If you did not read my introduction to this Bible Study, please consider doing that first.
Verse one, as stated last time, identifies this book as “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.” Verse two, then, sets up the format of the rest of the book. It is a series of thoughts or statements or memories voiced by three characters:
- The woman/wife/bride – The Song largely reflects her thoughts and words. She voices 62% (almost two-thirds!) of the words of the Song. Her words are very descriptive and relate to her current surroundings (beginning at a banquet in the king’s palace), or they recall past times that she has spend with her husband in courtship, love-making, planning, arguing, etc. The memories she has do not flow in a linear sequence, but rather skip around as she thinks of her husband. Her identity is unknown. She could be Pharoah’s daughter, as mentioned in 1 Kings 3:1, and I’ll be writing as if this were the case, but some of the scenario’s in the Song don’t seem consistent with what one would expect for the background of a daughter of Pharoah. Since she is represented as Solomon’s bride, and the Hebrew word for bride is “Kallah”, I’ll refer to her as Kallah in my writing.
- The man/husband/shepherd/groom – Traditionally, there have been two interpretations of who this person is. It seems to make the most sense for it to be King Solomon himself, but some have suggested a shepherd that is competing, if you will, against Solomon for the love of his bride (a shepherdess). This view has some merit because of the extensive shepherding and pastoral imagery. However, I hold to the Solomon view. The Bible is full of imagery of God’s people being sheep and being shepherded by God or His chosen leader. David (Solomon’s father) was specifically told by God that as king he would shepherd Israel. This would have likely been known by Solomon and I think it fits well in the Song for the king/shepherd imagery to be linked. This character speaks 32% (about one-third) of the words in the Song.
- Others – Representing the remaining 6% of the words spoken, these are a set of voices thrown in which comment on the love expressed, or on the anxieties felt, or seek instruction on views held. They are placed here to add opportunity for additional clarification from the wife or husband.
In the ESV (and most other Bible translations) the translators have including headings for each passage which identify who is speaking. These are not part of the original text, but translators have derived from the words used who the most likely speaker in each section is and identified them to help the modern reader more easily track the conversations and memories.
Whether these memories and conversations represent actual events or the Song is written more as a parable for instruction, I do not know. I’m trusting the words of Paul who said to Timothy (2 Timothy 3:16-17) that “all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This book is intended to be used for instruction for believers and I will do my best to rightly interpret and teach from it.
For each of these blog posts, I’ll have three sections. The Song will just be a short discussion of what this scene from the Song of Songs is all about. The Marriage will be a section discussing some possible applications from this section of the Song. The Church will discuss some of the broader applications that this scene can tell us about our collective relationship to Jesus and His bride (the church – see Ephesians 5:22-33).
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
3 your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.
4 Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
The Song begins with Kallah thinking about her husband. This may be in the context of a banquet or similar social gathering. She is in the presence of her husband, but not able to converse directly with him. She yearns for his kisses and their symbolism of mutual love. She likens his love for her to wine – even better than wine. Wine is a feast to the senses – its fruity fragrance, the way it sparkles, the sound of it pouring into a drinking vessel, its intoxicating effect on the body. These types of sensual effects can be felt in intimate husband/wife relations as well.
She also likens the anointing oils used as body scents or perfume to the king’s own name for her. The fact that she has been given the king’s name (through marriage) acts like a body fragrance of her own. Anyone associated with the king would have potential for fame and fortune in the region simply because of bearing the king’s name (by association) and she has the special privilege of being the king’s wife. Therefore, she says “virgins love you”, knowing that she is in a position of potential envy or jealousy of other women. Anyone would reasonably wish to be honored by being associated with the king, and Kallah has earned this special distinction by being the king’s wife.
She continues her desirous thoughts of him, wishing they could run together to the king’s bedchambers. The “others” who in her mind are witnessing her amorous retreat with her husband say
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
These witnesses proclaim to Kallah that they rejoice with her in her love for her husband. Note they say “rightly do they love you.” This is likely referring to the other guests at the social gathering, or more generally to the king’s subjects in Israel. Kallah is loved because the king loves her. This statement, though, sends Kallah’s thoughts off in a new direction. She begins to think about how people have responded to her since coming to Israel to be the king’s bride.
5 I am very dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
Very quickly her insecurities begin to show through. Her skin is dark because she has spent a lot of time working in the sun. She sees this as an asset (note her use of the word “lovely”) but in general she is not happy with her own appearance because of her statement “my own vineyard I have not kept!” Her life has been spent serving others and she feels she has neglected the care of her own body. This use of botanical or agricultural imagery for the body will continue throughout the Song.
Before commenting on applications from this passage, I want to point out a principle of interpreting wisdom literature in the Bible. The book of Proverbs, also written by Solomon, begins with these words (Proverbs 1:2-7): “To know wisdom and instruction, to understand words of insight, to receive instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity; to give prudence to the simple, knowledge and discretion to the youth— Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction.” That last statement is the key to understanding wisdom literature – The fear of the Lord. This means that we first of all need a personal relationship with God through His son Jesus and that we seek God’s guidance and help through the Holy Spirit to rightly understand and be wise. Wisdom literature is for instruction, guidance, understanding, discretion, etc. These are all words used to introduce the Proverbs. That said, the observations made in wisdom literature give us indications of patterns and tendencies in human behavior, but they are often generalizations which must be weighed against individual nuances and circumstances. All this is to say that observations I make here of the Song are general in nature and must be applied in a variety of ways to specific relational situations.
It is interesting that the Song opens with Kallah thinking about kissing her husband. There are ample studies which show that kissing is a beneficial activity. But Kallah is likely not thinking of her health when she yearns for her husbands kisses. Kissing is a very intimate way of expressing love and affection for your spouse and her longing for his kisses quickly moves her mind toward other matters of intimacy. Two bloggers that I regularly follow have written extensively on this. One is J. Parker of Hot, Holy, & Humorous. The other is Sheila Wray Gregoire of To Love, Honor, and Vaccum. Both of these ladies emphasize fostering kissing in marriage to promote oneness and affection for your mate.
The first response we hear from the “others” in this book is that they celebrate the love Kallah and Solomon have for each other. We should be celebrating our own marriage publicly, through kindness to our spouse and reasonable public displays of affection, and also provide verbal encouragement to the marriages of others.
Regarding Kallah’s self-assessment in verses 5 and 6, I think we should consider two things. First, she rightly acknowledges her own beauty, even though she later makes excuses for her appearance. Our culture places too much emphasis on certain body types, shapes, etc. As Christians, we should hold on to the assertion from Psalm 139:14-17: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.” The psalmist goes on in verse 17 to say “How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!” Our concern should be more about what God thinks of us than what other people think of us. He is the One who created us.
The second observation about Kallah’s response is her statement “my own vineyard I have not kept.” There are two ways of treating this statement. If she is honestly aware of aspects of her body that she could take better care of, then it’s good to make that assessment and take steps to correct it. This could be such things as the clothing, hair, nutrition, weight, adornments, etc. which could be reasonably attended to and improved. However, if her assessment is a result of things which she cannot reasonably address, or things which she thinks about herself which are not perceptions shared by those who love her, then she needs to be willing to listen to those who truly care for her and let their affirmations of her suffice to assure her insecurities.
I want to parallel the applications above and broaden them to our collective marriage relationship with Christ through His church. Kallah desired her husband to kiss her. We should have that kind of desire for intimate fellowship with our Savior. How do we do that? First, by seeking him with our whole heart. Jesus affirmed the admonition from Deuteronomy 6:5 in Matthew 22:36-37: “And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’” A heart that yearns for God will want to spend time with Him (in church and with fellow believers), talk with Him (pray), and listen to Him (by reading the Bible and listening to Godly teaching and music). The more of these “kisses” that we engage in, the more they bring our desires in line with God.
The passage spoken by the “others” remind us how important it is for us to be encouraging each other in our spiritual walk. They say “We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.” This is the way we should be with each other. We are happy and rejoice as we see spiritual growth in others. We should be complimentary to and about each other. We should lift each other up. The apostle Paul summed it up well in Colossians 3:12-17: “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Finally, just as Kallah assessed her own physical condition, both honestly and potentially trying to excuse some things, so we should be assessing our own spiritual condition. We should be willing to acknowledge those things which we have in our lives which are not pleasing to God and confess them in repentance, and take necessary steps to change or correct them. We should also properly evaluate our successes in our walk with God and accept His mercy and forgiveness. Again, Paul encouraged the church (this time in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-22) to “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not despise prophecies, but test everything; hold fast what is good. Abstain from every form of evil.”
As we continue next time, we’ll see Kallah and Solomon begin to address one another. I hope you’ll join me in continuing this study and share it with someone else!