Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible
Song of Solomon 1
The maiden here stands for all mankind before the coming of Christ. Her longing for her true love to come and take her away from that evil, hopeless place stands for the longing of all righteous people for the coming of the Messiah. The criticism of the harem women stands for the hatred of the world for those who desire to serve God. The maiden's unhappiness in the harem shows the inability of the secular world to satisfy our souls.
Song of Solomon 1:1
"The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's."
It is stated in 1 Kings 4:32 that Solomon wrote a thousand and five songs; yet only one of them is found in the Bible; and through the ages there have often been questions as to whether or not this one really belongs in the Canon. Most of the interpretations (especially the allegorical explanations) are clearly designed to justify the presence of this book in the Bible; and the utter inability of the scholars of two thousand years to reach an even approximate agreement on what the book teaches leaves the question unanswered.
The only reason that this writer accepts the Song of Solomon's place in the Holy Bible is that God Himself commissioned Israel to be the trustees of "the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2); and there can be no doubt that the unchallenged opinion of ancient Israel placed it there (in the Canon). Could Israel have made a mistake in this instance? Even if they did (and we do not charge that they did) make a mistake in this matter, it is of no consequence in reference to their major assignment of recognizing, receiving and advocating the worldwide acceptance of the Messiah in his First Advent. In the person of the holy Apostles of Christ and the righteous remnant of the apostate Israel, they gloriously achieved that assignment.
Nevertheless, the vast majority of Israel was blind in their loving adoration of Solomon; and they considered his evil kingdom a type of the Kingdom of God that the Messiah would organize when he came. They desired nothing, either in heaven or on earth, any more than the restoration of that reprobate kingdom of Solomon; and the only reason they crucified Christ came from their recognition that Jesus Christ would never restore anything like Solomon's kingdom. There is a possibility, although we do not see it as a fact, that Israel might have included in the Bible one of Solomon's 1,005 songs merely because of their infatuation. We cannot answer this question, nor can we deny the existence of it.
As we explore what the text says, the reader must make up his own mind.
The literal words here are erotic; of that, there is not any doubt.
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth;
For thy love is better than wine.
Thine oils have a goodly fragrance;
Thy name is as oil poured fourth;
Therefore do the virgins love thee.
Draw me; we will run after thee:
The king hath brought me into his chambers;
We will be glad and rejoice in thee;
We will make mention of thy love more than wine:
Rightly do they love thee."
"Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth" (Song of Solomon 1:1). "The scene here is in the women's chamber of the royal house. The young bride sings of her love for Solomon. In passionate romantic terms, she praises the man she loves. The `oils' (Song of Solomon 1:3) are those with which the king anoints himself. His name is as refreshing and soothing as oil." That is one way of viewing the passage.
Balchin understood it this way: "A number of different persons speak here. The Shulamite, a young innocent from the country, has been thrust into the king's harem. She is not at home. The over sensuous words of the women grate on her sensitive ears. As they see the king approaching, they long for the touch of his lips on theirs. The women are talking to one another about the king. Your `love' (plural in the Hebrew) means caresses ... `wine.' An apt description of the intoxicating effect of caressing and kissing."
"Your name is oil poured out" (Song of Solomon 1:3). "There is a play on words here. In Hebrew, `name' is [~shem] and `oils' is semen." Waddey writes that, "His name was as refreshing and soothing as oil upon wind-burnt skin."
"St. Gregory, seeking some meaning beyond the words, wrote that, `Every precept of Christ is as one of his kisses.'"
"Draw me. We will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers; we will be glad and rejoice in thee" (Song of Solomon 1:4). "The Shulamite speaks here." She longs for her shepherd lover; and although he is not present, she pleads for him to come and take her away. The better version here reads: "Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers." This version fully supports the "two lovers" interpretation. Note that the "us" in this place refers to the Shulamite's true lover; and the third person reference to the king in the same breath means that the king is not her beloved.
"The king has brought me into his chambers" (Song of Solomon 1:4). The king's chambers here are those of the king's harem.
"Let us make haste" (Song of Solomon 1:4). There was always an extended period of waiting before a woman taken into the harem was brought into the king's presence (Esther 2:12). The Shulamite pleaded for her lover to take her away before she would be compelled to go to the bed of Solomon.
"We will be glad and rejoice in thee" (Song of Solomon 1:4). Scholars agree that these are the words of the women in the harem. Waddey found them to mean that, "They shared her joy for her new found love, and they loved her as well." Such love in a king's harem for a new member of his seraglio seems to this writer totally contrary to the mutual hatred among the women, such as that which we have always understood to be characteristic of such godless places.
In the Shulamite's plea for her true love to come in a hurry and take her away, we have a glimpse of, "True loyal love shining through the lust of this court scene (the harem)."
THE SHULAMITE RESPONDS TO CONTEMPTUOUS CRITICISM
"I am black but comely,
O ye daughters of Jerusalem,
As the tents of Kedar,
As the curtains of Solomon.
Look not upon me, because I am swarthy,
Because the sun hath scorched me.
My mother's sons were incensed against me:
They made me keeper of the vineyards;
But mine own vineyard have I not kept.
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth,
Where thou feedest thy flock,
Where thou makest it to rest at noon;
For why should I be as one that is veiled
Beside the flocks of thy companions?"
This paragraph tells us the identity of the Shulamite's true love. He is a shepherd, not the king of Israel. No stretch of imagination can make a shepherd out of Solomon. Furthermore, the hostility and cruelty of the harem appear here. "The newcomer is subjected to their contemptuous, jealous looks."
"I am black but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem" (Song of Solomon 1:5). That the Shulamite here apologizes for her dark sun-tan indicates that the pale, hot-house victims of the harem had heaped their scorn and criticism upon her.
These words have led some to suppose that the Shulamite was a Negro; "But the parallel line tells us plainly the meaning, `I am swarthy'; therefore, she was apologizing for her dark sun-tan." The balance of the paragraph explains how the sun-tan came about. Her brothers had compelled her to work outdoors. Thus she could not keep her "own vineyard." What did she mean by that?
"My own vineyard have I not kept" (Song of Solomon 1:6). Bunn interpreted this to mean that, "The Shulamite had not kept her own chastity." Cook saw it as a reference to, "the care and cultivation of her own beauty." Pope affirmed that, "The reference is to the maiden's body, especially her sexual parts." Cook's opinion is by far the preferable understanding of it. To accept the other views would mean that the Shulamite here confessed her status either as an adulteress or as a prostitute.
"Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest thy flock?" (Song of Solomon 1:7). If this text has any meaning at all, it means that the Shulamite's true lover was a shepherd. Only by the abuse of figurative language can this be applied to Solomon. The implication of this is that the absent lover was feeding his flock in some place unknown to the Shulamite. Solomon was not absent; he was not feeding a flock, and his place was well known to everyone in Jerusalem. Solomon is not in this at all.
THE IRONIC RETORT OF THE HAREM WOMEN
"If thou know not, O thou fairest among women,
Go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock,
And feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents."
"This verse contains the response of the chorus." What chorus? The scene here is that of Solomon's harem. These had overheard her soliloquy, longing to find her true love; and their ironic and contemptuous answer is in this verse. "Let her go and find him for herself. `Go back to your shepherd life'; feed the kids by a shepherd's tent." In jest, they referred to her, "O thou fairest among women"! One can almost hear their sadistic laughter. "If thou know not," these words carry the sneer that, "If you are such an ignoramus as to prefer life with a shepherd to what you will get here, go ahead. Go back to your lover."
SOLOMON WOOS THE SHULAMITE WITHOUT RESPONSE
(Song of Solomon 1:9-2:2)
"I have compared thee, O my love,
To a steed in Pharaoh's chariots.
Thy cheeks are comely with plaits of hair,
Thy neck with strings of jewels.
We will make thee plaits of gold
With studs of silver."
The big deal here is that Solomon will load the Shulamite down with expensive jewelry. His comparison of her to a horse (presumably a mare) hooked up to one of Pharaoh's chariots reveals the sensual nature of Solomon. Every woman, in his sight, was merely an animal, a real slick, beautifully groomed animal, of course. This writer cannot imagine any man who would take a thousand women to his bed as having any other view of the true value of womanhood.
THE SHULAMITE'S NEGATIVE RESPONSE
"While the king sat at his table,
My spikenard sent forth its fragrance.
My beloved is to me as a bundle of myrrh,
That lieth betwixt my breasts.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of henna-flowers in the vineyards of Engedi."
"While the king sat at his table" (Song of Solomon 1:12). This means, "in the king's absence." He was either eating "at his table" or conducting the affairs of state. In the meanwhile, the Shulamite maiden possessed a small box of a very precious ointment which she carried between her breasts, reminding her continually of her real lover. Her imagination was not stirred at all by Solomon's promise of gold jewelry; instead her mind went back to a bouquet of henna-flowers from the vineyards of Engedi, which had most likely come to her from her shepherd lover. The origin of that gift of flowers points to the true lover, not to Solomon. Scholars dispute it; but we see these as wild flowers.
SOLOMON CONTINUES HIS FLATTERY
"Behold, thou art fair, my love;
Behold thou art fair;
Thine eyes are as doves.
Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant:
Also our couch is green.
The beams of our house are cedars,
And our rafters are firs
(Song of Solomon 2:1)
I am a rose of Sharon,
A lily of the valleys."
"The adjectives in this verse are feminine," therefore they cannot apply to Solomon, who must be understood as the speaker here, not the one spoken to. He is thus continuing his flattery of the Shulamite maiden.
Balchin sees this verse as the Shulamite's loving remembrance of her true love, thus construing the house of cedars with rafters of firs as the scene of their love-making outdoors. This writer cannot accept that, because there is no evidence that the maiden here is speaking. Oh yes, the adjectives are masculine; but so what? Solomon was applying the words to himself in order to impress the maiden. Of course, he would have used masculine pronouns. That Solomon is the one spoken of here is inherent in the mention of the cedar palace, the triple flattery, "Behold, thou art fair my love," and in the fact that there has been no change in the maiden's identification of her lover back in Song of Solomon 1:7. It is impossible to suppose that, suddenly, Solomon is her true love here. Also, the proposition that the maiden would have referred to herself as the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley is not half as attractive as the one that makes the words Solomon's conceited flattery of himself (Someone was certainly flattering himself here). He was still trying to overwhelm the maiden with his persistent advances. We also believe that Song of Solomon 2:2 proves Solomon is the speaker here.
Sunday, February 19th, 2017
the Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
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