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- Song of Solomon
by Joseph Exell
THERE is no book of Scripture on which more commentaries have been written and more diversities of opinion expressed than this short poem of eight chapters. That it was held in great veneration by ancient Jewish authorities; that it was received as part of the canon of the Old Testament, not only by the Jews but by all the early Christian writers, with very few and insignificant exceptions; that it is acknowledged by those who are entirely disagreed as to its interpretation to possess features of extraordinary literary excellence, and to be not unworthy, as a composition, of the wise king whose name it bears, — are reasons amply sufficient to justify the largest amount of attention which can be given to it, and to condemn the neglect to which it has been consigned by a great proportion of the Christian Church in modern times. There are difficulties which still beset the interpreter of its meaning; but they are not insuperable. The ingenuity of theorists must be put aside; the fanatical prejudices of allegorists must be disregarded; the solid facts of the ease must be kept in view, such as the undoubted canonicity of the book and the almost universal feeling of both the Jewish and Christian Churches that there is valuable spiritual truth conveyed in it. Under such conditions it is not impossible to find an intermediate ground on which to stand, on the one side recognizing the distinctly human characteristics of the work, on the other tracing in it the marks of inspiration, so that it shall be retained as a genuine portion of the Word of God. We propose in this Introduction to lay before the reader the results which have been carefully gathered by the ablest modern commentators on the questions of authorship and date, form and method, meaning and purpose.
§ 1. AUTHORSHIP AND DATE.
The title is not decisive, "The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's." It may be later in date than the book itself, and added by another hand; but the fact that Solomon is not described by any royal title is in favour of the antiquity of the words, and the opinion of critics is almost unanimous that they may be contemporaneous with the book itself. The meaning undoubtedly is, "The song which Solomon composed," not "The song which celebrates Solomon's love." When we examine the internal evidence, however, we are left in little doubt that the work is at least of the Solomonic period, and is more likely to have been the production of one whose literary qualities were equal to it than of an author who, while capable of such a masterpiece, still remains unknown. The opinions of the critics vary, as they always do when variation is possible. Some have ventured to place it in the period after the close of the canon; but they have not attempted to solve the enigma, how such a work of genius could come from a people who had by that time lost so much of their original qualities. To attribute it to the Alexandrian school would be entirely against both the spirit of it and its linguistic features. The tendency of recent criticism is to go back to the early view and connect the work with the age of Solomon. Davidson is inclined to this, and Ewald decides that it must have emanated from the northern kingdom, and been published soon after the death of Solomon. He withholds his assent to the Solomonic authorship chiefly on the ground of his adherence to the peculiar theory of interpretation which supposes it to describe an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the king to secure the person of a young shepherdess, faithful to her shepherd lover. There are many references in the book which indicate the time of its composition, and which could scarcely be introduced as they are by a writer at a later period. The scene is laid partly in the beautiful northern country and partly in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, and in both eases there is a peaceful prosperity and abundance which corresponds to the age of the great king. The knowledge of national objects of all kinds and of the whole land of Israel befits the royal pen (see 1 Kings 4:23; 1 Kings 5:13). The reference in Song of Song of Solomon 1:9 to "the steed in Pharaoh's chariots" is eminently suitable in Solomon's lips, as also the description of the palanquin as made of the "wood of Lebanon" (Song of Song of Solomon 3:9). The familiarity with a great variety of lovely objects and scenes, the reference to the splendour of the royal household, and the poetic beauty of the language throughout, make it probable that it was the recollection of the early life of the monarch employed by him at a subsequent time to embody Divine truth. The following are some of the objects introduced: names of plants and of animals in thirty-one instances; works of art in ten instances; spices and perfumes, wine of Lebanon, pools of Hebron, forests of Camel, tents of Kedar, mountains of Gilead, the beauty of Tirzah and Jerusalem, the royal crown, the royal bed of state, the royal bodyguard, the royal espousals and the connection of the queen-mother with them. While such allusions do not absolutely prove that King Solomon himself was the author, they confirm the likelihood that it dates from his age, and show that it breathed much of his spirit, which was both intensely Jewish and cosmopolitan, dignified and human, profound and poetic.
Again, there is a considerable resemblance between the language of Solomon's Song and that of the Book of Proverbs — especially the first nine chapters and those from Proverbs 22:0. to 24.. This is no proof that Solomon himself wrote Canticles, but is evidence that the two books approach one another in date. The substance of the book accords with the facts of Solomon's history. It is true that the number of queens mentioned, three score, and four score concubines, and virgins without number, seem to differ from the amount given in 1 Kings 11:3, but that may be explained by the . fact that the reference of Canticles is to the early period of Solomon's splendour, when his life was less voluptuous and degenerate. The tone of the book is not that of a corrupt court, but rather of the simple purity of a country maiden blooming in the presence of royal magnificence, transforming for the time being the atmosphere of worldly pleasure into which she is introduced, rebuking the fallen monarch, and setting forth by way of contrast the superior glory of virtue.
The argument for a later date derived from the language itself is of very little force. It is assumed that Aramaic forms certainly betoken the decay of the Hebrew language. But this is by no means the case. In compositions of a highly poetical and lyrical character such forms are found throughout the Old Testament, as in the Song of Deborah (Judges 5:7), in Job, and in Amos. They were more frequently used, no doubt, in the northern parts of Palestine than in the southern, and would be an evidence of the provincial cast of the book rather than its late origin. This is particularly the case with abbreviated forms such as the שְׁ for א֞שֶׁר which we do not find in books of later date such as Jeremiah and Lamentations. Other Aramaisms are שַׁלָּמָה in Song of Song of Solomon 1:7; נָטַר for נָצַר (Song of Song of Solomon 1:6; Song of Solomon 8:11, Song of Solomon 8:12); בְּרוׄת for בְּרוׄת (Song of Song of Solomon 1:17); סְתָו, "winter" (Song of Song of Solomon 2:11), and others; but all these forms are confessedly poetical. There are also some few foreign words, such as pardes (Song of Song of Solomon 4:13), appiryon (Song of Song of Solomon 3:9), but they are such as do not again appear, and such as we may well suppose to be within the knowledge of such a writer as Solomon. It may be observed of the language generally, that it is much more like the Hebrew of the Augustan age of the language than of times when its native vigour was in decay, and it was rapidly becoming a dead language. There is no work subsequent to the Captivity to be compared with it in literary power, nor can we suppose that all reference to the changes in the national life could have been lacking had it come from a writer of the later times. It is utterly destitute of all philosophical thought, which would certainly have crept into it had it been composed during the Greek period. On the whole, we can scarcely doubt that it is an early work, and the critical authorities who would dispute that conclusion are of no great weight. Umbreit would ascribe it to the time of the exile. Eichhorn, Bertholdt, and Rosenmuller would date it still later, in the Persian age. Gratz, Hartmann, and some few others would assign it to the Greek period. But against such names we must place the much higher authority of Ewald, Dopke, Havernick, Bleek, Hengstenberg, Zockler, Delitzsch, and Davidson, who all agree that it comes from the period of Solomon, though they do not all admit the royal authorship. Had it been of late origin, we could scarcely understand the extreme reverence with which it was regarded in the Jewish Church. "No man in Israel," said Rabbi Akiba in the 'Mishna,' "ever doubted the canonicity of the Song of Songs, for the course of ages cannot vie with the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel; all the Kethuvim [i.e. the writings of the Hagiographa] are indeed a holy thing, but the Song of Songs is a holy of holies" ('Jadaim,' 3:5). It seems probable, from the language both of Hosea and Isaiah, and the familiarity of the Jewish people with the fundamental idea of the book, the intimate relation of the truths of religion with the emotions of the human soul, that it was well known from at least as early a period as the eighth century before Christ. There is no direct allusion to it in the New Testament; but the language of the Psalms, especially such as Psalms 45:0 and 72, corresponds with it; and the cast of the Apostle Paul's thoughts is often in harmony with it; while the appeals of our Saviour himself to the hearts of the people to recognize their loving relation to God and repent of their unfaithfulness, render it at least possible that the tenderness and persuasive beauty of Canticles was not ignored in the religious teaching of his day. He who was, in his own words, the heavenly Bridegroom, and who spoke, both by his own life and by those of his apostles, of his bride and her desire towards him, and the joy and glory of his nuptials, can scarcely be said to have left this book unnoticed, although he never quoted from it or mentioned it by name. It stands by itself in the Old Testament, as the Apocalypse stands by itself in the New; but only those who have given it a hasty and superficial reading will long doubt that it contains within itself the mind of the Spirit.
§ 2. THE LITERARY FORM AND METHOD OF THE POEM.
Critics have been almost as much divided on the literary questions arising out of this remarkable book as theological writers have been on the interpretation of its meaning. Some have regarded it as a collection of love songs, as Herder the great German poet and philosopher, whose interesting and able work on the subject is entitled, 'Love Songs, the most Ancient and Beautiful from the East'. The old name given to the book, 'Canticles,' lends some weight to that view. The fact that no persons are introduced by name, and that the connection between the different parts of the poem is difficult to trace, seems to suggest an anthology of songs rather than a composition with unity of method and purpose. There have been modifications of this extreme view among the critics which have grown out of the more careful study of the poem. Goethe, e.g., while he once held that it was a mere collection of separate songs, afterwards in the 'Kunst und Alterthum' admitted that there was dramatic unity to be recognized in it. The chief representative of Herder's view in later times is Mundt; but there are few writers of any distinction who would deny that at least one mind is traceable in the ordering and placing of the songs. Bleek, e.g., admits one editor who has put together a variety of erotic compositions referring to different persons and composed at different periods. And some Jewish critics have supposed that while the Bulk of the poem refers to Solomon, other songs of a later date have been interpolated. The chief authorities for the unity of the composition are Ewald, Umbreit, Delitzsch, and Zockler. The following considerations must be acknowledged by every candid reader to be amply sufficient to support the view that the poem is not a mere collection of fragments or isolated songs, but has a definite aim, and is the product, at least in arrangement, of some one superintending mind. The name of Solomon, and of "the king," who is plainly Solomon, is prominent in the poem throughout. The different parts seem to be strung together by the introduction of a chorus somewhat after the manner of a Greek play; and the lover and his beloved interchange the language of affection in a kind of dialogue. The references to the family of the bride are consistent throughout. The another is introduced, never the father, but only the brothers, as though the father were deceased, which would point to a particular history (see Song of Song of Solomon 1:6; Song of Solomon 3:4; and 8:2). Again, the occurrence again and again of the same or similar words as a refrain, and the repetition of similar illustrations and figures, suggest one mind at work. The bride speaks in much the same language several times. In Song of Song of Solomon 2:16 and 6:3 she says, "My beloved is mine, and I am his." In Song of Song of Solomon 2:5 and 5:8, "I am sick with love," and over and over again she uses the expression, "he whom my soul loves." She is addressed by the chorus in a similar manner throughout. Delitzsch very rightly says, "He who has any perception whatever of the unity of a work of art in human discourse will receive an impression of external unity from the Song of Solomon which excludes all right to sunder anything from it as of a heterogeneous character or belonging to different periods, and which compels to the conclusion of an internal unity that may still remain an enigma to the Scripture exposition of the present, but must nevertheless exist."
But while unity of authorship, composition, and purpose may be substantiated, it is still a difficult question to decide what is the literary form and method of the poem. It is a mere abuse of literary language to call it a drama. There is, properly speaking, no dramatic action and progress in it. Ewald has gone so far as to maintain that it was designed for representation, and Bottcher and Renan that it actually was exhibited as a play. But all that can be said in favour of such a view is that there are dramatic features in the poem, such as the dialogue between the lover and the beloved, the introduction of the chorus, and the scenic character of some of the descriptions. But, on the other hand, there is no evidence that any such representations took place among the Jews at any time, and the generally idyllic character of the whole makes it extremely improbable that it was intended to be a drama. We can no more call the Song of Solomon a drama than we can give such a title to the Book of Job. Nor can we say, on the other hand, that it is a mere epithalamium, or idyllic song prepared for some nuptial occasion and adapted to a musical intention. The literary problems arising out of the mixed character of the composition seem to be solved in the higher question of its aim and purpose. It is the adaptation of human affection and sentiment to religious uses. We need not therefore wait for a satisfactory theory of its literary style, but rather be content to arrange its contents as they dispose themselves by the natural divisions of the subject matter. It has been observed by Dr. Henry Green, of Princeton (in a note to his translation of Zockler's 'Commentary'), "The scenes portrayed and the displays of mutual fondness indulged seem to be grouped rather than linked. They stand forth in their distinctness as exquisitely beautiful, and reflecting as much light on each other and on the subject which they illustrate and adorn as though they had been gathered up into the artificial unity of a consecutive narration or a dramatic plot. And this looser method of arrangement or aggregation, with its abrupt translation and sudden changes of scene, is no less graceful and impressive, while it is more in harmony with the Oriental mind and style of composition generally than the vigorous, external, and formal concatenation which the more logical but less proud Indo-European is prone to demand." All that seems necessary to do as a help to the literary appreciation of the poem is to indicate the general principle and method of its arrangement, which may be expressed thus: Lore is first set forth simply in its ecstatic fervour of emotion in the mutual delight of the lover and the beloved. It is then celebrated as nuptial love in the rejoicing of the bridegroom and the bride. And in the second half of the poem, Song of Song of Solomon 5:1 to the end, love is set forth as tried, for a time in danger of being lost, ultimately recovered and expanding into the fulness of joy. There are thus three parts in the poem. Part I extends from the beginning to the fifth verse of the third chapter, and may be described as The rapture of first love. Part II. extends from Song of Song of Solomon 3:6 to 5:1, and may be called Nuptial rejoicing. Part III. extends from Song of Song of Solomon 5:2 to 8:14, and may be named Separation and reunion. But while these main divisions are traceable m the composition, there are subdivisions which enable us to arrange the whole into a series of lyrical pieces, and to discern in the language some distinction of speakers and some variety of scene and action which give a wonderful life and unity to the poem.
The opening words prepare us for the general scope of the whole work, which is to set forth the theme of true love, and thus to lead our thoughts to the highest ideal of love. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine." We are prepared for the rapture of first love, which is poured out in the first part in exquisite dialogue and monologue.
(1) Shulamith, the beloved, is waiting for the arrival of her lover, and, surrounded by the chorus of ladies, pours out her rapture and longing, which is responded in by her admiring companions (Song of Song of Solomon 1:1-8).
(2) The royal lover appears, and the rapturous joy of mutual delight is poured out in the banqueting house (Song of Song of Solomon 1:9 to 2:7), closing with the refrain of serene contentment addressed by the beloved woman to the fair companions of her chamber: "I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awaken love until it please."
(3) In the bright, pure atmosphere of this new found rapture the beloved woman sings the episodes of her love, tells how the loved one wooed her, how the first love mingled with the loveliness of the opening spring and summer and the delights of a pastoral life, how the heart longed for him until he was found, and when it found him would not let him go, concluding with the same refrain of satisfied yearning as in Song of Song of Solomon 2:7. This third subdivision of Part I occupies from Song of Song of Solomon 2:8 to 3:5, and contains some of the loveliest poetry in the whole composition.
Part II. Nuptial rejoicing (Song of Song of Solomon 3:6 to 5:1). Here we have first a description of the nuptial festival, and then the bride and bridegroom rejoicing in one another.
(1) The litter of Solomon is seen surrounded with his bodyguard advancing towards Jerusalem. The daughters of Jerusalem go forth to meet him. He is crowned with the splendid crown made by his mother for the day of his espousal. It is but a glimpse of the festival, but it suggests the whole (Song of Song of Solomon 3:6-11).
(2) The greater part of the beautiful song which follows (Song of Song of Solomon 4:1-15) is the address of the bridegroom to the bride; but the bride responds with brief rhapsody of delight, in which she surrenders herself entirely to her husband (Song of Song of Solomon 4:16): "Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his precious fruits;" to which the bridegroom responds with the words of delight and satisfaction (Song of Song of Solomon 5:1).
This concludes the first half of the poem. We then pass into another region. The cloud passes over the face of the sun. The brightness of the bridal bliss is obscured for a while. The bride tells of her forgetfulness and the recovery of her peace. This we may call Separation and reunion — Part III. (Song of Song of Solomon 5:2 to 8:14). The subdivisions of this concluding portion may be distinguished as follows: —
(1) Under the figure of a dream the bride describes the temporary separation of her heart from the bridegroom; her misery; her longing and searching for the beloved object; and her appeal to her fair companions to help her (Song of Song of Solomon 5:2-8).
(2) The sympathizing companions of the bride draw out the fulness of her love by their questions, asking "why she so loves him," and whither he is gone from her (ch. 5:9 to 6:3).
(3) The royal bridegroom returns to his bride and rejoices once more in her (Song of Song of Solomon 6:4-9).
(4) The companions of the bride, recognizing the effect of the renewed bliss in the appearance of the bride, burst out into a song of praise of her beauty (Song of Song of Solomon 6:10).
(5) The bride responds with a declaration of her ecstatic delight (Song of Song of Solomon 6:11, Song of Solomon 6:12).
(6) The companions of the bride pour out their praises as they behold the bride in her dance of ecstasy (Song of Song of Solomon 6:13 to 7:5).
(7) The royal bridegroom, approaching the bride, delights in her attractions (Song of Song of Solomon 7:6-9).
(8) The bride, full of satisfaction in the love of her husband, invites him to return with her to the scenes of her maiden life, and there his love would beautify all that was familiar to her. In the thought of such bliss she again adjures her companions to acknowledge the perfection of her peace (Song of Song of Solomon 7:10 to 8:4).
(9) Bride and bridegroom are together in the restful joy of a simple country life, exchanging sweet remembrances and confidences (Song of Song of Solomon 8:5-7).
(10) In the peace of the old home others are thought of, and the bliss of the bride overflows upon her kindred, to which the royal bridegroom responds and the bride rejoices (Song of Song of Solomon 8:8-12).
(11) The royal bridegroom, delighting in his bride, bids her sing (Song of Song of Solomon 8:13).
(12) The poem ends with the sweet melody of the bride's voice, inviting the bridegroom to hasten to her side, in one of her familiar love songs: "Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices." Thus the voice of the bride, which opens the poem, lingers on the ear in its close, and suggests to us that the whole is as if from her standpoint the aspiration of an ideal love, breathing itself out in desire after the beloved objects, — that the king may delight himself in her beauty.
§ 3. THEORIES OF INTERPRETATION.
No one can accept the Song of Solomon as a book of Scripture, the canonical authority of which is undoubted, without forming some theory of interpretation which shall justify the position of such a book amongst the sacred writings. It will be evident that our fundamental principles in respect to the nature and authority of inspired books will modify the views we hold on any particular portion of Scripture. If the sacred writings are no more than a collection of Jewish literature, in which there would naturally be great variety, and not necessarily in every instance a lofty spiritual aim, then we can regard the Song of Solomon as Herder did, as a collection of beautiful Eastern songs, and there is no need to seek in them either unity of purpose or special significance. But it is more difficult to reconcile such a view with the facts than to find a tenable theory of interpretation. It is simply incredible that such a book, if merely of literary or moral worth, should be introduced into the collection of Jewish Scriptures, to be an inexplicable exception to the whole volume. All other books have some distinct and easily recognizable connection with the religious character and peculiar national position of the Jewish people. Not one is where it is because it is a piece of literature. Why should the Song of Solomon be an exception? Moreover, the simple fact that Jews themselves have always sought for an interpretation of the book shows that they were not satisfied with the mere literary value of it. We must either eliminate it altogether from the Bible, or we must find some method for its profitable use. Those who have renounced all attempts to explain it have either been impatient with the difficulties, or out of humour with the expositors. No doubt a very large amount of folly has been published by those who have endeavoured to support a theory by ingenious manipulation of the language. We are apt to be revolted by such extravagance, and treat the whole subject with indifference. But there is no more beautiful book in the Old Testament than the Song of Solomon. We cannot be right in leaving it unstudied and unused. We must deal with it as a part of Holy Scripture. As far as possible, therefore, we must put it in intelligible relation to the Word of God, as a progressive revelation of Divine truth. We must understand what is the idea of the book, and how that idea is set forth in the form in which the poem is composed. We proceed, therefore, to give an account of the different theories which have been held as to the interpretation of the book, and so to justify that which we accept in the subsequent Exposition.
The theories of interpretation may be classed under three heads.
1. Those which assume that the work is an allegory, that the facts contained in it are merely employed for the purpose of framework, the language being mystical and figurative.
2. Those which are founded upon a naturalistic basis, taking the literary features of the work as the first in importance, and regarding it as some form of love poem or collection of erotic songs.
3. Between these two extremes stands the typical view, which, without discarding the historical and literary basis, not to be disputed on the very face of the work, endeavours to justify its position in the Word of God by analogy with other portions of Scripture, in which natural and national facts and interests are imbued with spiritual significance.
In each of these points of view there is truth, as there is variety of interpretation. We shall be best prepared to understand the results of the most able modern criticism by placing these different theories clearly side by side.
1. The allegorical theory. This is much the most ancient method of interpretation. It sprang, no doubt, from the rabbinical school among the Jews, in which the verbal inspiration of Scripture was tenaciously held, while, at the same time, all kinds of fanciful interpretations were foisted into the divinely authorized words. If the veil of the language has to be preserved intact, then the only resource of the dogmatist or the speculator is to bring forth from behind the veil that which suits his purpose. It is of no consequence to prove that there were any real persons, such as Solomon and Shulamith, whose love for one another is celebrated in this book. It might be so or it might not be so; these things are an allegory. The deepest truths are set forth in the dress of these words of human affection. Some have found in them God and his Church throughout all time. Others the historical and political relations of the Jewish people. Others have sought in them profound philosophical mysteries and cabalistic secrets. There is one point, and one alone, in which all these allegorical interpreters agree, and that is, that nothing is to be made of the book taken literally, that there is no consistency and order in it if we attempt to regard it historically; therefore we have nothing in it but words, which may be applied in any manner which is spiritually or otherwise profitable. Such a view condemns itself, for it deprives us of any ground of confidence in seeking the true interpretation. That surely must be the mind of the Spirit which best accords with the facts of the case. If there is not a foundation of historical truth underlying all the Scripture, then it is a mere unsubstantial cloud which may be blown away by the changes in the atmosphere of human opinion. It is against the analogy of Scripture. It opens the way to extravagance and folly, by removing all bounds and inviting the licence of mere individual speculation. It repels the common sense of the ordinary reader of Scripture, and simply shuts the book which it misinterprets, so that many refuse to look into it at all. "This mode of expounding each separate particular, not with a view to its place in the description in which it stands, but as a distinct reference to the spiritual object typified by it, necessarily leads both to a serious distortion of the lessons to be conveyed, and to a marring and mangling of the symmetry and beauty of the objects depicted." Postponing any further discussion of this principle, we proceed to give a summary of the history of the allegorical interpretation.
There is no evidence that the Song of Solomon was allegorically infer preted among the ancient Jews previous to the Christian era. Had it been a well known, traditional view, it would certainly have appeared in some of the writings of the Apocrypha, or in the works of Philo. But there is no clear trace of it in either. The allusion which is found in the Fourth Book of Esdras (5:24, 26), in which the terms "lily" and "dove" are employed of the Church, must be referred to a Christian origin, and dates probably about the end of the first century A.D. There is no decided evidence of the allegorical theory until the eighth century, when there appeared a Targum on the book itself, with Ruth, Lamentations, Esther, and Ecclesiastes. The allegory is taken to be a figurative representation of the history of the Israelites from the time of the exodus to their final restoration and salvation. The Targum is marked, like most similar productions, by great extravagance and absurd anachronisms. After an interval of several centuries, distinguished rabbis published commentaries which contained references to older interpreters who had followed the Targum in the allegorical view. Such were Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac (or Rashi), who died 1105; David Kimchi; Ibn Ezra; Moses Maimonides; Moses ben Tibbon; Immanuel ben Salome, and others. Some of these rabbinical writers have used the book to support their peculiar philosophical views and their rabbinical interpretations of Scripture; but most of the Jewish writers have regarded the allegory as veiled history and prophecy.
It was very different, however, with the Christian commentators. Not only did they almost without exception treat the book as an allegory, but they strained the interpretation beyond all limits of common sense and Scripture analogy, so that their example has remained a warning, which has produced a healthy reaction in the Church, and has led to the more reasonable view which is now adopted by all the best critics. The rise of the allegorical method can be traced chiefly to the Alexandrian school, and to its great representative Origen. It was the fruit of philosophy in union with Christianity. Origen wrote two homilies on the Song of Solomon, which were translated by Jerome, and a commentary, part of which still remains in the Latin of Rufinus. The idea of the book, according to Origen, is the longing of the soul after God, and the sanctifying and elevating influence of Divine love; but he varies in his explanation of the allegory, now taking it of the individual and then of the Church. His example was followed by later Christian writers, as by Eusebius, Athanasius, Epiphanius, Cyril, Macarius, Gregory of Nyssa, Basil, Gregory Nazianzen, Theodoret, Augustine, and Chrysostom. There were slight differences among these early Fathers in their application of the method, but they all adopted it. Ambrose went so far as to suggest in his sermon on the perpetual virginity of Saint Mary, that there are allusions to Mary in such expressions as the "locked garden" and the "sealed fountain" (Song of Song of Solomon 4:12); and Gregory the Great regarded the crown wherewith Solomon's mother crowned him as a mystical emblem of the humanity which the Saviour derived from Mary. There were some of the Fathers, however, as Theodore of Mopsuestia, who advocated the literal and historical method of interpretation, and he was challenged by some of his critics for his sensual view of the book.
When we come to the Middle Ages we meet with larger and fuller commentaries, in which the allegorical method is wrought out with great ingenuity. The highest name, perhaps, is that of the mystic Bernard of Clairvaux, who wrote eighty-six sermons on the first two chapters, followed by his scholar, Gilbert von Hoyland, who wrote fifty-eight discourses on another portion. Bernard's discourses are mystical. The soul is seeking her heavenly Bridegroom, and introduced by him into progressive states of privilege — the garden, the banqueting hall, the sleeping chamber. The kiss of Christ is explained of the Incarnation. He was followed by Richard de St. Victor, and by the great theologian Thomas Aquinas, Bonaventura, Gershon, and Isidore Hispalensis. The whole mystery of the soul's intercourse with the Saviour is, according to them, represented in the language of the Song. The book was, of course, greedily laid hold of by the Middle Age mystics, as it has been by the mysticoevangelical school of modern times, and amidst a dense cloud of fanciful extravagance there are here and there to be found in their commentaries gleams of highly spiritual discernment and profound thought. The Spanish mystics went to great lengths of absurdity; the "cheeks" of the bride were outward Christianity and good works; her "golden chains" were faith; the "silver points" of the golden ornaments were holiness in the walk and conversation; "spikenard" was redeemed humanity; "the breath of myrrh" was the Passion of our Saviour; "the thorns about the rose" were temptations by tribulations, crimes, and heretics; "the chariot of Amminadab" represented the power of the devil, and so forth.
When we come to the time of the Reformers, when biblical study received an entirely new impulse and direction, we find the allegorical method, while not altogether discarded, somewhat modified by the historical and critical spirit which was growing in the Church. Martin Luther was to a large extent under the influence of mystical writers in the early part of his theological course, but he did not follow them in their allegorical tendencies. He saw the danger, which they had promoted, to the healthy use of Scripture, and the mist they threw around its simple, practical meaning. In his 'Brevis Enarratio in Cantica Canticorum' he takes the book as written for an historical purpose — to glorify the age and kingly power of Solomon, and so to exalt the theocracy at its highest splendour. It is to help the people to thank God for the blessings of peace and prosperity. God is the Bridegroom, and his people are the bride. Luther was followed in his view by other Reformers. Nicolas de Lyra, in his 'Portilla,' regards it as a representation of the history of Israel from Moses to Christ, and in the later chapters, of the Christian Church from Christ to the time of the Emperor Constantine. Starke (in his 'Synopsis,' pt. 4.) sees in it a prophecy in which is represented the coming of Messiah in the flesh, the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, the gathering of the New Testament Church from Jews and Gentiles, and the special trials and providential leadings of the people of God in every age. Bishop Perez of Valentia, in 1507, published a commentary, in which an elaborate system of chronological interpretation is set forth. There are ten canticles setting forth ten periods — the patriarchs, the tabernacle, the voice of God from the tabernacle, the ark in the wilderness, Moses on Pisgah, the death of Moses, entrance into Canaan, conquest and partition of Canaan, conflicts under the Judges, prosperity and peace under Solomon. To these ten Old Testament facts correspond ten New Testament fulfilments — the Incarnation, teaching of Christ, his life and miracles, his ascent to Jerusalem, his death on the cross, the ingathering of Jewish converts, the mission to the Gentiles, the conflicts of the martyr Church, prosperity and peace under Constantine. Cocceius, in his 'Cogitationes,' finds in it the prediction of the events of his own time; and Cornelius a Lapide treats it, in a high Roman Catholic manner, as significant of the glory of the Virgin, while he takes it as a kind of prophetic drama, setting forth the history of the Church.
When we come to more modern times and to the great "Introductions" to the study of the Bible, written by the most learned critics, we see the influence of a closer attention to the structure and language of the book in the gradual decay of the allegorical method, and the attempt to unite the facts which underlie the words with a distinct spiritual significance. In the beginning of this century, the great Roman Catholic theologian and critic Leon. Hug made a novel attempt to maintain the allegorical view. The bride represented the ten tribes, the bridegroom King Hezekiah, the brother of the bride a party in the house of Judah opposing the reunion of the rent kingdom. He was followed by Kaiser in 1825. Rosenmuller sought to put fresh life into the worn out theory by analogies brought from Hindoo and Persian poetry; as Puffendorf introduced in his paraphrase mystical allusions to the grave and the hope of the resurrection, the "virgins" being "pure and chaste souls shut up in the dark grave," and waiting for the light of the Saviour's resurrection. Until we come to the tame of Keil and Hengstenberg, we have no really sensible defence of the theory put forth, and it is scarcely necessary to make the remark that their defence is a virtual surrender, for their use of the allegorical method is so moderate that it barely exceeds the ideal and typical view, and is substantially the same as that of Delitzsch and Zockler. Keil says, "The book depicts in dramatico-lyrical, responsive songs, under the allegory of the bridal love of Solomon and Shulamith, the loving communion between the Lord and his Church, according to its ideal nature as it results from the choice of Israel to be the Church of the Lord. According to this, every disturbance of that fellowship springing out of Israel's infidelity leads to an ever firmer establishment of the covenant of love, by means of Israel's return to the true covenant God, and this God's unchangeable love. Yet we are not to trace in the poem the historical course of the covenant relation, as if a veil of allegory had been thrown over the principal critical events in the theocratic history." Hahn, e.g., finds allegorically represented "that the kingdom of Israel is called in the service of God finally to overcome heathendom with the weapons of love and righteousness, and to lead it back to the peaceful rest of loving fellowship with Israel, and so with God again." Hengstenberg, in his 'Prolegomena to the Song of Solomon,' and in his Exposition, argues for the allegorical view from the use of similar erotic language in the Psalms and prophets, as well as in the general tone of the Old Testament. The beloved of the heavenly Solomon is the daughter of Zion; the whole, therefore, must be explained of Messiah and his Church. But he proceeds to attempt an application of this view to the details of the language, in which he shows that it can only be accepted in a modified form — the hair of the bride like a flock of goats represents the mass of nations converted to Christianity; the navel of Shulamith denotes the cup from which the Church refreshes those that thirst for salvation with a noble and refreshing draught; the sixty and eighty wives of Solomon, the admission of the original Gentile nations into the Church, 140 being 7 multiplied by 2 and by 10 — the "signature of the covenant," the kingdom of Christ being prefigured by the diverse nations introduced into Solomon's harem! Such follies tend to blind the reader to the substantial truth of the theory, which is that, under the figure of the pure and beautiful love of Solomon for Shulamith, is imaged the love of God in Christ for humanity, both in the individual and in the Church.
The only other names which require mention in connection with the allegorical theory are those of Thrupp, Wordsworth, and Stowe. Joseph Francis Thrupp published a revised translation with introduction and commentary. The millenarian view dominates his work throughout. It is a prophecy of the coming of Christ. Wordsworth (Christopher), in his 'Commentary on the Bible,' published 1868, also regards the poem as a prophetic allegory, suggested by Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter, and describing "the gathering" of the world into mystical union with Christ, and its consecration into a Church espoused to him as the bride. Calvin E. Stowe defends the allegorical view in the Biblical Repository, giving a partial translation. The fault of all these writers, able and learned as they are, is that they push their theory too far, and that they are led away by it into a misuse of Scripture to support that which does not fairly rest upon it. This is the danger which must always attend upon the allegorical method. The ingenuity of the interpreter is tempted to supply, out of his own creed, what is lacking in the scheme of the allegory, he has liberty to suggest what analogies he discovers. The highly figurative language of such a poem as the Song of Solomon is easily accommodated to the demands of any system of thought to which the wish is father. But while the allegorical method, as a formal treatment, may be erroneous, it recognizes the spiritual meaning and value of the Book. The canonical position of such a work requires to be justified. The allegorist attempts to do so. lie is certainly right in demanding that a distinct religious purpose shall be the vital centre of any system of interpretation put forth. As Isaac Taylor has remarked, in his 'Spirit of Hebrew Poetry,' "The book has given animation, and depth, and intensity, and warrant, too, to the devout meditations of thousands of the most devout and of the purest minds. Those who have no consciousness of this kind, and whose feelings and notions are all 'of the earth, earthy,' will not fail to find in this instance that which suits them, for purposes, sometimes of mockery, sometimes of luxury, sometimes of disbelief. Quite unconscious of these possessions, and happily ignorant of them, and unable to suppose them possible, there have been multitudes of earthly spirits to whom this, the most beautiful of pastorals, has been, not indeed a beautiful pastoral, but the choicest of those words of truth which are 'sweeter than honey to the taste,' and 'rather to be chosen than thousands of gold and silver.'"
2. We must now proceed to describe the theories of interpretation which have been based upon a naturalistic principle. These may be styled the erotic, as they all regard the work as a collection of erotic songs, put together simply on the ground of their literary worth and poetic arrangement, religiously used by being idealized, just as the language of secular poetry may be sometimes mingled with sacred, though the original intention of the words had no such application. There are several varieties in the form of this erotic theory. The songs have been regarded by some as separate idylls of love, collected together and formed into a poem only by a predominating reference to Solomon, and by the one pervading spirit of pure love. But others have attempted to trace a dramatic unity and progress in the whole, and have elaborated a history on which to found the drama, while those who have renounced all such attempts to find a drama in Hebrew poetry have yet clung to the idea of an epithalamium, composed on the occasion of Solomon's marriage, either with the Egyptian princess or some Israelitish bride, and have endeavoured to justify their view by the literary form of the poem. It is not necessary entirely to reject the naturalistic basis in order to find a reason for the position of Solomon's Song in the Bible. There is an element of truth in all the erotic theories. They help us to remember that human love is capable of being mingled with Divine ideas. That which is so often impure, and which sinks the life of man below that of the beasts that perish, may yet be sanctified, lifted above the evil of a fallen nature, and so may be taken, ideally, as the fitting vehicle by which to convey the Spirit of God to the spirit of man.
The earliest writer whose treatment of the book was based upon the secular view of it was Theodore of Mopsuestia. He dealt with all Scripture much in the same way, in the spirit of a rigid literalism, in which he followed the school of Antioch. Like others of the same class, he found only human love in the language, and his 'Commentary' was publicly condemned on that account in the Fifth. The Church's anathema crushed this commentary out of existence. The Middle Ages were dominated by the allegorical spirit, and no other view was put forth for hundreds of years. Until the free spirit of the Reformation introduced a new criticism, the secular view of Solomon's Song did not reappear. In the time of Calvin, Geneva was startled by the brochure of Sebastian Castellio, who represented Shulamith as a concubine, and denounced the book as unworthy of a place in Scripture — to the great displeasure of Calvin himself, who is said to have compelled Castellio to withdraw from Geneva. The next name in the bibliography is that of Hugo Grotius, who published his 'Annotations' on the Old Testament in 1664. In his view the work is a nuptial song, with allegorical and typical meanings, which he admits are to be found in it, though he does not himself seek them. R. Simon, J. Clericus, Simon Episcopius, are other instances of the same treatment of the book in the latter part of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth centuries. The rise of rationalism was the revival of the theory. Semler and Michaelis led the way, in the middle of the last century, disparaging the book altogether.
It was only as the literary spirit of German criticism began to deal more fairly with the whole of Scripture, as the remains of a great people, that the poetic merits of Solomon's Song began to be recognized, and an attempt was made to understand its position in the canon. Lessing, who was the greatest critical mind of Europe at that time, saw that there was great idyllic beauty in these 'Eclogues of King Solomon,' as he called them, and compared them with those of Theocritus and Viral; but the most distinguished name is that of Herder, whose celebrated work on 'The Spirit of Hebrew Poetry' did much to revive the interest of the literary world in the Bible. Herder wrote a separate work on Solomon's Song, treating it as a collection of songs of love, and as intended to describe ideal human love, for the purpose of setting forth the example of purity and innocence when it was most needed in the ancient world. His criticism is in many respects valuable and highly aesthetic. He draws attention to the exquisite poetry of the songs, and to their surpassing worth as an ideal of human sentiment. But delightful reading as Herder's work undoubtedly is, it is yet but little help to the biblical student, as there is no attempt to follow out the religious intimations of the language, or to find in it any parabolical intention. The rationalistic critics have, most of them, regarded the songs as fragmentary and isolated, and thus have deprived themselves of their true position as commentators; for if there be no unity in the book, it is hard to find any basis on which to rest the explanation of its meaning as a whole. To suppose a sacred work written simply in praise of human feeling, or even to cherish the ideal of human relationship, is to resist the analogy of Scripture. It may be doubted if even the Proverbs of Solomon should be regarded from so wide and general a point of view as that.
There is no need to trouble the reader with an account of the many books which have appeared in Germany, treating not only Solomon's Song, but eyeing other book in the Bible, in the most flimsy, superficial spirit, as though no deeper meaning need ever be sought in them than that which satisfies the logical understanding of a narrow-minded, pedantic professor. Eichhorn, Jahn, De Wette, Augusti, Kleuker, Doderlein, Velthusen, Gaab, Justi, Dodke, Magnus, Rebenstein, Lossner, — all such critics have proceeded on the principle of finding a literary explanation of the form, not a spiritual exposition of the matter. Their highest aim is critical, and they have their reward — they shake together a heap of dry bones, and their own dead hearts hear no living voice of response. But there is a little advance upon the barren, dreary emptiness of this rationalistic criticism in what is called the dramatic theory of interpretation, which has received a considerable accession of interest during the present century by the development of a new historical hypothesis by which it is attempted to explain the dramatic unity and progress of the composition. Jacobi, in 1771, led the way, in a work in which he professed to defend the Song of Solomon from the reproaches brought against it, supposing Solomon to have fallen in love with a young married woman, who, with the husband, is brought to Jerusalem. The husband is induced to divorce his wife for Solomon's sake, and she is alarmed at the king's approach, and cries out for her husband's help. The whole is a worthless attempt to work out a baseless hypothesis, which is entirely out of harmony with the pure spirit of the whole book. Other German critics, such as Hezel, von Ammon, Staudlin, and Umbreit, have followed Jacobi in endeavouring to unfold the dramatic unity of the poem, but none have gone further than the great historian Ewald, who has translated it with an introduction and critical remarks; see also his work on 'The Poets of the Old Testament'. His view, as set forth in the latter work, is that it was actually prepared for representation. This opinion is supported by the hypothesis that there is an actual love history at the basis of the poem; a young shepherd, of the north of Palestine, being the real lover of Shulamith, from whom Solomon desires to alienate her affection; and that the main idea of the book is the successful resistance of Shulamith to the allurements of the royal lover and her faithfulness to her first love, to whom she is restored by the king in acknowledgment of her virtue and as an act of homage to faithful affection. This theory has been adopted by many critics in later times, as by Hitzig, Vaihinger, Renan, Reville, and Ginsburg; but it is not only exceedingly improbable in itself, but out of harmony with the place of the work in the canon of Scripture. Even if we could suppose Solomon capable of writing such a history of his own delinquencies, we could still less understand how such a "confession" should be incorporated in the sacred volume. There may be expressions in the mouth of the bride which seem at first sight to favour such a theory, but the position of Solomon throughout is quite inconsistent with the idea of illicit solicitation, or indeed with any other relation to Shulamith than that of chaste and legal marriage. The only forcible argument in favour of this view, which is generally called "the shepherd" theory, is the use of language in reference to the bridegroom which supposes him a shepherd; but this is explained by the fact which lies on the surface of the poem: that the bride is one brought up in country life, and who in the purity and simplicity of her heart addresses even Solomon himself as her shepherd. The conclusion of the poem bears this out, for Solomon is so captivated by the beauty of her character that he follows her to her native region and rural home where he is surrounded by her relations, to whom he vouchsafes his royal favour. It must not be overlooked, that by this highly artistic method not only is the contrast between the royal splendour and the pastoral simplicity heightened, but ample scope is given for the introduction of spiritual analogies, which must be granted to be the main purpose of the book and the justification of its place in the canon. The theory is seen in all its improbability in the form which is given it by Renan, who represents the shepherd following his beloved one to the foot of the tower of the seraglio where she is confined, being admitted secretly by her, and then exclaiming, in the presence of the chorus, in a state of rapturous delight, "I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse," etc. (Song of Song of Solomon 5:1), carrying her home when she is at last released from the king's harem, asleep in his arms, and laying her under an apple tree when she awakes to call upon her lover to set her as a seal upon his arm, etc. The shepherd hypothesis is also defective in another respect, and that is, that it fails to give a clear explanation of the two dreams which Shulamith narrates, which certainly must both refer to the same object of love, and would seem to imply that there was some defect of love on her part. The spiritual interpretation is perfectly simple and plain; the bride representing the soul of man, and therefore its inferiority to that with which it would be united. But if we suppose Shulamith shut up in a harem, the representation is most forced and unnatural, for she certainly could not have either wandered by night in the city of Jerusalem, nor dreamed of such an adventure. The whole hypothesis is rendered unnecessary by the arrangement which disposes the language among three classes of speakers only — the bride, the chorus of ladies, and the king. Thus the shepherd lover is identified with the royal bridegroom, and the basis is still left secure on which a spiritual interpretation of the whole can be based. Notwithstanding the very ingenious attempts made by Ginsburg and Reville to defend the theory, it must be given up, with all the erotic explanations, as untenable and lowering to the character of the poem. We can only justify this decisive statement of opinion by setting forth, in opposition to what we oppose, a more excellent way, which we now proceed to do, giving an account, at the same time, of the various shapes which have been given to the typical view, which we adopt.
3. The typical view. It should be frankly admitted by those who reject both the allegorical and the erotic interpretation of the Song of Solomon that no theory can be sound which does not recognize what forms the principal distinctive element in each of these views. We cannot overlook the fact that the book is a religious book, and is placed as such in the canon; therefore in some sense and to some extent it must be allegorical, that is, there must be a deeper meaning in it than that which appears on the surface, and that meaning must be in harmony with the rest of Scripture. So with regard to the various erotic and naturalistic explanations, it cannot be denied that there is an historical basis on which the whole rests, so that as poetry there is an ideal human element running through it which gives it both vitality and form. It is the attempt to carry it out to an extreme which has vitiated the theory in each case. The main principle can be preserved without acceptance of the details. It is true, as Zockler has observed, that it was "the greatly preponderating inclination of the Fathers in the Middle Ages, which soon obtained exclusive sway, to plunge immediately and at once into the spiritual sense, which stifled at its birth every attempt to assert at the same time an historical sense, and branded it with the same anathema as the profane-erotic interpretation of Theodore of Mopsuestia." But the spirit of the Reformation broke the spell of the allegorists. The desire to know the mind of the Spirit led to a truer searching of the Scriptures. Even in the Roman Catholic Church there were signs of that freedom, especially among the mystics, one of whom, the Spanish mystic Louis de Leon, in the latter part of the sixteenth century, wrote a translation and explanation of the Canticles, in classical Spanish, in which, recognizing the historical basis of the book, he lifted the veil from the spiritual beauties which he said were hidden behind the figures. Others followed in the same track, as Mercerus (Le Mercier), 1573, in his 'Commentary,' and Bossuet in his work on the 'Books of Solomon', and Calmet in his 'Commentary;' but the two great English names in connection with a revival of the study of the book on a more intelligent foundation are John Lightfoot and Bishop Lowth. The latter, especially in his 'Prelections in Hebrew Poetry,' somewhat after the style of Herder, led the way in this country to a profounder attention to the literary form and critical examination of the Bible. Lowth's view is substantially that which has been adopted by the majority of evangelical writers since his time, that the book is not to be regarded as a "continual metaphor" nor as a "parable properly so called," but rather as a "mystical allegory in which a higher sense is superinduced upon an historical verity." He is certainly wrong, however, in his view that the bride referred to is Pharaoh's daughter. Harmer, the author of the 'Observations on Passages of Scripture,' followed Lowth, in 1778, with a commentary and new explanation of Solomon's Song; but it is merely of a literary kind, no attempt being made to explain the spiritual application of the language, and it is of no great value. Dr. Mason Good, the learned physician, translated the Song with very interesting notes, regarding it as a collection of idylls in praise of Solomon's queen. Charles Taylor has added valuable notes to Calmet's 'Dictionary,' and Pye Smith advocated the merely literary value of the book and its unspiritual character. Hoffmann explained it of Pharaoh's daughter, and Zockler went back too far towards the allegorical theory. The two great German commentators, Keil and Delitzsch, substantially agree in their view, which, while admitting the allegorical intent of the book, refuses to see hidden meanings in every detail of the historical basis. One would find, more distinctly than the other, reference to the Church of Christ, both in Israel and in the new dispensation, but both agree that the love of Solomon for his bride is idealized, and so used spiritually. Keil sums up his view thus: "It depicts in dramatized lyrical expression, by songs, under the allegory of the bridal love of Solomon and Shulamith, the loving communion between the Lord and his Church, according to its ideal nature as it results from the choice of Israel to be the Church of the Lord. According to this, every disturbance of that fellowship, springing out of Israel's infidelity, leads to an even firmer establishment of the covenant of love, by means of Israel's return to the true covenant God, and thus God's unchangeable love. Yet we are not to trace in the poem the historical course of the covenant relation, as if a veil of allegory had been thrown over the principal events in the theocratic history". The Revelation T.L. Kingsbury, M.A., in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' has accepted the suggestion which seems the most natural — that the history which is involved in the Song is genuine, and that it refers to "some shepherd maiden of Northern Palestine, by whose beauty and nobility of soul the great king has been captivated; that as the work of one endued by inspiration with that wisdom which 'overseeth all things' (Wisd. 8:23), and so contemplates them from the highest point of view, it is in its essential character an ideal representation of human love in the relation of marriage; that which is universal and common in its operation to all mankind being here set forth in one grand typical instance." "No allegorical method of exposition," he rightly observes, "which declines attempting to elucidate an independent literal sense, on the plea that such endeavour would involve the interpretation in a succession of improprieties and contradictions," should be accepted. It is both untrue and dishonouring to a sacred and canonical book. The fundamental idea he would take to be "the awful all-constraining, the at once levelling and elevating powers of the mightiest and most universal of human affections; and the two axes on which the main action of the poem revolves are the twofold invitation, the king's invitation to the bride on bringing her to Jerusalem, the bride's to the king in recalling him to Shunem." While we willingly coincide in the general truth of these remarks, we incline to the view which Keil has expressed so moderately, that the main purpose of the book is not to glorify a human sentiment or relationship, which seems out of place in a Hebrew book, but rather, using the ideal human feeling and relationship to lead the soul of man into the thought of its fellowship with God, the condescending privilege which is included in that fellowship, the exaltation of man which it brings with it, and the mutual character of religion, both in the individual and in the Church, as based upon the mystical union of God and his creature and their interchange of communications. We must not be deterred from a moderate and chastened employment of type in the interpretation of Scripture by the abuse which has been only too frequently made of it. No doubt, if we look above the historical, or natural, or literary aspects of the book, it is easy to find in it the meanings which we may be tempted to put there; but the same thing may be said of the Lord's parables and of all Scripture. The historical, literary, and spiritual aspects blend in one, and that interpretation which is given to the language is most likely to be after the mind of the Spirit, which follows his own method and harmonizes with that which he inspired the man of God to set before us, and his Church to hand down to us with the seal of its approbation upon it. The commentary must always justify, or otherwise, its own main principle; and if as a whole it satisfies the language, it cannot be very far astray.
It has been objected by some that we ought not to employ Solomon as in any sense a type of God or of Christ, because he was a sensual man; but such a principle would simply exclude all types, for they must be inferior in worth to that which they typify. The patriarchs were far from perfect men in their moral features, but they were plainly employed in Scripture typically as well as historically. David himself, the leading typical character and norm of the Old Testament, was guilty of great sins. Moreover, while Solomon appears in the poem itself as a sensual Eastern monarch, there is no reference to the sensuality of his life. Nor need we doubt that, sensualist as he became, and degraded as he was in the latter part of his life, he would in the earlier portion of his manhood be capable of the sincere attachment portrayed in the songs. At the same time, it may be allowed that the facts are idealized. Fundamentally they are historical. For a religious purpose they are lifted up into the region of poetry. To a considerable extent the same may be said of the Book of Job, which builds a splendid poem on a basis of facts.
There remains, then, only, in conclusion, to justify this typical interpretation by showing that it is in analogy with other parts of Scripture. It will not be denied by any one, however much opposed to allegory or type, that the metaphor of marriage is common through the Old Testament in connection with the exhortation to covenant faithfulness. This is so familiar in the prophetical writings that it is quite unnecessary to adduce instances. The fifth, fiftieth, and sixty-second chapters of Isaiah and the first few chapters of Hosea, with the opening words of Malachi, will suffice to remind the reader that it was an illustration which all the sacred writers made use of. It should again be remembered that we have in the forty-fifth psalm an instance of what the title describes as a "Song of Loves," or Epithalamium, which no one doubts was composed on the occasion of Solomon's marriage, or on some similar occasion in Israel. It is only a very extreme rejection of typical interpretation which would refuse to such a psalm any higher application than that which appears upon the surface, especially with such language in it as ver. 6, "Thy throne, O God, is forever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre." Admitting that such terms might be at first employed only as royal adulation and homage, it can scarcely be doubted that their place in the Word of God is due to the fact that the Israelitish king was regarded as the type of him who was called by the believing "Israelite indeed, in whom was no guile," "the Son of God, the King of Israel" (John 1:49). The reference to Messiah was certainly believed by the Jews themselves, as we see from the introduction of it into the Chaldee paraphrase and others of the Jewish writings, and as such it is cited in Hebrews (Hebrews 1:8, Hebrews 1:9). No satisfactory explanation of the psalm can be made out on any other view. If we deny a Messianic reference in such a case, while the New Testament confirms it, our position must be that of dealing with the whole of the Old Testament only as a fragmentary Jewish literature, without proper unity and without inspired authority. In that case we are thrown back upon far greater difficulties than any which the older view meets, for we cannot explain the history and character of the Jewish people as a whole, and we must be prepared to answer the full force of the Apostle Paul's emphatic statement, that "to them were committed the oracles of God" (Romans 3:2). Such bold rationalism is now completely out of date, and we must be at the pains to study the language of the Old Testament with a reverent acknowledgment of the purpose of God in unfolding the secrets of his mind and will. Hengstenberg bases his argument for the allegorical interpretation of Solomon's Song on the fact that Solomon himself is the author, and that we cannot otherwise account for the title and place given to the work. Had it been a mere collection of love songs, it would be a dishonour to the Word of God to call it by such a name and place it side by side with the sublime inspired songs of Moses, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, and David. There is certainly considerable force in that view. And the close correspondence between the "Song of Loves," the forty-fifth psalm, and the "Song of Songs" seems to confirm the typical character of both. We find, for instance, such language as this, apparently adopted as a religious phraseology, "fairest among the children of men" (Psalms 45:3), "chiefest among ten thousand" (Song of Song of Solomon 5:10). "The king," as the highest object of praise; "lilies," as the emblems of virgin purity and loveliness; loveliness of the lip, as representing excellence of discourse; heroic might, majesty, and glory in the king; the idea which pervades both, of conjugal fidelity, with other minor resemblances, lend considerable weight to the suggestion that the forty-fifth psalm was a kind of adaptation of the Canticles for performance by the sons of Korah in the temple, Hengstenberg mentions many instances in the prophetical Scriptures in which he traces allusion to the language or metaphors of the Song of Solomon, but they are not sufficiently clear to be relied upon as evidence. And the same may be said of the instances which he adduces from the New Testament, which he thinks is "pervaded with references all of them based on the Supposition that the book is to be interpreted spiritually." Our Lord refers to "Solomon in all his glory;" can we safely affirm that he alludes to the description in Canticles? Hengstenberg points to the metaphor in Song of Song of Solomon 2:1, "I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley," but unfortunately he has put those words into the lips of Solomon instead of the bride, which defeats his reference. Most of the other instances are equally unsatisfactory. At the same time, it must be admitted that the use of metaphors formed from the marriage relation and from the language of human affection, in application to the highest intercourse of the soul with the objects of faith, is common both in our Lord's discourses and in the writings of the apostles. It is especially prominent in the Apocalypse. The Church is the bride, the Lamb's wife. Would such metaphors be employed by the Apostle John unless he had found them already in the Old Testament? Would the Apostle Paul have spoken as he does of the mystical meaning of marriage as setting forth the union between Christ and his Church, unless the Scriptures had familiarized the people of God with the symbol?
We entirely sympathize with that revulsion of feeling with which healthy minds turn away from the extravagant fancifulness and arbitrariness of the allegorical school of commentators. But we refuse to follow those who, in their avoidance of one extreme, fly to the other. The book cannot be a mere literary product. We must find for it some true place in the sacred volume. "Shall we then," asks Mr. Kingsbury, in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "regard it as a mere fancy, which for so many ages past has been wont to find in the pictures and melodies of the Song of Songs types and echoes of the actings and emotions of the highest love, of love Divine, in its relations to humanity; which, if dimly discerned through their aid by the synagogue, have been amply revealed in the gospel to the Church? Shall we not still claim to trace, in the noble and gentle history thus presented, foreshadowings of the infinite condescensions of incarnate love? — that love which, first stooping in human form to visit us in our low estate in order to seek out and win its object, and then raising along with itself a sanctified humanity to the heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6), is finally awaiting there an invitation from the mystic bride to return to earth once more and seal the union for eternity (Revelation 22:17)? With such a conception of the character and purpose of the poem, we may at any rate sympathize with the glowing language of St. Bernard concerning it. This Song excels all other songs of the Old Testament. They being, for the most part, songs of deliverance from captivity, Solomon for such had no occasion. In the height of glory, singular in wisdom, abounding in riches, secure in peace, he here by Divine inspiration sings the praises of Christ and his Church, the grace of holy love, the mysteries of the eternal marriage, yet all the while like Moses putting a veil before his face, because at that time there were few or none that could gaze upon such glories". It is unworthy of any devout interpreter of such a book to despise and disparage the spiritual element in it. What so many of God's people have recognized must be substantially the mind of the Spirit. No doubt, as Delitzsch has observed, "no other book of Scripture has been so much abused by an unscientific spiritualizing and an over-scientific unspiritual treatment." But the errors of commentators are generally gropings towards the light. The truth is more likely to be found in the mean between the two extremes. The allegorist gives the reins to his fancy and ends in absurdities; the literalist shuts himself up in his naturalism and forfeits the blessing of the Spirit. We trust that the following Exposition will show that there is a better way.
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29