The Song of Solomon

 

  1. Interpretation

  1. Hebrew Poetry

Like all Hebrew poetry, the Song of Solomon contains parallelisms and figures of speech.

  1. Options

There are two options concerning how the Song of Solomon should be interpreted.

  1. Allegorical Interpretation

The Husband in the poem is the Lord Jesus Christ and the wife is the Church.

  1. What is an Allegory?

"Allegory, therefore, is a tool whereby a writer conveys hidden, mysterious truths by the use of words which also have a literal meaning. Even if the writer did not intend the hidden meaning, allegory is a method of interpreting a poet, a story teller, or a Scripture in such a way that the interpreter sees a mysterious meaning which the writer may not have intended (J. K. Grinder, Allegory, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume1, page 104)."

  1. Example of an Allegorical Interpretation of the Song

"The Song of Solomon, like the book of the Revelation, gives us a prophetic view of our Lord Jesus Christ and His church, which is made up of all redeemed ones since the cross of Calvary. . . .

". . . The interpretation is two-fold, i.e., the revealing of Jesus Christ as our heavenly Bridegroom, and the church as His bride.

"The song is by no means sensual, for, as all portions of the Scriptures, this song is spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:14-16). Like many prophecies, it was not meant to be understood by the natural man, for it is foolishness unto him. . . .

"Attributing this song to Solomon is but an allegory, for One greater than Solomon is spoken of here (Roland F. Thompson, The Bride-Groom and His Bride, an Exposition and Commentary on the Song of Solomon, pages 3, 7)."

  1. Biblical Support for the Lord being a Husband and the Church being the Wife

". . . the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, . . . (Ephesians 5:23)."

"For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready (Revelation 19:7b)."

  1. Why the Song of Solomon is not an Allegory

  1. No inspired writer formally calls the Song an allegory or deals with it in an allegorical fashion.

For example, see Galatians 4:21-31. The author gives the interpreter the key to the allegory in Galatians so that the text remains authoritative.

  1. The text does not indicate it was the author's intent to allegorize (Dennis F. Kinlaw, Song of Songs, The Expositor's Bible Commentary, volume 5, page 1203).
  2. The people, places, and experiences in the Song of Solomon are real not literary devices (ibid.).

We all know of the popular allegories of C.S. Lewis centering on the land of Narnia. Narnia is not a real place on earth. It is representative of something "higher." However, Solomon is Solomon, the Shullamite is his wife, and Jerusalem is Jerusalem in the Song of Solomon. They are not literary devices. They are historical persons and places.

  1. The Lord Jesus Christ was not known as the head of the Church in the Old Testament.

". . . I do my share on behalf of His body (which is the church) . . . Of this church I was made a minister . . . the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and generations; but has now been manifested to His saints, to whom God willed to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory (Colossians 1:24-27)."

  1. The use of informal allegory thwarts the authority of the text.

Informal allegory is allegory determined by the interpreter rather than the author. The interpreter reads his own meanings into an informal allegory rather than exercising dependence on the intended meaning of the author. The intended meaning is lost. The intended teaching of the Song concerning the conduct of the readers' marriages, is lost.

  1. Why an Allegorical Interpretation has been Dominate

  1. Some expositors have been too embarrassed to publicly deal with the erotic portions of the Song of Solomon in a normal sense.
  2. The material in Song of Solomon is very explicit and some are thought to be too young to deal with it.

In ancient times, Jewish youth were not allowed to read the Song of Solomon.

  1. Some expositors have been influenced by a non-Biblical view of flesh and spirit.
  1. The error:

The flesh is evil. Therefore, physical love is evil.

The spiritual is good. Therefore, it is best to spiritualize (i.e., allegorize) the Song of Solomon.

"This way of interpreting that beautiful love story, on the part of both the Rabbinical and Christian scholars, arises out of a Gr. influenced notion that the human body, with its sexual desires, is sinful and that the story, therefore, could not mean what it says--that a man is attracted to a maid, and the maid to the man, and that attraction is described (J. K. Grider, Allegory, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 1, pages 104-105)."

  1. The Bible teaches the physical aspect of marriage is good.

In Genesis marriage was instituted by God and called good (Genesis 2:18, 24-25).

"May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth . . . (Proverbs 5:18-19)."

"Are you married? Do not seek a divorce . . . (1 Corinthians 7:27)."

"The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)."

". . . He is not sinning. . . . (1 Corinthians 7:36)."

". . . , he who marries the virgin does right, . . . (1 Corinthians 7:38)."

"He must manage his own family well . . . (1 Timothy 3:4).

"Marriage should be honored by all, . . . (Hebrews 13:4)."

  1. Normal Interpretation

The husband in the poem is King Solomon and the wife is Solomon's Shulammite wife.

  1. What is a Normal Interpretation?

Sometimes the normal interpretation is called the literal interpretation. Literal is understood in the sense it is defined in Webster's New International Dictionary (as quoted in Bernard Ramm, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, page 119) as "'. . . the natural or usual construction and implication of a writing or expression; following the ordinary and apparent sense of words; not allegorical or metaphorical.'" The normal method incorporates the normal meanings of figures of speech . . . not wooden literal meanings.

  1. Why a Normal Interpretation is Best

  1. This is the method of interpretation that is normally used in the interpretation of any literature: a book, an essay, or a poem.
  2. It is the method that seeks to discover the information the inspired author sought to deliver to his original readers.
  3. This is the only method of interpretation that controls abuse of Scripture.

Other methods are subjective and develop the meaning assigned by the interpreter rather than the meaning specified by the writer.

  1. A Good Commentary Using a Normal Interpretation

S. Craig Glickman, A Song for Lovers. Glickman is especially talented in developing the meaning of the figures of speech. His argument is not the same as the one developed here but there is some similarity in the principles that are drawn from the Song.

". . . the author of A Song for Lovers has dared to accept the challenge of a literal interpretation of Solomon's poetic ode to love and to present it, unabashed, as the Bible does, as part of normal life.

"Sensuous love with erotic overtones is God's intent for the marriage relationship. The distoriton of that relationship has no doubt abased this dimension of life, but that does not justify placing such experience--or Scripture's Song about it--into the inactive file of living (from Howard Hendricks' Foreward to Glickman's commentary)."

  1. Who is the Wife?

  1. The Shulammite (Song of Solomon 6:13)

  2. A Resident of Shunem

Shulammite may have been related to the word Shunem (H. E. Finley, Shulammite, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 5, page 422), a city of the Jewish tribe, Issachar (T. E. McComiskey, Shunem, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, volume 5, page 423). Thus, she may have been, like Solomon, Jewish.

  1. Solomon's Harem

1 Kings 11:3-4 says Solomon had 1,000 wives and concubines. Song of Solomon 6:8 indicates his mates were without number. Since Solomon wrote a truthful and inspired love poem about events in his life, one would expect that he would have to address his many mates and their influence on the "real love of his life."

  1. What the Song of Solomon Teaches: The way jealousy can be overcome in a marriage is by displaying constant and pure love.

  2. Exposition:

  1. Structure

The Song begins with a "real-time" scene (1:1-2:6). Then there are four dream sequence flashbacks (2:7-8:4). The wife dreams while she sleeps (2:7; 3:5; 8:4) in the embrace of her husband (2:6; 8:3). There is also a concluding section (8:5-14).

  1. A Wife's Jealousy (1:1-2:6)

The wife's jealousy is resolved once Solomon reassures her of his love and once her beauty is enhanced.

  1. The wife is jealous of the relationship with her husband in view of his absence.

"Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions (1:7d-e)." She wants him to come home because if she has to go after him she might be mistaken as a prostitute. Isn't this a typical response to a husband who is spending too much time in his vocation?

  1. Why the wife felt insecure

  1. Her Dark Complexion

"I am black . . . (1:5a, NASV)." NIV says she is dark. "Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, for the sun has burned me. (1:6a-b)." Swarthy means dark.

  1. Step-Daughter in an Unhappy Family

"My mother's sons were angry with me; . . . (1:6c)."

  1. Vocation Preempted Care of Her Beauty

". . . they made me caretaker of the vineyards, but I have not taken care of my own vineyard (1:6d-e)." Her concern had been making a living and her beauty suffered as a result.

  1. Actions taken to Make Her More Secure

  1. Solomon's Reassurance (1:9-10)

"To me, my darling, you are like My mare among the chariots of Pharaoh . . ." Though this language sounds strange in our culture, Solomon tells his wife that she is more beautiful than the other members of his harem.

  1. Beauty Enhancements from the Daughters of Jerusalem

"We will make for you ornaments of gold with beads of silver (1:11)."

  1. Solomon's Attraction to Her Provides Reassurance

"He has brought me to his banquet hall, and his banner over me is love (2:4)."

  1. The Wife Feels Secure

"Let his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me (2:6)."

  1. Four Flashbacks: A Wife's Insecurity is Purged by Reflections in Her Dreams (2:7-8:4).

  1. A Romantic Spring (2:8-17)

  1. The wife delights that the man, whose appearance one Spring (verse 11) brought excitement into her life, now belongs to her.

"My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills (2:16)."

"Lilies" sometimes has a sexual connotation in the poem: a wife (2:2), her husband's lips (5:13), the wife's belly (7:2).

  1. She determines not to allow silly little things, silly little jealousies, to ruin the love they have for each other.

"Catch for us the foxes, the little foxes that ruin the vineyards, our vineyards that are in bloom (2:15)."

"Vineyard" and "Vine" sometimes have a sexual connotation in the poem:. the wife's body (1:6; 8:12), a promising relationship (2:15), a place for love making (7:12).

  1. Longing in Separation (3:1-4)

She remembers another occassion when Solomon was absent. The circumstances in that occassion did not indicate that he was displeased with her.

"Scarcely had I passed them when I found the one my heart loves. I held him and would not let him go . . . (3:4a-b)."

  1. The Wedding Night (3:6-5:1)

In her dream, the wife remembers the pleasure the husband had for her during their wedding night.

"You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace (4:9)."

  1. The text is intimate: the wedding day (3:11), physical attraction (4:1-5), and physical love (4:6, 16; 5:1a-b).

  2. A "garden" often has a sexual connotation in Song of Solomon: a sexually capable lady (4:12), a wife (4:15), a wife's body (4:16), physical love (5:1), the harem (6:2), and pre-intercourse (8:13).

  3. Solomon expresses his appreciation of her virginity (4:12).

  4. Divine Approval of Physical Love in Marriage

Song of Solomon 5:1e): "Eat, O friends, and drink; drink your fill O lovers." Some commentators believe God is speaking in this verse.

Hebrews 3:4: "Marriage should be honored by all, . . ."

1 Corinthians 7:3-5: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again son that Satan will not temp you because of your lack of self-control."

  1. Overcoming the Husband's Flirting with Other Women (5:2-8:2)

  1. Misunderstanding--The husband thinks his wife is not attracted to him (5:2-8).

  2. Truth--The wife is attracted to her husband (5:9-16).

"My beloved is dazzling and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand (5:10)."

  1. Husband and Wife are Reunited (6:1-10)

  1. The wife finds her husband who confirms his love for her (6:1-10)

"You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling, as lovely as Jerusalem, as awesome as an army with banners (6:4)."

  1. It is possible that husband visited his harem.

Notice the gardens of verse 2 and the queens, concubines, and virgins mentioned in verse 8.

  1. Wife is Reassured (6:11-13a)

"Before I was awre, my soul set me over the chariosts of my noble people (6:12)."

  1. Husband Gives Further Reassurance to Wife (6:13b-7:7).

"How beautiful are your feet in sandals, o prince's daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, the work of the hands of an artist (7:1)."

  1. Physical Love (7:8-10)

  2. A Romantic Visit to the Countryside (7:11-8:2)

  3. The Wife is Secure (8:3)

"His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me."

  1. Conclusion (8:5-14)

  1. A Biography of the Wife

  1. Faithful in Her Love for Her Husband (8:6-7)

  1. A Seal (8:6a-b)
  2. Strong (8:6c)
  3. Unyielding (8:6d) -- jealousy
  4. Burning (8:6e-f)
  5. Unquenchable (8:7a-b)
  6. Valuable (8:7c-e)
  1. Faithful in Her Pre-Marriage Virginity (8:8-12)

  1. Recommendation (8:13)

The husband encourages all who are in a marriage relationship to apply the principle developed in the poem.

  1. Final Longing of Wife for Husband (8:14)

The wife encourages her husband to consumate the priviledges of marriage.


Home 2001-2002, Ken Bowles, September 30, 2010, Edition -- Advertising appearing in conjunction with this page is not endorsed.

1