Friday, May 22, 2009

What is the Song of Solomon?

Whenever you read something, it is important to know the type of literature you are reading. You don’t read the comics the same way you read an editorial or a classified ad.

If we are going to understand the Song of Solomon, our first task is to determine what type of writing it is. Unfortunately, different people have reached very different conclusions over the years.

We’ll start with what the Song is not.

It is not a sex-manual. God did not intend this book as the Christian’s guide to good sex.

“It is important to remember that the Song is not a dating guide or a sex manual. It is not a ‘how-to’ book, but rather poetry intent on evoking a mood more than making mandates to the reader concerning specific types of behavior.” (Tremper Longman, Song of Songs, p.60)

It is not an allegory. Both Jews and Christians hold this view. The Jews see it as representing the love between God and Israel; the Christians as the love between Jesus and the Church. The problem is that the book does not present itself as an allegory. There is no symbolic key. The places and names are historical, not representative. It is nothing like Pilgrim’s Progress or other allegories we know.

It is not a drama. Many people try to read Song of Solomon as an story of the courtship, marriage, difficulties and triumph of Solomon and the Shulamite woman. Others see it as a story of the Shulamite’s love for her shepherd boyfriend despite Solomon’s attempts to bring her into his harem.

The problem with the dramatic view is that it reads a structure into the book that is not clearly evident. The book also has many indications of sexual activity (Sol 1:2-4, 12-14; 2:4-6, 16) prior to the marriage (Sol 3:11).

The book is a collection of love poems. It is a song of exchanges between a married couple that rejoices in and celebrates their love for each other.

There is a unifying structure to the Song. It is not just a random compilation of poems.

The poems form a huge chiasm that climaxes in at 4:16-5:1[1], which celebrates the couple’s marital consummation (Sol 4:16-5:1).

The structure of the book places the emphasis on the marriage consummation being the highest and most wonderful experience of love in the couple’s relationship. God wants us to enjoy love and sex in the context of marriage. He wants us to be drunk on it. (Sol 5:1)

In Christ
Pastor Mike

[1] These verses also from the exact middle of the text with 111 lines (60 verses) from 1:1 to 4:15 and 111 lines (55 verses) from 5:2-8:4.