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Jewish Poetry (5): Song of Solomon

In addition to his 3000 proverbs, Solomon wrote 1005 songs (cf. 1 Kngs. 4.32). Song of Solomon 1.1 reads: "The song of songs, which is Solomon's." Likely, by this description, Solomon perceived this song to be his best (or favorite).

Pure Love

The bard's subject, at least on its surface, involves the delights of matrimonial love. The poem includes three major speakers:

(1) the bride (i.e., a Shulamite, 6.13);

(2) the groom (viz., Solomon, 3.11; 8.11-12); and

(3) the daughters of Jerusalem (likely, Solomon's harem; cf. 5.8, 16).

It appears that at this time, king Solomon had sixty wives and eighty concubines (6.8). Eventually, that number would increase to 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kngs. 11.3). Of them all, the Shulamite was everyone's favorite (6.9).

Some believe the Shulamite was Abishag, from Shunem, the young virgin who cared for David in his final days (1 Kngs. 1.1-4). This is highly plausible; for when Bathsheba asked Solomon to give Abishag to Adonijah to wed, Solomon severely resisted the request, comparing it to asking for the kingdom itself, indicating her immense worth in Solomon's eyes (1 Kngs. 2.17-25). Clearly, Abishag was of great value to the king.

Textual Analysis

The poem may be outlined as follows: 1) Courtship (1.2-3.5); 2) the Wedding (3.6-5.1); 3) Marital Union (5.2-8.4); and 4) The nature of love (8.5-14).

There are three prevailing methods of interpreting the book:

(1) the poem as allegory; i.e., not grounded in historical fact, but only designed to address spiritual ideas. The love-affair did not happen. It is just a story designed to illustrate love in its ideal form.

(2) the poem as history; i.e., Solomon and the Shulamite truly engaged in the love-affair described in the book. The purity of their love is meant as a paragon for all love-interests.

(3) the poem as typology; i.e., while the love affair was most certainly grounded in historical reality, and is also a model for all lovers, the ultimate thrust of the poem is designed to pre-figure the relationship between Christ (as represented by Solomon) and his church or bride (as represented by the Shulamite) — cf. Eph. 5.23f; 2 Cor. 11.2; Rev. 19.6-9.

A Disclaimer

There are many sexual overtones in the poem. Some perceive this as unduly salacious. Yet, it must be remembered that sex is not of Satan. God is its inventor (cf. Gen. 1.28; 2.24-25). He devised sex for the expansion and pleasure of our race (cf. Ps. 127.3-5; 1 Cor. 7.3-4).

However, God designed sex to be enjoyed within the confines of marriage (cf. Heb. 13.4), a fact which Satan has altogether perverted. And though Solomon himself was a polygamist, and was reproached for his marital sins (cf. Neh. 13.26-27), the case of Solomon and the Shulamite nonetheless conveys the perfection of marital union, sustained between one man and one woman, both of whom love each other very dearly (cf. Mt. 19.6f).

The Heart and The Mind

Many have alleged that the heart and mind are not mutually compatible — that emotions and intellect are conflicting qualities. The man who uses his head ostensibly will have a hard time also using his heart, and vice-versa.

Conversely, in Solomon we perceive that divine insight (wisdom and intellect) broadens one's emotional capacity. Solomon, the wisest of his day, harbored a strong aptitude for pure love. Indeed, true intellect creates truly visceral emotions (cf. Mt. 26.38-39; 1 Cor. 13.1f).

Never is this more apparent than in the love which God exhibits toward us, and in the love which we ought to exhibit toward him. The more a man comes to learn about God, the more he comes to love him (cf. Jn. 6.45; 14.15; 1 John 4.7, 16). But those who refuse to know God, are utterly incapable of practicing true love, for God (the highest intellect possible) is love (cf. 1 John 4.8).

Accordingly, may we learn to "love the Lord [our] God with all [our] heart, with all [our] soul, with all [our] strength, and with all [our] mind" (Lk. 10.27), for this is the greatest commandment of all (cf. Mt. 22.37-38; 1 Cor. 13.13).

Part 5: Jewish Poetry (5): Song of Solomon


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