Introduction to Song of Songs
and Study of Song of Songs 1-4
July 13th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
copyright 2016

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Song of Songs (Overview)

Song of Songs, also known as Song of Solomon, is a unique book in the Bible. It appears to be a book of love poetry that includes moments of unbridled passion and sensual language that may startle some readers.

However, Biblical experts generally agree that the book has a deeper spiritual meaning. The book could be interpreted as an allegory or a parable about God and his people or Christ and the Church. The reference to God's relationship to Israel as a marriage can also be found in the words from some of the prophets whom we will soon by studying, including Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. We also see this same metaphor for Christ and his church in the books of the New Testament, including Matthew, John, and the last book of the Bible, Revelation.

The Reverend Danks (7-Aug-1931 - 29-Aug-2011) explained the connection between a husband and wife and human and God in a sermon on Father's Day, 1996:

    The Song of Songs is meant to be interpreted on two different levels—the divine and the human, the literal and the symbolic. The book uses the graphic images of romantic love in the deepest, fullest, and completest (sic) of all human loves—husband and wife give to each other as much as it is humanly possible to give. So, while describing this human love in all the terms of intimacy and passion whispered between human lovers, it is, at the same time—on a deeper level—symbolically describing the ultimate purpose in life, the meeting in love between God and ourselves.

As a man who gave everything he had to his wife and to the LORD, Reverend Danks had the perspective to explain how the two themes are related. Remember this explanation and think about the meaning of the book on both levels as you read through it.

King Solomon is referred to a number of times in the poem, and is assumed by many commentators to have been the author, but some experts suggest that the book has a style from a much later era, closer to the exile in Babylon. In either case, some interpretations have concluded that Solomon is the male lover, while others say that the male lover is an anonymous or fictional man created by the author.

We will complete the study of this book in two days, as noted below:

    Song of Songs 1-4 (How Shall I Describe Thee?) July 13th
    Song of Songs 5-8 (Garden of Love) July 14th

Resources used for interpretation and guidance have included the following

  • Abegg, Martin, Jr.; Flint, Peter; and Ulrich, Eugene, The Dead Sea Scrolls Bible, Harper One, New York, 1999
  • Boadt, Lawrence, Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction, Paulist Press, Mahwah, NJ; 1984
  • Carr, G. Lloyd, The Song of Solomon and introduction and Commentary, Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1984
  • Danks, The Reverend Edward R, “What Every Wife Wishes Her Husband Knew About Women, and What Every Husband Wishes His Wife Knew About Men!”, Noroton Pulpit, Sermons from the Noroton Presbyterian Church, Darien, Connecticut, June 16, 1996
  • Falk, Marcia, The Song of Songs, A New Translation and Interpretation, Harper San Francisco, 1990
  • Fee, Gordon D., Stuart Douglas, How to Read the Bible Book by Book, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI, 2002
  • Peterson, Eugene H., The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Numbered Edition, NavPress, Colorado Springs, CO, 2005
  • Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version, Zondervan Bible Publishers, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993
  • Life Application Study Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, M; 1991 (with commentary from an inter-denominational team of experts)
  • Men's Devotional Bible, New International Version, Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, MI; 1993 (with daily devotionals from Godly men)
  • The New American Bible, Sponsored by the Bishop's Committee of the Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Catholic Bible Publishers, Wichita, KS, 1970

Song of Songs 1-3 (How Should I Describe Thee?)

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. We recommend that you read at least two versions for added understanding. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

Your love delights me,

my sweetheart and bride.

Your love is better than wine

- Song of Songs 4:10a

Summary of Chapters

The book is meant to be read as a dialogue. In some translations the book is structured like a script for a play, where each section is subtitled by the character who reads that particular piece: Beloved (or she), The Lover (or he or the bridegroom), and Friends.

The first chapter begins with Beloved talking about her lover and asking for him to take her away. Her friends then respond with encouragement and rejoicing. The woman talks humbly about herself, expressing her embarrassment regarding her dark skin, which is the result of working her family’s vineyard.

The friends direct her to the way to find her lover. When she finds him, the woman and her lover begin a dialog that continues into chapter 2. They exchange praises for each other, using analogies of fruit and animals.

    Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
        is my beloved among the young men.
    I delight to sit in his shade,
        and his fruit is sweet to my taste.

    - Song of Songs 2:3 (NIV)

In chapter 3, the woman wakes in her bed and goes out searching for her lover. When she finds him she says “I held him and would not let him go till I had brought him to my mother’s house (Songs 3:4b - NIV).” She then describes the grand arrival of Solomon and calls out to the people to come admire him.

In chapter 4, the male lover returns to descriptions of his beloved, using colorful poetry and comparisons to idyllic scenery, flowers, fauna, and architecture to describe her from her eyes to her neck and below.

    Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves’ eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.

    Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.

    Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.

    Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.

    - Song of Songs 4:1-4 (KJV)

Just to be sure he hasn’t missed any attributes the Lover adds a comprehensive note:

    The sweet, fragrant curves of your body,
    the soft, spiced contours of your flesh
    Invite me, and I come. I stay
    until dawn breathes its light and night slips away.
    You're beautiful from head to toe, my dear love,
    beautiful beyond compare, absolutely flawless.

    - Song of Songs 4:6-7 (MSG)

The chapter closes with the Beloved inviting the Lover into her garden to enjoy the good fruits within.

Reflection and Application

At first reading, there are several aspects of the content and language that might seem unusual. We understand that on the surface the book is a dialogue of love. Thus, we can appreciate colorful language used by the lovers to describe each other. It should seem like familiar territory. Our modern libraries of poetry and song are bursting with these types of images. Some of the descriptions in our modern catalogs are subtle, some more direct, such as the song titled “Ain’t Nothing Like a Dame,” from Rogers and Hammerstein’s Broadway Musical, "South Pacific," which is relatively tame by today’s standards:

    There is nothin' like a dame,
    Nothin' in the world,
    There is nothin' you can name
    That is anythin' like a dame!

    Nothin' else was built the same,
    Nothin' in the world
    As the soft and wavy frame
    Like the silhouette of a dame!

    There is absolutely nothin' like a frame of a dame.

    -Rogers & Hammerstein

Consequently we understand various languages of love, but most of us would be unlikely to win points by using some of the phrases from Song of Songs that compare our lover’s teeth to a flock of sheep or her neck to a stone tower. To get past this point we have to understand the importance of these symbols for the ancient Israelite – a flock of sheep and a strong tower were beautiful sights to be admired. We are fortunate that modern translations have not parsed out these images, thereby allowing us to have a glimpse into the raw emotion between these two characters.

The next obstacle to getting through the first four chapters is the strong sexual tones of this book. These themes are also not uncommon in our modern culture. In fact, one might argue that so much of this topic has been exposed that it has lost some of its intimacy and special attributes. Nevertheless, we believe that God created man and woman to love and cleave to each other, as described in Genesis. Therefore, a book in the Bible that celebrates this love seems appropriate. We also appreciate that the relationship described in Song of Songs is meant to have a symbolic spiritual meaning, as explained by Rev. Danks and others. However, the revelation of this meaning may make some of the verses even harder to interpret because we tend to perceive romantic love in a different way than our love for God.

All things considered, it would probably be healthy for us to take time to reflect on all the things we admire about our spouse (or a friend for those who are not married) – and then tell him or her. We don’t have to be as eloquent as the author of Song of Songs, but it would be good to be as sincere as the lover and beloved in the poem. We then can do the same thing with God—express how we truly feel about him in the language and metaphors that make sense to us.

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions

    1. What are some of your favorite romantic poems or songs?
    2. How would you describe your spouse (if you are married) or otherwise, one of your best friends in colorful language that fits your own experiences?
    3. How would you describe the love between you and the Creator?

    Recommended Prayer
    Father in heaven, we acknowledge that you created man and woman to love each other and to love you. We thank you for these gifts of love and ask you to help us to express our love to our spouses, friends, and to you.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    Young couples in love

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Song of Songs 5-8 (Garden of Love)

    Comments and Questions
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