A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a spring locked, a fountain sealed.
Song of Solomon 4:12
Despite evidence that indicates they are effective, abstinence programs continue to be a controversial approach to sex education in many public schools. Most abstinence programs do not use the Bible to convince young people not to have sex before marriage, but their strategy is based upon the old-fashioned biblical value of chastity.
Usually supporters argue that they do a better job of protecting young people from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. One program in Tennessee, for example, was credited with helping the county drop its state ranking in teen pregnancies from first to sixty-fourth, accomplished in three years.
In today’s reading, we find another important benefit to chastity. It not only protects from disease and unwanted pregnancy, it also enhances the beauty of sex in marriage.
The groom praises the chaste character of his bride by describing her as a “garden locked up,” a “spring enclosed” and a “sealed fountain.” The practice of abstinence did not make her seem like a prude, but rather like a beautiful private garden. Old Testament commentator Franz Delitzsch notes, “To a locked garden and spring no one has access but the rightful owner, and a sealed fountain is shut against all impurity.”
The practice of chastity is not rooted in a hatred of sex but an understanding of its true value. The chaste person recognizes the beauty of moral purity. Abstinence did not make the bride less attractive to Solomon, it increased his longing for her. Moral purity enhances one’s enjoyment of sex.
Chastity is a relevant issue for single and married alike. Both have an obligation to control their own bodies that today’s verse describes as “in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thess. 4:4). For the single person this means abstaining from sexual activity until marriage. For the married person it means keeping the gate to this garden of secret delights locked to all but one’s spouse. Hebrews 13:4 warns, “Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.”