Song of Songs is romantic poetry at its best. It portrays two passionate lovers who revel in the emotional and physical pleasures of human intimacy. There are many theories about who these two lovers are. In the past this was understood as an allegory of the relationship between God and the church but now it is widely accepted as the profound love between a man and a woman, providing a refreshingly realistic and wholesome treatment of human sexuality with out it being a how to manual. The book never mentions God, but it bears witness that the Creator has graciously provided His human creatures with the good gifts of sexuality and intimate love. Some look at this book and see a love story between a young country girl and King Solomon. The young girl compares her love for her husband to the anticipation of a frantic search, while Solomon likens his bride’s beauty to picturesque gardens and delicious fruit. But even in this eloquent expression of the passion between bride and bridegroom, there is an exhortation to remain sexually pure before marriage. (2:7). In this way the book celebrates human sexuality within the context of marriage.
This book teaches that a lasting marriage requires dedication, commitment, and strong loyalty between husband and wife. This book also presents an idealized picture of how human love can be expressed under God’s blessing. This is important because some critics have claimed that Christianity’s standards for marriage ignore or undervalue sexual relationships. But, the Song of Songs refutes this. Instead it reiterates the Biblical admonition against sex outside of marriage and affirms that God not only approves of but encourages sexual pleasure within marriage. There is no narrator in this story. And though the subject matter is not unique in the Old Testament, the intense and exclusive focus on it certainly is. Many people have questioned whether the Song of Songs belongs in the canon of scripture, but this poem is really a wonderful celebration of one of God’s good and holy gifts. If in fact the Bible is a book about God, then many ask what a book about human sexuality has to do with theology. Not only is God not mentioned but neither is prayer, worship, or piety. In this respect it bears a likeness to the Book of Esther, which also does not mention God. Esther is a book about redemption and there is mention of prayer, fasting, and thanksgiving. None of that appears in Song of Songs. But we need to remember that the Bible not only describes who God is and what God does, it also tells us what God desires for His people.
While intimacy is one of the major themes in this book it is also clear that the lovers relationship is more than just physical intimacy. They are friends and they desire to be with each other for more than sexual reasons. As human love poetry, the Song plays a crucial role in the Bible. Love and it’s physical expression are major aspects of the human experience, and God has spoken through the Song to encourage us and warn us about the power of sexuality in our lives. According to the Song, marital love should be mutual, exclusive, complete, and beautiful. The book encourages intimate love between a man and woman who have committed themselves to each other. There are eight chapters and a host of images in this book and if we were to discuss all of them this would be a very long writing. So, please allow me to focus on a few.
We read that the young woman was lovely but she was worried because of her dark skin. Some believe she was a Shulamite. Some believe she came from an unknown place called Shulem. Others equate this with the Shunammite, someone from Shunem. This was a village in the territory of Issachar, north of Jezreel and south of Mount Gilboa. Little else is about this young woman other than it is clear she worked in the fields, either tending flocks or working in the vineyards. And her time outside had caused her skin to darken. She was so busy working that she didn’t have time to look after herself. Her beauty is enhanced by her jewelry and the lover states that this beauty needs to be even more ornamented. Myrrh is extracted from the branches of a fragrant shrub that did not grow in Israel, but was imported from Arabia and India at an extravagant cost. It was an oriental custom for a woman to wear a small bag of myrrh around her neck at night and the next day the lovely scent would linger about her. In chapter two we see mention of little foxes. Many times little foxes would creep into the vineyards and gnaw on the tender roots and destroy the grape vines. But here the foxes represent the threats to their relationship. The vine of the couple’s budding love was tender and needed to be protected from these little foxes that symbolize the problems of life that may gnaw away at a relationship. These threats are not identified but they could be the normal ups and downs of love, rival suitors , or anything else that might keep the couple from enjoying each other.
When the woman goes searching for her lover she encounters the watchmen. They were equivalent to the police. They were guardians of both social custom and the law. They were posted on the city walls to look out for attacks and to assure that any traffic in or out of the city was not threatening. The woman may have been stopped because she was not a resident of the city and she was not recognized. It was not considered appropriate for a woman to be out alone at night. So we see the strong desire she had for her lover. She was willing to risk being stopped to find him and spend time with him. Sometimes the lover called the young woman sister. This was a common term of endearment in love poetry in the ancient Near East. Gardens were places of sensual delights and that description fits with the passion and love these two lovers felt. In chapter five the young woman comments that she slept but her heart was awake. Most likely she was dreaming, physically asleep but emotionally and psychologically awake. Several times the young woman speaks to friends or young maidens of Jerusalem. Each time she spoke to them she encouraged them to wait for intimate love until they were married. It is much sweeter and richer when we do. And there are references to flocks of goats, and sheep that are freshly washed. Middle eastern goats are very dark, if not black. The woman’s hair was the same color as those goats. And the sheep that were freshly washed had just been shorn and then washed. Their hair was dark but after sheering they were white in color until their hair began to grow back. In a time when there was precious little dental care, a woman having teeth that matched, meaning she had all her teeth, meant she was highly prized.
Many times in this book there are long descriptions of the two lovers. Chapter 5:10-16 is one example. In chapter 6:8 there is a reference to 60 queens and 80 concubines. If indeed Solomon wrote this poem, this verse may indicate he did so when he was fairly young…before he had acquitted 700 wives and 300 concubines. But if the lover was a commoner, he was simply boasting that his bride was more impressive than a royal harem and virgins without number. Mandrakes were considered a middle eastern aphrodisiac, thought to not only arouse desire but also increase fertility. The roots of the plant resemble a human torso. Chapter eight begins with a strange verse. The young woman is frustrated by the cultural standard that allowed family members to show affection in public but it forbade married couples from doing so. If he was her brother she could kiss him publicly. Romantic kisses were not permitted in public but kisses between blood relatives were acceptable. Lastly, in 8:6 the young woman asks that her lover place her like a seal over his heart, like a seal on his arm. In ancient Israel a seal was used for identification or to show ownership by pressing the face of a ring into soft wax. The wife wants her now husband to mark her with his identity, privately upon her heart and publicly on her arm as well.
We cannot ignore the sexual content of this book, but we can appreciate the context in which it is placed, a godly marriage. The Song of Solomon is necessary reading not only for the married, but for young people who want to understand God’s design for marriage.
In His Grip
Pastor Matt W