Through the Bible in a Year: Song of Solomon 1-4

This Week’s Readings

Monday, June 18: Ecclesiastes 1-4
Tuesday, June 19: Ecclesiastes 5-8
Wednesday, June 20: Ecclesiastes 9-12
Thursday, June 21: Song of Solomon 1-4
Friday, June 22: Song of Solomon 5-8

Next week we will read the Gospel of John.

The overall year’s plan is here.

Song of Solomon

The very thought of trying to comment on the Song of Songs, as it is also known, is frightening to me. So I did some looking at other commentaries, not to just take their word for proper interpretation, but to augment mine as much as possible. I don’t claim to have any deeper insight into the Song except to be certain that it is an allegory of love between Christ and the church as well as between the Shulammite and her beloved.

My favorite introduction to the Song that I found was a short .pdf written by Sherwood Eliot Wirt, an author of 42 books and a traveling companion of Billy Graham for 40 years.

It appears that many modern authors are like Mr. Wirt, rejecting the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon and suggesting that it is primarily a literal love poem. Older commentators, however, approach the Song primarily as allegorical. John Wesley, for instance, writes:

The most excellent of all songs. And so this might well be called, whether you consider the author of it, who was a great prince, and the wisest of all mortal men; or the subject of it, which is not Solomon, but a greater than Solomon, even Christ, and his marriage with the church; or the matter of it, which is most lofty, containing in it the noblest of all the mysteries contained either in the Old or the New Testament; most pious and pathetical, breathing forth the hottest flames of love between Christ and his people, most sweet and comfortable, and useful to all that read it with serious and Christian eyes. (ref)

Matthew Henry agrees:

This is “the Song of songs,” excellent above any others, for it is wholly taken up with describing the excellences of Christ, and the love between him and his redeemed people. (ref)

There were a number of others I ran across, but they were similar to these. We will read it both ways. With this Dr. Peter Pett agrees:

At first sight the song appears to be a simple love song between a young maiden and her beloved. But when we consider it in more depth there are indications that it goes deeper than that … This suggestion is accentuated by the fact that God elsewhere speaks of His relationship with His people in similar terms.
     For example in Jeremiah 2.2 He says, ‘Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the LORD, I remember in regard to you the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, how you went after me in the wilderness … Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase.’ Here we have the initial idea of Israel as a young maiden seeking her Lord as a lover in the wilderness with a view to marriage, which is the theme of Solomon’s song (chapters 1-2). (paretheses his, emphasis his)

Augustine once described the early Christian approach to the Hebrew Scriptures, which I agree with:

In all the sacred books … In the case of a narrative of events, the question arises as to whether everything must be taken according to the figurative sense only, or whether it must be expounded and defended also as a faithful record of what happened. No Christian will dare say that the narrative must not be taken in a figurative sense. For St. Paul says: Now all these things that happened to them were symbolic [1 Cor. 10:11]. And he explains the statement in Genesis, And they shall be two in one flesh [Gen. 2:24], as a great mystery in reference to Christ and to the Church [Eph. 5:32]. (The Literal Meaning of Genesis I:1, brackets mine, emphasis mine)

When it comes to the Hebrew Scriptures, we should be looking for the allegorical meaning first, says Augustine. It’s possible that there is also a literal interpretation, but the figurative is what the Christian cannot deny, for the reasons given.

This applies to the Hebrew Scriptures, not the apostles writings. The apostles were already preaching the Gospel, by the Spirit and not by the letter, and their letters are the fullness of the Law of Moses. The Law of Moses was written for an earthly people in an earthly kingdom, and God had to hide the spiritual law inside of the physical one. Carnal men cannot walk in the spiritual law, and God was not going to put such rules on men who could not possibly fulfill them. As Jesus said, new wine is for new wineskins. Old wineskins will burst.

Thus God tucked away the spiritual law in the words of the law of the letter, and we who are spiritual must learn to find it.

Song of Solomon 1

Despite the fact that I said modern commentators seem more likely to lean toward a literal interpretation, no one denies that the Song applies to Christ and the church as well. I’ve heard verse 4 made into a song that we sang to God.

I have to agree with Mr. Wirt on one thing. I don’t think this letter is really addressed to Solomon. Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, and it is very unlikely he was ever a shepherd. I think the Shulammite simply calls him Solomon because it’s a song! Poetic license towards the one she not only loves, but adores.

Also, figuratively or literally, the Holy Spirit inspired this book. God has things to say in it, and addressing this to Solomon the king helps seal the pattern that this applies to Christ and his church.

Song of Solomon 2

We sing songs about Jesus as "the rose of Sharon, the lily of the valley," but it’s really the Shulammite, who represents the church, who is called the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley. Perhaps we should sing, "We’re the rose of Sharon." According to Songs, that is how Christ sees his church.

We don’t tend to think of God or of Christ this way, but we should. In Zephaniah 3:17 we read:

Yahweh your God in the midst of you is mighty. He will save; he will rejoice over you with joy; he will rest in his love; he will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

It’s strange to think of God that way, isn’t it? Yet that’s what we’re taught in the Scriptures. The love of our great God is amazing. The prophets compare God’s love for Israel to romantic love or the love of a father for his daughter over and over again.

Verse 7 is great advice. "Do not awaken love until it pleases." Some translations have "Do not awaken my love until she pleases" (e.g., NASB), but I don’t think this is right. The "my" has to be added, and the "she" is there because love is a feminine word in Hebrew.

Today we awaken love all the time with movies, songs, and suggestive advertising. The result is children without two parents, mothers struggling to juggle making an income and raising a child (or children). This comes from awakening love and leads to women marrying men they ought not to have married rather than waiting for someone worth being married to. Men treat women as cheap, and women drop their valuation of themselves.

A missionary once told a story of a very wise businessman on a set of islands. The missionary went to see him, but before he got there he found out that most of the people on the island the businessman was from thought he was a fool. The reason they thought that was because he had paid eight cows as a dowry for his wife, which they all said he could have gotten for one cow. Her father was not that important, and she was not that pretty.

When the missionary went to see the businessman, he found him with his wife, who was beautiful and glowing. If ever there was a woman worth eight cows, it was this woman. What were those people from his home island talking about?

The businessman explained that at the time he could have gotten his wife for one cow. But the businessman didn’t want a one-cow wife; he wanted an eight-cow wife. Further, he didn’t want any other wife but this woman. So he paid eight cows for her because she was the only wife for him, and he wanted an eight-cow wife.

He treated her like an eight-cow wife, too, and as she grew in confidence, her eyes lit up and her face glowed. She saw herself differently because he saw her differently, and she had become the eight-cow wife that he had envisioned.

Fathers, teach your daughters that they are not one-cow wives. They need to see themselves as children of God, honest, upright, hard-working, and beautiful just because they are young women. They need to pass on the man who is willing to offer his own lust in return for her hand and wait for the man for the man who will bid the high price of respect, love, solid character, and care.

Finally, this chapter shows the love of the shepherd and the Shulammite for each other. They long to spend time with one another and even to get a glimpse of one another.

I really hate the Gospel presentations that picture Jesus as some jilted lover pining over those who have turned their back on him. Jesus is the king. He doesn’t follow those who neglect him around begging for their attention. He commands from heaven and through his earthly messengers that all men everywhere should repent (Acts 17:30).

But for those who do repent, the Beloved calls come with him, to see his fields, and even to hide with him in the secret place of the steep pathway, which is figurative of the secret prayer to which our Father calls us.

If we will give Jesus our time, he will respond by the Spirit, and we will find that the Spirit of God really is the Comforter/Encourager/Exhorter. (Parakletos means all those things. You’ll find it in John 14:26 as well as other verses.)

Song of Solomon 3

Don’t let my comments get in the way of enjoying this beautiful love poem for just what it says. I’m hoping to add to it, not make so much noise that you don’t just enjoy the song.

The first few verses of this chapter give us a picture of what we all go through, having trouble finding our Beloved. Sometimes it really is "night after night."

Here, the Shulammite goes to the watchmen, and after she leaves them she immediately finds her beloved. The watchmen represent those who take the lead among us in the church. Paul tells us to know who those people are and to esteem them very highly in love (1 Thess. 5:12-13). They can help you get to the Beloved when you cannot find him yourself.

Song of Solomon 4

There are some beautiful, well thought out compliments in this chapter. I think, though, that some of them wouldn’t fly in the modern world. Can you imagine telling your wife, "Your hair is like a flock of goats that have climbed down a mountain"?

One thousand seven hundred and fifty years ago, Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, quoted verse 12 of this chapter and applied it to the church. It was an interesting argument for why Christians must be in the church, not on their own. Generally, I use verses like Proverbs 18:1, which says that a person who isolates himself rages against all wisdom. Or I use Hebrews 3:13, which says that without the exhortation of brothers and sisters, we are in danger of deception. Or I use Ephesians 4:11-16, which says that we all grow together as we speak the truth to each other in love. And so on.

Cyprian, however, used Song of Songs 4:12, and he used it this way:

For it has been delivered to us, that there is one God, one Christ, one hope, one faith, one Church, and one baptism, ordained only in the one Church, from which unity whosoever will depart must necessarily be found with heretics. … The sacrament of this unity we see expressed also in the Canticles [another name for the Song of Solomon], in the person of Christ, who says, "A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse, a fountain sealed, a well of living water, a garden with the fruit of apples." But if His Church is a garden enclosed, and a fountain sealed, how can he who is not in the Church enter into the same garden, or drink from its fountain? (Letters of Cyprian 73:12, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 5)

There are so many beautiful verses in this chapter. I just want to point out the last one, verse 16, and ask you to think about what it’s like to be able to say this to our Lord Jesus.

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2 Responses to Through the Bible in a Year: Song of Solomon 1-4

  1. I’m really looking forward to your notes of Song of Songs – it was also one of those books which made me rather uneasy.

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