“The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.” (Song of Solomon 1:1)
This opening verse confirms the authorship of the book, but also emphasizes the greatness of this song. It is not a song among songs, but “the song of songs.” It is deemed to be the greatest of Solomon’s songs.
Sadly, the Song of Solomon is sometimes overlooked or avoided when it comes to Bible study. The writing style is unlike any other book in the Bible; it is entirely poetry and discourse. The book addresses the marriage relationship and thus has some texts which are sensual in nature, which no doubt is uncomfortable or challenging for some readers.
There are four basic ways the Song of Solomon has been interpreted. Some have suggested the Song is just a theatrical play. Others (including some rabbinical sources) believe it is a picture of God’s love for Israel. There is also a prophetic interpretation which focuses on Christ and the church. And of course there is the simple interpretation that it is a true love story of Solomon and his wife.
Which Interpretation? I would suggest that one cannot go wrong with a literal interpretation. The language throughout the book bears witness to an intimate relationship between Solomon and the Shulamite woman. This cannot be denied. Beyond this, I do not see how either the rabbinical or a prophetic view of the church do any harm to the text, though neither the text makes no effort to lead us to such applications. Also, some of the terminology and imagery used are awkward for such applications.
The book focuses on the love of the Shulamite woman for Solomon and vice versa. In chapter 1 we read of their mutual adoration for one another, but there are hints of insecurity from the Shulamite. In chapter 2, their love grows. She was the “fairest among women” (1:8), but now is “a lily among thorns” (2:2). No woman could compare to her. The wedding spans chapters 3-4. The bride is described with language that is awkward to us (a goat, sheep, gazelle, tower), but keep in mind the Hebrew imagery involved. We find beautiful images of their love, she is “better than wine … than all spices … honey and milk…” (4:8-11). Her appearance, her scient—he is enraptured. In chapter 5, she reciprocates, mentioning the things about him which she loves: his complexion, his locks, his eyes, his lips, his hands, his countenance, his mouth… you get the picture. Chapter 6 mentions 60 queens and 80 concubines and virgins without number. These are not Solomon’s wives, at least not yet. Remember, the Shulamite is his first wife. These are all mentioned by way of comparison—the Shulamite outshines them all. She is the only one for him. In Chapter 7, he continues to praise his bride for her beauty, using metaphoric language to speak of their intimacy. He begins by speaking of her feet and continues upward to the crown of her head and her hair. Finally, chapter 8 brings the Song to a close with a beautiful vow made from the Shulamite:
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it;
It a man would give for love all the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised (8:6-7)
Next week we continue with Isaiah…