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5. Song Of Solomon

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I. Introductory Data.

This book has been debated perhaps more than any book in the Bible as to its origin, date, and meaning. Judaism itself debated why the book was in the canon (see statements in the Talmud).

The Jews allegorized the book as a statement of the love between Yahweh and Israel. The Targum (Aramaic paraphrase) interprets it as the story of Israel from the Exodus on.1 The Church allegorized it as a story of the relationship between Christ and His church. Delitzsch reports that Bernard of Clairvaux died after he had delivered eighty-six sermons on the book and only reached the end of the second chapter!

Some have seen in it the attempt by Solomon to seduce the young country girl. Others believe it is the marriage between Solomon and the daughter of Pharaoh. Delitzsch sees a relationship between Solomon and the Shulamite in which she wins his heart away from polygamy to the highest level of conjugal love and from there to a picture of God’s love for His people. It has, by some, virtually been turned into a sex manual for Christians.2 Marvin Pope’s commentary in AB (the longest of all the commentaries in AB to date!) treats it as a remnant of an ancient fertility cult song. Gordis argues for a literal interpretation. He says that Hebrew does not separate ἔρος (eros) from ἀγαπή (agape). The Hebrew word for love (’ahava אָהֲבָה) is used for the love of God, strangers, and in Song of Solomon 7:7, it refers to love between man and woman.3

The composition of the book has been dated from Solomon’s era to the Hellenistic period. Pope speaks favorably of a position taken by an Israeli scholar who considers the work to be of great antiquity (he relates it to Indian poetry coming through Mesopotamian contacts). He responds to the linguistic argument (similar to that in Ecclesiastes) that the Greek and Persian words can be otherwise explained, and the relative pronoun š is an old Hebrew relative known in northern literature (Joshua, Song of Deborah and other parts of Judges).4

Since Solomon and “the king” are mentioned several times in the book, we must conclude that the Song is about Solomon. It describes a high level of love one would not expect to find in one who had 700 wives and 300 concubines, nor in the one who could not find one woman among a thousand (Ecc. 7:27). Yet it must be an ideal presentation of love which perhaps even Solomon aspired to. In contemporary application, we should see it as a statement of God’s attitude toward the ideal relationship existing between a husband and a wife. God may not want all to be married, but for those who become such, may you have the blissful relationship spoken of in the Song.

At the same time, Rabin has a point when, reminiscent of older commentaries, he speaks of this type of literature as showing the longing of a person for God. (He cites Ps. 42:2‑4 as an example of a similar type of literature.) May God give to us the same longing for Him as one has for his or her human beloved.

Childs says, Human love, per se, is never celebrated in wisdom literature—it is “the joyful and mysterious nature of love between a man and a woman within the institution of marriage.”5

II. Outline of the Book.

Working on the assumption that the Song speaks of the ideal relationship between a man and a woman from courtship to marriage, the outline is as follows (there are many difficulties in verses or section, but we are assuming a unity of the story):

A. The heading (1:1).

“Song of Songs” is a Hebrew way of intensification (e.g., “holy of holies”: means “most holy”). The Song is identified as Solomon’s.

B. The courtship of the couple (1:2—3:5).

1. The expressing of longing (1:1‑11).

The Shulamite expresses her strong attraction for the lover, and her desire for marriage. She also speaks of her backwardness (1:1‑7).

The lover and the Shulamite exchange words of praise for one another (1:8‑11).

Daughters of Jerusalem (1:5; 2:7; 3:5; 5:8,16; 8:4) are characters in the drama to provide interaction with the Shulamite (who they were historically cannot be determined).

2. The courtship intensifies (1:12—3:5).

a. A banquet scene shows the developing love (1:12‑17).

b. They exchange compliments and embrace (2:1‑7).

She tells the daughters of Jerusalem not to arouse her love until the right time. This enigmatic phrase probably means that she wants them to prevent her from becoming excessively aroused before it is proper. It may also mean, I am lost in love, do not wake me up.

c. The lover came to her home courting (2:8‑17).

d. The Shulamite dreams of losing her love, but in the dream, she finds him (3:1‑5).

C. The marriage (3:6—5:1).

1. The lover comes with great pomp for the wedding (3:6‑11).

2. The lover lauds his bride (4:1‑15).

3. They respond to one another (4:16—5:1).

D. Growth in the marriage (5:2—8:4).

1. Some kind of estrangement developed (5:2‑16).

2. She pursues the lover for reconciliation (6:1‑3).

3. The lover responds, and they are reconciled (6:4‑13).

4. The lover lauds her beauty again (7:1‑9).

5. The Shulamite responds invitingly (7:10—8:4).

E. Conclusion (8:5‑14).

1. Love is very strong (8:5‑7).

2. A review of the history that led up to this point (8:8‑14).

1M. H. Pope, Song of Songs in Anchor Bible, NY: Doubleday, 1977, pp. 89-92, says this treatment of Song of Solomon began in the Christian era [first 500 years] and is reflected in the Talmud. He refutes efforts to show that such interpretation existed before that time. The evidence is meager for any type of interpretation.

2See, e.g., J. C. Dillow, Solomon on Sex, New York: Nelson, 1977.

3R. Gordis, The Song of Solomon and Lamentations, New York: KTAV, 1954.

4Chaim Rabin, “The Song of Songs and Tamil Poetry” SR 3:205‑219, 1973.

5B. S. Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, p. 575.

Related Topics: Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Teaching the Bible

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