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Song of Solomon “God’s Gift of Love”

Chapters 1 and 2 – “For Your Love is Better Than Wine”

      This book has been overly neglected by the church and that has been to the detriment of God’s people.  What we have here is a love poem between a beautiful young girl and a shepherd-king (Solomon’s father, David, was both a shepherd and a king).  That imagery carries over to Jesus Christ who was the shepherd-king who sought us and loved us (John 10:11; 13:1).  To best understand this book we need to approach it for what it is, a love poem.

  1. Is This Really in the Bible?

We need first to consider a number of things about the context and nature of the book:

  • The book is attributed to Solomon and is part of what is called the “wisdom literature” of the Bible which includes Psalms. Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.  Solomon is not necessarily the author but the subject of the poem at least in the references to the king.
  • Some have considered the work to be a drama.  Yet while there is abundant dialogue there is really no action nor scenes as in a drama.
  • All of this appears to be a celebration OF Solomon’s wedding (3:11, there is no reference to his multiple wives).
  • The book then is a statement on the nature of love.  This is expressed in very physical terms  which reflect the genuine love of the lovers.   
  • In spite of the fact that there appears to be two male figures, the shepherd and the king, they really appear to be the same person.  As noted above this would seem to fit David more than Solomon.  Yet the idea that Israel’s king is also a shepherd would carry over from the example of David
  • The book contains explicit erotic imagery.  The point is made that sexual love finds its true expression in marriage.  Yet in leading up to marriage there are multiple expressions and descriptions of sexuality.
  • Both Israel and the church have seen this work as an allegory describing God’s love for his people.  To support this there are examples in scripture of God’s love for Israel being expressed symbolically in sexual terms (Ezekiel 16:1-14).
  • Yet this book is not explicitly allegorical as are other parts of the scripture (Ps. 74:12-19; Isa. 27:1; Daniel 7; Revelation 12).
  • The danger in a purely allegorical reading is that the book’s inspired expression of human marital love becomes diminished.

The failure of the church to take this book as a guide and expression of human love has negatively impacted this book both as a statement of physical and spiritual love.

II. The Beginning of the Poem

  • Western Christianity has paid a high price for Augustine’s view that sex is inherently sinful.  Augustine saw sex at best as a necessary evil for procreation.  Such an interpretation basically undermines the Song of Solomon as scripture.  Sex then becomes a taboo topic with a whole host of negative implications.
  • The poem begins with the lover, the female partner, extolling the nature of her love for her betrothed.  The imagery from the outset is intense.  She begins by describing her lover’s kisses as “better than wine.”  She is preparing herself for the king’s bed chamber.  Wine is repeated as a rich image throughout this passage (vv. 1,4, 4:10).
  • The woman is described as “black and beautiful.  This is the first of several obstacles that are noted (racism is nothing new).  Moses had married a black woman for which he was criticized by his brother and sister (Num. 12:1).  The woman then refers to the objections of her brothers yet no reason is given for their anger.  Yet too often conflicts in families don’t have a clear rationale.
  • She longs to join her shepherd lover.
  • The beloved then speaks of the great beauty of his lover.  There is a dialogue back and forth between the two of them emphasizing the greatness of their love.  The imagery here appeals to taste, sight and smell (“The beams of our house are cedar”).
  • The beloved identifies herself as a “rose of Sharon.”  To this the lover adds additional plant as well as fruit imagery.  She is like an apple tree.  She is brought to his banqueting table.  His intention toward her is love. .Passages such as these were interpreted as God’s seeking out sinners to make them his bride. 
  • The lover then is called to come away with the beloved.  Love is described as the emergence of spring after winter.  There is a reference to seeing the face of the beloved in the cleft of a rock (2:14).  This is an echo of Moses’ request to see God in the cleft of a rock (Ex. 33:17-23).
  • What is this all about?  Several things can be summarized here:
  • The power of love.  Love is all consuming.  In the allegorical interpretation this is a way of saying the God’s love for us is overwhelming.  One can never take love lightly (2:7).
  • Love is supremely physical.  There is a danger in overly spiritualizing the nature of love, even God’s love or our love for him.  Jesus is completely a physical human being (John 1:14).  The crucifixion is physical.  The resurrection especially so.  A spiritual resurrection offers us no comfort (I Cor. 15:12-19).
  • Sex and love are not shameful.  They are to be celebrated (Proverbs 5:18-19; Eph. 5:21-33).

Questions for Us –

  1.  Have you ever read or studied the Song of Solomon before?  Why do you think it has been neglected in much of church life?
  2. Why is there a suggestion of opposition to the lover from the very beginning (1:6)?
  3. What are the lessons about love, both human and divine, in these first two chapters?

Next Study – Song of Solomon Chapters 3-4

“The Missing Lover”