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Bible Dictionaries

Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary

Canticles

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the book of, in Hebrew, שיר השירים , the song of songs. The church, as well as the synagogue, received this book generally as canonical. The royal author appears, in the typical spirit of his times, to have designed to render a ceremonial appointment descriptive of a spiritual relation; and this song is accordingly considered, by judicious writers, to be a mystical allegory of that sort which induces a more sublime sense on historical truths, and which, by the description of human events, shadows out divine circumstances. The sacred writers were, by God's condescension, authorized to illustrate his strict and intimate relation to the church, by the figure of a marriage; and the emblem must have been strikingly becoming and expressive to the conceptions of the Jews, since they annexed ideas of peculiar mystery to this appointment, and imagined the marriage union to be a counterpart representation of some original pattern in heaven. Hence it was performed among them with very peculiar ceremonies and solemnity, with every thing that could give dignity and importance to its rites. Solomon, therefore, in celebrating the circumstances of his marriage, was naturally led, by a train of correspondent reflections, to consider that spiritual connection which it was often employed to symbolize; and the idea must have been the more forcibly suggested to him, as he was at this period preparing to build a temple to God, and thereby to furnish a visible representation of the Hebrew church. The spiritual allegory thus worked up by Solomon to its highest perfection, was very consistent with the prophetic style, which was accustomed to predict evangelical blessings by such parabolical figures; and Solomon was more immediately furnished with a pattern for this representation by the author of the forty-fifth Psalm, who describes, in a compendious allegory, the same future connection between Christ and his church.

2. But though the work be certainly an allegorical representation, many learned men, in an unrestrained eagerness to explain the song, even in its minutest and most obscure particulars, have too far indulged their imaginations; and, by endeavouring too nicely to reconcile the literal with the spiritual sense, have been led beyond the boundaries which a reverence for the sacred Scriptures should ever prescribe. The ideas which the sacred writers furnish concerning the mystical relation between Christ and his church, though well accommodated to our apprehensions by the allusion of a marriage union, are too general to illustrate every particular contained in this poem, which may be supposed to have been intentionally decorated with some ornaments appropriate to the literal construction. When the general analogy is obvious, we are not always to expect minute resemblance, and should not be too curious in seeking for obscure and recondite allusions. Solomon, in the glow of an inspired fancy, and unsuspicious of misconception or deliberate perversion, describes God and his church, with their respective attributes and graces, under colourings familiar and agreeable to mankind, and exhibits their ardent affection under the authorized figures of earthly love. No similitude, indeed, could be chosen so elegant and apposite for the illustration of this intimate and spiritual alliance, as a marriage union, if considered in the chaste simplicity, of its first institution, or under the interesting circumstances with which it was established among the Jews.

3. This poem may be considered, as to its form, as a dramatic poem of the pastoral kind. There is a succession of time, and a change of place, to different parts of the palace and royal gardens. The persons introduced as speakers, are the bridegroom and bride, and their respective attendants. The interchange of dialogue is carried on in a wild and digressive manner; but the speeches are adapted to the persons with appropriate elegance. The companions of the bride compose a kind of chorus, which seems to bear some resemblance to that afterward adopted in the Grecian tragedy. Solomon and his queen assume the pastoral simplicity of style, which is favourable to the communication of their sentiments. The poem abounds throughout with beauties, and presents every where a delightful and romantic display of nature, painted at its most interesting season, and described with every ornament that an inventive fancy could furnish. It is justly entitled Song of Songs, or most excellent song, as being superior to any that an uninspired writer could have produced, and tending, if properly understood, to purify the mind, and to elevate the affections from earthly to heavenly things.

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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Watson, Richard. Entry for 'Canticles'. Richard Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/wtd/c/canticles.html. 1831-2.

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