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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible

Song of Solomon

- Song of Solomon

by Daniel Whedon

SONG OF SOLOMON.

INTRODUCTION

The Title.

“THE SONG OF SONGS” (Song of Solomon 1:1) is equivalent to “The Most Excellent Song;” a title probably not given by its author, but a later addition to the poem. The reference to Solomon is equivocal. It may mean that he is its author, or its subject, or the one to whom it is dedicated.

Its Date.

The style of Hebrew used in this book shows that it was written in the Solomonic age, and its style confirms the presumption that it was written by Solomon himself. Many allusions, also, as to Solomon’s court, to Pharaoh’s chariot, to the pools of Heshbon, to the towers of David and Solomon, show that the splendours of this age, if not existing at the time, were freshly remembered by the writer. Yet as Tirzah is mentioned equally with Jerusalem, while Zion and the Temple are not named, and as Tirzah was the residence of the kings of Israel from the days of Jeroboam until Omri built Samaria, the poem may have been written by a subject of the northern kingdom. Some man, perhaps in the troublous times after the “son of Nebat caused Israel to sin,” wrote by the Spirit this song, breaking upon it such gathered intensity of love and longing as has given sweet perfume through many lands and ages.

Its Canonicity.

Whatever variety of opinion may exist among commentators as to the plan and design of this book, the book itself is no longer on trial. The Jews never doubted its sacred character. “No day,” says a rabbi of the first century, “in the whole world’s history, is of so much value as the one in which the Song of Songs was given to Israel.” The unanimity, if not the admiration, of Christian writers has been equally emphatic.

Formal quotations of this book do not appear in later Scripture, for it contains no history, precept, or prophecy, but only sentiment, which needs no literal quotation, but rather seeks and inspires a changeful phraseology. Still, so much of its ideas, imagery, and even expression, is traceable in the New Testament, that no doubt can arise of its acceptance with Christ and his apostles, as with other Jews of their day. It was translated into Greek with the rest of the Old Testament, and is named in the catalogue of Josephus.

Its Design.

Expounders have regarded this book as being:

1 . Literal. This means that it presents a historical fact; that is, an event or succession of events that actually occurred.

2 . Allegorical. By this is meant, that it gives some meaning, couched in the convenient form of narrative of fictitious events, which are imagined simply for the purpose of conveying that meaning.

3 . Typical. This regards the literal meaning as existing, but as of little value only as prefiguring and suggesting some spiritual truth.

Those who hold these various opinions agree that the book is of dramatic structure; that is, that various speakers are introduced, and that there is variety of place and scenery. They all agree as to the beauty of sentiment that pervades the book, and its tender and truthful presentations of certain abiding susceptibilities of human nature. The difference of view respects merely the thread on which these pearls are strung. Of this each reader must, in the last appeal, decide for himself. The profoundest study, while it may throw light on separate words, and in some small degree improve the Authorised Version, cannot solve the problem of the design. In this exposition the literal view is preferred as offering the fewer difficulties. From this will arise to the reader many an allegorical thought like a pleasant exhalation.

“And now abideth faith, hope, love: but the greatest of these is love.” It is, indeed, of the higher sentiment of love of Christian souls toward other souls that this is spoken. Yet where there is identity of terms and words, there must be affinity, if not identity, of ideas, and all love must have some things many things in common. The very facility with which allegorists have traced in the Song the play of love between Christ and his Church, is proof of this. But in one passage and for this purpose one is enough the true dignity of natural love is asserted. It has a divine origin and a divine service. “Its flames are as flames of fire; they are the flames of the Eternal.” Song of Solomon 8:6, new translation.

To every race and nation, to all human souls, the story of love has a charm and a romance. The varied course of antenuptial affection gives a fascination to a sort of literature of which the common mind never wearies.

The Scriptures might seem deficient if no appeals were made to us from our susceptibility to the sweet and natural delights of love. Therefore a brief, bright picture is given of an ardent passion finding its rest and consummation.

The whole drift of the poem shows that there is a spontaneous love for one of the opposite sex, springing at Heaven’s impulse from the heart, not kindled by artificial incitements, nor bought by flatteries and gifts, but pure, enduring, and worthy of an immortal creature.

In such a picture, the foremost person is a woman. In the present constitution of the sexes, tender, unfaltering, self-sacrificing love is the peculiar glory of her character. Man may be generous, brave, and strong; but poets and artists, following the instincts of our race, assign to her the pre-eminence in matters of affection. Love, too, is oftenest delineated in its earlier experiences, while it has yet the silvery laugh and dance of the brook among its hills and higher meadows, and has not become the river, assured of its course through the broad plains which it enriches, and by the busy marts which it serves.

In all this the sacred writer has followed the bent of the human heart and the simple rhetoric of nature, warmed by the glowing phraseology of the East, which, like the spices of that sun-loved land, is highly valued in climes to which they are not indigenous.

This book also seems, in view of the time when it was produced, to be “a light shining in a dark place” upon the relative position of woman. The Jewish temper was hard toward her, and the Gentile still harder; but her vindication is in this inspired portraiture of her affection, delicacy, truth, and virtue. The person who in this book

“Walks in beauty, like the light Of eastern climes and starry skies,”

is the type and harbinger of those that ministered to our Lord, and of the pure and lovely saints, the martyrs, missionaries, and holy women of all the Christian ages.

“Now we know in part.” The commentator who has pondered many a scheme, and devoted years of study to a sacred book, bows in humble assent to this. Only God knows where and by whom and upon what theme this song was first chanted. Enough it is, to know that He has brought it into his sanctuary, and has appointed it to minister grace unto the hearer.

That woman assumes, under the Christian dispensation, a position according to truth, is a familiar statement. That this position coincides with Christianity in its exact date and extent, is also true. But why so subordinate, if not degraded, elsewhere? Inferiority of physical strength, or of intellect, or of moral ideas, cannot, if proved, sustain the case as against the wealth of affection which has ever been conceded to her without question. The true cause lies deeper, and is found in the conceptions of God that prevailed apart from the incarnation. The impressive features of the true masculine character are magnitude of ideas, courage, justice, energy. These form the loftiest conceptions of the Divine among heathen nations and among the Jews also. The vast transactions of the creation and the deluge were fresh in their minds. The awful visitations upon cities and kings and nations the chastisements upon themselves the exploits of leaders and kings as God’s representatives the general ruling of the world and bruising the nations with a rod of iron all these combined to form and maintain the idea that God was masculine and that woman had no part in him. Even Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, and Esther were cases too exceptional to weaken the prevailing sentiment, lingering even in the mind of St. Paul, that woman is not God’s representative. And the laws of Moses regarding divorce and polygamy show, that this sentiment was too hardened into the Jewish heart to be removed by any practicable legislation.

The impressive features of the womanly character are considerateness of little things, deference, endurance, tenacity of affection. All these were found in Christ. The miracle of the wine, the saving the fragments of the loaves, the personal care for the disciples, the blessing of little children, the talk of lilies and sparrows, the widow’s mites, the precept and example of meekness, not slavishness, the gaining of hostile minds by softening and circuitous methods, the patience under every trial, the loving of “his own” in all their weakness and waywardness, the search for the lost, like that of the shepherd for the stray lamb in the wilderness all these illustrate that Jesus was not the Son of a man, but of man, fully endowed with the best traits of man and woman. Therefore did woman, with glad surprise, find herself now proved to be in the divine likeness, with something in God answering to her noblest consciousness, and came in love and confidence to Him who had helped her low estate, who was of her nature and her Saviour; and this is the key to the faith and courage and self-sacrifice which Christianity developed in the women of old, and which still burns with undimmed lustre. Our dispensation has little need of the Song of Songs, but it was God’s testimony, the bright justification of woman in the days of her darkness and depression.

We have said that this book must be a drama. It must have a literal basis. The characters and doings here given must, in the first instance, have been real. “First that which is natural, afterward that which is spiritual.” Here are real lovers, expressing normal and reasonable emotions, such as have moved the human heart from the beginning, and nowhere more than where morals are purest and woman’s position is highest. Here are lookers-on, who speak incidentally and spontaneously; and voices are heard not only from personages who appear but once and then vanish, but even from those who do not come in sight at all.

All this gives the impression of reality. There may be never so rich suggestions of the soul’s religious and spiritual movings, of its joyous confidence toward God, and of the relation of Christ and his Church: yet, as a book, it must rest on something more substantial than its own suggestions, however precious, as a flower must have some other support than its own perfume.

The course of love here portrayed seems to fall into six divisions or phases:

1 . Tender anticipation, Song of Solomon 1:1 to Song of Solomon 2:7.

2 . Longing and search, Song of Solomon 2:1 to Song of Solomon 3:5.

3 . The vision of love, Song of Solomon 3:6 to Song of Solomon 5:1.

4 . Absence after espousal, Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 7:11.

5 . Presence after espousal, Song of Solomon 7:11 to Song of Solomon 8:9.

6 . Rest in assurance, Song of Solomon 8:5, to the end.

It is fitting to observe that every verse of this book may become allegorical. It is like that ancient wine “flavored according to him that drank it.” A warm religious temper, a varied Christian experience, a lively fancy, can develop beauty and instruction from every text. But as no two allegorizing minds have ever entirely agreed, a commentator deems it better to restrain himself from allegory, (though he knows it to be most attractive, and would not depreciate it,) and leave to others the play of fancy free and unhindered.PLAN OF THE POEM.

An Enamoured One, a maiden influenced by a deep and pure affection for a Beloved One, finds herself in a summer pavilion of the King. These persons are mutually attached, but the chief speaker in the song is the maiden. This corresponds with the general plan of the song, which is to exhibit the noble tenderness and fidelity of the womanly heart under the movings of natural love.