himself positively as a loving husband who spent his money to enhance his wife’s beauty.
So the balance on female beauty is that it is God-given, as is male attraction to female beauty. There is, therefore, nothing wrong with a woman cooperating with God to achieve her fullest beauty potential, just as long as it doesn’t supersede her quest for inner beauty, which would of course call for, among other things, modesty in regard to all men besides her husband. And in regard to her husband—who is entitled to the fulness of her beauty—her cooperation with God to achieve her fullest beauty potential is an expression of her love for him.
Female readers, single and married, take note! Single women, there is nothing wrong with making the most of your God-given beauty—just as long as you are modest. Your God-given beauty is one of the sharper arrows in your quiver that can help you bag a good man! If you do marry someone in the future, I can assure you part of his reason will be because of your physical beauty.
Married women, your husband married you, at least in part, because he was attracted to your God-given physical beauty. He expected when he married you that he would enjoy your beauty more often and more fully. So don’t deprive him (as Paul wrote), to any degree. Remember that, according to Willard Harley’s surveys, in general, men’s greatest emotional need is for sexual fulfilment and their third-greatest emotional need is for a physically-attractive spouse. Those two are so closely related it is surprising that Harley separated them. Sexual fulfillment for a standard visually-oriented male requires a physically-attractive wife. That means his first-greatest emotional need hinges on his third-greatest emotional need. That means his third-greatest emotional need is actually a component of his first-greatest emotional need.
I realize, of course, that what I’m writing could make men appear shallow, and in Western culture, as well as in some Christian circles, there are trends that condemn that perceived shallowness. Women, understandably, don’t want to be judged solely on their physical beauty, because they have hearts, minds, personalities, character, abilities, skills and much more. (Men, try to imagine how it would feel if women judged you solely on the basis of your physical appearance.) Sadly, there is too much of that kind of shallowness among men.
Still, biology is biology. And God is God. He created females with their feminine physical traits, and He put brains in human males that are programmed to be attracted, visually, to certain female physical traits, what is called “beauty.” Yes, some of the criteria of that attraction is culturally constructed (fashion styles and shaved legs for example), but most of it is innate. It is just as divine and mysterious as gravitational attraction between planets. No man can explain why he is attracted to female beauty; he only knows that he is. Who can similarly explain what makes a delicate flower, golden sunrise, or snow-covered mountain peak pleasing to human eyes? It is all divine, and it should provoke everyone to seek the God who is behind all the mystery. And those unattractive uber-feminists who are trying to convince us that female beauty is purely a cultural construct are fighting both God and biology.
Similarly confused are some Christians who deprecate the concept of female beauty, claiming it is “unspiritual.” They might as well claim that God is unspiritual since female beauty was His idea. The Bible, inspired by the Holy Spirit, often mentions female beauty. We’ve already read in Genesis 6 of the general beauty shared by all females that makes them attractive. Additionally, Scripture specifically describes Rachel and Esther as being “beautiful of form and face” (Gen. 29:17; Esth. 2:7), and Sarah and Rebekah as both being “very beautiful” (Gen. 12:14. 24:6). It also mentions the physical beauty of Abigail, Bathsheba, Tamar, Abishag, Queen Vashti and Job’s daughters (1 Sam. 25:3; 2 Sam. 11:2; 13:1; 1 Kin 1:3; Esth. 1:11; Job 42:15).
Added to that list is also our Shulammite. She was obviously quite an attractive woman, at least in the eyes of Solomon, the “daughters of Jerusalem,” as well as her husband, whose elaboration of her beauty in the Song of Solomon’s fourth chapter we’ve previously considered. You may recall in that description, he started by describing her eyes and then worked downwards. Unsurprisingly, there is another elaboration of his in the Song’s seventh chapter in which he starts with her feet and works upwards! He was not the first man, nor the last, to look at a woman “up and down.” Glad she was his wife!
We might as well take a look at his second description while we’re on the subject. And I might as well inform female readers that his elaboration of her beauty has the potential to cause the hearts of imaginative male readers under the age of 85 to beat a little faster. Really. And it’s in the Bible!
The Chapter Seven Elaboration
How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
O prince’s daughter!
The curves of your hips are like jewels,
The work of the hands of an artist (Song 7:1)
Yes, female feet can be attractive to men. Who can explain it? An alternate translation to the Hebrew word translated “feet” in Song 7:1 is “footsteps.” Watching a woman walk can also be attractive to males, as can just about any female movement. It is no secret that some men join fitness clubs, not just to work out, but to watch female forms in motion.
Equally unexplainable is male fascination with female legs. Our shepherd especially appreciated the curves of his woman’s hips/thighs/buttocks, which he likened to “jewels” that were “the work of the hands of an artist.” That artist, incidentally, was God.
Your navel is like a round goblet
Which never lacks mixed wine;
Your belly is like a heap of wheat
Fenced about with lilies (Song 7:2).
This verse has certainly had its share of head-scratching male readers. What man would ever dare tell his wife that her belly reminded him of a “heap of wheat” if he didn’t want to sleep on the couch that night?
Obviously, the Shulammite’s “heap of wheat” belly was attractive to our shepherd. Were men in his day attracted to women who were “pleasingly plump”? If so, why does he soon praise her because her form is like a slender palm tree?
There are several possible explanations, and one lies with imagining a heap of wheat, not as a half-sphere protruding outward from a female abdomen (as during pregnancy), but rather as an elongated half-sphere that is comparable to her entire midriff (her front between her chest and waist). Most men would understand the shepherd’s excitement over that part of her body, and that interpretation helps explain how a “heap of wheat belly” could house a “round goblet” navel. (Belly fat tends to compress navels, so only a thin midriff creates a “round goblet” navel.)
But what on her body was akin to a bordering “fence of lilies” that surrounded the “heap of wheat”? That is more of a mystery, and perhaps the New Living Translation offers some clarification:
Your navel is perfectly formed
like a goblet filled with mixed wine.
Between your thighs lies a mound of wheat
bordered with lilies (Song 7:2).
In this translation, the “mound of wheat” is between her thighs, and around that mound there is a flowering border row. Could her lover have been speaking discreetly of her clitoris and labia? It is impossible to say, but at least there is some possible explanation for the “border of lilies” around the “mound of wheat.”
Breasts are the Best
Our shepherd continues working up his wife’s beautiful body:
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle (Song 7:3).
You probably recall we read the same words in the shepherd’s earlier description of his wife’s beauty (in the Song’s fourth chapter). The take-away from those identical admirations is that men really appreciate female breasts. In fact, our shepherd shortly will be mentioning his wife’s breasts yet a third and fourth time. (And this is why it is so difficult for men to suppress a blushing smile when asked during a chicken dinner, “Do you prefer legs or breasts?”)
Your neck is like a tower of ivory,
Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon
By the gate of Bath-rabbim;
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon,
Which faces toward Damascus (Song 7:4).
Not knowing what the tower of Lebanon that faced Damascus actually looked like, it is difficult to understand how her nose reminded him of it. It is not so difficult, however, to appreciate her eyes being comparable to pools of water and her neck to a tower of ivory. The point is, her face and neck were attractive to her lover. Who can explain it?
Your head crowns you like Carmel,
And the flowing locks of your head are like purple threads;
The king is captivated by your tresses (Song 7:5).
This verse is sometimes presented as evidence that it is King Solomon, not the shepherd, who is admiring the Shulammite in this passage because of the phrase, “the king is captivated by your tresses.” We could certainly imagine an egotistical monarch speaking of himself in the third person. Still, it is worth noting the line does not read, “I am captivated by your tresses.” It is possible that her husband, having now secured her release from Solomon’s harem, is complimenting her by telling her that a king—who had no shortage of beautiful women surrounding him—was very attracted to her hair, as was he. The poetic Hebrew imagery likens the curls of her hair to binding chains.
There is another possible interpretation. Note that the entire verse contains regal metaphors. Her head “crowns” her. The locks of her hair are “like purple threads” (or perhaps braided with purple threads) and we know that in ancient times purple was a color reserved for royalty and the rich. Her admirer had referred to her seconds earlier as a “prince’s daughter” (Song 7:1), which certainly does not fit anything else we know about her identity. So perhaps that admirer, the shepherd, now reunited with her, was role-playing as another king who was captivated by her beauty. As if he were saying, “In case you have any regret that you turned down the chance to be a queen in Solomon’s harem, I too am a king, but I have no need for a harem with you as my princess.” How nice would that be?
How beautiful and how delightful you are,
My love, with all your charms!
Your stature is like a palm tree,
And your breasts are like its clusters.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree,
I will take hold of its fruit stalks.”
Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine,
And the fragrance of your breath like apples,
And your mouth like the best wine (Song 7:6-9a)!
Surveying her entire form, he is attracted primarily to her slenderness, which he compares to the stature of a palm tree, and her breasts, which he compares to the palm tree’s fruit, which most likely—in Israel—were dates (no, not coconuts). Her allure is irresistible. He cannot just look. He must get closer. His apex sexual sense, sight, has aroused him to indulge his other senses, which he enumerates: touch, taste and smell.
Readers can’t help but wonder about the literal meaning behind our shepherd’s metaphors. Having just described her, starting with her feet and working upwards to her head, and also having compared her to a palm tree, what does he mean when he says he will “climb the palm tree”? The imagery is that of a man climbing a palm tree for the purpose of retrieving clusters of dates. Similarly, he intends to “climb” her to “reach” her breasts. What will he do on the way up? Readers can only imagine.
Clearly, when he reaches his “climbing” goal, he intends to caress her breasts with his hands (“I will take hold of its fruit stalks”), and perhaps also with his mouth (“may your breasts be like clusters of the vine”). He also is anticipating some serious kissing (“may…the fragrance of your breath [be] like apples, and your mouth [be] like the best wine”).
As an aside, in ancient times, there was no antiseptic mouthwash, so bad breath was dealt with by masking it with some aromatic substance, such as frankincense or myrrh resin, or in the case of our Shulammite and shepherd, apple slices.
But, back to our shepherd’s hope for a wine-like experience of locking lips with his lover. The Shulammite’s response plays on his metaphor:
It goes down smoothly for my beloved,
Flowing gently through the lips of those who fall asleep (Song 7:9b).
Her kisses would be smooth and gentle, and just as wine may initially have a stimulating effect but is primarily a sedative, so her kisses would ultimately sedate him, transporting him to another world. Men often fall asleep after making love due to the orgasmic release of sleep-inducing hormones in their brains. So wives, don’t be angry when your husband quickly dozes off. You are the magnificent woman who gave him that cotton-like feeling in his brain. And his arousal all started with him seeing your beauty.
But I’m Not Beautiful!
I’m sure there are a percentage of female readers who, having read this far in this chapter, are suffering sinking spirits due to being convinced that they are not in the “beautiful” category. So allow me to eradicate that falsehood. If you are female, you are beautiful. Just remember that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.”
Take note that half of all humans are female, and most of them end up married. Apparently, all of them were attractive to at least one male (and probably to many more), indicating that, if you are unmarried, there is a very good chance at least one man (and probably more) is going to find you attractive enough to want to marry you. Don’t let it bother you that some men aren’t attracted to you any more than you let it bother you that some insects aren’t attracted to you. (Some men, as you probably realize, are like insects…)
Yes, there are the Miss Universe contestants who generally possess traits of beauty that make them nearly universally attractive. But even the Miss Universe contest affirms the truth that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Male viewers of the television broadcast often wonder how some Miss Universe contestants were selected to represent their countries. “If she is the most beautiful woman in her country,” they think to themselves, “they must not have too much of a selection there.” But judges in those contestants’ countries would beg to differ.
Moreover, it is fairly obvious that Miss Universe contestants haven’t come by all their beauty naturally without any personal effort. They didn’t get their hourglass figures by laying on the couch all day eating potato chips and jelly beans. Thus, all of them could be less attractive if they neglected to do what they did do to make themselves more attractive. I would dare say that any Miss Universe contestant has the potential to transform herself from being nearly-universally attractive to being very limitedly attractive, or even nearly-universally unattractive. Any of them could shave their heads, stop bathing, gain 300 pounds, and allow themselves to be consumed by selfishness. Potentially, any beauty could become a beast!
That being said, if a female “beauty-to-beast” transformation is possible, so is the reverse, and from any starting point. Female beauty is obviously a combination of divine and human effort. Every woman reveals the beauty of God’s handiwork to some degree. But every woman cooperates with God to a greater or lesser degree to reveal the full potential of her beauty, and not only physical beauty, but also in her character and personality, two components of inward beauty that make women attractive to men.
Regarding those non-physical aspects of female beauty, an ugly personality or character can completely obscure a woman’s physical beauty, as noted by the Amplified Bible’s translation of Proverbs 11:22: “As a ring of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a beautiful woman who is without discretion [her lack of character mocks her beauty].” That is why even Miss Universe contestants are not judged solely by outward appearance. That is also why women who excel in character and personality seem so much more beautiful than outwardly-gorgeous witches.
The Beautiful Application
So, single women who hope to marry, don’t work against God, the one who has given you your full potential of beauty in spirit, soul and body. Work with Him. You may not achieve the nearly-universal, subjective, attractiveness of a Miss Universe contestant, but you will get much closer to it than women who don’t cooperate with God. Men will be attracted to you, guaranteed.
Married women, you must have cooperated with God enough to catch the eye of your husband (and likely many other men), as well as his heart and mind. Your husband will appreciate it if you continue to work with God at least to the same degree you did to originally attract him. If you don’t, you inadvertently send him a message that you love him less than you originally did. And your husband will really appreciate it if you make an even greater effort to cooperate with God to achieve your greatest God-given potential of beauty, spirit, soul and body. That sends him the message, “I love you more than I ever have.”
Speaking of your husband, unless he is a monster, he will be very sympathetic regarding the beauty challenges of pregnancy and post-pregnancy. And he should be, as he is the impregnator. That being said, pregnancy does not ultimately rob any woman of her God-given beauty potential, and husbands appreciate their wives’ post-pregnancy efforts to work with God to reach that potential.
Beyond that, your husband, unless he is a monster, is also very sympathetic toward the beauty challenges of time and gravity. He doesn’t expect you not to grow older as he also does. He only hopes that you live up to your fullest God-given beauty potential, again, spirit, soul and body. When you do, it sends him the message that you love him. And he knows he has no right to expect of you what he neglects regarding himself. Jabba the Hutt has no right to complain when Princess Leia puts on a few pounds, right? Right.
A wise and good husband frequently tells his wife how beautiful she is. That sends her the message that he appreciates her efforts to cooperate with God to achieve her God-given beauty potential. His encouragement, rather than criticism, is much more likely to motivate her to make even more effort toward that end. Trying to motivate your wife (or husband) to change by criticism is somewhat like trying to grow tomatoes by withholding water from your tomato plants. What would you think of the gardener who said, “I’m not going to give those tomato plants any water until I see some tomatoes. That ought to motivate them!”?
And when a woman calls her husband’s attention to her perceived flaws (all women think they have flaws, including even Miss Universe contestants and our Shulammite), she isn’t hoping he’ll say, “Amen.” She wants to hear his uplifting, contradicting opinion.
Our shepherd had that figured out. As beautiful as his wife apparently was, she was ashamed of her dark skin, and we find her trying to explain the reason for it to the other women in Solomon’s harem:
Do not stare at me because I am swarthy [or “black”],
For the sun has burned me
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
They made me caretaker of the vineyards,
But I have not taken care of my own vineyard (Song 1:6)
Many Asian cultures tend to perceive lighter skin as more desirable, and skin-bleaching is very common among women who desire to make themselves more attractive. Imagine all the women of Solomon’s harem, upon seeing the Shulammite for the first time when she was brought into the harem, collectively thinking to themselves, “Wow, she’s really beautiful, but her skin is so unattractively dark.” That likely actually happened according to Song 1:6. It is also very likely that our shepherd would have considered lighter skin to be more beautiful. But you won’t find him mentioning the darkness of her skin anywhere in Solomon’s Song. He only compliments her, focused on all the positive aspects of her beauty. Husbands, take note!
Why Your Woman Needs Encouragement
Male readers, please allow me to help you see the world through female eyes. Unfortunately, from birth, all women find themselves captive contestants in a universal, never-ending beauty contest. They are all very much aware that they are continually being compared with other women, and that they are valued more or less according to their physical attractiveness. Additionally, it is not only men who sit in the judges’ section of that endless beauty contest, but women as well, who all compare themselves with each other. We’ve already noted how our Shulammite felt her skin was too dark, no doubt comparing herself to other women, and how all the women in Solomon’s harem thrice expressed their belief that our Shulammite was the “most beautiful among women” (Song 1:8; 5:8; 6:1).
In that sense, Solomon’s harem was a microcosm of the world’s endless universal beauty contest, and it is also somewhat analogous to the Miss Universe Contest. All the women of Solomon’s harem, like our Shulammite, were chosen because of their beauty. They, unlike all the women in their hometowns who were not selected for the harem, survived the “first round of eliminations.” But that was just the beginning of the beauty contest from which those “lucky” ladies could not escape.
Once among the hundreds of other women in the harem, they found themselves competing with one another for Solomon’s affections. How utterly miserable was that? I wonder if they feigned happiness and applauded, just like runners-up contestants at the crowing of the new Miss Universe, whenever one from among them was selected by Solomon to be his Saturday night sleeping partner? The entire enterprise seems awful from beginning to end, and I speak not only of Solomon’s harem and the Miss Universe Contest, but also the world’s never-ending beauty contest that is designed to make most women feel like losers.
But here’s the important thing: If my surmised plot of Solomon’s Song is accurate, our shepherd ultimately succeeded in rescuing the Shulammite from the hell of Solomon’s harem, as well as from the bigger beauty contest it represents. Once she was delivered, it no longer mattered what Solomon thought, what the women in his harem thought, or what anyone else thought. All that mattered was what one man thought, and that man made sure she knew he thought she was beautiful.
Husbands, take note! One of your jobs is to deliver your wife from the Miss Universe competition. She needs to know that in your eyes she is the most beautiful woman in the world. She definitely has several advantages over all other women in that regard, in that she is the only woman to whom you have exclusive rights to enjoy all of her beauty, and for the rest of her life.
The late Joe Cocker—with his soulish, sandpaper singing voice—encapsulated these sentiments masterfully in his enchanting 1974 rendition of You are So Beautiful. He seems to be trying to convince his lover of something she doesn’t believe; six times in the song he slowly repeats, “You…are…so…beautiful.” Too much evidence to the contrary, however, has been amassed in her mind, and so six times he adds two more words that have the force to sweep away all her objections: “…to me.” It doesn’t matter what anyone else might think, including even her. He thinks she’s beautiful.
You are so beautiful
You are so beautiful
But even that is not enough to persuade a woman whose self-image has been molded all her life by unfair comparisons, including her own. So he “doubles down,” first by questioning why she can’t see what is so obvious to him, and then by affirming that he, contrary to what she may suspect, never lowered his standards during his search for a beautiful woman. She was “everything he’d hoped for.” And although she may doubt her adequacy of her attractiveness now, he isn’t wishing for someone else. She’s “everything he needs.”
Can’t you see
You’re everything I hoped for
You’re everything I need
You are so beautiful
What woman would not want a man like that?
I do hope that my words addressed primarily to husbands in the past few paragraphs aren’t interpreted by any wives as being a retraction of anything I wrote earlier to them. Don’t expect your husband to believe what you won’t help him believe. As you work with God to achieve and maintain your fullest beauty potential for him, it will help him to see you as the most beautiful woman in the world—because you will be the only woman in the world making yourself beautiful exclusively for him. Although he hopefully delivered you from the Miss Universe contest when he married you, don’t forget that you went home with one of the judges!
Men Weigh In
You perhaps have heard that recent studies show that women who carry a little extra weight live longer than the men who mention it. Women are often very sensitive regarding their weight, and because of that, husbands are generally very hesitant to broach the subject. That, however, doesn’t alter men’s first and third greatest emotional needs (according to Willard Harley).
You may recall me recommending in Chapter Seven one of Shaunti Feldhahn’s helpful books, titled For Women Only: What You Need to Know About the Inner Lives of Men. Based on her surveys of thousands of men, Feldhahn helps female readers tap into male minds on key relationship issues. It is certainly no surprise that she devoted a chapter midway through her book on the importance of sex to men. She cautiously waited until near the book’s end, however, to address the sensitive topic of the importance of female physical appearance to men. And she wisely begins that chapter by encouraging her female readers to first pray for protection from being hurt by what they are about to read! Then, to further disarm them, she continues introducing her topic with some humble self-deprecation:
Okay, ready? This chapter is about something our men desperately want us to know but feel absolutely unable to tell us: The effort you put into your appearance is extremely high on his priority list. Yet the chances that you know his true feelings are extremely low.
What I’ve learned about men’s needs in this area—including my husband’s—has been life changing. It has jarred me out of a dangerous complacency. Perhaps it will jar you out of yours.
Call me naïve, but I just didn’t realize that a wife’s or girlfriend’s appearance was such a big deal—such an imperative deal—for the guy. Important, yes. Imperative, no. Of course, having learned just how visual men are, I should have gotten a clue. But somehow I assumed that if I was out of shape, I was the only person who was negatively affected.
Feldhahn explains that female physical appearance involves more than just weight and shape. Sloppy dressing, neglected hair and cosmetic inattention are also interpreted by husbands as signs that his wife doesn’t care about him. When she does “take care of herself,” however, he feels loved. Feldhahn continues:
Ever since I decided to add a chapter about this issue, the male response has been astonishing. In fact, when I describe all the topics of the book to a guy, do you know which one he is most likely to seize on as something he wished his wife understood? You got it—this one (sex and respect were close seconds). Most of the men who hear about this subject thank me: “Thank you for saying what we are thinking but could never, ever say.” “Thank you for taking on a subject that is so taboo, especially in Christian circles.”
Feldhahn expects that most of her female readers will be as surprised as she was by this revelation. The reason many women are surprised is because they are not like men in this regard. Their man’s physical appearance is generally not as important to them as their physical appearance is to their man.
If you are a surprised female reader who doubts Feldhahn’s findings, I would encourage you to ask your husband how important your physical appearance is to him. It is more important to some husbands than others, and perhaps you are married to a man who is cut from a different cloth than most of us. But please make it easy for him to be honest with you because, chances are, when you bring up the subject, his mind will be racing through possible answers and possible consequences of those answers. If he knows you are sensitive, he may lie, because he doesn’t want to hurt you. Don’t open the conversation by saying to him, “Please assure me you aren’t one of those shallow jerks who expects his wife to never gain a pound!”
Female readers, trust me when I say that most men wish at times that someone could wave a magic wand and change their male nature. To be released from our “shallowness” and visual sexual orientation, to not care about the physical appearance of our wives, to feel zero attraction to other females besides our wives, to achieve sexual sainthood, or perhaps even better, to have no sex drive at all! That would eliminate so many problems. (Of course, that would also be the end of the human race, not to mention tons of fun…) Regardless, it doesn’t seem anyone will be applying for a patent for such a magic wand anytime in the near future. Moreover, the way we men are is the way God created us. So we beg for your understanding!
Continuing Where Angels Dare Not Tread
Allow me to continue quoting the very wise Shaunti Feldhahn as she attempts to walk through a minefield:
Now, nearly all women have some form of body insecurity that we already worry about too much, and I’m not trying to add fuel to that fire! We’re hammered relentlessly by media messages that we should all be perfectly shaped and eternally young. But God didn’t create us to be Barbie dolls, and those fake and impossible ideals only drive women into eating disorders and other miserable, unhealthy obsessions. This chapter is only dealing with weight, fitness, and appearance issues that we can healthfully do something about.
I’m sure all female readers appreciate that paragraph. I’d like to focus for a moment on the final sentence, which affirms what everyone knows cannot be debated: Everyone, male and female, can “do something about” their “weight, fitness, and appearance issues.”
Most everyone is motivated, at least to some degree, to care about those three things, and most everyone knows that one’s weight and fitness significantly affect one’s health. Being even a little overweight increases one’s risk for many serious diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, colon cancer, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and more. So, apart from any relationship to male sexual satisfaction in marriage, there are major benefits for women (and men, of course) to be physically trim and fit. And when you add the benefit of male satisfaction in marriage, that should be plenty of motivation for any woman who loves herself and her husband to make an effort to take care of herself.
According to Feldhahn’s surveys of thousands of men, a wife’s efforts to that end are what is most important, and not that she look just like she did the day they first met. Additionally, 97% of husbands (according to Feldhahn’s surveys) would enthusiastically support, financially or otherwise, any efforts their wives made to improve their weight, fitness and appearance. Any wife who embarks on such an effort will experience immediate benefits in her marriage, which should help her better grasp how important her appearance is to her husband.
This is a book about sex, so there is no way to honestly avoid the subject of female beauty. I hope I’ve offered a helpful, balanced perspective. In the next chapter, I’ll share some tested and true insight on taking off and keeping off unwanted pounds for both women and men. Be glad, because you will soon be enjoying enhanced health, a more attractive appearance, an improved marriage, and better sex!
 Along those lines, I recall once hearing an American Pentecostal minister who quipped, “You’ll never win the world with ugly women!” That same minister once asked in a sermon, “Is it a sin for women to wear makeup? I think that, in some cases, it’s a sin for them not to wear makeup!” That was in the 1980s. I doubt any minister could get away with saying those same things in today’s culture.
 The word “merely” is italicized in the NASB, indicating that it was not found in the original Greek, but was added by the translators.
 They can only be a special group of human men or angels. One problem with the “sons of God” being identified as angels who married human females is the fact that Jesus said that angels do not marry, implying that they have no desire or capacity for sex; see Matt. 22:29-30.
 Obviously, male attraction to female beauty is not lust. Male lust occurs when a man looks at a woman and “commits adultery with her in his heart,” as Jesus said.
 I’ve only met one man in my life who married a woman whom he did not think was physically attractive, and he told me it was because he felt God was requiring him to marry her. (I sure hope he never told her that.)
 It is interesting how confused Western culture continually sends contradicting messages regarding female beauty. On the same webpage of Yahoo! News, for example, you can often find articles with titles like, “Celebrity Woman Claps Back at Instagram Body Shamers” followed by another article titled, “Celebrity Woman Flaunts Her Toned Abs in White Crop Top.”
 Clitoris: the small, sensitive, erectile part of the female genitals at the anterior end of the vulva. Labia: the inner and outer folds of the vulva, at either side of the vagina.
 May I also recommend the companion book, For Men Only: A Straightforward Guide to the Inner Lives of Women. I think both should be required reading for all married couples. I’ve given copies of both to a number of couples whom I love.
 See www.webmd.com/diet/news/20010709/even-being-slightly-overweight-increases-risk-for-many-diseases