the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
- Song of Solomon
by Peter Pett
Commentary On The Song Of Solomon.
By Dr Peter Pett BA BD (Hons-London) DD
1). The Unity of The Narrative.
As we consider this song we should note that it has been carefully constructed and in spite of first appearances is a clear unity. For example in Song of Solomon 1:2 the young maiden longs for the kisses of her beloved, and in Song of Solomon 8:1 she is still longing to kiss him, although now as his wife. In Song of Solomon 1:6 the young maiden has not kept her own vineyard, in Song of Solomon 8:12 she has well maintained her vineyard and its fruit is for her beloved. In Song of Solomon 1:7 we learn of the king’s companions, and they appear again in Song of Solomon 8:13. In Song of Solomon 2:3 her beloved is like an apple tree, and in Song of Solomon 8:5 the young maiden, now his wife, is ‘aroused’ by him under the apple tree. In Song of Solomon 2:7 the daughters of Jerusalem are not to stir up or awaken love until it please, and the same is true in Song of Solomon 8:4, (compare also Song of Solomon 3:5). In Song of Solomon 2:16 he feeds his flock among the lilies, and the same applies in Song of Solomon 6:3. In Song of Solomon 2:17 the beloved is like a roe-deer or a young hart on the mountains of division (Bether), and in Song of Solomon 8:14 he is like a roe-deer or a young hart on the mountains of spices. In Song of Solomon 3:4 she wants to take her beloved to her mother’s house, and the same applies in Song of Solomon 8:2. In Song of Solomon 2:6 his left hand is under her head, and his right hand embraces her and the same is true in Song of Solomon 8:3. In Song of Solomon 2:16 her beloved is hers, and she is his, in Song of Solomon 6:3 she is her beloved’s and he is hers, and in Song of Solomon 7:10 she is her beloved’s and his desire is towards her (compare also Song of Solomon 6:3). In Song of Solomon 3:1-5 she has a nightmare and in Song of Solomon 5:2-8 she has a similar nightmare, with the marriage coming in between. In Song of Solomon 3:6 she comes up from the wilderness, and similarly in Song of Solomon 8:5. The beloved’s speech in Song of Solomon 4:1-7 parallels his speech in Song of Solomon 6:4-9, with many specific similarities, but also with further parallels in Song of Solomon 7:3-4. And central to the whole is the marriage and the honeymoon (Song of Solomon 3:6 to Song of Solomon 5:1).
2). The Purpose of The Song.
At first sight the song appears to be a simple love song between a young maiden and her beloved. But when we consider it in more depth there are indications that it goes deeper than that, for there are certain pointers which indicate that when he wrote it Solomon had in mind the relationship of God with His people and the acceptability of his forthcoming Temple in Jerusalem as the center of Israel’s worship. This suggestion is accentuated by the fact that God elsewhere speaks of His relationship with His people in similar terms.
For example in Jeremiah 2:2 He says, ‘Go, and cry in the ears of Jerusalem, saying, Thus says the LORD, I remember in regard to you the kindness of your youth, the love of your espousals, how you went after me in the wilderness, in a land which was not sown. Israel was holiness to the Lord, the firstfruits of His increase.’ Here we have the initial idea of Israel as a young maiden seeking her Lord as a lover in the wilderness with a view to marriage, which is the theme of Solomon’s song (chapters 1-2). It may well be that Jeremiah had the song in mind.
In Jeremiah 31:3-4 God says to Israel, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love, therefore with covenant love have I drawn you. Again I will build you up, and you will be built, Oh virgin daughter of Israel’. Here the LORD declares that Jerusalem as the daughter of Israel is like an unmarried young lady on whom He has set His love. We can compare with this the following words in Deuteronomy 7:6-8, ‘for you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD has chosen you to be a people for His own possession, out of all the peoples which are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set His love on you and chose you, for you were the least of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you, and is keeping the oath to your fathers.’
In Jeremiah 31:32 the LORD says that His proposed new covenant will be, ‘not like the covenant which I made with your fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant that they broke even though I was their husband.’ Here the covenant is described as a marriage covenant between the LORD and Israel, which was broken by the wife even though he was her husband, an idea which has some similarity to Song of Solomon 5:3-5. We can compare with this the words of Isaiah 54:5, ‘for your Maker is your husband, -- for the LORD has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she is cast off.’ Here we have the scenario of the forsaken wife who is called back to Him, as in the song (chapter 5 onwards). Note also the words of Isaiah 61:10, ‘He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and a bride adorns herself with her jewels.’
In Hosea 2:2 the LORD says of Israel, ‘Plead with your mother, plead, for she is not my wife, and I am not her husband’, which was immediately after He had said to them ‘you are not my people’, indicating that she had been but was so no longer. This thus indicates that He sees Israel as having been His wife, but is on the point of not seeing her in that way any more. (In Isaiah 50:1 He makes clear that He has not yet done so). Again in Song of Solomon 2:14-15 He says, ‘therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her, and there I will give her her vineyards, and make the valley of Achor a door of hope, and there she will answer as in the days of her youth, as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.’ This is similar to Solomon’s allurement of the young lady which takes place in the wilderness (for after it she comes from the wilderness). Compare also Jeremiah 2:19, ‘And I will betroth you to me for ever, I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy, I will betroth you to me in faithfulness, and you shall know the LORD.’
It can hardly be doubted that all the above gain in significance from the Song of Solomon. In this regard we should also take into account the following considerations:
a) The first thing to consider about the song is the quite remarkable fact for those days that a very religious king in a very religious age nowhere brings God into his narrative in any way until Song of Solomon 8:6 where we learn that the love which the whole song has been about is the flame of Yah (YHWH). This deliberate omission of any reference to God or appeal to God, combined with the final reference, must be seen as quite suggestive, and must surely be seen as indicating that in some way he wants his song, and the love to which it refers, to be seen as very much being connected with the love of God.
b) A second pointer is found in the way that the narrative is very much written from the young woman’s viewpoint and in a way which if it was taken literally would suggest that Solomon was not only hugely vain, but was prepared to represent himself in that way. This is especially true of the first chapter. Moreover it tends to demean her in a way which is very understandable if she represented a failing Israel, but far less understandable if she was at the time Solomon’s only love, and quite frankly unforgivable if he wrote it later on about an earlier love. It would have the flavor of rank condescension.
c) A third pointer is found in the fact that both of the nightmares that the young woman experiences appear to be designed to teach the specific lesson of the dangers of withholding love from the beloved, with the second being much more severe in its application than the first because of the circumstances. Again this is very telling if Israel is in mind, but somewhat arrogant if written by a Solomon who was really speaking about his own relationship with her. (Of course, points b. and c. lose their full strength if we see the song as written by a court poet in praise of Solomon, or by a later writer. But would such a writer even conceive of the idea of Solomon being rejected by one of his wives, much less write about it?).
d) A fourth pointer can be found in the fact that, like Israel of old, the young woman is twice represented as coming ‘from the wilderness’ (Song of Solomon 3:6; Song of Solomon 7:5).
e) A fifth pointer can be found in the way in which this song became established as religious literature and as ‘the song of songs’ (the greatest of all songs), eventually becoming accepted without question as inspired Scripture. In order for that to happen it must from the first have been seen as conveying an important religious lesson, otherwise it would not have been initially accepted in that light. This suggests that it was probably regularly sung at local feasts, and even at the annual feasts with a religious significance in mind. Why else should it initially be connected with ‘the Holy Writings’? And it must certainly be considered probable that it was in view of the acceptance of it as depicting God’s love for Israel that the Jews accepted it as ‘Scripture’ in the first place.
f) Sixthly we might consider the fact that the wise Solomon would recognize the need to supply, for His people’s use at their feasts, songs in terms of the Lord and His people, in order to counteract the pagan myths so popular among their neighbors (compare the Baal myths). The Canaanites sought their gods on every high hill, and under every green tree. They looked to Baal and the Ashteroth for fertility and spoke constantly of a ‘love’ that was debased. But, says Solomon, Israel were to seek God among the lilies, and the pomegranates, the roe-deer and the hinds, among the sheep and the vineyards, among that which provided their sustenance and brought out the beauty of His creation, recognizing that, as ‘their Beloved’, God was with them, loving them and watching over them just where they were, in a much more chaste kind of way. This use of the song would partly explain its emphasis on the countryside which would be where the pagan myths were most popular. However, by firmly narrating it in terms of historical personages he ensured that, while it could be used in such a way as to bring out a deeper religious meaning, it would not be linked with the gods or misused as those myths were. It was to be seen as an acted out illustration and not as a mythical representation connected with the gods. And it had the added advantage that it would also help to ensure the people’s loyalty to him.
g) Seventhly, another factor which must be borne in mind is the undoubted fact that it encourages the idea that the love of which it speaks appears to be found and developed, not in Jerusalem, but out among the people in the countryside. Indeed the young woman’s first experience in Jerusalem is not a happy one, and there is a very strong emphasis in the song on the fact that such love was for both of them to be found ‘among the lilies and the pomegranates and the vineyards’ (Song of Solomon 2:16; Song of Solomon 6:2-3; Song of Solomon 6:11; Song of Solomon 7:12) in the open country. The young maiden who becomes his wife is clearly not at first at home in Jerusalem, and craves the fields and the hills, and her beloved seems to be in accord with her. And yet finally she does seem to return to Jerusalem (Song of Solomon 8:5), and finds contentment on the mountains of spices (Song of Solomon 8:14). So it may suggest that Solomon is to be seen as by this song as preparing Israel for his new Temple in Jerusalem. In other words Israel’s love affair with God, which originally disdains Jerusalem, is to end up on the mountains where incense is offered, the mountains of spices, i.e. of Zion.
This is not to suggest that it was simply a cynical political move. There is no real doubt that Solomon did see the Temple as being very important for Israel and had his heart behind it (see 1 Kings 8:20-53). But there can, in fact, be no question that there would certainly be a great deal of discontent among the country folk, the people of the land, when it was suggested that the Tabernacle which was operating at Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4) should be transferred to Jerusalem, with the religious heart of Israel also being established there from then on. However, once this song had become popular with the people and was seen as sufficiently ‘inspired’ and authoritative, it could then be pointed out that it actually supported the establishing of the Temple in Jerusalem on its mountains (Song of Solomon 8:14).
This being so it would mean that we have here a song about God’s love for Israel and how He wooed her to Himself, as described elsewhere in the prophets, and this would almost certainly have been connected in many minds with the promise of the coming king in 2 Samuel 7:13; 2 Samuel 7:16; Psalms 2:1-12, as previously mentioned in Genesis 49:10-12 and Numbers 24:17, which is why the Targum connects it with the Messiah. This is why we are justified in applying it to the relationship between the Christ Who came as our God and Savior and to the new Israel which He founded, i.e. the church.
Using this as a basis we can now list the significance of the figures found in the Song as follows:
Characters First Significance Second Significance Solomon the Shepherd King God Christ Jesus The Young Maiden Believing Israel The Church The Daughters of Jerusalem The Subject Nations Unbelieving Israel/Nominal Christians Solomon’s companions Heavenly beings Heavenly beings The watchmen The prophets Faithful preachers The younger sister Believers among subject nations The Gentiles/Weaker Christians Also to be borne in mind are some of the ideas being used. Thus the perfumed oils and spices indicate the means by which the young maiden is made acceptable to her Beloved, such as through God’s covenant love (Exodus 20:6; Exodus 34:7), and through His righteousness effective in and upon men’s lives (Isaiah 61:10), and through prayer (Psalms 141:2). The lilies constantly indicate the country environment in which the young maiden lives. The roe-deer and harts symbolize the activity of love. And so on.