The Song of Solomon (4)
Andrew Wilson, Dunstable, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
In previous studies we have looked at the Song under the following general headings: Love’s fellowship (Chapters 1 and 2), Love’s fears (Chapters 3 to 5a) and Love’s faithfulness (Chapter 5b and 6). In this final study in Chapters 7 and 8, we look at Love’s fullness. Here, love is coming to maturity and the final preparations for the couple’s wedding are pictured in the ripening harvest. As the bride’s relationship with her family shows a growing gulf that is separating her from them, she finally offers herself unreservedly to Solomon. We have taken the Song, not as a celebration of human sexual love1, but instead as a human love story with spiritual lessons. Nevertheless, as we near the end of the Song, sexual desire is heightened in anticipation of the marriage day. The Song concludes with the bride calling for her beloved’s speedy coming.
Typical Views of the Song of Solomon
In previous introductions we have discussed a number of interpretational issues: the characters (Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter), the storyline (arguing against a wedding in the middle of the Song) and whether Solomon is a fitting type of Christ. Now, we shall finally survey some of the typical approaches taken to the Song.
There are broadly two typical views, the Jewish and the Christian. The Song traces a picture of divine love for either Israel or the church, both of which biblically are described as ‘brides’ and therefore both understandings are possibly valid.
Jewish commentators have viewed the Song as an outline of the history of Israel. Some take it to picture the relationship of God with Israel from the Exodus to the establishment of the kingdom in the Promised Land, or even right through to the coming of the Messiah2. Arguing against a Jewish view of the Song is the fact that the sporadic separations in the Song are not the result of the bride’s sin or unfaithfulness, as was the case in Israel’s history, but rather are a natural part of any romance, felt most acutely during the betrothal period.
Some ‘dispensational’ writers have argued that the church of the New Testament cannot be seen typically in the Song, arguing that ‘the church was a secret hidden in God before the foundation of the world and not revealed until the apostles and prophets of the New Testament’3. However, the church is found in the Old Testament in type and shadow and this can easily be discerned through what the New Testament revelation of it provides. In this sense the Old Testament provides for us many wonderful and profound foretastes of that wonderful Bride to which we belong.
Notable connections between the Song and Christ’s relationship with His church include. (1) Solomon being a type of Christ4 (2) the king taking a Gentile Bride, (3) the king described using the shepherd metaphor, (4) the bride being pictured using the metaphors of the garden and the vineyard5, (5) the bride being espoused but not yet married6, (6) the twin themes of fellowship yet separation, (7) the romance-period being pictured, like the period of the church’s pilgrimage, as a night scene7, and (8) the Song concluding, like the New Testament, with the bride calling for the coming of the king. Some of these connections (notably 2 and 5) depend upon a particular interpretation of the Song which, if not accepted, diminishes the force of the typical connection between the bride in the Song and the church in the New Testament.
Further, there are also many parallel phrases used both in the Song and in the New Testament. (a) the words ‘there is no spot in you’, S of S. 4. 7, and the description of the church in Ephesians 5. 27, (b) the descriptions used of the water supply of the bride’s enclosed garden, S of S. 4. 12, 15, cf. the Lord’s words in John 7. 38-39 about the indwelling Spirit, and (c) the king’s words ‘open for me’, cf. Rev. 3. 20.
Some commentators take a devotional and personal approach to the Song, seeing in it a picture of the individual believer’s relationship with Christ. ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine’. This is the way we have principally applied the Song by looking at the practical themes of fellowship, fear and faith. This approach would also appear to be valid, for the church is not only a body, but many diverse individual members, each of whom are in relationship with Christ.
A surprise visit of the king
From chapter 7, verses 1 to 10 complete the scene which began in chapter 6 verse 4. Here we have the third and fullest of the king’s descriptions of the bride. This ten-point description starts at the feet and moves upwards to the head, prompted by the dancing of the bride (cf. 6. 13). It teaches of the anticipation and preparation that should characterize those who wait for the Lord’s coming.
Verse 1. The feet and thighs. ‘How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O Prince’s daughter8!’ The picture is of the Shulamite’s dancing feet. Dancing expresses joy and celebration and was associated biblically with feasting9. The bride’s dancing here was perhaps in preparation for the wedding festivities and shod feet also picture preparedness in the Bible, cf. Eph. 6. 15. Do we look forward with joyful excitement to our future union with Christ?
‘The curves (or turn) of your thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a skillful workman’. The thighs (or hips) are mentioned because of the beauty of her physical form and the symmetry of her turning in the dance. They speak of strength and energy, cf. Gen. 32. 25. Are we active in view of Christ’s coming?
Verse 2. He now considers her hips and her waist. ‘Your navel10 is a rounded goblet; it lacks no blended beverage (or, mixed wine). Your waist is a heap of wheat set about with lilies’. The perfection of the bride’s figure is described, first with the ‘rounded goblet’ shape of the pelvic region then moving upwards to the conical ‘heap of wheat’ shape of her waist. The mention of wine and wheat intimate a desire to enjoy the delights mentioned in this verse. The bride’s dancing maintained her classical ‘hourglass’ form. We might compare this with what the New Testament says about spiritual exericise in 1 Timothy 4 verses 6 to 8 and Hebrews 12. 1, 12.
Verse 3. The breasts. ‘Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle’. This description repeats the previous reference in chapter 4 verse 5, figuratively indicating her tender femininity.
Verse 4. The neck, eyes and nose. ‘Your neck is like an ivory tower’. The tower speaks of upright dignity, the ivory speaking of the firmness of her purpose. ‘Your eyes like the pools in Heshbon by the gate of Bath Rabbim’.11 At one of Heshbon’s gates there were pools of water, so the imagery is perhaps suggesting the bride’s clarity of vision. ‘Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon which looks toward Damascus’. The tower looking towards Damascus speaks of watchfulness, the nose similarly speaks of discernment. The bride was characterized by chaste sensitivity.
Verse 5. The head and hair. ‘Your head crowns you like Mount Carmel’. Carmel is a mountain promontory jutting out into the Meditterean sea, exemplifying beauty and excellence, Isa. 35. 2. The bride is being described as one who is outstanding above all others for beauty. ‘The hair of your head is like purple. A (not ‘the’) king is held captive by your tresses’. In the dance, her hair had become flowing locks, which are here compared to purple, perhaps the robes of royalty. The fact ‘king’ is without the article means that the bride is so captivating that even one as strong as a king is unable to resist her.
Verses 6-9a. The king speaks here, in the most sexually-charged words of the Song, about his desire to partake of the bride’s physical delights. Notice, however, that it is the language of longing, not partaking. Likewise, Christ longs for the day when He and His beloved will finally be one.
He firstly uses three synonyms to describe how superlative the bride is in verse 6, fair, pleasant and delightful. Then, in verses 7 and 8, he compares the bride to three trees. Firstly, he describes her as the tall palm tree (signifying uprightness and fruitfulness amid arid surroundings), and her breasts to the clusters of its fruit (presently out of reach?). He desires to take hold of its branches and partake of its fruit, along with that of the vine, v. 8b, signifying cultured fruitfulness, and an apple (or citron) tree (signifying fragrance). In verse 9a, he anticipates her as being like the best wine.
Verse 9b -10. The bride breaks into the king’s speech half-way through verse 9, completing his sentence12. She assures him that the wine will ‘go down smoothly for my beloved, moving gently the lips of sleepers (or better, ‘over the lips and teeth’, see RSV, NIV, ESV). The word ‘gently’ here is literally ‘straightly’ or ‘rightly’ (usually being translated ‘uprightness’) and carries a dual message. She assures him that the consummation of their love will happen without any hindrance on her part (‘straightly’) – the barriers of lips and teeth, will not be shut. But she also reminds him that it will happen ‘rightly’ – in its proper time, not now but after their marriage.
The scene concludes with the third occurrence of the bride’s exclamation of delight in her beloved, ‘I am my beloved’s and his desire is toward me’.
Harvest-time in the land, 7. 11 – 8. 4
In this scene the bride invites the king to come with her to inspect the wedding preparations. The bride again speaks of the consummation of their love in these verses. However, she uses the language of promise, not fulfilment, and her words give evidence of the fact that such intimacies are as yet inappropriate.
Verses 11-13. ‘Come, my beloved, let us go forth to the field; let us lodge in the villages. Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine has budded, whether the grape blossoms are open, and the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love’.
It is here suggested that the bride is anticipating what we would call the honeymoon, when Solomon and his newly-married queen would escape from the city to spend time alone together in the country. There she promises that she will give him her love. The mention of mandrakes (considered an aphrodisiac) in verse 13 continues this train of thought. So does the mention of partaking of ‘pleasant fruits, all manner, new and old, which I have laid up for you, my beloved’; the old speaking of the joys of their romance that have been enjoyed up until now, the new speaking of those new joys they will experience in the married state.
She urges the king to come and inspect the preparations that are being made for the wedding, pictured in the ripening harvest. What are we are laying up against ‘that day’? Newberry’s commentary suggests three fields of service are pictured. The field, the work of the evangelist; the vineyard, the work of the pastor carefully tending the fruit of the Spirit; the work of the teacher seen in the laying up of the produce, new and old, cf. Matt. 13. 52.
Chapter 8 verses 1-2. Here the bride expresses her despair that she cannot yet enjoy the delights of married union with the king. ‘Oh that you were like my brother, who nursed at my mother’s breasts! If I should find you outside, I would kiss you; I would not be despised. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother, she who used to instruct me (alternatively, ‘you – the king – would instruct me’13). I would cause you to drink of my spiced wine, of the juice of my pomegranate’. These words seem inexplicable on the basis that the pair are already husband and wife – why should a wife not be able to kiss her husband outside or bring him inside to ‘drink of her spiced wine’?
Verses 3-4. The scene concludes with the twin refrains encountered earlier in the Song in chapter 2 verses 6-7 and chapter 3 verse 5, the first delighting in her beloved’s embrace, the second warning against stirring things up any further.
Return to the Shulamite’s Family Home
The final scene in the Song contrasts the relationship with that of the Shulamite’ and her family. They are sceptical of their sister’s maturity or readiness for marriage. They reinforce the Shulamite’s desire to leave her family behind and belong to the king.
Verse 5. A nurse or governess speaks first here. ‘Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon the arm of her beloved?’ The Shulamite is dependent upon his strength, resting in Him. ‘I awakened you under the apple tree. There your mother brought you forth’. She reviews the Shulamite’s life from birth, marvelling at the transformation and development in her one-time charge. Can others see in us a transformation, spiritual progress and maturity?
Verses 6-7. The Shulamite next speaks, turning to her beloved, in some of the best-known lines of the Song, ‘Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy as cruel as the grave; its flames are flames of fire, a most vehement flame (or, a flame of Jah)’. The intensity of her love is such that its power is to be feared, especially if it were to be disappointed. We have the guarantee of Christ’s seal, His Spirit, see Eph. 1. 13, 4. 30. She continues to speak of love’s strength. ‘Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it’. Love is not able to be bribed, nor is there any real choice between love and wealth. ‘If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised’.
Verses 8-9. The Shulamite’s brothers speak next. ‘We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for? 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’. Some commentators take this to refer to a younger sister of the Shulamite’s. More likely, in view of the Shulamite’s response in verse 10, is the suggestion that their words refer to the bride herself – her brothers do not consider her to be mature enough to be married. They wonder whether she is a wall (resisting improper advances) or a door (opening too easily). Either way, they consider themselves responsible to protect their sister against the advances of any suitors, apparently unaware that her heart is already completely won.
Verse 10. The Shulamite answers her brothers’ insinuation of immaturity. ‘I am a wall, and my breasts like towers’, neither easily won over nor immature. She turns from her brothers’ frosty attitude to the King’s love. ‘Then I became in his eyes as one who found peace’.
Verses 11-12. The imagery of maturity is played out for a last time in the picture of the vineyard. In verse 11, the Shulamite speaks of Solomon’s vineyard in Baal Hamon14. It was leased to keepers, who had to pay a thousand silver coins for the harvest. This is an analogy of her situation. ‘My own vineyard is before me. You, O Solomon, may have a thousand’ (i.e. the fruit of the vineyard, herself) ‘and those who tend its fruit two hundred’ (i.e. her family’s dowry). In so saying, she quits herself of her family and offers herself totally and unreservedly to Solomon.
Verses 13-14. The last two verses of the Song are again set in a state of separation awaiting the wedding. The king speaks to his bride in the penultimate verse of the Song. ‘You who dwell in the gardens, the companions listen for (or, attend to) your voice – let me hear it’. The king laments that the Shulamite’s bridal attendants can hear her voice but not him. Does the king hear our voice? Somehow we say so little to Him. She calls to him in reply in verse 14. ‘Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices’. Even so, we cry with all our hearts, come Lord Jesus!
- This approach treats the Song as ‘pornographic literature’ (D. A. CARSON, Exegetical Fallacies, Baker Academic, 2nd. Ed., p130).
- Parallels are drawn between (1) Israel’s wilderness journey and the wilderness scene in Song Ch. 3 and (2) the Babylonian exile and the dream in Ch. 5. These connections seem tenuous at best.
- WILLIAM MACDONALD, Believers Bible Commentary, Song of Solomon, Thomas Nelson Publishers, p920.
- Compare 2 Samuel 7. 14 and Hebrews 1. 5 .
- 1 Cor. 3. 8-9, John 15.
- 2 Cor. 11. 2.
- S of S. 2. 17, 4. 6 , cf. Rom. 13. 12.
- Commentators taking the ‘Galilean peasant view’ argue that the expression, ‘Prince’s daughter’, is not to be taken literally, but rather as a description of her ‘royal character’. However, there is no reason why it cannot be taken at face value.
- See Ps 30. 11 and Judg. 21. 19-21 for typical biblical references.
- For the word ‘navel’ Delitzsch suggests the more general idea, ‘the centre of the body’. The word ‘navel’ comes from a root meaning ‘a (twisted) string’, but the idea here seems to be the region between the hips and the waist around which the body twists and pivots – the entire pelvic region. A navel would be misplaced here, being above the waist or lower abdomen.
- Bath Rabbim means ‘daughter of many’ (i.e. a place crowded with people).
- The description ‘my beloved’ is always the term of address used by the bride, repeated again in the next verse.
- The form of the verb ‘to teach’ here can be either second person masculine singular (you teach) or third person feminine singular (she taught).
- Lord of wealth or abundance, ‘sensual, demonic’, Jas. 3. 15. Its horizon is the earth; it scoffs at those who are ‘heavenly minded’. Its character is sensual, constantly striving for an emotional high. This obsession fuels the hunger for drugs and alcohol, mind-altering drugs. Sex is above all sensual, the peak of sensual excitement. This insatiable drive leads people to sex perversion in its myriad forms, a hunger that is never satisfied. The source of all of this evil and confusion is Satan himself. This wisdom is demonic. The master mind behind all of this evil confusion is the devil, the ‘father of lies’, John 8. 44.
AUTHOR PROFILE: Commended by the assembly at Bexley, Sydney, Australia, in 1994, and together with his wife, Gillian, has sought to serve the Lord in New South Wales, Australia, and then London, UK. Involved in evangelistic, children's and Bible teaching ministries.