THE SONG OF SONGS Introduction

Who was the author?
The book claims to be by Solomon and there is not sufficient reason to believe that this is not so. He is mentioned several times (1:1, 5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11–12), and the reference to ‘a mare’ in 1:9 is interesting as it was Solomon who introduced horses from Egypt. Some scholars, however, suggest alternative authorship on linguistic and personal grounds. They question whether Solomon, with the 1000 women in his life, would have written about exclusive love. God can, however, use the most unlikely people for his work. If Solomon did write the book, the date would be about 965 bc.
How many main characters are there?
The view in this commentary (and of the niv) is that there are two major characters: Solomon and the Shulammite girl. This seems to be more straightforward than the view that there are three: Solomon, the Shulammite girl and her husband, to whom she remains faithful despite the approaches of the king.
What is the form of the book?
Some think that the book is made up of a random collection of love songs, originally independent and then strung together. This is unlikely, for there seems to be a genuine sequence in the book. It begins with the girl’s first days in the palace of the king (1:1–14), then there is a delightful countryside scene (1:15–2:17). This is followed by the girl meditating on her fiancé (3:1–5), the wedding day (3:6–11) and the wedding night (4:1–5:1).
A lapse in the relationship follows (5:2–6:3), but the two eventually make up (6:4–13). A beautiful scene in the king’s bedroom is then described (7:1–10) and further scenes in the countryside (7:11–8:14). To see it as a story with a sequence gives much more meaning than to see it as a set of isolated love songs. It is important to note that there is no sexual intercourse before the marriage; a significant fact in the light of modern behaviour.
What does the book teach?
1. The Song of Songs, as its title suggests (1:1), claims to be the best song on married love ever written. It is superior to all other love poetry, and so we must give full heed to it.
2. It describes love in poetic rather than prosaic terms. This stands in contrast to the emphasis today on the mechanics and techniques of love-making which so easily debases the relationship.
3. God is concerned about the physical. After all, he made us, and he made us to make love. As this is such an important part of peoples’ lives he provided a whole book about it. But, to keep it in balance, this is only one book out of the sixty-six in the Bible.
4. It is not wrong to talk about the human body (see 4:1–5; 5:10–16; 6:5–7; 7:1–5). Today we will probably not use quite the same language as this book does, for it was written in a particular cultural setting. Also some of the descriptions may seem strange to us, but they refer as much to feel as to actual physical shape.
5. We must know God’s timing in love-making. Love must not be aroused until it is ready (2:7; 3:5; 8:4). The world says, any time, any place. God says, my time, my place.
6. Family training is all important (8:8–10). The girl’s brothers, especially, trained her to be a ‘wall’ to keep out unwanted intruders rather than a ‘door’ that would let anyone in and so do damage to her life. The training proved successful.
7. There is a danger in taking each other for granted (5:2–8). These verses constitute a timely warning to those who fail to respond to the loving approaches of their spouse and describe the regret that follows.
8. Married love is exclusive (4:12). In terms of physical love each partner must remain as a locked garden and a sealed fountain. Each life is a private vineyard for the other (8:12). Neither is on the open market.
9. The smallest things can spoil a healthy relationship (2:15). Both partners must watch out for ‘the little foxes’ that spoil the blossoms of those early days of marriage. True love is both unquenchable and without price (8:6–8). No-one is immune from those things that seek to quench the fires of love, but true love, because its source is in the heart of God, can never be put out. Likewise, no material things can ever buy love.
10. Used illustratively, the song says some beautiful things about the relation of Christ with his beloved church. We are reminded, among other things, of the strength of Christ’s love (8:7); his delight to hear the prayers of the church (8:13); the sense of yearning for his presence (8:14); the invitation of Christ to share his company (2:13); the dangers of the failure to respond to his knocking (5:2–8; cf. Rev. 3:20).
We cannot do without this book, especially in an age of ‘free love’. Let it remind us that God is deeply concerned about our love relationships, not only to him but to each other.
Further reading
T. Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, BST (IVP, 1994).
R. Davidson, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon, DSB (St Andrew Press/Westminster/John Knox Press, 1986).
G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon, TOTC (IVP, 1984).
D. F. Kinlaw, The Song of Songs, EBC (Zondervan, 1991).
niv New International Version
cf. compare
BST The Bible Speaks Today
DSB Daily Study Bible
TOTC Tyndale Old Testament Commentary
EBC Expositor’s Bible Commentary
Carson, D. A. (1994). New Bible commentary : 21st century edition. Rev. ed. of: The new Bible commentary. 3rd ed. / edited by D. Guthrie, J.A. Motyer. 1970. (4th ed.) (Cnt 1.1). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press.