The Song of Songs is one of the most beautiful books of the Bible and one of the most misunderstood. The beauty of this theatrical song is greater than that of the words of Shakespeare. Some have commented jokingly on how many parents want their children to read the Bible except for the Song of Solomon. However, the Song of Songs is not so much about sex as some depict. The book has sexual references, and through this book, God endorses sex within marriage. This article provides some critical keys to understanding Song of Songs and some insight.
The Song of Songs is a poem like all songs. This song is meant to be read more than once for the reader to understand. Inspired poems are always great for reflection between this world and the spiritual, which God’s Word acts as a mirror in this way to reflect our own hearts for observing ourselves (cf. 2 Cor 3:18; Jas 1:23-25).
There are four main interpretations of this book. Two are literal interpretations that look at the young woman who is at the center of this theatrical song. The most common understand is that this is a courtship and marriage of Solomon and the Shulamite woman. The name Solomon and Shulamite are similar and have a common meaning of “peace.” The other interpretation pictures a love triangle between the beloved women, her beloved shepherd, and the king appealing to her.
The other figurative interpretations that are placed upon the book include either the relationship between Israel and God and, or the Church and Christ. The Song of Songs is clearly from Solomon, and this song centers on a young woman’s words of love for her beloved. This study does prefer one interpretation over the others, but the reader is encouraged not to overlook the other interpretations and consider that the Song of Songs may have been intended to have multiple applications.
Now, the Song of Songs is a poem and one that can only be understood by examining what some translations lack. One of the keys of interpretation in any writing is to realize who is speaking to whom. This is a critical key to understanding this whole book. In the Hebrew and Greek Old Testament, it is clear that the Solomon’s Song has specific characters, which are distinguished by whether a statement is spoken in the singular or plural, and the rest is understood from the context of whether the perspective of the speaker is from the feminine or masculine. This leaves an ambiguity to understanding if there are one or two masculine characters. Use the aid at the end of this article to help you distinguish characters while noting that it is subjective to interpretation.
Solomon wrote the Song of Songs about a young woman’s love for her beloved. One literal interpretation states that this is a discourse between a young woman betrothed and marrying King Solomon. The other interpretation is that a young woman must choose between King Solomon and her beloved shepherd. The first interpretation seems unlikely when one recognizes that the young woman’s beloved is a shepherd who is contrasted from the king, and the shepherd and the king are apparently in different places. See, when the beloved woman is in the presence of the king, Song of Songs 1:7 depicts, “Tell me, O you whom I love, Where you feed your flock, Where you make it rest at noon. For why should I be as one who veils herself By the flocks of your companions?” Then the beloved woman thinks about her shepherd in her bedroom, Song of Songs 2:16 records, “My beloved is mine, and I am his. He feeds his flock among the lilies.” Again, while the beloved woman is in the presence of the king, Song of Songs 6:2-3 declares, “My beloved has gone to his garden, To the beds of spices, To feed his flock in the gardens, And to gather lilies. I am my beloved’s, And my beloved is mine. He feeds his flock among the lilies.” From this understanding, the Song of Solomon is about a young woman choosing between her beloved shepherd and the King’s charms and proposal, which he makes when “there are sixty queens, And eighty concubines, And virgins without number” (6:8). However, the king speaks to this beloved woman, “My dove, my perfect one, Is the only one.” Some may still believe that the Song is about Solomon’s recommitment in marriage to one spouse, and that is for the student to decide for oneself.
A beautiful poetic story about a young woman’s choosing between the King and her beloved shepherd is greatly beneficial to everyone especially to adolescent girls, young women, their matron mentors, fathers, and everyone looking after the integrity of young love and marriage. The lessons in this book are (and there maybe more): 1) true love and choosing the right mate, 2) waiting for love, 3) teaching young women and men about what is most important about marriage, 4) understanding the affection of your spouse, and 5) remembering when love was fresh. What better way could young women have this been taught than from the perspective of a young woman whose loyal love blesses her marriage.
Now, look at the construction of this song, and see how it able to teach these lessons. The Song of Solomon was written in a theatrical style. Scholars agree that this song was originally composed for singers to perform before an audience. Since it is called a song, some describe the song as an ancient musical. Remember that the parts of this song are distinguished by gender and number, and to whom one is spoken by gender and number. Look at the scenes.
The Scenes of the Song of Songs
Scene 1 takes place in the King’s inner rooms (1:4). Here the young woman is thinking about her beloved shepherd. See “The king has brought me into his chambers” (Song of Songs 1:4). The young woman imagines her beloved coming to her in Song of Solomon 2:8-10 saying,
The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes Leaping upon the mountains, Skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag. Behold, he stands behind our wall; He is looking through the windows, Gazing through the lattice. My beloved spoke, and said to me: “Rise up, my love, my fair one, And come away.”
Though in the king’s inner rooms, the woman thinks about her beloved’s place and she describes, “Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is shady [green]; the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine” (Song of Songs 1:16-17). The young woman recognizes who she is and proclaims this before the king, “I am a flower of the plain, and a lily of the valleys” (Song 2:1).
Scene 2 starts in chapter 3 on the young woman’s bed that is at her mother’s house (3:1). In this scene, she dreams of looking for her beloved one in the city streets at night. She searches asking the city guards for her beloved.
Scene 3 presents Solomon’s entrance into Jerusalem (3:11). Here the chorus describes Solomon to “the daughters of Jerusalem” speaking in 3:6-11,
Who is this coming out of the wilderness Like pillars of smoke, Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, With all the merchant’s fragrant powders? Behold, it is Solomon’s couch, With sixty valiant men around it, Of the valiant of Israel. They all hold swords, Being expert in war. Every man has his sword on his thigh Because of fear in the night. Of the wood of Lebanon Solomon the King made himself a palanquin: He made its pillars of silver, Its support of gold, Its seat of purple, Its interior paved with love By the daughters of Jerusalem. Go forth, O daughters of Zion, And see King Solomon with the crown With which his mother crowned him On the day of his wedding, The day of the gladness of his heart.
Then in chapter 4, Solomon speaks to the young woman praising her body, and the young woman rejects him. She expresses in Song of Songs 4:6, “Until the day breaks And the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh And to the hill of frankincense.” Then the beloved shepherd speaks to the young woman about their love, and the young woman accepts him. She desires in Song of Songs 4:16, “Awake, O north wind, And come, O south! Blow upon my garden, That its spices may flow out. Let my beloved come to his garden And eat its pleasant fruits.” Clearly the charming words of Solomon do not work, but the words of the beloved shepherd do.
Scene 4 presents the woman dreaming of her marriage (ch. 5). She dreams of her beloved coming to the door, but she hesitates and she goes to the door but her beloved shepherd is gone. Again, she goes and looks for him in her dreams. This time she asks the guards again, but they beat her, which may be a metaphor for stopping her from finding her beloved. She no longer has favor with them. Even the daughters of Jerusalem do not care.
Next is scene 5 where the king tries to persuade the young woman (Song 6-7). They speak to the woman to come to them (6:4-13). This is where she receives the name Shulamite, “Return, return, O Shulamite; Return, return, that we may look upon you!” The young woman replied, “What shall you see in the Shulamite? She comes as a company of the camps.” (6:13; 7:1). She is not one of Solomon’s brides. After this, again Solomon tries to charm her again.
In scene 6, the young woman comes with her beloved to the country town in chapter 8. The village sees that she has returned with her beloved and not the king. The chorus says in Song of Solomon 8:5a, “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, Leaning upon her beloved?” The young woman gives advice to the village about raising their daughters. Then she and her beloved go away together.
The Application of the Song of Songs
1. The Song of Solomon is about true love and choosing the right mate. Look how the beloved shepherd describes his young woman. He praises her purity and chastity saying Song of Songs 4:12, “A garden enclosed Is my sister, my spouse, A spring shut up, A fountain sealed.” He also sees her as fruitful and life-giving saying Song of Songs 4:15, “A fountain of gardens, A well of living waters, And streams from Lebanon.” She is refreshing to him. This is true love. The young woman is loyal and loves unto death (4:6). Though the king could provide luxury, the shepherd is able to provide something without a price.
The shepherd expresses his love and his desire for her love or death in Song of Solomon 8:6-7,
Set me as a seal upon your heart, As a seal upon your arm; For love is as strong as death, Zeal as cruel as the grave; Its flames are flames of fire, A most vehement flame. Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it. If a man would give for love All the wealth of his house, It would be utterly despised.
The shepherd’s love is like flames that being covered in water could not be quenched, and no one can put a price on this kind of love. Now, what if everyone felt this way as in love with one’s spouse?
2. The Song of Songs is about waiting for love. A clear message taught on three different occasions throughout the text is from the mouth of the young woman concerning her conviction and wisdom about love. She says in Song 2:7, “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the does of the field, Do not stir up nor awaken love Until it pleases,” and in similar words in Song of Songs 3:5 and 8:4. One should wait for love. “Daughters of Jerusalem” must not rush to the wealthy man or go to the man who flatters by praising her body. Wait for love meant for marriage.
3. Solomon’s Song is about teaching our young women and men about what is most important about marriage. Parents, siblings, and young married women need to teach. The village as the chorus asks the young woman for advice saying in Song of Solomon 8:8, “What shall we do for our sister In the day when she is spoken for?” The woman replies in Song of Songs 8:9, “If she is a wall, We will build upon her A battlement of silver; And if she is a door, We will enclose her With boards of cedar.” In other words, the young woman encourages the village that they should strengthen their sisters defenses and her loyalty to do what is right. See, she is not taken away from her love, but she must wait for true love and not be fooled. Remember the woman’s teaching to the daughters of Jerusalem, “Do not stir up nor awaken love Until it pleases.”
4. The Song of Songs is about understanding the affection of your spouse. As many couples can relate to the woman’s dream in Song of Songs 5:2-6,
I sleep, but my heart is awake; It is the voice of my beloved! He knocks, saying, ‘Open for me, my sister, my love, My dove, my perfect one; For my head is covered with dew, My locks with the drops of the night.’ [She says] I have taken off my robe; How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet; How can I defile them? My beloved put his hand By the latch of the door, And my heart yearned for him. I arose to open for my beloved, And my hands dripped with myrrh, My fingers with liquid myrrh, On the handles of the lock. I opened for my beloved, But my beloved had turned away and was gone. My heart leaped up when he spoke. I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
See when men read this, most see their wife putting off the due affection. While in contrast, women notice the impatient husband who is not around when they are ready. There is much more here for personal study. Remember 1 Corinthians 7:2-4,
Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5. This is about remembering when love was a fiery passion. The whole book reflects youthful love to those whose love has grown cold. The shepherd’s love has already been presented, but see the woman’s love in Song of Songs 3:1-2,
By night on my bed I sought the one I love; I sought him, but I did not find him. “I will rise now,” I said, “And go about the city; In the streets and in the squares I will seek the one I love.” I sought him, but I did not find him.
See how she dreams about her beloved and how she desires him. This is all according to God’s will. Remember God’s words in Genesis 2:18, “And the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that man should be alone; I will make him a helper comparable to him.’” The love between man and woman is by God’s design and by his blessing. Proverb 18:22 declares, “He who finds a wife finds a good thing, And obtains favor from the LORD.” May God bless everyone who studies the Song of Songs.
Who is Speaking in the Song of Songs?
The Song of Songs is a theatrical song consisting of a number of parts determined in the original by number of the one(s) speaking and the context’s perception of the gender. The singular feminine is always the young woman while the masculine singular is either the king or the shepherd determined by clues in the speech and context. The chorus may be the daughters of Jerusalem, wives and concubines of the king, and the young woman’s village. In addition to this interpretation, this script will also provide the alternate interpretation for Solomon’s courtship and marriage to the Shulamite woman in brackets beside the title of each scene for one’s own determination.
Scene 1 – The King’s Palace [Courtship]
1:1 title line
1:2-1:4a young woman (ends with the word “chambers”)
1:5-7 young woman
1:12-14 young woman
1:16-2:1 young woman
2:3-5 young woman
Scene 2 – Young Woman’s Bedroom [Commitment]
2:6-3:5 young woman
Scene 3 – King’s Entrance [Ceremony]
Scene 4 – Young Woman’s Bedroom [Consummation]
4:6 young woman
4:7-15 beloved shepherd
4:16 young woman
5:1 beloved shepherd
Scene 5 – Presence of the King [Conflict]
5:2-8 young woman
5:10-16 young woman
6:2-3 young woman
6:13a chorus (ends with “among you.”)
6:13b young woman
7:9b-13 young woman
Scene 6 – Beloved’s Country Town [Continued Courtship]
8:1-4 young woman
8:5a chorus (ends with “beloved?”)
8:5b-8:7 beloved shepherd
8:10-12 young woman
8:13 beloved shepherd
8:14 young woman