The Authorship and Inspiration of the Song of Solomon
The traditional author of the Song of Solomon is Solomon, the son of David, the king of Israel. There is no reason to doubt that assessment, from the title of the song (1:1), the allusions to Solomon throughout, and the attested abilities of Solomon as a songwriter (I Kings 4:32).
The Song of Songs is the scriptural celebration of married love. It is a depiction of the king and his favorite wife revelling in their married love, and thus it demonstrates the fulfillment of God’s will and God’s pleasure in the romantic enjoyment and sexual satisfaction in marriage.
The Song of Songs is included in the Bible by the design of God himself through the Holy Spirit. As scripture, the Song of Songs is ” . . . inspired by God and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (II Timothy 3:16-17).
Reading and Understanding the Song of Solomon for yourself:
The Song of Solomon is difficult at places to translate because of its unique vocabulary and obscure references. Be sure to read it in a variety of translations, but especially in a translation such as the New International Version, because the marginal titles tell who is speaking at each place throughout the Song. English cannot reproduce the gender differences in the Hebrew that tell when the speaker is male, female or a group of females.
Another point in translation is the use of the familiar second person rather than the formal second person throughout the Song of Songs (like French tu instead of the more formal vous, or the German du instead of Sie). In English this nuance would come more through an intimate tone of voice rather than the use of special words.
Remember as you read the Song of Songs that it is highly figurative and imaginative. Many errors of interpretation have arisen because of ignorance of this fact. It is also witty, humorous and playful. Thus, be very careful of taking it literally in some places, where it goes into imagination and fantasy.
In times of an overly modest or ascetic treatment of sex in the church, it has been interpreted as allegorical or typological of the love of God and Israel or of Christ and the church. This came because of a view even of marital sex as dirty or “unspiritual.” It can be seen as an illustration of the love of Christ for the church in places, but the allegorical or typological interpretations are in conflict with generally accepted rules of scriptural interpretation. It should be noted here that the New Testament itself does not make this Christological connection (the Song of Songs is not even clearly quoted in the New Testament), though there were several places where Paul could have done so.
Another interesting but unconvincing interpretation sees a love triangle with the Shulammite maiden, her shepherd lover, and a lecherous King Solomon who attempts to seduce her away from her lover. This would make it a sort of Hebrew version of Wuthering Heights, or other nineteenth century romantic novel. (It is interesting that this hypothesis arose in that time.) This idea is also found in some evangelical commentaries. But the flaws to that idea are these:
1. The difficulties of separating the shepherd and Solomon make the “Shepherd hypothesis” anything but obvious.
2. The maiden is quite clearly married to Solomon in a legitimate ceremony, so that one way or another there would be some kind of sexual immorality in the pursuit of this interpretation, which would put it in conflict with the rest of scripture.
The application of the Song of Solomon:
1. What the song contradicts:
Though the main characters are a king and his favorite wife in a polygamous situation, and the setting is a palace, their words and actions are applicable to a normal, monogamous one flesh married relationship. Indeed, it can almost be said that the Song represents the intrinsic,God given desire for this type of relationship among those who find themselves in different situations.
It may not be too much to say that this depicts the real marriage that represented most God’s ideal among the political and other types of marriages in which Solomon found himself as king.
A. Therefore the Song is a divinely inspired guide out of sexual and marital confusion. A realistic and modest treatment of the Song of Songs could furnish a guide even for adolescents to model their expectations for their marital future, and for those from broken families and marriages and for those who have had premarital sexual or homosexual experiences to develop an image of God’s ideal. Solomon’s creation of a real marriage within many marriages gives a scriptural guide away from sinful pasts and family examples.
B. Moreover, the Song of Songs contradicts the naturalistic and physiological approach to marital sexuality characteristic of the past century. For example, note that Dr. David Reuben’s book, Everything that You Always Wanted to Know about Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) is primarily about anatomy, as are many other marital and sexual guides, even those written from an evangelical perspective. Likewise, Desmond Morris’s The Naked Ape approaches human sexuality from a fanatically evolutionary perspective and presents it as a development of simian [ape] sexuality. (Because of this, the quotations of Desmond Morris by some evangelical psychological and educational teachers should be viewed with caution.) The Song of Songs contradicts the modern tendency to see sexual satisfaction in marriage as the result of knowing how the body works.
2. What the song teaches:
A. About marriage in general:
The song is teaching about marriage by example more than precept. It is Solomon backing his teaching on marriage in Proverbs with his own example. Here he is not telling us, “Do as I say,” as he does in Proverbs, but “Do as I do.” It is Solomon showing us the gleam in his eye.
Not only that, the Song also presents a female counterpart to the King, and describes her desires and emotions just as intimately as his. This demonstrates the radical idea for much of the ancient world (and the modern world until the past generation) that a woman should enjoy the sexual side of marriage as much as a man would be supposed to enjoy it. The Shulammite teaches by example, not by being the author, but by contributing her perspective.
The basic question for application of the Song of Solomon is the same as with any other book in scripture. Though the teaching is by example, the believer in Christ can consider this book to be the revelation of God’s will for his or her life. The question is: What does the Song of Solomon tell me about the person that God wants me to be in my marriage (whether actual or potential)? The Song of Songs is a guide on how to be a man or woman of God within the confines of marriage.
B. To single people preparing for marriage:
The Christian single person who is dedicated to Jesus Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit is nevertheless not in a state of sexual and marital innocence and ignorance, but rather sexual self control through the Spirit in faithfulness to Jesus Christ. His or her sexuality remains under the supernatural power and control of God. Because he (or she) is under the mastery of Jesus Christ, the Christian single literally has the best of both worlds in regard to marriage and sex. Nothing eternally worthwhile is lost if the sexually faithful Christian single dies before marriage; nothing worthwhile on earth is lost because the Christian single waits until marriage.
The Christian single can therefore find guidance in the Song of Solomon to the fulfillment of his or her sexual potential in marriage. The Christian single can expect to find sexual enjoyment in marriage without being in lust. The Christian single can, moreover, shape his or her expectations and goals for a potential marriage without being in sinful sexual fantasies. Moreover, the Christian single can find guidance within the Song of Solomon on how to behave tenderly and lovingly towards the opposite sex.
A Christian father could have a study of the Song of Solomon with his adolescent son or a Christian mother with her daughter as part of a suitable preparation for marriage. God’s own Word should be a better guide than anything else in this world.
B. To married people:
The principle used in the application of other Biblical texts dealing with marriage apply here also. God’s Word deals with marital responsibilities for each partner. Each partner needs to consider his or her own marital performance in the light of the Word of God before considering the performance of his or her spouse. Thus these examples were meant to be followed personally first and not to become the basis of demands for one’s partner. Thus even the Christian woman married to a unbelieving man can also derive benefit from it by seeking to be the Shulammite in her own marriage. The goal is not to seek to make another person into what God wants but to make oneself that person first and foremost.
- How can I learn to treat my spouse lovingly and considerately as in the Song of Solomon?
- What does this teach me about the opposite sex? Does it overthrow some wrong ideas or false generalizations that I received from somewhere?
- What would be my reaction if my spouse were to begin to treat me in a manner consistent with the Song of Songs? Should I have a reaction different from that which I have had before?
Note that the husband tends to be the initiator of love and the wife the responder throughout the Song of Songs. He comes to woo, win, and initiate the times of intimacy; she responds joyfully and passionately. Many men will find the romantic and sexual side of their marriage declining because they never learned or refuse to become the initiator as often as it takes. Many women sabotage the romantic and sexual side of their marriage because of their unwillingness to be the joyful responder. Again, the Song of Songs comes as God’s guide to avoid this self sabotage and learn to give and receive enjoyment within the bonds of marriage.
Assignment: read through the Song of Solomon this week in the translation which you normally read. Read also I Corinthians 13. One of the aspects of the coming weeks will be to show how following the example of Solomon and the Shulammite is in total consistency with Biblical love.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.