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Bible Commentaries
Song of Solomon 1

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Verse 1

I. THE SUPERSCRIPTION 1:1

The writer of this book claimed to be Solomon. [Note: See Delitzsch, pp. 11-12, et al.] Solomon wrote 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32), and this book appears to be one of them (cf. Psalms 72; Psalms 127). "Which is Solomon’s" has led many interpreters to conclude that Solomon was the writer. Another interpretation follows.

""Here Solomon, as the king and symbol of wisdom and love, becomes an image for the male lover in the poem. Thus the female speaker, who dominates the poem, dedicates it to her Solomon, a figure who embodies her greatest desires for the fulfillment of love." [Note: Hess, p. 39.]

"Song of songs" means that this is a superlative song (cf. the terms "holy of holies," "vanity of vanities," or "King of kings"), not that it is one song made up of several other songs, which it is. The divine Author probably intended us to view this book as a superlative song, the best song. The lack of reference to God in the superscription does not, of course, rule out divine inspiration of the book.

"God’s name is absent from the entire setting. But who would deny that his presence is strongly felt? From whom come such purity and passion? Whose creative touch can ignite hearts and bodies with such a capacity to bring unsullied delight to another? Who kindled the senses that savor every sight, touch, scent, taste, and sound of a loved one? Whose very character is comprised of the love that is the central subject of the Song? None of this is to allegorize either the minute details or the main sense of the book. It is about human love at its best. But behind it, above it, and through it, the Song, as part of the divinely ordered repertoire of Scripture, is a paean of praise to the Lord of creation who makes possible such exquisite love and to the Lord of redemption who demonstrated love’s fullness on a cross." [Note: Hubbard, pp. 273-74.]

Another peculiarity of the book is the absence of any identifiable theological theme. The Bible has much to say about marriage.

"But the Song of Songs is different. Here sex is for joy, for union, for relationship, for celebration. Its lyrics contain no aspirations to pregnancy, no anticipations of parenthood. The focus is not on progeny to assure the continuity of the line but on passion to express the commitment to covenant between husband and wife." [Note: Ibid., p. 268.]

Verse 2

The Hebrew word for "love" (dodim) in Song of Solomon 1:2 refers to physical expressions of love. [Note: Cf. G. Lloyd Carr, "The Old Testament Love Songs and their Use in the New Testament," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 24:2 (June 1981):101.] The girl found her boyfriend’s physical affection very stimulating.

". . . figurative language is used more prominently throughout the Song than anywhere else in the Bible." [Note: Hess, p. 29.]

Verses 2-4

1. Longing for the boyfriend 1:2-4

As the book begins, the young woman and young man have already met and "fallen in love." In Song of Solomon 1:2-4 a the girl voices her desire for her boyfriend’s physical affection. According to LaCocque, the main female character speaks 53 percent of the time and the male 39 percent in the book. [Note: LaCocque, p. 41.]

". . . there is no other female character in the Bible whom we get to know so well through her intimate and innermost thoughts and feelings." [Note: Exum, Song of . . ., p. 25.]

"It is significant to this work that the girl speaks first. This young lady is not extremely diffident. She seems to see herself as of equal stature with the male. She longs to express her love to him, and she wants him to reciprocate. There is a sense in which she is the major character in this poem. This is one of the aspects of this work that makes it unique in its day. Much more of the text comes from her mouth and mind than from his. It is more her love story than it is his, though there is no failure on his part to declare his love and admiration for her." [Note: Kinlaw, p. 1216. See Harold R. Holmyard III, "Solomon’s Perfect One," Bibliotheca Sacra 155:618 (April-June 1998):164-71.]

Who was the Shulammite? No one knows for sure. It is possible that she may have been Abishag, the Shunammite (cf. 1 Kings 1:3-4; 1 Kings 1:15). "Shulammite" could describe a person from Shunem (cf. Joshua 19:18; 1 Samuel 28:4). The location of this Shunem was in lower Galilee, south of Nain, southeast of Nazareth, and southwest of Tabor. [Note: Cf. Delitzsch, p. 119.]

"This would explain Solomon’s rather severe reaction to the plot of Adonijah and also partially explain the women of the court listed in Song of Solomon 6:8 without the necessity of understanding them to have been actual consorts of Solomon." [Note: Patterson, p. 98.]

The use of both third and second person address ("he" and "you") is a bit confusing. Is she speaking about him or to him? This feature of ancient oriental poetry is common in other Near Eastern love poems that archaeologists have discovered. It was a device that ancient writers employed evidently to strengthen the emotional impact of what they wrote. [Note: Jack S. Deere, "Song of Songs," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1011.] Here the girl appears to be speaking about her love, not to him.

Verses 2-5

II. THE COURTSHIP 1:2-3:5

Perhaps the outstanding characteristic of this first major section of the book is the sexual restraint that is evident during the courtship. This restraint contrasts with the sexual intimacy that characterizes the lovers after their wedding (Song of Solomon 3:6 to Song of Solomon 5:1 and Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 8:4). Before marriage a couple should restrain their sexual desire rather than indulging it.

Some scholars believe that the Song is not a sequential narrative. [Note: Hess, p. 34.] Other writers have seen chronological progression in the experiences of the lovers in view. [Note: E.g., Delitzsch.]

Verses 2-11

A. The Beginning of Love 1:2-11

In the NASB, NIV, TNIV, NKJV and some other English translations, the translators identified the speakers in the various sections of the book. This is, of course, the interpretation of the translators, not part of the inspired text.

Verse 3

His "oils" (Song of Solomon 1:3) were evidently the lotions he wore. Since the name of a person represented his character (cf. 2 Samuel 7:9), she meant his character, his whole person, was also as pleasing as oil to her and to other people. Her attraction was not due to physical factors alone. "Maidens" (Heb. ’alma) refers to young unmarried women of marriageable age (cf. Genesis 24:43; Exodus 2:8; Isaiah 7:14).

Verse 4

The last three lines of Song of Solomon 1:4 were evidently the words of the "daughters of Jerusalem" (Song of Solomon 1:5; cf. Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5; Song of Solomon 3:10; Song of Solomon 5:8; Song of Solomon 5:11; Song of Solomon 5:16; Song of Solomon 8:4). These may have been hometown friends of the woman, [Note: William S. LaSor, David Allan Hubbard, and F. W. Bush, Old Testament Survey, p. 605.] the female inhabitants of Jerusalem, [Note: Deere, p. 1012.] women who display the characteristics of city girls, [Note: Carr, The Song . . ., p. 77.] or the women of Solomon’s harem (cf. Song of Solomon 6:8-9). [Note: Tanner, "The Message . . .," p. 152.] Their words here show that they approved of the romance. According to Taylor’s typology, they represent "those who . . . are for the present more concerned about the things of this world than the things of God." [Note: Taylor, pp. 83-84.]

Verses 5-6

The young lady felt embarrassed because she had very dark skin as a result of having to tend her family’s grapevines. Her skin was dark because of the sun’s rays, not primarily because of her race. Female courtiers did not work outdoors, so their skin was lighter than women’s who labored in the fields. The "tents of Kedar" (Song of Solomon 1:5) were apparently black and were probably animal skins. The Kedarites were nomads who lived in northern Arabia southeast of Damascus (cf. Genesis 25:13; Isaiah 60:7).

"These words express humility without abjectness." [Note: Delitzsch, p. 25.]

Her "own vineyard" (Song of Solomon 1:6) refers to her personal appearance. [Note: Carr, The Song . . ., p. 79.] "Vineyard" is a frequent metaphor for the physical body in this poem (cf. Song of Solomon 1:14; Song of Solomon 2:15 [twice]; Song of Solomon 7:12; Song of Solomon 8:11 [twice], 12)

"She had not had available to her the luxurious baths and toiletries or fashionable clothing of the court. There had been no opportunity for her to take care of her hair, skin, or hands according to the obvious courtly style." [Note: Patterson, p. 37.]

Verses 5-8

2. The girl’s insecurity 1:5-8

Verse 7

Solomon probably was not a shepherd. Ancient Near Eastern love poems commonly pictured men as shepherds. [Note: Deere, p. 1013.] The girl simply wanted to be alone with Solomon. If she could not, she would be very sad, like a woman who veiled her face in mourning.

"The girl is saying that she does not want to be mistaken for a cult prostitute, a good picture of which is seen in Genesis 38:13-15." [Note: Kinlaw, p. 1218.]

Verse 8

If this is Solomon’s reply, he probably was kidding her and meant that she had no reason to feel he would disdain her. However, these are probably the words of the girl’s friends (cf. Song of Solomon 1:4 b). They evidently meant that if she thought Solomon would not want her because of her dark skin and hard work, she was being ridiculous and should go back to her flocks. After all, she was a very attractive woman.

Verses 9-10

Here Solomon reassured his love. Stallions, not mares, pulled chariots. A mare among the best of Pharaoh’s stallions would have been desirable to every one of them. In Solomon’s day Egyptian horses were the best, as Arabian horses later were the best. [Note: Delitzsch, p. 33.]

"A passage from Egyptian literature demonstrates that mares were sometimes set loose in battle to allure and distract the pharaoh’s chariot-harnessed stallions." [Note: Parsons, p. 416.]

Solomon meant his love was a woman whom all the best men of his court would have pursued.

". . . the comparison of the female lover with a mare would first and foremost emphasize her nobility and her value." [Note: Hess, p. 64.]

"This is the ultimate in sex appeal!" [Note: Carr, The Song . . ., p. 83.]

Solomon’s praise would have bolstered his beloved’s confidence that he loved her. This encouragement is often necessary and is always appropriate in such a relationship.

"We have forgotten what a thing of beauty a horse can be when compared to other animals. We are also unaware what valuable creatures they were in the ancient world. They were beautiful in themselves, and the ancient royal courts insisted on brilliantly caparisoning [adorning with rich trappings] the ones that pulled the king’s chariot. The beloved’s jewelry, earrings, and necklaces make him think of such." [Note: Kinlaw, p. 1219.]

"Such a comparison was not at all unusual in ancient literature. Theocritus, for example, compared ’the rose complexioned Helen’ to a ’Thessalian steed.’ For Solomon the horse was more a cherished companion than a beast of burden. His praise of Shulamith recognized her beauty and her graceful movements." [Note: Patterson, p. 39.]

Verses 9-11

3. Solomon’s praise 1:9-11

Verse 11

Her friends volunteered to make more ornaments for her so she would be even more attractive to Solomon.

B. The Growth of Love 1:12-3:5

If there is indeed a chronological progression in the telling of this love story, as seems likely, this section relates the development of the love that Solomon and his loved one experienced before their wedding.

Praise of one another 1:12-2:6

1. Mutual admiration 1:12-2:7

In this section, the love of Solomon and his beloved continues to intensify.

Verses 12-14

The Shulammite girl (Song of Solomon 6:3) described the effect that seeing Solomon had on her as he reclined at his banquet "table." She wore nard (spikenard, "perfume" NASB, NIV; cf. Mark 14:3; John 12:3), which was an ointment that came from a plant grown in northern and eastern India. He was as sweet to her as the fragrant myrrh sachet that hung around her neck.

"Hebrew women often wore small bags of myrrh between their breasts." [Note: Woudstra, p. 597.]

He was as attractive as henna at the refreshing Engedi oasis that lay on the west coast of the Dead Sea. Henna plants bore white blossoms, but their leaves produced a reddish-orange cosmetic dye. [Note: Kinlaw, p. 1220.]

Verse 15

Solomon returned her praise by commending her beauty and tranquil character. Doves were examples of tranquillity in eastern literature (cf. Genesis 2:18-25).

"According to Rabbinic teaching, a bride who has beautiful eyes possesses a beautiful character; they are an index to her character." [Note: S. M. Lehrman, "The Song of Songs," in The Five Megilloth, p. 4.]

"The dramatic image is that of the couple staring deeply and lovingly into one another’s eyes." [Note: Hess, p. 72.]

Verses 16-17

The girl probably spoke both of these verses. "Pleasant" refers to Solomon’s charming personality. The references to "couch," "beams," "houses," and "rafters" probably allude to a place in the countryside where the lovers liked to meet and talk, perhaps a country house. [Note: Glickman, p. 39.] "Luxuriant" implies a grassy area, and the other terms seem to indicate that trees overarched it.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 1". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/song-of-solomon-1.html. 2012.
 
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