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The Bible - Book by Book - Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon suffers from either being too earthy and real or from being too churchy and metaphorical. The end result is what D. M. Carrs calls the “functional de-canonization” of the book. What he means is that we simply don’t know what to do with the material, so it is rarely preached, taught, or discussed in the church today. We acknowledge that it is biblical and authoritative for something, we just don’t know what that something is. So, what are we to do with the Song of Solomon?

The Song of Solomon goes by different titles. These titles all come from the first verse of the book. “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (1:1). It is sometimes called Song of Songs, sometimes Song of Solomon, and sometimes Canticles (the Latin term for songs). The opening verse describes this as a superlative song. It is a happy and joyous song. There are very good things described in this song.

The opening verse also gives us the best reason for attributing this work to Solomon. The phrasing does not necessarily mean it was written by Solomon. But we know from 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon was a prolific songwriter. The language fits other things written by Solomon. It just seems to fit Solomon, and there aren’t that many good reasons to not attribute it to him.

What is the Song of Solomon? It is Hebrew verse and poetry that centers on love. Commentators throughout the ages have wrestled with who to understand this book. Is this an earthy and even erotic love song about two lovers? Or is this largely a metaphor for the love that God has for his people? It seems that the explicit and erotic images in text made many uncomfortable. It is also true that at different times in the church, folks have ventured into gnostic ideas about the inherent dirtiness and uncleanness of the body, particularly the sexual act. If the body is seen as less important than the spirit, then the sexual act becomes something of a necessary evil. And thus, a hyper-allegorizing of the text is necessary because surely it can’t mean that.

But is that discomfort with the sexual act misplaced? I believe it is. God created man male and and female. In all the good he did in creation, he declared man’s alone-ness as “not good.” So he created from man a complement. God created woman (Heb. ish’ah, literally “out of man”) from man (Heb. ish). And he called them to join together in one flesh, the first marriage covenant. This union is beautiful and proper and good and holy. The Song of Solomon affirms the goodness, or rather the “very good”ness, of the sexual act in marriage.

But the Song of Solomon is not just about marriage between a man and woman. It is also an allegory about God’s love for His church. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. Paul makes this point in Ephesians 5 when he connects the relationship between husband and wife as that between Christ and the church. The love of a man for his wife is to be a reflection of the love Christ has for the church. And just as we see that God’s love for us is self-giving, desirous, and committed, a spouse’s love for the other is to be the same. God gave himself for us. God did this because he desires us for himself. And God’s love is steadfast and unchanging. All of the love and passion that is seen between the husband and wife in the Song of Solomon is a reflection of the love that God has for his Church.

What practical message can be taken from the Song of Solomon for our marriages? Here, I lean heavily on Miles Van Pelt’s summary of the book[1]. In Song of Solomon 8:7-10 we get a nice overview of God’s design for our marriages. The woman explains that this love is rock-solid. “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal on your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy as fierce as the grave” (8:6a). The picture of the seal is an unbreakable bond that can only be opened by the proper authority (cf. Rev 5). God has joined these two together, let no one tear them asunder (Matt 19:6).

Accompanying this rock-solid love is a white-hot passion. “Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD” (8:6b). Marriage is designed for real sexual intimacy. This is why Paul warns couples to not neglect their marital duties to one another (1 Cor 7:4-5). This white-hot passion flows from the rock-solid love. These work together.

When a rock-solid love is coupled with white-hot passion, then a marriage is able to endure hardships. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (8:7a). No trial can overwhelm this marriage. And not only that but it is able to withstand temptations. “If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised” (8:7b). This type of love is not for sale. This kind of love provides wholeness for the husband and wife. “then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace” (8:10b). There is shalom in this marriage. We can find peace in God alone, but God in his creative wisdom will use our spouses as an instrument of that peace when our marriages are built upon his Word.

[1] Miles Van Pelt, A Biblical Theological Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 431-433.

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