The Song of Solomon (3)
Andrew Wilson, Brisbane, Australia | Dunstable, England [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
‘I sleep but my heart is awake’, Song of Songs 5. 2.
In the opening two chapters of the Song, the first love of the couple was seen in their desire for fellowship with each other. In chapters 3 and 5, we have the two dreamlike visions of the Shulamite, and projections of her fears. Her first fear was that Solomon might forget her or somehow cease to love her. This fear was decisively answered by the betrothal in chapter 3. The fear that the second dream highlighted was that, somehow, the Shulamite might lose Solomon’s affections because of her own failures. In chapters 5 and 6, we see the Shulamite herself dealing with this fear by recalling to mind the many glories of her beloved, particularly those that assure her of the total faithfulness of his love for her.
Can Solomon be a type of Christ?
In chapter 5 we have one of the most beautiful portraits of Christ in scripture. However, contemporary academic commentaries on the Song of Solomon are extremely reluctant to mention Christ or see Him here at all. Also, those who advocate the love-triangle view of the Song argue that chapter 6 verse 8 highlights the glaring problem of seeing in Solomon a picture of Christ. They say, ‘How can someone as polygamous as Solomon be a type of the love of Christ for his church? JOHN PHILLIPS in his commentary on the Song writes, ‘This verse clinches the argument that Solomon cannot possibly be a type of Christ in this song. Christ has only one Bride. Those who still insist that he is (a type of Christ) evade the force of this verse by saying that Solomon was merely asserting, ‘There are sixty queens’. But as various translators have shown, such a handling of the verse is evasive. What other queens or concubines would he be talking about if not his own? Once we see Solomon as the tempter the difficulty is resolved’.1
Actually, the verse makes little sense as a reference to Solomon’s queens: what sort of girl ever found it romantic to be told by a prospective suitor that he already had sixty wives? As we shall see, the verse is probably saying something quite different. However, the point remains, even if Solomon was not yet polygamous, he famously became so later on – how can he be a type of Christ?
The answer to that question lies in understanding that types only ever present partial parallels. David was an adulterer, Moses was a murderer, Jonah was three days and three nights in the fish’s belly because of disobedience, but all of them are specifically stated to be pictures of Christ in the New Testament. So, Solomon in his youthful love for his bride here, can be taken to be a picture of Christ, and we are unashamedly going to do so in this study, particularly in the portrait painted in type and shadow of Christ in chapter 5.
The second dream, chapter 5. 2–8
‘I sleep but my heart is awake’. Here we have a recurrence of the bride’s earlier dream (cf. 3. 1-4); in both the bride gets up from her bed and goes searching in the city streets for her beloved. This dream is again dominated by the fear of losing him. Here, the nightmare starts, and as many commentators have remarked, we see the bridegroom in a scene reminiscent of Christ’s words to the church at Laodicea. He stands outside in the cold, damp night, calling and knocking, asking the bride to open the door. Christ likewise seeks our fellowship in a world that has always had no room for Him.
Verses 3-5. Instead of opening the door for her beloved, the bride tries to justify her unresponsive attitude. ‘I have taken off my robe, how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I defile them?’ She puts her own comforts before fellowship with her beloved. In verse 4, the bridegroom makes a further attempt to open the door by putting his hand inside to open the latch. The bride is moved by the lengths and longing he shows to gain entry and finally responds in verse 5 ‘I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with liquid myrrh, on the handles of the lock’. However, in her desire for her beloved (myrrh being a metaphor of her reawakened memories of him, cf. 1. 13) and haste to open the door, she is ‘butter-fingered’, and fumbling at the lock.
Verses 6-7. By the time she has opened the door he has gone. Despite her searching and calling, she does not find him and he does not answer. Instead, the city watchmen find, beat and wound her, perhaps to warn her against late-night wandering, maybe mistakenly taking her for an immoral woman.
Verse 8. On waking, she charges the daughters of Jerusalem to tell her beloved that she is overwrought with love.
The glories of the King, chapter 5. 9–6. 3
In a sign of her growing maturity, the bride responds to the dream by recounting to herself a full-length description of her beloved, stilling her fears and strengthening her faith in him and his love for her. The daughters of Jerusalem ask the bride two questions here. In verse 9 they ask why her beloved is ‘more than another beloved’. Then, in chapter 6 verse 1 they ask where her beloved has gone.
Verses 10-16. In these verses the bride gives a tenfold description of the glories of the king from his head to his feet:
- ‘My beloved is white and ruddy’, v 10. White perhaps speaks here of purity (see Lamentations 4. 7) while ruddy speaks of fullblooded manhood, cf. 1 Sam. 16. 12. Applying this to Christ, we see Christ’s holiness, and further, His deity as the ‘Ancient of Days’, Dan. 7. 9, cf. Rev. 1. 14. In addition, the word ruddy, adom, from which the name Adam comes, points to Christ’s humanity. Thus, in the opening description, Christ’s nature is presented.
- ‘Chief among ten thousand’, v. 10. He is the ‘bannered one’ at the head of ten thousand, the captain of the army. It refers to Solomon (not to a shepherd-lover) in his kingship. Christ also, as He is ‘Lord of all’.
- ‘His head is like fine gold’, v. 11. The fine gold speaks of great worth and preciousness, fittingly representing Christ, the worthy One, Rev. 5. 9, and the One who is precious, both to God and to His people, 1 Pet. 2. 4-7.
- ‘ His locks are wavy and black as a raven’, v. 11. The wavy, bushy hair speaks of his youthful and healthy vigour – there is no baldness or grey signs of decay. These descriptions not only apply to the king’s person, but to his love; that is, his affections would not decay or lose their youthful strength.
- ‘His eyes are like doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk and fitly set’, v. 12. His eyes were like doves, a picture of gentle faithfulness. They also sparkled like rivers of water in sunlight. Here again the reference is to the king’s love. They were washed with milk, perhaps a metonym for the tenderness and kindness of a mother’s love. Finally, they were fitly set, like jewels placed in a setting, bright and glowing. This is how Christ looks upon us in love, too. Think about that!
- ‘His cheeks are like beds of spices, banks of scented herbs’, v. 13. The cheeks here perhaps are referring to the King’s beard. Like a bed of flowers, it was neat and orderly, not wild and bushy as some beards are. Solomon was, amongst other things, a gardener, and we can be sure he was as meticulous about his beard as he was about his beautifully arranged flowerbeds. Solomon was by nature someone who was always in control and took meticulous care over everything he did. The king would not allow a disinterested carelessness to characterize his love for his bride.
- ‘His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh’, v. 13. The king’s lips are likened to the graceful turn of a lily blossom, cf. 2 Chron. 4. 5, referring to his beautiful way he spoke. His words, too, were lovely, like liquid myrrh. Of Christ, it was written, ‘they marvelled at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth’, Luke 4. 22.
- ‘His hands are rods of gold set with beryl’, v. 14. The hands are here likened to cylindrical rods of gold, the beryl perhaps referring to the knuckle joints. The picture is of strength yet flexibility. Under us are ‘the everlasting arms’, Deut. 33. 27, and Christ has assured us that ‘neither shall anyone snatch them out of my hand’, John 10. 28. The One who loves us will hold us fast.
- ‘His body (or belly) is carved ivory, inlaid with sapphires’, v. 14. Whereas we moderns talk about the belly in terms of courage (‘intestinal fortitude’), the belly in the Bible is the seat of the moral emotions, cf. ‘bowels of compassion’ KJV). A belly of ivory, the tough white of animal tusks, here pictures the moral constancy of the king whose love would never fail the bride.
- ‘His legs are pillars of marble, set on bases of fine gold’, v. 15. The final part of the description again emphasises the stability and steadfastness of the king in his love for his bride.
There follows two summaries of the entire description. Firstly, ‘His countenance (aspect, bearing or better still, appearance) is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars’, v. 15. The king’s appearance is one of breathtaking magnificence, like the mountains of Lebanon and their mighty cedars. Secondly, ‘His mouth (literally, ‘palate’) is most sweet’, v. 16. Most commentators take this to be another reference to the words of the king (or his smile), but perhaps the thought here is rather that his tastes and preferences are sweet to his bride – above all, the fact that such a one has set his love upon her. She exclaims, ‘Yes, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem’. Our Lord Jesus Christ, too, is perfect in all His ways – and wonder of all wonders, He loves us!
Chapter 6 verses 1-3. The daughters of Jerusalem ask their second question. ‘Where has your beloved gone?’ The question presupposes that the absence of the king was not some minor or routine matter, as if he were engaged in the normal round of daily business. Nor was this an estrangement, the result of a breakdown in love. She does not explain the separation as her fault (as if the events in the dream had really happened and she had caused her beloved to turn away, as some commentators argue). The bride neither expresses surprise, complaint or disappointment at her beloved’s absence. In fact, she knows exactly where he is and what he is doing. No, we must conclude that the bride considered the separation to be perfectly natural and normal. This period of separation, as has already been argued, is the interval between betrothal and marriage.
The bride in verse 2 explains that her beloved ‘has gone to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed his flock in the gardens and to gather lilies’. The bride has already been compared to a garden of spices, 4. 12-15, and to a lily, 2. 1-2. During the waiting interval, the king’s mind was constantly turning to thoughts of his bride as he performed his administrative duties, feeding the flock. The bride’s point is that she was totally confident, during the separation, of the steadfast, loving faithfulness of her beloved.
Verse 3. ‘I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine. He feeds his flock among the lilies’. The bride ends this scene with the joyful affirmation that she belonged to him. His faithful love for her guaranteed it.
A surprise visit of the King, chapter 6. 4–7. 10
The background to this scene is hard to place, due firstly to the immediate switch to Solomon speaking in 6. 4, and secondly to the difficulty of identifying the speaker in 6. 11 and then finally the difficulty of translating and understanding chapter 6. verse 12. The tentative suggestion offered here is that Solomon comes down to pay a surprise visit to the bride in the extended section from chapter 6. verse 4 to 7. 10, that chapter 6 verses 4 to 10 are his anticipation of this visit, (based on his recollections of the bride, hence the repetition of earlier words from chapter 4 verses 1-5), so that chapter 6 verses 11-13 describe the surprised reaction to his coming, and that of chapter 7 verses 1 to 10, the king’s delight in seeing his bride.
Verses 4-7. The king here describes the Shulamite again, firstly likening her beauty in verse 4 to two cities, Tirzah (meaning ‘pleasant’) and Jerusalem. Tirzah was a royal city in Canaanite times and in the later northern kingdom. Jerusalem, too, was ‘the perfection of beauty’, Ps. 50. 2. While Solomon could be compared to the majesty of Lebanon, his bride was compared to the orderly beauty of a city.
She is as ‘awesome as an army with banners’, and he goes on in verse 5a to explain that what he means is that her eyes completely overpower him. In verses 5b to 7, the king describes the beauties of the Shulamite’s hair, teeth, and temples (or, cheeks), repeating largely the same words as he used in 4. 1-5. This repetition serves to re-affirm the fact that his delight in the Shulamite is undiminished.
Verses 8-9. ‘There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number’. As mentioned in the introductory comments, some commentators use this verse to argue that in view of Solomon’s polygamy, he cannot be used as a type of Christ. However, contrary to these commentators there is no explicit identification of who these queens and concubines were. Carr writes, ‘Note the text does not say, ‘Solomon has’ or ‘I have’, but it is a simple declaration, ‘There are’.2 The context supplies the clue. Verse 9 would appear to contrast her, not with other queens that Solomon had accumulated (if any), but with the women amongst her own household. ‘My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, the favourite of the one who bore her. The daughters saw her and called her blessed, the queens and concubines, and they praised her’. If the Shulamite was indeed Pharaoh’s daughter, the verse is saying that amongst the daughters and queens of Pharoah, she was the most beautiful.
Verse 10. ‘Who is she who looks forth (or, leans out of a window) as the morning, fair as the moon, clear (or bright) as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?’ Many Bibles read this verse as a continuation of the previous verse, taking it to be the words of the daughters and queens of verse 9. The words not only describe the dazzling beauty of the Shulamite, but the astonished and awe-struck reaction of those who beheld it. Perhaps the words are Solomon’s as he sees her on his approach.
Verses 11-12. It is not immediately clear who is speaking in verse 11. ‘I went down to the garden of nuts to see the verdure of the valley, to see whether the vine had budded and the pomegranates had bloomed’. It could be Solomon as he visits his bride, using the garden as a metaphor. On the other hand, the fact that verse 13 suggests that the Shulamite hurries away from the scene and has to be called back may indicate that she might be the speaker. Verse 13 suggests that other males3 cause her surprised exit, for she replies to their calls for her to return by asking, ‘What would you see in the Shulamite?’ Further on in the scene of the next chapter, the king is speaking (verses 6-10).
Working out what is happening in these verses is further complicated by the difficulty of translating verse 12. ‘Before I was even aware, my soul had made me as (or, had placed me in) the chariots of my noble people’. The words ‘before I was even aware’ speak of someone being overtaken by surprise. ‘My soul’ emphasizes that her being placed in the chariot was happening in her imagination, not in reality. Thus, the RSV has ‘my fancy placed me in a chariot beside my prince’. The idea that she was being exalted to ride alongside the king is probably not the idea here as ‘the chariots of my noble people’ probably refer to the chariots of her Egyptian people and are simply a metaphor for a swift escape from the scene. Thus, in verse 13, the male onlookers call for her to return.
Verse 13. Here the bride is called ‘the Shulamite’ twice, the only places in the Song where she is so called. Some commentators claim that the word could possibly read Shunemite, meaning an inhabitant of the town of Shunem in northern Israel. However, no Hebrew manuscripts read this variant spelling and there is little internal evidence that would point to northern Israel as her home and we are not at liberty to change words in the Bible to suit our theories. Furthermore, the word ‘Shulamite’ hardly requires conjectural emendation, for it makes perfect sense. it is the feminine form of ‘Solomon’. It indicates that the bride was now so closely identified with him that she had taken his name.
The Shulamite replies with ‘characteristic modesty’4 to the request to return with the words, ‘What would you see in the Shulamite, as it were, the dance of the two camps (or armies, lit. Mahanaim), see Gen. 32. 2?’ The dance may refer to her attempted flight in the previous verse, or perhaps it alludes to a wedding dance involving two bridal parties. This would be something reserved for the future wedding festivities and thus not appropriate for the male onlookers as yet, although the description of the bride in chapter 7 verses 1 to 5 would suggest that they indeed saw a foretaste of that dance that day.
To be continued.
- Exploring the Song of Solomon, Loizeaux Brothers, p125, footnote.
- G. LLOYD CARR, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary, p148.
- The word ‘you’ in verse 13b is masculine plural.
- J. M. FLANIGAN, Song of Solomon, Ritchie Old Testament Commentaries, p 77.
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. He now resides in Brisbane, Australia.