|Volume 22 Number 4 April 2020||
If you made a list of the most unread books from the Bible, I believe the Song of Solomon would make the list. How many sermons have you heard on this book? I have only preached once from it directly in three and a half years of full-time work. How many Bible study quarters have been dedicated to studying this book? It is just as inspired as the other 65 books that make up our Bible (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is a part of all of the things that pertain to life and godliness that God wants us to have.
There are many reasons why people stay away from the Song of Solomon. Some are put off by the book because of how often and plainly it discusses the sexual intimacy between a husband and a wife. One of my professors in grad school said, “We should not be afraid to talk about sex. There is an entire book in the Bible about it. However, we should not get carried away; there’s only one book in the Bible about it.” While his quote is somewhat exaggerated (i.e., Proverbs), the point is we cannot shy away from anything God has given us because it makes us uncomfortable. It is said that there were more commentaries written on this book by those who lived after the apostles than on any other book in the Old Testament. People in the past were very interested in this book and wrote about it a lot. In our culture right now, with the sexual confusion taking place, it would be helpful for us to examine this book and reclaim the truth about marriage, sexuality and self-control that God teaches in this book. In this brief article, I want to give some main themes of the book and some helpful pointers to keep in mind as the book is read.
Interpreting the Book
The Song of Solomon goes by several different names. Sometimes it is called the Song of Songs or the Canticles. The author of the book is Solomon (Song of Solomon 1:1). The book is eight chapters long and can be read in a rather short time. Once the book is read, the question Bible readers want answered is, “About whom is this book talking?” Some believe it is simply an allegory describing the love between Christ and the church. Incidentally, this is where we get songs like “The Lily of the Valley” (Song of Solomon 2:1). Others believe it is designed to capture the love between God and the people of Israel in the Old Testament. God often describes himself as a husband to the people of Israel in the Old Testament (cf., Isaiah 54:5; Jeremiah 31:32). However, I believe these attempts to make the book merely symbolic or representative go against the most natural reading of the book.
The question we must ask as we read the book is, “How would the first readers have understood the book?“ This is a book about love—love between a man and a woman (Song of Solomon 6:3). The dialogue between these two love birds discussed their pursuit of one another and their patience in waiting for the right time to enjoy the blessings of sexual relations preserved only for married couples (Hebrews 13:4). The book does teach us lessons about true love that can be applied to Israel and to God or to the church and to Christ, but those were not the primary focus of the author initially. Let’s highlight key themes to be noticed throughout the rest of the book.
The One My Soul Loves
Five times in the book, the phrase is repeated, “Him whom my soul loves” (Song of Solomon 1:7; 3:1-4). Love is stronger than like. The Bible never encourages husbands and wives to merely like each other but instead to love one another. The language used throughout this poem about “the one my soul loves” suggests a deep and abiding love. In our easy no-fault divorce society, few people view their spouses this way. As we read this book and learn from Solomon, we should remember, if we are married, the one whom our soul loves. We should do what is in the best interest of the soul or life of the one we love. If we truly care for our spouses as God wants us to care, we will remember the vows we made to them and to God, and we will be true to those vows (Matthew 19:4-6). The one our soul loves should have our attention, admiration and affection all of our lives.
Compliments Are Beneficial to Marriage
As you read through the sections of the book, be impressed with how detailed the man and woman describe each other. They compliment each other incessantly (Song of Solomon 2:8-17; 4:1-15; 5:10-16; 6:4-10). When was the last time you genuinely complimented your spouse? Flattery is vain but compliments are vital to a healthy relationship. Learn from the Song of Solomon to be observant about things you appreciate about your spouse, and let him or her know. We all age and change, but our love and attraction for our spouses must not dampen or lessen as time goes on.
Do Not Stir Up Love
In a book saturated with love, readers should take note of the three times the woman tells the daughters of Jerusalem not to awaken, arouse (ESV) or stir up love until the proper time (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). One could argue that this is the main theme of the book. That while these two young people are in love with each other, they must exercise self-control until they are officially married. Fornication has always been sinful, and it will keep one out of Heaven without repentance (Romans 1:29; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Galatians 5:19-21). This book shows that though passions may run high, they can and must be controlled. It is better to marry than to burn, but if one pretends to be married when he is not, he will burn (1 Corinthians 7:9). While courting is beneficial and encouraged, even Christians need to be reminded not to go too far so that they will not regret their conduct later (Romans 6:21).
Love Is as Strong as Death
As the book ends, the woman exclaims “Love is as strong as death” (8:6) and that many waters cannot quench love (8:7). Love is a powerful force, and after pursuing the one her soul loves for eight chapters, she speaks from experience, but so can we. Whatever we love, we will give our all for it. We may not always love the right things, but whatever it is we love, we will give our best to it. No one can resist loving someone or something because God has made us as individuals who can’t help but love. As Christians, we must be sure to love our spouses as God would have us to love them (Ephesians 5:22-25) and to love God with all of our being (Mark 12:30). When Jesus rose from the grave, He conquered death, and now we can say, love is stronger than death (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
Solomon lived a life where he had more women than he should have had (1 Kings 11:3). Yet, during this time in his life, it seems he knew true love, and it is the kind of love God desires for all of us. Do not shy away from this book, but join in this poetic book, love as you should and sing the Song of Solomon.
Ronald D. Reeves
Occasionally, each of us may face some sort of personal crisis as we face a crucial and a decisive point or situation. This may involve an unstable condition as we anticipate an impending abrupt or decisive change. This context may be accompanied by an emotionally stressful or traumatic change in a person’s life. The various contexts where such a crisis may arise may be one of several—financial, employment, health, family, political, religious or some other meaningful context.
Jesus was not immune from experiencing a crisis. In the latter part of His personal ministry (John 13:21), the Bible affirms that Jesus “was troubled in spirit.” If not the only occasion, this is most certainly a rare description of Jesus as He faced His pending death, as brutal as He knew it would be. Have you ever wondered what went through the mind of Jesus as He anticipated His cruel death? Upon what was He focusing at this time? What was the character of His actions at this singular moment when He was to die for you and me?
While I am unable to fully answer the questions posed above, we can gain insight into the mind of Jesus on the occasion of this very traumatic moment in His personal ministry. As we look to chapters 14-16 of the Gospel of John, we may observe several striking things spoken of Jesus as He faced the ultimate personal crisis of any person who has ever lived in this earthly tabernacle. Consider: Jesus sought to…
These traits marked Jesus as He faced the crisis of a lifetime. May we so value these traits that we mark our entire Christian service with these traits with all of those with whom we deal and in every context in which we find ourselves.