Song of Solomon
It is a book rarely studied in Bible class; few are the preachers who will preach the text from the pulpit. Many have wondered throughout time why it is in Scripture. Nevertheless, the Song of Solomon remains, praising romantic love and its pure beauty.
The Song of Solomon is the twenty-second book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible, it is part of the Ketuvim or “Writings.” The Song of Solomon, also known as the Song of Songs, is attributed to Solomon (ca. 950 BCE; Song of Solomon 1:1). Despite various claims of later authorship, Solomon’s authorship still makes the best sense of all evidence; we have discovered many love songs from ancient Egypt, demonstrating the relevance of the genre during the early first millennium BCE. The Song of Solomon is a love song between a young man and woman in highly imaginative figurative language, a paean to the beauty of romantic love.
The Song of Solomon has three primary speakers: a woman, called the Shulammite in Song of Solomon 6:13, identifiable as the singular female speaker, often considered the “bride” or “girl”; a man, identifiable as the singular masculine speaker, the “groom” or “boy”; and a “chorus,” called the “daughters of Jerusalem” (e.g. Song of Solomon 2:7), identified as a plural set of speakers, who often provide commentary. The identity of the man informs how the song is understood: if the man is identified as Solomon on account of Song of Solomon 3:6-11, 8:11-12, then the song is about Solomon’s pursuit of the Shulammite. If instead the references to Solomon are figurative imagery to express the perceived majesty of the boy, then the song is about two “average” young people falling in love. It also bears noting that “brother” and “sister” were often used in love songs to refer to the male and female romantic partners as a way of expressing intimacy (e.g. Song of Solomon 5:1).
The Song of Solomon proceeds through a series of speeches featuring yearning and fulfillment. The girl yearns for her beloved, and the boy yearns for his; they describe each other and themselves; they are able to meet but not for long (Song of Solomon 1:1-2:17). She then relates either a dream or an experience of searching for him in the night and finding him and then speaks of the grandeur of Solomon, either as or akin to her beloved (Song of Solomon 3:1-11). He then describes her beauty, his love for her, her love for him, and she invites him to come and enjoy love (Song of Solomon 4:1-16). He accepts, the others encourage it, and then she describes what happens when she found that he had left and the abuse she experienced at the hands of the watchmen (Song of Solomon 5:1-8). The women want to know why she loves him so, and she speaks of his aesthetic qualities (Song of Solomon 5:9-16). The women then want to know where he is, and she says he is with her sharing in love, and they again describe one another’s beauty and their mutual desire (Song of Solomon 6:1-7:13). The song ends with her desire to show him public affection and declaration of love, speaking of herself in terms of Jerusalem, again evoking her beloved as or in terms of Solomon; he wants to hear her voice, and she urges him to hasten to her (Song of Solomon 8:1-14).
Many have not known what to do or think about the Song of Solomon. Its romantic and even erotic overtones are impossible to deny. In both Judaism and Christianity the Song has often been used in a spiritual way to attempt to show the love of God for His people, either in terms of YHWH as “husband” and Israel as “wife” or Christ as “husband” and the church as “wife”. It remains true that Jesus loves the church as a husband loves his wife (Ephesians 5:22-33), but we must be very careful with that particular association. The Song of Solomon is not primarily a love story between God and His people; it is primarily a love song between a young man and a young woman.
Throughout time romantic love has either been made the stuff of fairy tales or simply reduced to raw sexuality. Religions often attempt to hide away romantic love or suppress it, yet in the Song of Solomon we see a healthy and pure expression of romantic love between a young man and a young woman. The story was never designed to be license for lascivious behavior or for fornication (Galatians 5:19-21). Nevertheless we do well to remember that God made both man and woman to desire one another and that desire can be expressed in pure and holy ways (Genesis 2:27, Matthew 19:3-5, Hebrews 13:4).
Some may find the Song of Solomon to be embarrassing or shameful in public discourse, but it remains a book within Scripture. It may be one of two in the Old Testament without the name of God (YHWH), and God may not seem very present in the Song, but He made humans to seek romantic love and to enjoy it. Thus from the Song we can tell how He can appreciate the beauty of pure romantic love. While we do well to warn about the dangers of improper sexual behavior, we also do well to affirm the beauty of romantic love as expressed so beautifully in the Song of Songs!
Ethan R. Longhenry