It is easy to understand why most of the books of the bible are there. We read the historical books and understand that they help us to understand who God is, where God’s anointed one came from and why he needed to be sent. The prophets we come to a better understanding of God’s feelings towards sin. The Gospel give us instruction for godly living in the Messianic age. The books of Wisdom (Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job) were written to answer important questions, to impart knowledge, etc. But, the book of Songs or the Song of Solomon has often confused people as to why this is in the bible.
The Song of Solomon is a book that describes the love between two persons. It shows their desire to be with one another. Much of the imagery is “graphic” by bible standards as they even speak of the lovely forms of one another. Due to this, many have asked the question why is this in the bible. Many theories have been pushed forward as an explanation of its inclusion. Below you will find the most popular theories.
Love Between Man and Wife. In today’s society this particular view is growing in popularity. This view teaches that the Song of Solomon is about the love between a husband and wife (or a husband and wife-to-be). Let us examine the pros and cons to such an interpretation.
It certainly takes a very literal approach. If this book were discovered separate and apart from the Bible, we would never try to read religion into it. Thus making the book appear to be about the love between two people. This relationship between husband and wife is spoken of in other places in the Bible as well (Gen. 2:18, 24; Prov. 18:22, 19:24, 31:10; Heb. 13:4).
However, there are some difficulties in accepting this view of Song of Solomon. First, what does this view have to do with the overall theme of the Bible. If the Bible is about God’s plan for saving man, how does the Song of Songs fit into this plan? Secondly, the idea of romantic love seems to be the main problem with marriage today, and not the answer. Fairy tales (and Hollywood movies) push the idea that we can live happily ever after, yet it is the arranged marriages in the Bible that seem to live happily ever after (Jacob and Leah, Isaac and Rebecca) as opposed to the romantic marriages (Rachel and Jacob, Samson and the Philistine woman).
A Courtship Battle. This particular theory is much like the former. However, instead of a two main character song (man and wife), it is a three character song; a man, a woman, and a shepherd (The Shepherd Hypothesis).
The Shepherd hypothesis comes in two different forms. One is that the man is Solomon and the woman is a wife/wife-to-be of Solomon and the shepherd is someone luring the woman away from Solomon. The other view reverses the roles of the shepherd and Solomon. There is a man courting a woman and Solomon, the shepherd, is luring the woman away from her betrothed.
The Shepherd hypothesis believes that the song is to be taken as literal. That is, no allegories or hidden messages. It carries with it the same pros as that of the two character literal interpretation.
However, this as the previously mention interpretation, carries with it some difficulties. First of all, what purpose does this serve in the overall scheme of the Bible. This interpretation of the Song of Songs seems even less likely to fit God’s plan for saving man as it does not even place the song into a “marriage” theme. Second, why is it in the Canon? If this were about Solomon’s exploits it holds no rule value.
Love Jehovah has for Israel. The latter two that we will discuss are allegorical. That is, there is hidden meaning in the song. One of the more ancient views of this Song is that it is not about a man and a woman, but rather, God’s love for the nation of Israel. The Jews believed so much in this particular view that he Song of Solomon was read at every Passover. To a Jew, the Song of Solomon was very important. In fact, Song of Songs the title in a Jewish Bible, is an idiom. The English equivalent thereof is, “the best of songs.” Perhaps the reason it was on a scroll of its own is because the Jews believed it was the most important Psalm that Solomon wrote.
Yet, this theory, like the others carries with it some difficulties. First, there is no reason given in the text that leads one to believe it should not be taken literally. When Jesus spoke in allegories (parables) it was easily seen that Jesus was NOT talking about a mustard seed, a servant, or a vineyard, for He often began, “The kingdom of heaven is like…” Song of Solomon does not begin in this manner. Secondly, it takes some fancy maneuvering to make the imagery “fit.”
Love Christ has for the Church. The last approach we will examine is the most widely accepted view today. Much of its pros and cons have already been discussed in some detail as it too is allegorical.
This method of interpretation teaches that he man and woman of the Song of Songs is Christ and the Church. In fact, some the songs we sing today are based on passages found in the Song of Solomon. “He’s the Lily of the Valley (Songs 2:1) and “Jesus, Rose of Sharon (Songs 2:1) are two of the more popular songs. This view takes passages such as “black” or “swarthy” in Songs 1:5 to mean black with sin, made beautiful by conversion. They also believe that there is reference to the Lord’s Supper in Songs 5:1.
However, we must then ask the question what makes us want to see the book as an allegory. J.W. McGarvey once wrote that the interpretation is in the eye of the interpreter. We want it to mean something so we read into it what we want.
As one can see, there are pros and cons to each of these popular views. Is it literal or is it allegorical? Is it about Israel or the church? Maybe both. -WTK
Grinnell church of Christ
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Song of Solomon
Volume 4 Issue 21 April 28, 2013