The Song of Solomon celebrates love, a common theme for all people of all times. What distinguishes the Song, however, is the way it connects human love to God’s greater love in poetry that mingles the earthly with the heavenly, the royal with the rural, and the ordinary with the eternal. In this selection, read an overview of the book and understand how the characters and narrative of the Song of Solomon point to God’s Gospel message.
This blog post is adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament.
The book speaks in three main voices. The “beloved” is Solomon, identified in the passages with singular masculine pronouns (marked “He” in the ESV). Solomon, the son of David and Bathsheba, became Israel’s king, renowned for wisdom. The “Shulammite” (6:13) is identified in the passages with singular feminine pronouns (marked “She” in the ESV). She was poor in comparison to Solomon and accustomed to outdoor work (see 1:5–7). She may have been a resident of the northern city Shunam. The courtship of Solomon of Judah with a northern woman could represent the national union of Judah with the northern tribes of Israel, which would add a layer of historical, symbolic, and theological richness to the poem. The third voice in the song belongs to a chorus, which may be the daughters of Jerusalem (see 1:4-5) though these speakers are never directly titled (“Others” in ESV).
Narrative Development or Plot
The story underlying the complex and cyclical nature of Song of Solomon is one of courtship, wedding consummation, and married love. These elements emerge and disappear throughout the poem, which celebrates each element without trying to present them in a chronological way. As is common in poetry, the Song places greater importance on the experience of the moment than on sequences. Alongside the story underlying the Song, one may note the thematic structure presented in the outline below
Summary Commentary of Song of Solomon
In the Song, Solomon elevates our sensibilities to their highest level. Nothing is so worthy of praise as that which extols God’s love and devotion toward His beloved, His Bride, His people.
The first poetic cycle of the song. The Shulammite is of lowly birth. Her skin is weathered, and she is easily despised, but she is the love of her husband-king.
The second cycle. In a world of immediate gratification, it is tempting to satisfy our desires as quickly as they awaken. Such unbridled arousal of passion leads to many sorrows, complications, and sins. Carelessness can ruin any earthly relationship. Mutual conversation and attention to each other is essential.
The third cycle. The Shulammite earnestly seeks her bridegroom. Like Solomon, our Lord spares no expense preparing for the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom. He admires us the way a groom admires his bride on the wedding day.
The fourth cycle. Like Solomon calling the Shulammite, our Lord calls us to come out of our worldliness and to reside in communion with Him. The cedars of Lebanon were used to build the temple so that Israel and the Lord might dwell together.
The fifth cycle. When our Lord comes to us, we may be slow to hear and to believe. We may look for Him and not find Him where or as we want. Pray for your spouse (even if you have not yet met your spouse). Delight in the love that God gives you.
The sixth cycle. Out of all the queens, concubines, and virgins that Solomon had available to him, the Shulammite was his “only one.” Within the blessing of holy wedlock, the intimacy of husband and wife is to be cherished and not neglected. But later, Solomon turned his heart away from her and from the Lord toward other interests (1 Kings 11:3–4), though she longed for him (Song of Solomon 8:1–4).
The conclusion. The Lord loves us with a passion and He wants to preserve His dear ones till the end.
Specific Law Themes
An act of promiscuity and unfaithfulness, whether it be idolatry, broken personal loyalty, or adultery, is self-destructive and also leads others astray.
Specific Gospel Themes
In faithfulness, God loves His people and sent Wisdom (Christ) to save the world. He grants to believers the priceless blessings of love for Him and marital love for spouses.
Every time and age must counter a host of aberrations in the area of sex and marriage. Natural revelation teaches a good deal about this (even when it is flouted); the special revelation of the Scriptures confirms, establishes, and enables believers to live in an ultimately different way. Treatment of women as sex-objects, sometimes accompanied by an overt misogyny, was as widespread at times in the biblical world as it is in ours. In contrast, wisdom and the Word teach that we should “let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled” (Hebrews 13:4), that the human body is indeed God’s creation and not something to be ashamed of, as such, that sex is not intrinsically dirty nor is it a subject too secular to be of concern to the religious. While the world stands, the Church will always have to make such points. If such were not the case, human love would certainly be an unfit symbol of divine love. Stress on a spiritual meaning alongside human love does not lessen, but enhances the message of the rightness of human love in proper context.
We cannot leave the urging of such themes to humanists over against an unbiblical puritanism and prudery. Having stressed that, however, we do well to remember that we live in a hedonistic age that does not care to hear of original sin or its destructive consequences. The truly biblical churchman needs to take care that he does not play into the enemy’s hands by contributing to the secularization of the Church and its message.
An Echo of Divine Love
Like Wisdom Literature in general, the conclusion to the Song stresses that its action takes place before God (8:6). Theologically, the Holy Spirit, the ultimate Author of all the biblical books, must have included that perspective. A proper interpretation of the book will stress both the indispensability of the elements (a literal, historical aspect), as well as the fact that a certain double entendre is built into whatever is sacred. To the believer, human love is both an echo of divine love and a transparency of another order of perfect love. Finally, all of nature longs for the new creation. It, too, shares in the redemption, now sacramentally, then eternally. The Song’s use at the Jewish Passover even suggests its use at the Christian Easter (whose themes encompass nature). As Ephesians 5 and Revelation 22 teach us, in Christ we see all this most clearly, all the while awaiting the consummation.
Blog post adapted from Lutheran Bible Companion, Volume 1: Introduction and Old Testament, copyright © 2014. Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Read more about the complexities of this book with the Concordia Commentary by Dr. Christopher W. Mitchell.