The sexually-charged language of Song of Songs [or Song of Solomon] makes it a provocative read…
But one wonders if it actually makes a major theological contribution to Judaism or Christianity.
In fact, one wonders why it’s even in the Old Testament…why it’s even in the canon at all.
I mean, what was the original author or editor hoping to communicate to his reader?
And what about the fact that there’s no mention of God. Isn’t that problematic?
Well, no. Not really. Not after you see that this short, but potent celebration of intimacy between husband and wife sheds light on our own relationship with God. It’s a good lesson to learn.
Common Approaches to Song of Songs
Some pastors would have you think Songs is a manual to a smokin’ hot marriage…
While others would want you to see it as a allegorical narrative of God’s relationship with the Israelites.
Still others suggest it’s a typological story–one in which the groom plays Christ and the bride plays the church.
These three interpretative strategies are the literal, allegorical and typological approaches.
The allegorical grew out of the embarrassment over the erotic details found in the text [the very same details the sex-crazed literalists exemplified]. Take the explicit mention of two breasts in Songs 4:5 for example:
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies.
Some Christian interpreters argued the two breasts were the two testaments–spiritually nourishing the church…
Another view suggested the breasts reflected the dual command to love God and neighbor…
And a third view believed the breasts represented Mount Ebal and Mount Gerazim. [Keep your comments to yourself.]
Another good example of allegorical interpretation born out of timid temperaments is the the sachet of myrrh lodged between the two breasts. Some early scholars said it was Christ who spans the two testaments.
Then there’s the graphic, boyish-giggle-inducing walnut grove: “I came down to the walnut grove / to see the blossoms of the valley,” said the woman.
If you blushed, then you know why some early church fathers went to interpretive extremes to suggest alternative meanings, like the hard outer layer of the walnut is the Mosaic Law–and the nutritious center is Jesus Christ.
But this is fellatio, folks. Plain and simple.
To be honest, you wonder what’s more embarrassing: the topic of oral sex or a scholar’s theological interpretation of that act. Let’s keep digging.
The Problem with Allegorical Interpretations
The problem with interpreting Songs allegorically is that the text simply doesn’t hint at a deeper meaning.
I mean why take the breasts to be the OT and NT? Two mountains? Two commands of God?
The text simply doesn’t support any of those arguments.
But if Songs is NOT an allegorical love story between God and his people or Christians and Jesus–then what is it?
We found part of our answer in the discovery of unique ancient Near-Eastern documents found in the 19th century.
What these specific documents taught us is that Songs is from the exact same genre–love poems. More precisely, matrimonial love poems.
That makes Songs a collection of matrimonial love poems. Songs sung at weddings.
Scholars are divided on how many actual love poems make up Songs. But that’s not really important. What’s important is uncovering the theological contribution Songs makes to the canon…
And this is where it gets good.
The Essential Meaning Behind Songs
The text itself gives us many clues. And whether there are three or thirty poems, the Song’s primary importance relates to love and, no surprise here, sexuality–something near-and-dear to our humanity.
See, what Songs defines is a love that is mutual, exclusive, total and beautiful. And in many ways Songs is an expansion of Genesis 2:24: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.”
In frank but beautiful language, this tiny little book praises mutual, intense love, culminating in this robust, evocative statement:
Set me as a seal upon your heart,as a seal upon your arm,for love is strong as death,jealousy is fierce as the grave.Its flashes are flashes of fire,the very flame of the Lord.
What we see here is an expression of love that transcends this earth and is deeply emotional–as God intended between husband and wife.
What God-Ordained Marriage Looks Like
Contrast this with the ephemeral, capricious and shallow character of contemporary love and you see God’s vision for marriage involves a volitional, muscular emotion that has a singular and solitary intent to honor the object of it’s affections.
And this is exactly the way God wanted it when he created man and woman in Eden. When you comprehend that the allusions to the garden in Songs are allusions to Eden, then the meaning behind Songs becomes immediately apparent…
The implication is that before sin, man and woman stood bare, unashamed, in front of each other. Now, we sense an intimacy since lost.
Song of Songs then is about the redemption of sexuality. A return to the God-ordained concept of marriage, a concept illustrated throughout Scripture to help us understand the relationship between God and his people.
In the OT, marriage is used negatively to shed light on Israel’s betrayal and unfaithfulness. In the NT, marriage is compared to our union with Christ–a union climaxing [no pun intended] at the end of time with a wedding feast.
Here on earth we get to enjoy the splendid privilege of experiencing the union of man and woman as one flesh, a profound mystery Paul said refers to the union between Christ and his church.
In other words, the better our marriages–the more they reflect the glory of God. And I think that’s pretty sexy. You?