Fox Hunting

Reflections on Song of Solomon 2:15

There once were three little foxes. They were not as wise as their mother, but they looked cute and guileless, which has its own advantages. A nearby farmer had several grapevines fenced in. The mother fox taught the little ones to go around the fence when the grapes were gathered. The farmer’s family was enamored by the handsome young creatures. At first, the farmer warned his kids about the damage foxes can do to a farm, but his grudging acceptance gradually turned into approval. Every day the foxes allowed the family to get closer to them, until one day the family opened the gate and allowed the foxes in. They would nibble the sweet grapes but did no significant damage. As they grew, they ate more grapes, but what harm could a few foxes do? One day after the foxes’ visit, the gate was accidentally left open. The next day the farmer was met with a sad sight – the vineyard was in shambles; the grapes were spoiled, and the vines torn.

It may be hard to imagine what this story has to do with romance, but that’s how Solomon applies it. Chapters one and two of the Song of Solomon center on the young woman and her beloved, speaking to one another in the words of young, passionate love. In 2:13, we read about their love being in season. “The fig tree puts forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.” One verse later, the voice changes to a group that warns the young couple of potential danger. “Take us to the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines, for our vines have tender grapes” (Song of Solomon 2:15).

The picture of marriage as a garden is not unique to the Song of Solomon; it is common in ancient literature. Every stage of marriage has its perils. In the springtime of marriage, when love is young, we might think it will grow without much help. When a marriage has some age, we may think the “Lindy Effect” takes over and less work is needed to make it last.[1] Whatever the age of your marriage, Solomon’s lesson is that we should always be on a fox hunt.

Most people know the normal dangers of marriage – adultery, abuse, abdication, etc. We rightly do what it takes to chase those dangers away. But Solomon warns us that it’s also the little foxes/dangers that spoil the fruit of marriage. Very few people enter into marriage with the intention of dissolving it through major sin. But no sin begins at level ten. They all begin at level one, seemingly too small to deal with. Over time, almost imperceptibly, those sins grow. Before you know it, the little, innocent-looking foxes have devoured the life of the garden and left destruction in their wake. No marriage is safe unless both husband and wife do the work to protect it.

How do we protect our marriage garden? First, give no place to self-pity in marriage. When your spouse exasperates, irritates, or sins against you, the temptation is to dwell on it and dredge up past hurts. The foxes of self-pity will overrun a marriage, so chase them away before bitterness sets in. “Does this mean I just ignore my spouse’s sin?” Not at all. When your spouse sins against you, it’s good to bring it to their attention. But not when you are seething, or if your spouse is not ready to receive it. If you do bring up his/her sin, you should be prepared for your spouse to bring up your sin in the conversation as well. You may not want to hear it, but God rarely brings sin to our attention when we think we’re ready.  

That leads to the next point: we must give no quarter to our sins. We can’t pretend that a small temper tantrum here or a pointed insult there is “no big deal.” They may not seem like much right now, but these sins don’t stay small; they’re certainly not small to your spouse. Any sin, if left to fester long enough, can do permanent damage to a marriage. And sins are never isolated. Like cockroaches, wherever you see one there are certainly others hiding. Therefore when confronted with your sin, deal with it quickly and thoroughly. Confess it, repent, and be restored.

Third, protect the time you spend with your spouse. Healthy gardens don’t evolve – they are cultivated over time. Healthy marriages demand cultivation as well. This means we must prioritize time with our spouse and chase away ever-present distractions. Put your phone on airline mode (or turn it off), make sure the kids are asleep/occupied, and give time to each other. This can be for conversation, reading something you enjoy, playing a game, or doing a project. But the point is, give yourself to serve and talk with each other consistently. Even if it’s just a few times a week, set aside undistracted time when you can give your attention to your spouse.

There are undoubtedly some who say, “We’re well past that point.” This deserves a separate article, but remember this: just as with an individual, there is no marriage that God’s grace cannot heal and restore. Ask yourself, “What do I need to do to honor God in my marriage?” Begin working there, pray, seek counsel, and be patient.

A healthy marriage is no accident – it demands vigilance. The little foxes of sin, self-pity, and distraction may appear harmless, but looks are deceiving. If left to themselves, they will make a wreck of your marriage. Guard the garden God gives you. Do what it takes to bless your spouse, and God will use your marriage to bring forth abundant fruit.

Matthew Carpenter is a husband, father, humanities teacher, and pastor of Trinity Reformed Church in Huntsville, Alabama. He has written for Front Porch Republic, The Imaginative Conservative, New Focus, and others publications.

[1] This is a principle proposed in the 1960’s that says the longer an organization or idea survives, the longer its remaining life expectancy is.