Introduction to the Bible - 22 - Song of Solomon

Introduction to the Song of Solomon

by Shad Sluiter 

The greatest song of love

King Solomon of Israel wrote over 1005 songs and 3000 proverbs (1 Kings 4:32).  Of these 1005 songs, this “Song of Songs” is taken to be the very best of the best of all his songs in the same way that “the King of kings and the Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16) means that Christ is the King of all kings who ever reigned and the Lord of anyone who ever ruled.  

History and Background

Solomon’s life followed a roller-coaster path of closeness to God and spiritual coldness.  His first days of being king were marked by humility and simplicity.

 “And now, O LORD my God, thou hast made thy servant king instead of David my father: and I am but a little child: I know not how to go out or come in.” 1 Kings 3:7

However later in his life he indulged in idolatry and forsook God.

 “For it came to pass, when Solomon was old, that his wives turned away his heart after other gods: and his heart was not perfect with the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father.” 1 Kings 11:4

 “And the LORD was angry with Solomon, because his heart was turned from the LORD God of Israel, which had appeared unto him twice” 1 Kings 11:9

Contrast with Ecclesiastes

Many experts consider the Song of Solomon to have been written early in his life. Later, towards the end of his life, he apparently returned to close fellowship with God. His book of Ecclesiastes indicates that he regretted that he had squandered his time, energy and wealth on everything except his pursuit of God.  His lesson learned, he realized that only God can really satisfy the human heart.

“Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man.” Ecclesiastes 12:13

The strong contrast in emotions between the state of thinking of Solomon in Ecclesiastes is shown in the inability of the material world to fill an empty heart – “all is vanity” – and the inability of the human heart to contain the joy of being the person who fills a special relationship designed by God – “I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine”.

Theories of interpretation

There have been various opinions about the meaning of the book of the Song of Solomon.  Obviously it is wonderful literature with colorful language filled with romantic sentiments.  However, the ancient Jews were not inclined to include a piece of writing in the inspired collection of scriptures just because it was well written by an expert poet.  To them it obviously contained spiritual teaching.  The meaning of the book is a love song, but also goes beyond the romantic language of a young married couple to another, similar relationship.

1) Literal Meaning – The love between a husband and wife

Who is Solomon’s Wife?

Solomon wrote the Song of Solomon as an expression of love between him and his young wife.  A Shulamite (6:13) is the identity of the "black but comely" (Song of Solomon 1:5) princess in the Song of Songs.  Her name has the sound of 'shalom' for peace and 'Yerushalayim' for Jerusalem. Although her identity is unknown, several suggestions have been made. 

She must have been a resident of Shunem, the little village in the tribe of Issachar, to the north of Jezreel (Josh. 19:18), where the Philistines encamped against Saul (1 Sam. 28:4), and where Elisha stayed for a while with a woman who’s son was raised to life (2 Kings 4:8-37).  One possible shunemite woman mentioned in the Bible is Abishag, the woman who took care of David (1 Kings 1:1-15) in his old age.  We also know that Solomon married Pharoah’s daughter (1 Kings 3:1).  However, nothing in the Song of Songs tells us definitely who she was. She must have been his first wife since he later wrote in Ecclesiastes 9:9  “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun”. Later he sinned against God by marrying an additional 699 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3).

The difference between pornographic sex and passionate love

If we understanding the book as a song between a bridegroom and his bride, we learn that God’s view of sexual pleasure within the marriage bond is one of life’s greatest pleasures.  Although many have falsely accused the church of saying that “sex is evil”, the reality is that many have failed to distinguish between lust and passionate love for one’s spouse.  Lust wants to take, hoard and steal.  Love always gives, feels for the other person and exalts.

The song exalts purity, romance and affection between two people who are truely in love rather than in selfish lust.  While the New Testament may explain the duties and responsibilities of selfless love and submission (Ephesians 5:18-33; 1 Corinthians 7:1-5; 13:1-8; Colossians 3:18-19; 1 Peter 3:1-7), the Song of Solomon illustrates the passion of this beautiful theme. 

The outline

This love story takes us from the days of courtship (1:1-3:5), to their first love of marriage (3:6-5:1) until their love matures to weather storms of life as well as sunny days (5:2-8:14).

2) Symbolic Meaning – God and His People

A second approach to interpreting the book is to compare the relationship between an ideal couple and that of God and his people.  Jewish rabbis regard this book as an illustration of the marriage relationship between God as Husband and Israel as His wife.  They have Biblical authority for making this comparison because of other scriptures that use the metaphor of marriage to illustrate God’s unconditional, powerful love for his people.

Psalm 45 is considered an important key in interpreting the LORD as the husband of Israel who is his bride.  Many of the same thoughts and phrases are used in both scriptures. Psalm 45 applies them to the LORD of Israel. Song of Songs applies them to Solomon and his beloved bride, making the comparison unmistakable as well as scriptural.

There are other places in the Old Testament which make reference to the relationship of the LORD and Israel as a holy matrimony.  

Hosea 2:16-20 And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’ For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more. And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground. And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.  And I will betroth you to me forever. I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness. And you shall know the Lord. (ESV)

Isaiah 54:4 – “Fear not; for thou shalt not be ashamed: neither be thou confounded; for thou shalt not be put to shame: for thou shalt forget the shame of thy youth, and shalt not remember the reproach of thy widowhood any more.”

Jeremiah 2:2 – “Go and proclaim in the hearing of Jerusalem, Thus says the Lord, I remember the devotion of your youth, your love as a bride, how you followed me in the wilderness, in a land not sown. (ESV)

Ezekiel 16:8-14 “When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord God, and you became mine.  Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty. And your renown went forth among the nations because of your beauty, for it was perfect through the splendor that I had bestowed on you, declares the Lord God. (ESV)

Many Christians have long taught that the Song of Songs expresses the love that exists between Christ and His Church. This too, is a line of thought that comes directly from other passages in the New Testament that compare the relationship of the church with Christ…

Revelation 19:7-9 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready;  it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.” (ESV)

Revelation Chapter 21:9-10 And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the Lamb's wife. And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and showed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God,

2 Corinthians 11:2 For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ.

Ephesians 5:25-27 Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; That he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, That he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.

Conclusion

The Song of Solomon is not only a fine example of romantic poetry; it carries with it the meaning of a spiritual relationship between God and his people.  

For more teaching about the family, see the online book Marriage and the Family by Dr. Sandy Higgins.

For more information about the church, read the online book Gathering Unto His Name by Norman Crawford.