I’m going to begin a series of Bible Study blogs on the Song of Solomon. This book of the Bible is unique in several ways, but I’ll get to that in a moment. Here’s the first verse, rendered from a number of different English translations, which is the singular topic for today’s blog post.
The opening verse
New American Standard Bible (and King James Version and English Standard Version) – “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”
New International Version – “Solomon’s Song of Songs.”
Holman Christian Standard Bible – “Solomon’s Finest Song.”
International Standard Version – “The Most Beautiful Song by Solomon.”
New Living Translation – “This is Solomon’s song of songs, more wonderful than any other.”
The verse uses the Hebrew word for “song” twice, as in “song of songs”. This is a convention used to designate something that is unique or special or set apart. For example, in the tabernacle there is a room called the holy place in which a lampstand, incense table, and table for bread is set up. Then there is an inner room connected to that which is called the most holy place, or “holy of holies”, in which the ark of the covenant is housed. This room is set apart and distinguished from the other and is of greater significance and importance. Likewise, the first verse for Solomon’s Song repeats the word “song” to signify that this book is special and to be distinguished from other “songs”.
A Song about Marriage
What is this great song about? It’s not just a great song. It is about the marriage relationship between a husband and wife, symbolized as a song, if you will. It gives us a glimpse of how they relate to one another, how they speak, act, think and listen, how they argue, how they resolve tensions, and how they stand together in their hopes, dreams, memories, and adversities. And yes, it gives us a glimpse into their sexual life as well, in tasteful poetic imagery.
This book stands alongside the rest of the marriage passages in the Bible and should be read in the context and spirit of those. Jesus commanded (John 13:34-35) for all Christians to “love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” This, of course, applies in the marriage relationship as well. Additionally, though the other classic marriage scriptures include:
- Genesis 2:24-25 – Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.
- Proverbs 5:15-19 – Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.
- Malachi 2:13-16 – You cover the LORD’s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the LORD was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union? And what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the LORD, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the LORD of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.
- Matthew 19:1-9 – Now when Jesus had finished these sayings, he went away from Galilee and entered the region of Judea beyond the Jordan. And large crowds followed him, and he healed them there. And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”
- Romans 7:1-3 – Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
- 1 Corinthians 7:1-5 – Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: [saying} “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- Ephesians 5:22-33 – Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.
- Hebrews 13:4 – Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge zthe sexually immoral and adulterous.
Collectively, these passages (and probably others that I overlooked) show that our marriage commitment is to be held in high honor and is supposed to paint a picture of the relationship between Jesus and his followers (the church).
Who wrote it?
The authorship of the book of Song of Solomon is generally attributed to Solomon, though some argue against that view. A big tripping point about Solomon writing a book on marriage is his failure later in life to hold marriage as particularly sacred. In 1 Kings 11:1-8, we read, “Now King Solomon loved many foreign women, along with the daughter of Pharaoh: Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women, from the nations concerning which the LORD had said to the people of Israel, ‘You shall not enter into marriage with them, neither shall they with you, for surely they will turn away your heart after their gods.’ Solomon clung to these in love. He had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines. And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God, as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Sidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. So Solomon did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and did not wholly follow the LORD, as David his father had done. Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the abomination of Moab, and for Molech the abomination of the Ammonites, on the mountain east of Jerusalem. And so he did for all his foreign wives, who made offerings and sacrificed to their gods.”
There are 3 arguments which would allow us to trust Solomon’s writing on this topic, though. First, Christians believe that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, (2 Timothy 3:16)” Even though Solomon wrote the book, it was the Holy Spirit that inspired him and gave him the words to write. Second, the book was likely written earlier in Solomon’s life, when he was following God and before he had allowed his heart to stray. Third, even after he strayed from God, God enabled Solomon to keep the gift of wisdom that he’d been given by God. In 1 Kings 3:3-13 we read, “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of David his father, only he sacrificed and made offerings at the high places. And the king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the great high place. Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the LORD appeared to Solomon in a dream by night, and God said, “Ask what I shall give you.” And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant David my father, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you. And you have kept for him this great and steadfast love and have given him a son to sit on his throne this day. And now, O LORD my God, you have made your servant king in place of David my father, although I am but a little child. I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of your people whom you have chosen, a great people, too many to be numbered or counted for multitude. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, that I may discern between good and evil, for who is able to govern this your great people?” It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. And God said to him, “Because you have asked this, and have not asked for yourself long life or riches or the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, behold, I now do according to your word. Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind, so that none like you has been before you and none like you shall arise after you. I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days.” Solomon was endowed with great wisdom and discernment by God and God enabled him, even through his disobedience, to keep his wisdom and discernment. In his book Ecclesiastes, Solomon makes the following statements:
- 1:13 … I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven.
- 1:17 … I applied my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly.
- 2:3 … I searched with my heart how to cheer my body with wine—my heart still guiding me with wisdom—and how to lay hold on folly
- 2:9-10 … So I became great and surpassed all who were before me in Jerusalem. Also my wisdom remained with me. And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them
- 7:23-24 … All this I have tested by wisdom. I said, “I will be wise,” but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?
- 8:16-17 … When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done on earth, how neither day nor night do one’s eyes see sleep, then I saw all the work of God, that man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun. However much man may toil in seeking, he will not find it out. Even though a wise man claims to know, he cannot find it out.
He acknowledged the understanding that even though he was living in disobedience to God, God still was enabling him to have the wisdom to recognize and comment on that fact (albeit still suffering the consequences of his sin).
I tend to lean toward the first and second arguments as most compelling (God inspired Solomon and he wrote the book early in his life).
Understanding the Song
The Song of Songs has been interpreted several ways over the course of history. Some have viewed it as an allegory of God’s love for his people Israel. Others see it as a book written about the marriage relationship between two lovers. One view does not negate the other. As I indicated earlier, both the Old and New Testaments emphasize that marriage is supposed to be a picture of God’s relationship with His people (Israel and the church) and therefore it can and should be read with both of these in mind.
The Song is structured in such a way that the husband and wife are the main characters, speaking to each other about their relationship. It is not a linear “play”, though. It is easiest to understand, at least according to the interpretive convention that I’ll be using, as a series of reminiscences or memories of various times in the courtship and marriage of the couple. There are also periodically “others” who speak or are spoken to, and these can be thought of as representing people observing the relationship, like us, who are seeking to learn from or understand this perspective of marriage.
Why this book? I have several reasons. First, selfishly, I’m hoping that the subject matter will attract more readers. After all, sex sells, right? Seriously though, this is a book which has always intrigued me and is just not taught in our churches very much. I’m hoping in this study to faithfully discuss the book and show its ties to the gospel and to the rest of Scripture. It stands alongside the other Wisdom books of the Bible (Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Song of Songs).
I’ll delve into the first bit of the Song in another post soon. I won’t be necessarily commenting on an entire chapter with each blog post, but rather taking it scene by scene. I hope you’ll join me in this study. Pass it on to others who might be interested!