Symbolic vs Literal Interpretation
Some scholars have presented Song of Songs as symbolic of Christ’s love for His bride, the Church. Each image in the poem according to this line of thought were given meaning to suit this interpretation.
But the more accepted view is that Song of Songs is a collection of love poems or songs. A lover and his beloved are the persons who speak. Then there are a group of friends who also participate in the conversation.
“The name Song of Songs is a literal translation of the Hebrew title. It is the Hebrew way of saying the best or the greatest song. There are seven references to Solomon in the Song, and traditionally he has been looked on as the author.” — From The Bible in Outline published by Scripture Union.
Why Is Song of Songs Included in the Bible?
Most Christian’s find it difficult to talk about Song of Songs. They find it hard to accept that it is included in the Bible. This is because of the quite open appreciation of physical features of the lover and the beloved. Yet it is important to note that God created us as sexual beings and it is on the basis of sex that we are primarily identified.
This is what is written: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27 NIV). Then God blessed them and said to them to be fruitful and increase in number. That was and is possible through the sexual act in marriage. Then “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good” (Genesis 1:31a NIV).
So sexuality of man and woman is part of what God saw as good. But the problem was that man got corrupted in his thinking (Genesis 6:5, 6) especially in relation to his sexuality which brought in God’s judgement by flood. Later we find God destroying the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah where homosexuality was widespread (Genesis 19). Then during the time of Moses God gave clear commands of unlawful sexual relations (Leviticus 18 and 20:10—24). (Reading Romans 1:18—32 might be instructive).
At the same time marriage relationship is honoured in God’s sight. Jesus made it very clear in Matthew 19:4—6. And in The Letter to the Hebrews it is written, “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral” (Hebrews 13:4 NIV). And in another context, Paul wrote, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure” (Titus 1:15a NIV).
Therefore Song of Songs teaches us that expressions of physical intimacy are quite normal, healthy, and pure in God’s sight when it happens in the context of a married relationship between a man and a woman (and not between man and man, or woman and woman as is accepted by some Churches and societies. Their acceptance of such wrong practices does not change God’s unchanging and enduring Laws but will bring His judgement on them.)
● Lovers like to look at each other and appreciate what they see (SOS 4:1—7, 7:1—9, 5:10—16). The Lover sees his Beloved and says, “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you” (4:7). The Beloved looks at her Lover and says, “My lover is radiant and ruddy, outstanding among ten thousand . . . He is altogether lovely” (5:10, 16a). While the man focuses on the physical beauty and the tenderness of his beloved’s body, the beloved focuses on the handsomeness and strength of her man.
● The imagery is pastoral. That is the lover and the beloved are shown as a shepherd and shepherdess. The sense of sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing are plentifully used in these poems which makes it a great reading experience and allows us to feel the reality of their love in a very real way.
● The intimate feelings of love are described in these songs. “Let him kiss me” (1:2), “Take me away with you—let us hurry” (1:4), “I delight to sit in his shade” (2:3), “For I am faint with love” (2:5), “Arise, come, my darling; my beautiful one, come with me” (2:13), “Show me your face, let me hear your voice; for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (2:14), “Have you seen the one my heart loves?” (3:3), “You have stolen my heart” (4:9), “I slept but my heart was awake” (5:2), “My heart sank at his departure” (5:6), “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine” (6:3), “Turn your eyes from me, they overwhelm me” (6:5), “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (7:10) are all examples of expression of intimate feelings. Both ecstasy and agony, delight and disappointment are here described.
● Sex within marriage is for pleasure. That is its first objective. When sex is celebrated within the context of marriage, it is something which God approves. We need to look at another reference in the Old Testament that will throw further light on this: “If a man has recently married, he must not
be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married” (Deuteronomy 24:5 NIV).
Read also what Jesus said about sexual thoughts outside of marriage. He talked about the attitude of heart: “But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28 NIV). Deriving pleasure like this has consequences: “ `Stolen water is sweet; food eaten in secret is delicious!’ But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave” (Proverbs 9:17, 18 NIV).
But the physical relationship within marriage is something joyous, to be celebrated and enhances intimacy between a husband and wife (for example see passages like SOS 1:2; 4:10, 11; 7:6—9, 12, 13; 8:3. see also Proverbs 5:15—20).
● Though it is a love poem celebrating love, notes of warning are also given: “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires” (2:7, 3;5, 8:4). It teaches us that true love waits and is prepared to wait till the right time. True love is not just a passionate longing to have a feel for the others’ body but an acceptance of the other person in his or her totality.
● The strength of true love is also shown: “For love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away” (8:6b, 7a NIV). The value of love is emphasized when it is said that even if one gives all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned (8:7b).
● Finally, love is a commitment. Most young people make the mistake of equating love with a feel. I like that boy or girl does not necessarily mean it is love. Such kind of love disappoints in the end. But the kind of love that tides over disappointments (see 5:2—8) is the kind of love described here. It does not make physical beauty the primary basis of attraction. Here the girl described was dark, yet she is lovely (1:5). The thought, “My lover is mine, and I am his,” is repeated (2:16, 6:3, 7:10).
Some Popular Thoughts
● Jesus has been compared to A Rose of Sharon and A Lily of the Valleys in some Christian songs (ref. SOS 2:1).
● Another song has used the line, “He brought me to His banqueting table, His banner over me is love” (ref. SOS 2:4). This also refers to Jesus and His love for you and me.
● Another thought is about the little foxes (ref. 2:15) that ruin the vineyards. Those who give spiritual meaning to this think that it refers to little sins which when left unchecked can destroy a Christian’s life. Others who confine it to a marriage relationship would like to think of little foxes as negative attitudes, thoughtless or harsh words, unkind acts etc. that can ruin the lovely relationship.
Song of Songs 4:7 There Is No Flaw in You
Song of Songs 7:1a How Beautiful Your Sandaled Feet!
About God’s Will and Right Sexual Conduct
Are You Struggling with Masturbation?
The Struggle of Young Christians against Repeated Sins (Part 5) Not Alone in the Struggle
The Struggle of Young Christians against Repeated Sins (Part 1) The Struggle