The Song of Solomon: The Voice of My Beloved
Key Text: Chapter 8:5
“Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.”
The Hebrew Bible names this book according to the words of v1; “The song of songs.” Essentially this means the best of songs. In 1 Kings 4:32 we are informed that Solomon wrote 1,005 songs, yet only one was inspired and recorded for posterity. Yet this song is the best, the Song of Songs.
The book is a beautiful example of Hebrew poetry. The flow and the use of language in the Authorised Version renders certain passages among the most eloquent in the English Language. For me personally Ch. 2 stands out chiefly because it was often quoted by an aunt of mine upon her death bed. As she faced eternity there is no doubt but she heard the voice of her beloved; “Rise up my love, my fair one and come away.”
It is certainly the emphatic claim of the Holy Spirit, who inspired this book, that Solomon is the author. There is some internal evidence which verifies this to be the case. The book was obviously written before the division of the Kingdom. Places which belonged to what became the Northern and Southern Kingdoms are referred to as if they belonged the entire nation (Jerusalem, Carmel, Sharon and Lebanon). The reference to the horses drawing Pharaoh’s chariots (1:9) is fascinating because Solomon introduced Egyptian horses to Israel (1 Kings 10:28). The author clearly had an extensive knowledge of plants and animals. One authority has listed 21 varieties of plants and 15 species of animals within the 6 chapters that comprise this song. This would certainly correlate with Solomon’s extensive knowledge and wisdom.
The ancient Hebrew people regarded this book as especially sacred. It was always read at the Feast of Passover. Due to the manner in which the book deals with the love between man and woman the Jews forbid anyone to read the words until they were 30 years of age.
The Division of the Book
Chapter 1 The Bride Longs for her Beloved v7
Chapter 2 The Groom Comes for his Beloved v8
Chapter 3 The Bride Separated from her Beloved v2
Chapter 4 The Groom’s Desire for his Beloved v8
Chapter 5 The Bride Searches for her Beloved v6
Chapter 6 The Groom Calls for his Beloved v13
Chapters 7 & 8 The Beauty of their Love 8:6-7
The Interpretation of the Book
1: Practical Interpretation
As we believe that this book details a real life romance which actually occurred, the essential on the surface lesson is, that the love which we enjoy within the sanctity of marriage is a precious holy gift bequeathed from our creator.
“The Song, therefore, is didactic and moral in its purpose. It comes to us in this world of sin, where lust and passion are on every hand, where fierce temptations assail us and try to turn us aside from the God-given standard of marriage. And it reminds us, in particularly beautiful fashion, how pure and noble true love is.” (Edward J Young).
It also gives the lie to the Romish view that there is something defiling and corrupting about sexual relationships, even within marriage, making it necessary for priests and nuns to live celibate lives.
2: Spiritual Interpretation of the Book
All who have studied the Song of Songs have not been content with the literal interpretation alone. As a result there have been many differing and at times conflicting ideas as to the real meaning of this love song.
(a) Hebrew Interpretation
The Rabbis traditionally regarded this book as being typical of the constant love of God for his people. Therefore the bridegroom is God and the bride becomes Israel. They saw the emancipation of God’s people from Egyptian slavery, their wilderness wanderings and their eventual settlement in Canaan all within the compass of the book.
(b) Christian Interpretation – The Marriage between Christ and His Church
This has been the dominant view of early Christian, Catholic and Protestant scholars since Origen first depicted the Song of Songs as being an allegory of the love between Christ and the Church. This remains the dominant view and is one which most Christians take for granted as being correct.
Within this interpretation, there are, however, three differing standpoints. These standpoints relate to our view of the characters within the Song of Songs and who they represent.
Who for example is the Bridegroom? Was he Solomon himself or is he the shepherd alluded to in 1:7?
How many principle characters are there in the Song?
Are there two (Solomon and the Shulamite) or are there three (Solomon, the Shulamite and the Shepherd lover)?
If the latter is the case, are there, therefore two men, competing for the affections of the young woman and who won the contest, the King or the Shepherd? These are tantalising questions which add a sense of mystery and drama to the beauty of the Song.
Solomon as a Type of Christ
This is the view which sees Solomon as an illustration of Christ’s love for the Church, His Bride. Dr Brian Green in “Shepherd of the Hills” criticises this approach:
“In this book he boasts of sixty queens and 80 concubines without number (6:8). Eventually his harem would include many more. The question must be asked – how could such a sensualist be a type of Christ?”
Solomon as a Shepherd King
This is a variation of the first interpretation where Solomon is portrayed as one who woos the young woman unsuccessfully. Knowing her to be from a pastoral setting, however, he disguises himself as a Shepherd winning her affections. The application is clear; Christ condescended to a low estate to win us as his bride. While the parallels are filled with beauty the third figure in the story is erased as he becomes Solomon.
The Shepherd as a Type of Christ
This view is very satisfying. Solomon in his pursuit of beautiful women takes the young woman away from her Shepherd lover. As such Solomon rather than being Christ is reflective of the world in its effort to entice us away from the Lord. The young woman was heartbroken in her gilded Jerusalem palace prison. She longed for her Shepherd who came searching for her as he too was distraught. Eventually they are reunited and she returned with him to the hills and to her vineyard (8:12-14). It is Christ’s constant and perpetual love which is therefore in view throughout the Song. Even when we are drawn by the world we retain our love for Him and He will come seeking for us.
If the last view is correct the Song is a fitting sequel to Ecclesiastes. Solomon in his naivety thought that he could enjoy whatever woman he desired because he offered everything by way of riches and material comfort. In the case of this young woman, however, he could not give her what her Shepherd could supply, true love. Therefore the King learned a lesson which he would never forget.
While Edward J. Young remained fairly sceptical of the typical applications, on the grounds that they turned the Song into a mere allegory or fable, he nevertheless could see the beauty of a God who gave the gift of love to humanity throughout these chapters:
“But the book does turn one’s eyes to Christ. This is certainly shown by the history of interpretation in the Christian Church. The book may be regarded as a tacit parable. The eye of faith as it beholds this picture of exalted human love – will be reminded of the one Love that is above and beyond all earthly and human affections – even the love of the Son of God for lost humanity” (Edward J. Young).