The key to unlocking the dynamic of the Song of Solomon is to understand that there are many puzzling questions about this book so we should start (as always) by letting the book speak to us before we start ‘sitting in judgement’ on it and forcing it to say what we think it ought to say. For most people, this will mean reading (or hearing) it through in one sitting. Only when we are familiar with its content, its flow, rhythm, development and structure will we be able to start hearing what God is saying through it.
Click on the link above for an audio version of the Song of Solomon.
Download a Bible App for your smart phone and listen when you’re at the gym, travelling in the car, etc.
Read the whole eight chapters in one sitting, more than once, and preferably aloud.
A Fault in the Stars
A moving film about two teenagers who are dying of cancer and who fall in love. The film is about tragedy in life and the place of pathos and love within that tragedy.
Read the first part (up to 5:1) and watch the romance grow to consummation. Then, read the second part and note the dissonance in the relationship which prompts the leading questions which then bring to relationship to an unbreakable strength (8:6-7).
Study the Bible for Life material and answer the questions in each ‘meal course’
Suggested verses for meditation …
2:17 ‘Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills.’
5:6 ‘I opened for my lover, but my lover had left, he was gone.’
8:6 ‘Place me as a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.’
8:7 ‘Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love it would be utterly scorned.’
Excellent verses to learn:
2:8-17 The lovers spend a day in the countryside together.
8:5b-7 Mature love.
Here is a Bible book which, throughout its eight chapters, unashamedly celebrates the romantic, passionate and erotic love between a man and a woman, and in which there is not one single clear reference to God. Unsurprisingly there is, and has always been, a good deal of confusion about how exactly it should be approached and understood.
As with other scriptures in the Bible, we realise as we revisit and meditate over these verses that it is not we who are looking at Scripture, but Scripture that is looking at us. Those who see sexual climax will find innuendoes in every verse. Those embarrassed by this can find plenty of allegorical clues that speak of the disciple’s obedient service and love for Yahweh. For others, there is plenty of guidance about how marriage works best, and how it can become and be made strong.
The place of this love poem in Scripture is better understood when it is read in the context of the other wisdom books, each of which explore the extremes of the human condition: extreme suffering (Job), worship (Psalms), wisdom for life (Proverbs), the meaninglessness of life (Ecclesiastes), and here the delicious, unguarded, passionate delight of romance leading to sex.
The Song of Solomon is a poem that delights in one aspect of the glorious business of being a human being. It is essentially a mediation on Genesis 2:24: ‘Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they will become one flesh’. It is an unselfconscious celebration of the man and women becoming one flesh, of romance and physical love and the journey from acquaintance to the consummation of the marriage. But it is not only sexual. The poem looks at other issues in the relationship’s journey: dissonance, the ‘little foxes’ (2:15) that destroy romance, the misunderstandings that jar and shock and get magnified out of all proportion. Searching questions are raised by the ‘friends’, questions that force the deeper examination of love and coerce out responses that go far beyond an exclusively physical attachment.
The Song ends with the couple confessing that their mature love will survive ‘many waters’ (8:7). Like all Scripture, this poem must be read and re-read at different points in our lives, and we must not let any pre-determined hermeneutic enforce a pre-determined understanding. Let Scripture be Scripture. Pray that God, who is everywhere behind the poem (but never mentioned in it), will speak to you and teach you how to delight in being a human being, and study and learn from this poem how to love your spouse so your marriage love becomes strong and mature.
Question 1 -
Have you ever fallen in love? To what extent was your experience of falling in love like that of the man and woman in this poem?
Question 2 -
Is ‘the voice of the turtle dove’ (2:12) the proclamation of the gospel by the church? Is ‘the mountain of myrrh’ (4:12) Calvary where Christ died? Are the woman’s two breasts (4:5) the Old and New Testaments? Is this allegorical approach satisfactory and convincing?
Question 3 -
Why do you think God is not mentioned in the Song of Solomon?
Question 4 -
If reading the Song of Solomon leads you to commit adultery in your thoughts (Matthew 5:28-30), should you continue to read this book of Scripture?
Although possible, it is unlikely that King Solomon wrote this love poem. Indeed, because of his own licentious sexual lifestyle (1 Kings 11:1-8), Solomon’s role in the poem is profoundly problematic as it contrasts with the pure, sincere monogamous covenantal love that is so deeply celebrated and praised in this poem.
It is easier to read the poem as the romance and marriage of an unsophisticated shepherd boy (1:7) and a shepherd girl (1:8) who romantically fantasise about being royalty.
The date of the construction of this poem is not significant, but most scholars see it as being written between the 5th and 3rd Centuries CE.
The dominant literary genre throughout is ‘love poetry’, a form of poetry that conveys the experiences, feelings and developments of romantic passion. The author writes ‘a stream of consciousness’, where the woman is the main subject and her lover and the chorus of friends both relate to her. There is frequent use of vivid metaphors from the countryside, animals, plants and herbs to describe the lovers and specifically their bodies. While it is possible that different poems have contributed to the text, we should recognise that the ‘Song’ is nevertheless presented as a unity; as one poem.
Structure and hermeneutic
The result is a variety of approaches and we must allow that this is exactly what the author(s) intended.
Here are the leading approaches …
1. Allegorical: This has been the dominant hermeneutic throughout history, with both Jewish and Christian scholars interpreting this poem as a description of the love between Yahweh and his people. However, while this side-steps the ‘difficulty’ of engaging with the sexual descriptions, the total lack of guidance as to exactly what is allegorical or what the different features represent (as is the case in Galatians 4:21-31) is problematical because it leaves the reader interpreting any and every metaphor in any way he or she chooses. The engagement with the poem then ends up being only a reflection of what the reader brings to the poem, and the reader therefore finds in the poem exactly what he or she thinks ought to be there. While the passion of romantic love may in some ways mirror the strong love of God for his people whom in Christ he dies to redeem, this allegorical hermeneutic is strained to the point of breakdown by the simple fact that while God’s love for humanity is many things, it is definitely not erotic!
2. Anthology: This view sees The Song of Solomon as a collection of unconnected love poems. However, while some parts of the poem appear a little random, and the ‘stream of consciousness’ genre blurs the flow and development, there is enough structure and development to render this view unsatisfactory.
3. Geographical and developmental: There is nevertheless a clear chiastic structure to the book (see tables below):
|The first half (1:2 - 5:1)...||...describes the uncomplicated journey of love to the consummation of their marriage.|
|A meal together.|
|A day in the country.|
|A night on the town.|
|Preparation for the wedding.|
|The second half (5:2 - 8:14)...||...describes the complicated and ‘painful’ growth and proving of their love to the point of maturity.|
|Two leading questions and their answers.|
|1||The consummation of the marriage is at the very centre of the book.|
|2||The woman’s siblings are mentioned twice: once at the beginning (1:6) and once at the end (8:8-9).|
|3.||The ‘watchmen’ are mentioned twice: once in the first half (3:3), and once in the second (5:7).|
Question 1 -
Husbands: ‘How is your beloved (wife) better than others’ (5:9)?
Question 2 -
Wives: ‘How is your beloved (husband) better than others' (5:9)?
Question 3 -
What is the difference between romantic passion that leads to sex, and love and romance that leads to mature love?
Question 4 -
Friends have an important role in a courtship. Study the way the 'friends' encourage the woman and the man (both separately and together), and how they help the woman by both affirming her and also asking pressing questions about the heart of their relationship.
Question 5 -
We all talk about romance, and our films and books and stories tell us we should each expect nothing less, but how realistic is this in actual practice? Does it ever actually happen?
Question 6 -
Where is God in the Song of Solomon?
Chapter by Chapter
Approaching ‘the Song of Solomon’:
Wisdom literature in the Old Testament
The five wisdom books each address different extremes in human living. Job addresses the horror and injustice of extreme suffering. The Psalms teach into the wide realm of worshipping God. Proverbs teaches wise living, Ecclesiastes opens out the vapid, empty pointlessness of life for sinful humanity, and the Song of Solomon searches out the high and giddy experience of romance, sex and the creation of the ‘one flesh’ of marriage. To put it trivially, these are all things we do with our eyes shut; they are the extremes of life that require our intense focus.
What is this document?
It is a poem, a love poem, an erotic love poem. However, there is neither agreement by commentators on the structure, nor agreement on the hermeneutical perspective by which it should be understood.
How should we proceed?
As always with Scripture, we must let Scripture speak for itself, and resist the temptation to force our interpretations on it. We must allow the text to be itself, as we engage with it over the weeks and years of our lives.
Here are some simple keys to start unlocking the dynamic …
The woman: The woman is the central character, and the story of their romance is told from her perspective.
Genesis 2:24 ‘… a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife and the two will become one flesh.’ The Song of Solomon is essentially a mediation on this verse which is the axiomatic teaching on marriage in Scripture, and is specifically affirmed by Jesus in Matthew 19:1-12.
Two halves: The first half reaches a crescendo in the sex of 4:16-5:1; the second half reaches a crescendo in the strong, unbreaking bond of marriage 8:5b-7.
The friends: The friends encourage the woman in her pursuit of her lover in the first half, and in the second half they ask the leading searching questions that ground and establish the relationship and thereby assist the lovers in building mature marriage.
First half: The dream – the ideal
Innocent young love (1:2-11)
The meal (1:12-2:7)
A day in the country (2:8-17)
A night out together (3:1-5)
The wedding (3:6-11)
Second half: The reality
Question: Why is he the best? (5:9-16)
Question: Where is he? (6:1-9)
Physical delight (6:10-7:9)
Mature love (7:10-8:14)
|First half||Second half|
|1:2 – 5:1||5:2 – 8:14|
|The delight of romance.||The reality of romance.|
|Is this fantasy or a dream?||Is this the reality?|
|Everything is ideal.||Difficulties, and solutions.|
|Progression of scenes.||Almost no geographical details.|
|The watchmen help the woman (3:3-4).||The watchmen hurt the woman (5:7).|
|Solomon’s warriors (3:7-8).||Solomon’s harem (6:8).|
|Progression to consummation.||Progression to maturity.|
|One long poem by the man praising the woman’s beauty before the consummation (4:1-15).||Three poems praising the ‘other’, one by the woman (5:10-16), and two by the man (6:4-9; 7:1-8). His second description again leads to sex.|
|The friends encourage the woman into this journey of love.||The friends ask the woman searching questions about the reality of her love for her beloved.|
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
The title ‘Solomon’s Song of Songs’, immediately raises leading questions about the book. First, it is not easy to read the poems in the following eight chapters as describing the love between King Solomon and a country shepherdess. King Solomon is described in scripture as powerful and extremely licentious, while the love of this shepherd (1:7) and shepherdess (1:8) is faithful and monogamous. The title may simply mean that Solomon owned the poem – that it was given to him, or possibly written by him. Solomon’s name occurs in the poem twice at the beginning, once in the middle with reference to the procession to the wedding (3:11), and twice at the end (8:11-12). His name therefore provides a context for all that happens, and perhaps serves as a royal fantasy for these simple lovers in their idealisation of each other.
1:2 – 11 Innocent young love
Woman: 2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For
your love is better than wine; 3 your anointing oils are
fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love
you. 4 Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me
into his chambers.
Friends: We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love
more than wine; rightly do they love you.
Woman: 5 I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon. 6 Do not
gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked
upon me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; they made
me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not
kept! 7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture
your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; beside the
flocks of your companions?
Man: 8 If you do not know, O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young
goats beside the shepherds’ tents. 9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. 10 Your cheeks are
lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.
Friends: 11 We will make for you ornaments of gold, studded
Although verse 2 begins this love poem with a strong statement of the woman’s desire for kissing, the lovers’ relationship in these early verses is actually quite undeveloped. Their sentences are short. There is a sense of apology, and explanation (v5-6), that is most often found in the very early stage of a relationship. We are not told how they met, but we are plunged into that delightful stage when both realises they strongly desire each other. Here is a shepherd (v7) and a shepherdess (v8), falling wonderfully in love with each other and describing each other in terms of their countryside environment: the creatures, animals, plants and herbs (v14).
1:12 – 2:7 A meal together
Woman: 12 While the king was on his couch, my nard gave
forth its fragrance. 13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
that lies between my breasts. 14 My beloved is to me a cluster
of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.
Man: 15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are
beautiful; your eyes are doves.
Woman: 16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved,
truly delightful. Our couch is green; 17 the beams of our house
are cedar; our rafters are pine. 2 I am a rose of Sharon, a lily
of the valleys.
Man: 2 As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the
Woman: 3 As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is
my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in
his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste. 4 He brought
me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
5 Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am
sick with love. 6 His left hand is under my head, and his right
hand embraces me! 7 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or
awaken love until it pleases.
The characters in this love poem are so completely taken up with each other that we are told only the most limited details about the context. A couch is mentioned, the beams of a house and a banqueting table. The raisons and apples are part of a meal which the lovers enjoy on their ‘first date’.
2:8 – 17 A day in the country
Woman: The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over
the mountains, bounding over the hills. 9 My beloved is like a
gazelle or a young stag. Behold, there he stands behind our
wall, gazing through the windows, looking through the
lattice. 10 My beloved speaks and says to me: “Arise, my love,
my beautiful one, and come away, 11 for behold, the winter is
past; the rain is over and gone. 12 The flowers appear on the
earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the
turtledove is heard in our land. 13 The fig tree ripens its figs,
and the vines are in blossom; they give forth fragrance. Arise,
my love, my beautiful one, and come away.
Man: 14 O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of
the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your
voice is sweet, and your face is lovely. 15 Catch the foxes for
us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards
are in blossom.”
Woman: 16 My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among
the lilies. 17 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee,
turn, my beloved, be like a gazelle or a young stag on cleft
The stream of consciousness is now in the country where their love is expressed in the wild landscape. A long walk alone, free of the cares of the world, each focused completely on the other, enjoying the flowers, the spring, the intimate moments alone among the rocks, the longing that this utopian experience will never end.
2:15 The little foxes are the little blemishes that destroy relationships, such as a bad attitude, a moment of temper, a little fib, or some selfishness. All relationships discover that the little foxes are there and are destructive, and all lovers must address and drive out their foxes.
3:1 – 5 A night out
Woman: On my bed by night I sought him whom my soul loves; I
sought him, but found him not. 2 I will rise now and go about
the city, in the streets and in the squares; I will seek him
whom my soul loves. I sought him, but found him not. 3 The
watchmen found me as they went about in the city. “Have you
seen him whom my soul loves?” 4 Scarcely had I passed
them when I found him whom my soul loves. I held him, and
would not let him go until I had brought him into my
mother’s house, and into the chamber of her who conceived
5 I adjure you,O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles
or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken
love until it pleases.
The woman is beside herself with desire for her lover. We cannot be sure if these verses describe what actually happened; surely it is more likely that this is simply fantasy (dreaming) in the lead up to the wedding.
3:6 – 11 The wedding
Woman: What is that coming up from the wilderness like
columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
with all the fragrant powders of a merchant? 7 Behold, it is
the litter of Solomon! Around it are sixty mighty men, some of
the mighty men of Israel, 8 all of them wearing swords and
expert in war, each with his sword at his thigh, against terror by night. 9 King Solomon made himself a carriage from the wood of Lebanon. 10 He made its posts of silver, its back of gold, its seat of purple; its interior was inlaid with love by the daughters of Jerusalem. 11 Go out, O daughters of Zion, and look upon King Solomon, with the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, on the day of the gladness of his heart.
This is a description of the groom’s bridal procession to the wedding. The woman is once again fantasising that her future husband is Solomon, the King of Israel.
4:1 – 5:1 Consummation
Man: Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are
beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is
like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up
from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one
among them has lost its young. 3 Your lips are like a scarlet
thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves
of a pomegranate behind your veil. 4 Your neck is like the
tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand
shields, all of them shields of warriors. 5 Your two breasts are
like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away
to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. 7 You
are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me
from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak
of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the
mountains of leopards. 9 You have captivated my heart,
my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one
glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How
beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is
your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any
spice! 11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are
under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the
fragrance of Lebanon. 12 A garden locked is my sister, my
bride, a spring locked, a mountain sealed. 13 Your shoots
are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest
fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus
and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh
and aloes, with all choice spices— 15 a garden fountain, a well
of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. 16 Awake,
O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
The progression is: eyes, hair, teeth, lips, cheeks, neck, breasts. Then, once in each of the next five verses (v8-12) he calls her his bride. This long section could either be part of the wedding, or, (more likely) the man’s intimate words to his bride before they make love on their wedding day….
Woman: My beloved came to his garden, and eat its choicest
Man: I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered
my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I
drank my wine with my milk.
Friends: Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!
5:2 – 8 Dissonance
Woman: 2 I slept, but my heart was awake. A sound! My beloved is knocking. “Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one, for my head is wet with dew, my locks with the drops of the night.” 3 I had put off my garment; how could I put it on? I had bathed my feet; how could I soil them? 4 My beloved put his hand to the latch, and my heart was thrilled within me. 5 I arose to open to my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. 6 I opened to my beloved, but my beloved had turned and gone. My soul failed me when he spoke. I sought him, but found him not; I called him, but he gave no answer. 7 The watchmen found me as they went about in the city; they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil, those watchmen of the walls. 8 I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love.
For the first time in the poem there is dissonance in the relationship. The woman, in verse 3, is reluctant to get out of bed and risk getting dirty (muddy?), while the man suddenly turns away and disappears into the night. This raises a whole host of questions. Has the entire description from 3:1 been a fantasy, or a dream? What exactly is the state of their relationship? Chapters 3 and 4 described their marriage and its consummation, but if they are married why is he not in bed with her? Whatever the answers to these questions, the misunderstandings (should we say selfishness) on the part of the two lovers jolts the relationship into asking real questions. Is the woman in love with her lover, or is she in love with love? Chapters 5 and 6 are the answers to these questions and the proving of their relationship.
5:9 – 16 The friends ask the first leading question
Friends: What is your beloved more than another beloved,
O most beautiful among women? What is your beloved more
than another beloved, that you thus adjure us?
The (chorus of) friends ask the first probing question: what is it about your lover that makes him different from others, and special to you? By asking the question twice, the woman is forced to respond (a frequent technique in scripture). See how the friends are careful to affirm the woman (twice) and praise her beauty, while at the same time pressing her to be truthful about the her real feelings and thoughts for her lover.
Woman: 10 My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished
among ten thousand. 11 His head is the finest gold; his locks
are wavy, black as a raven. 12 His eyes are like doves beside
streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool.
13 His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling
herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. 14 His arms
are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory,
bedecked with sapphires. 15 His legs are alabaster columns,
set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice
as the cedars. 16 His mouth is most sweet, and he is
altogether desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem.
The woman describes the man’s body – his head and torso – but for the very first time calls him her friend (v16). The result of their separation at the beginning of the chapter is to elicit her confession that he is her friend. She wants to be with him for many reasons, but the strongest is that he is her friend.
6:1 – 9 The friends ask the second leading question
Friends: Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among
women? Where has your beloved turned, that we may seek
him with you?
The woman has stated that her lover is unique and special to her because he is her friend. So the friends now ask their second question, ‘where is he?’ See how this is also asked in the context of strong affirmation, and the assurance that they are alongside her assisting her in her pursuit of him.
Woman: 2 My beloved has gone down to his garden to the beds of
spices, to graze in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my
beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.
The woman now states where her lover is, although the lover explains the reason why he left her later in v11.
The Man: 4 You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely
as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners. 5 Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me— Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. 6 Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins; not one among them has lost its young.
7 Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.
8 There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. 9 My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her.
The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.
The man’s description of the woman (in v4-7) closely follows his description of her in 4:1-3, before the consummation of their marriage.
6:8-9 This (unexpected) reference to Solomon’s harem is the strongest reason that we should indeed understand the man to be King Solomon. However, even here this description does not necessarily demand this interpretation. The shepherd boy is simply saying that his beloved is to him far more beautiful and perfect than every woman in King Solomon’s harem.
6:10 The friends ask their third question
10 “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?”
The focus of the third question is ambiguous, since it could be either the man or the woman.
6:11 – 13 The reply
The Woman: 11 I went down to the nut orchard to look at the blossoms of the valley, to see whether the vines had budded, whether the pomegranates were in bloom. 12 Before I was aware, my desire set me among the chariots of my kinsman, a prince.
This reply could be the man’s answer to the second question (6:1), ‘where has your lover gone?’ V11 seems to explain that the woman (or the man) had been examining the strength of their love and their relationship.
Friends: 13 Return, return, O Shulammite, return, return, that we may look upon you.
The friends bring the focus back to the woman, whose striking beauty has stolen her lover’s heart (4:9).
7:1 – 9 The man adores his lover
The Man: Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a
dance before two armies? 7 How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O noble daughter! Your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand. 2 Your navel is a rounded bowl that never lacks mixed wine. Your belly is a heap of wheat, encircled with lilies. 3 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle. 4 Your neck is like an ivory tower. Your eyes are pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim. Your nose is like a tower of Lebanon, which looks toward Damascus. 5 Your head crowns you like Carmel, your flowing locks are like purple; a king is held captive in the tresses. 6 How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! 7 Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. 8 I say I will climb the palm tree. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, 9 and your mouth like the best wine.
This is the third time the man describes his beloved wife. He describes all her body but this time from her feet up to her head. It is both explicitly and metaphorically sexual.
7:10 – 8:4 The couple celebrate their love
This final section contains several different reflections on the couple’s love.
The Woman: It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding
over lips and teeth.10 I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for
me. 11 Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields and lodge
in the villages; 12 let us go out early to the vineyards and see
whether the vines have budded, whether the grape blossoms
have opened and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will
give you my love. 13 The mandrakes give forth fragrance, and
beside our doors are all choice fruits, new as well as old,
which I have laid up for you, O my beloved.
The woman welcomes her husbands sexual advances (5:9-10), but she also suggests a return to their playful day in the country (2:8-17) with the implication that there they can express and enjoy the full orbed delight of their love, their romance, and their sexual pleasure.
8 Oh that you were like a brother to me, who nursed at my mother’s breasts! If I found you outside, I would kiss you, and none would despise me. 2 I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother— she who used to teach me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranate. 3 His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me! 4 I adjure you, daughters of Jerusalem, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
Here the woman seems to repeat the longing to be unashamedly intimate with her husband before they were married. It seems to fit in the first stage of their developing love, in chapter 1. This supports the chiastic structure of the book.
8:5 – 9 Mature love
The friends: 5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
leaning on her beloved?
Once again it is the friends who steer the development of the poem by asking a leading question.
The Woman: Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your
mother was in labor with you; there she who bore you was in
labor. 6 Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your
arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the
grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of
the Lord. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can
floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of
his house, he would be utterly despised.
These verses are the crescendo of both the second part of the book, and the book itself. The mature love between man and woman is the result of everything that has happened in the book so far: the romance, the intimacy, the sex, the dissonance and its resolution. Verses 6 and 7 describe the bond of jealous covenant love that is formed so strongly that none of the troubles of life can break it.
The friends: 8 We have a little sister, and she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken
for? 9 If she is a wall, we will build on her a battlement of
silver, but if she is a door, we will enclose her with boards of
Now that the couple’s mature love is established the only remaining task for the friends is to direct the ‘one flesh’ couple’s attention out and back into wider normal life. So just as their initial interventions guided the young shepherdess in her first steps in romance, (1:4, 8), so now the friends guide the couple’s attention towards another young girl (8:8-9). And so this beautiful procession moves onwards and outwards.
8:9 A door represents a young girl who is open to sexual activity. A wall is one waiting until she is married.
8:10 – 14 Eternal love
The Woman: 10 I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers;
then I was in his eyes as one who finds peace. 11 Solomon
had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; he let out the vineyard
to keepers; each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand
pieces of silver. 12 My vineyard, my very own, is before me; you,
O Solomon, may have the thousand, and the keepers of the
fruit two hundred.
There is a peaceful tone in these final verses – the intensity and furnace of the past few chapters is past, the couple’s relationship is mature and strong, and it is time to quieten everything now the new creation has been established.
The Man: 13 O you who dwell in the gardens, with companions
listening for your voice; let me hear it.
A final echo of the poem: the man longs to hear the woman’s voice again (2:14).
The Woman: 14 Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or
a young stag on the mountains of spices.
The woman longs again for the delight and excitement of her lover.
The overall message of the Song of Solomon:
The Song of Solomon is a poem that delights in one aspect of the glorious business of being a human being. It is essentially a mediation on Genesis 2:24: ‘Therefore a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and they will become one flesh’. It is an unselfconscious celebration of the man and women becoming one flesh, of romance and physical love and the journey from acquaintance to the consummation of the marriage. But it is not only sexual. The poem looks at other issues in the relationship’s journey: dissonance, the ‘little foxes’ (2:15) that destroy romance, the misunderstandings that jar and shock and get magnified out of all proportion. The outcome is a love that withstands ‘many waters’ (8:6-7).
The leading imperatives:
2:7 ‘Do not arouse or waken love until it so desires.’
The implied imperatives:
2:15 ‘Catch us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards …’
Holy Habits: (Holy Habits are patterns of living and lifestyle practices which we choose to do in our lives. These can be in order to either withdraw from the dominion of the world, such as silence, secrecy, submission, fasting, watching, simple living, or, practices that plunge us into the life of the Kingdom, such as prayer, worship, celebration, study, serving the poor and deprived, etc. They can be as simple as kneeling by your bed and thanking God at the end of the day, or as substantial as attending an annual Christian festival.)
Question 1 -
To what extent is the allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon actually justified (the allegorical interpretation sees the poem as describing the love of God for his people)? Is it true, or appropriate, or even helpful to describe the love of God in terms of romantic and erotic language? Consider these questions with regard to the following verses: 2:4, 2:17, 4:12, 7:7-8.
Question 2 -
What does the Song of Solomon teach us about how men and woman can make and build a strong marriage?
Question 3 -
What does the Song of Solomon teach about how married couples can have good sex?
Question 4 -
What can we learn about resolving arguments in marriage (5:2-6:11)?
Question 5 -
What does the Song of Solomon say to the single person?