Mid Week ē Song of Solomon
1 Kings 4:32 tells us that Solomon composed 1,005 songs
In his own estimation, this was the most sublime of them all!
This was his favorite - so he calls it the "Song of songs"
Some background on the Song of Solomon is essential as we begin
This book is recognized as one of the most obscure and difficult books to interpret
And the reason for this is the large number of Hebrew words that are used only in this book
Another reason it's confusing is that there are 3 different people engaged in dialog all at the same time and it isn't a simple task to sort out who is talking at any given time
Historically, the Song of Solomon has been interpreted differently
There are those who see it as a simple love poem,
And there is plenty of evidence of ancient near east love poetry from this period
This view sees the Song as the expression of intimate marital love between a lover and her beloved
Others see the Song mainly as allegory - where the woman is a symbol of God's people and the man is God
Many Jewish commentators have viewed it this way, with Israel being the woman and God being the beloved
In the OT, God regularly refers to Israel as His wife
Understood this way, the Song is an expression of the kind of intimacy God desires to have with His elect
Of course, based on the NT references to the Church being the bride of Christ, Christian commentators have followed the Jewish lead and said that the Song is allegory for the relationship between Christ and the Church
Now - here's the problem with an purely allegorical interpretation of the Song of Solomon - it simply doesnít work
You see, allegory denies the historical or literal dimension of the story
It says that there was no literal way to understand the text - it is all purely symbolic
But the Song is quite explicit in it's description of marital love, and it would be crass to make these fits a purely spiritual application
I think the best way to understand the Song of Solomon is to see it as first, literal and historical, but that it also bears a broad type, or picture of God and His people
We'll see this in greater detail as we get into the text
As I mentioned, there are three main characters in the Song:
There is a woman who is called the Shulamite
There is a man who is her lover
And there is a chorus of women called the daughters of Jerusalem
As I mentioned, it is a bit of a challenge to know who's talking at any given time because there are no divisions in the original language
The way scholars have been able to sort things out is by taking advantage of the pronouns
In English, we do not use cases like masculine, feminine, and neuter
But Hebrew does, so it's a help in sorting out who is talking
Also, you can distinguish the different speakers in this way: the man always refers to the woman as "my love," and the woman calls him "my beloved."
The New King James has done a good service by adding heading before each person's words
Lastly, we are faced with the complex issue of the basic background of the Song
JUST WHAT IS GOING ON HERE?† What's the story behind the song?
Well, as you might guess, there are several theories
But after a lot of study, I think the best way to understand the Song is like this . . .
This story takes place early in Solomon's reign
He already possesses large estates in the land and has some vineyards in the region of Baal Hamon that he has leased out to others to work
One of these leasees is a family that has several brothers and a daughter
And the brothers have pressed their sister into service in the vineyard
They keep making fun of her young age and tell her she isn't old enough for love or marriage
So this is kind of a Cinderella story
Now, the book of Ecclesiastes tells us that Solomon had investigated every kind of life and work
Apparently he had taken off his royal robes and donned the garments of a common person and lived incognito among the people of the land to get a feel for their life
It seems that he had played the part of being a shepherd, and had lead his flock around the countryside - checking up on those who had leased lands from him
Kind of an undercover investigation!
When he came to Baal Hamon, he saw this young gal working the vineyard, and was struck by her diligence and natural beauty
They conversed, and she was taken with him
Love sprung in their hearts toward each other
And the passion that come with love began to be aroused
Solomon then left, under the pretense that he had to return his flock to their homeland
Some time later, he returned to Baal Hamon, but this time, in all his royal regalia
And when he arrived, he called for this young woman
She then realized it were young shepherd was none other than King Solomon!
They returned to Jerusalem, where they were wed
Now, that's were the Song really begins, though there are flash backs in the Song to those days of waiting to be re-united, before she knew who here beloved was
Now, I have to be honest - this Song is pretty frank in it's description of marital love
Of course, the language is symbolic, as is fitting for a poem
This isnít a technical journal on love-making; it's a poem
But the picture language it uses is of the act of sex between a husband and a wife
And it is quite graphic!
In fact, so graphic is it that in ancient Israel, Jews were not allowed to read the Song till they were 30 or married
And even today, in Orthodox homes, it cannot be read till one has been bar or bat mitzvahed
It is entirely right and to be expected that God would include a book in the Bible that speaks to the issue of marital love
I like what G. Lloyd Carr wrote:
"The believing Christian comes to the Bible with the faith that it is God's word to mankind.† But we are more than merely spiritual beings; we are human.† If God is concerned about our human condition - and the incarnation makes it plain that he is - his revelation will be concerned with every aspect of that condition.† And that includes human sexuality."
EJ Young wrote:
"The song celebrates the dignity and purity of human love.† This is a fact that has not always been sufficiently stressed in the study of book.† It comes to us in this world of sin, where lust and passion are on every hand, where fierce temptations assail us† and try to turn us aside from the God given standard of marriage.† And it reminds us in particularly beautiful fashion, how pure and noble true love is."
"Take me to Jerusalem!"
She expresses her desire to be with him, to hold and kiss him
She is yearning for the consummation of her love when they will be alone together after their wedding
As she thinks about him, she thinks of a lovely fragrance
His very name when it is spoken is like breathing a fragrant perfume
You know the only way we can understand this poem is to remember the first time we were head over heels in love
Remember how it felt like you were going to bust?
You got butterflies in your stomach whenever the object of your affection was around
Your palms got sweaty - your brain turned to mush
You couldnít even say a simple word like "Hello"
It came out as %^$#@F$#H
You would practice saying his or her name out loud in private
You would write it on your PEE CHEE or notebook cover
You'd fill whole pages with doodles of your name and his or hers
That's what she's saying here - his name is enough to send her into ecstacy!
Now, as we look at this as a picture of Christ and the Church, these would be the words of the engaged bride toward her bridegroom
And indeed, with the Shulamite we can say, "You name is ointment poured forth."
How sweet is the name of Jesus to us?† How precious the thought of Him!
Jesus - You're the sweetest name of all,
Jesus - You always hear me when I call
Jesus- You pick me up each time I fall
You're the sweetest, the sweetest name of all.
And with the Shulamite we can also say, "Lead me away!"
Isn't that how the Bible ends?
With the Bride of Christ saying, "Even so Lord, come quickly!"
This is better translated as, "Let us run"
It follows, "Lead me away."
She's saying, "Quick, let's go because I want you!"
And so now they arrive in Jerusalem and Solomon takes her into the royal harem . . .
Once in the harem, she meets the other women . . .
The first line is their greeting of the woman.
The second line is their kind of corporate expression of love for Solomon.
Then the woman says . . .
Her time in the vineyard at the instigation of her cruel brothers has meant she has become very tanned
Today, we think a tan is a sign of beauty; white skin is deemed unhealthy, sickly
But in the ancient world, it was the opposite; white skin was considered lovely and tanned was considered common
Here's why;† Today - indoors / only those with leisure time, wealthy, can lay out
††††† In ancient world, only wealthy indoors, everyone else outdoors
So the woman is dark from the sun
And she sees this as a hindrance to her beauty
She's apologetic when she comes in to the harem because all the other women are fair and light
You know how it is when you go to the beach early in the year and haven't gotten a tan yet, and you see your friends
You apologize for how white you are - she's doing that, but in reverse!
The woman now turns from speaking to the other women of the harem and utters a plaintive cry to her beloved - where has he gone?
How will she find him in the palace so filled with people as it is?
She's no longer at home, she's in a foreign place filled with strangers, and she is lonely for him
The other women simply tell her where to find her beloved
In essence they are saying, "Go look for him where you would expect him to be, shepherding the nation!"
Several of the analogies that both the woman and the man use to express their love toward one another and how beautiful they are to each other may not be too appealing to us today
But of course they were in that time
Here Solomon likens her to his choice horse
And you have to admit, there is something incredibly beautiful about a well bred, and well cared for horse
She is so beautiful that jewelry actually looks better on her than it does by itself - she lends beauty to jewelry!
So Solomon says that he will direct the jewelers to make her more!
What woman wouldn't love that?
Solomon may have to attend to his duties as king - but she doesnít care about any of that
She wants him and is anticipating their wedding and consummation
So she thinks to that time when they will be together and how pleasurable it will be
Notice that 2:1 is her statement!†† We often sing this of Jesus, but it is the woman who is saying it
As a picture of the Church and Christ, what we see in these verses is the expression of Jesus' great love for and devotion to His people
When He looks on us, though we may be worn and colored by life and living in this world, he sees beauty
And she has learned to see herself through his eyes rather than through the eyes of the world
So she says,† "I am a rose, a lily."
One of the great secrets of the Christian life is learning to see ourselves as God sees us rather than in some kind of self-made image or that which others would seek to put on us
And how does Christ see you?† V. 15 - Ephesians 1
Compared to other women, she is like a flower among weeds to him
And he is like a fruitful apple tree in the midst of a bunch of wild trees to her
Now she is anticipating the consummation of her marriage to him
She is dreaming about it
And she is getting weak with the desire
So she asks for some food to sustain her
This is more anticipation
She is dreaming about the moment he comes for her
Anyone who has been in love and thought about their wedding day can relate to this
This verse is an enigma and seems to be out of place
Several suggestions have been made as to what it means but I have to confess that none of them are completely satisfactory
So here's what I'd like to propose: Consider the context and your own experience
She's just went seeking Solomon and found him attending to the business of state
So she probably found him n the throne room
And there it hit her that she was going to marry the KING!!!!!!!
Up to this point he had only been her shepherd-lover
Now she realizes the full weight of what she's getting in to and who Solomon was
So as she has this kind of dream about their soon coming wedding night, intruding into it is a remembrance of her family and home
And there was one task in the vineyard that she was never able to get a grip on, and that was the rodents that came in and ate the grapes
So she takes advantage of her new position of favor with the king and asks him to help her family with their problems in the vineyard
I realize this isn't an entirely satisfying answer to this verse, but let me tell you, it is far better than any of the commentaries I read!
She goes on . . .
This is an invitation to Solomon to come and partake of what she has to offer
Now she has a dream sequence - it's kind of a flashback to the time after they first met and fell in love and then he left
This is simply an honest expression of the passion of desire one feels toward someone you are in love with
Very simply, she had dreamed about making love to him in her home in Baal Hamon
And this dream and the sense of yearning it revealed moves her to say something to the other women of the harem -
In other words - keep your passion in check and your desires in reserve until there is the opportunity to express them in the way they ought to be expressed
Donít let you imagination run wild!
And donít let yourself get all worked up in a fit of desire until the time is right
That is a word of counsel that ought to be loudly proclaimed to young and single people today.
It's sad how early young children are encouraged present themselves to members of the opposite sex as something to be desired
Girls are donning make-up and sexually alluring clothing while they are still just little girls
Planned Parenthood and other morally liberal organizations are advocating the teaching of† and promotion of sex classes in the early years of school
And the curriculum teaches children how to perform all kinds of sexual behavior
These organizations make it sound like it is normal and healthy for children as young as 8 years old to engage in sex - as long as they do it responsibly
Isn't it interesting, that in this book, which is so liberal in it's expression of joy in marital love-making, and so incredibly graphic, still contains this thrice repeated refrain - v. 5
The fact of the matter is - we are in control of our desires
We do not need to inflame sexual desire by giving free reign to our imagination
We ought not incite lust by viewing images that are aimed at only one thing, and that is to heighten desire
To put this in modern terms - DON'T GO THERE!!!!!!!!!!!
Now, the woman reminisces back to the time when Solomon came to get her . . .
Up to this point, most of the words have been hers, but now he speaks at length
And the images of beauty he sues, again, donít seem to appealing to us, but they were meaningful then
Her hair is curly and hangs down in a way reminiscent of a flock of goats coming down a hillside
Her teeth are all even and white, and she none are missing!
Sister - frequent in love poetry ; not literally his sister, simply a term of intimate endearment
Quite frankly, this is the height of erotic imagery
Commentators are all agreed that the garden enclosed is a symbol for her virginity
It is a special treasure that she has been saving for the special relationship of marriage
And Solomon has now come to unlock it and enjoy it's fruit
She now responds . . .
This is where the relationship is now consummated
She has opened to him and given him that special gift that God intends should be given only once and within the walls of marriage
It ought to be obvious to all who read this how very joyous is this occasion to the coupe involved
And it's place in Scripture should forever banish the idea that sex between a husband and a wife is somehow dirty or wrong
While Solomon and his new wife were consummating their marriage in their bed-chamber, the wedding guests were outside enjoying the wedding feast
The joy of the young couple was celebrated by all those who knew them
Now, we have a break in the poem and story
Some time has passed and Solomon and his wife have settled into something of a routine in their marriage
You know how that is
It's late one night, and the woman has gone to bed before Solomon
Then he comes to her room and calls to her from outside the door to open so they can make love
She's in the place between sleep and being awake when he comes and calls
And she is slow in getting up
In fact, she tells him she's already in bed and doesnít want to be disturbed
But then she realizes that is a lame excuse - she wants him
So she gets out of bed and every second increases her desire for him
But when she gets to the door and opens it, he's gone - all that's left is the fragrance of his presence
So she puts n her clothes and runs out into the streets of the city to find him
But he is no where to be found
And when the keepers of the night-streets catch her, not recognizing here as the wife of Solomon, they strike her for disturbing the peace
She asks the other women of the harem that if they see Solomon to tell him that she realizes her error and to tell him that she longs for him
I will be using these verses as the text for the message this Sunday
Sounds like Solomon was quite a hunk!
Solomon and his wife were re-united and now she tells the other women of the harem that all was well - normal relations have been restored
Solomon eventually had 700 wives and 300 concubines,
But at this point, he only had 60 wives and 80 concubines, so this was still in the early years of his reign
Still - this was a lot of women; and it's hard for us to imagine how the woman of the Song could have been so in love with Solomon with so many other women around with which he was intimate
Well, remember that while most of the women of the harem and first learned of Solomon in his role as king, she had come to know and love him as nothing more than a humble shepherd
Also, the culture of that time looked at this whole thing much differently than we do today
It was an expected part of a king's wealth and power that he had an extensive harem
The larger the harem, the more glory
And since Solomon was the pre-eminent king of his day, it was fitting that he have a harem to beat all harems
Certainly there would be jealousy between the wives if there were two, three or even four
But when there are 60 wives, and another 80 concubines, it's hard to be jealous
Instead, the women start to find comfort and solace in each other and develop deep friendships
And instead of looking at Solomon as something to fight over, he becomes their corporate delight and joy that they all celebrate together
Now, does that make multiple wives and mistresses right?† NOT AT ALL
It isnít right- it's just the way it was!
God had warned the kings of Israel in Deut 17:17 that they were not to multiply their wives
In fact, God told them there were several things they were not to do, and Solomon did all †of them in spades!
In these verses, Solomon is telling her that she is the fairest of them all
Of course, you have to wonder how may others he said these words to!
Okay - these verses comprise what many commentators believe to be the MOST difficult passage in the entire bible
Though the words are all common words, their meaning in the way they are put together here is beyond our grasp
Generally, it seems that the woman went on a little trip to the country and Solomon missed her
He calls her to return - and she slyly taunts him by asking him if all he's interested in is love-making = "dance of the double camps"
Notice that she is called the Shulamite here
This is a word that is vague and uncertain in it's origin
Some see it as referring to some unknown location that she came from
But the word is simply the feminine form of Solomon's name
And more than likely it simply was a way of referring to her as Mrs. Solomon!
Nothing need be said -except this is another rather explicit and erotic passage that describes their love-making
She wants to visit her home and take Solomon back to the place where they first fell in love
She is wishing Solomon was hers only and not the king of Israel
She wants him all to herself, like the husbands and wives of her family's village
How often do the privileged wish they were like everyone else?
There are definite advantages to be in a position of influence, wealth and power, but those things also carry a heavy price tag!
So Solomon and the Shulamite make the trip back to her home
As they are approaching the city, the pass the spot where they first met and Solomon points it out to her
She was napping by a tree and he woke her
They had spent time by that tree and she had shared that that was the very spot where she was born
It became the place of her falling in love with the young shepherd
As she has aged and love has mellowed with time, she has come to realize how very powerful love is
There is nothing to compare with it - it is the greatest of all emotions, and certainly the most powerful, even stronger than death
The Shulamite is remembering back to the early days when her brothers treated her as a little squirt
She was too young for marriage and they delighted in keeping her locked up at home
But they didnít think she was too young for work, hard work, in the vineyard
But she has now grown up and blossomed into a mature woman . .
So here we get the setting of the scene for the whole story
Solomon had many land holdings, many vineyards and orchards
But one of them held a fruit unlike all the others - HER!
Once again, she invites him to make love
As I mentioned at the outset, while we can't interpret the Song of Solomon allegorically, we can see it as a broad picture of Christ and the Church
Just as Solomon came in disguise the first time to visit his vineyard, Jesus came the first time in disguise to His vineyard, the nation of Israel
And while the leaders of the nation rejected Him, one small part of the nation fell in love with Him
That small, seemingly unlovely part was the common man, the disciples and later the Gentiles
But then He went away - really to prepare the palace for his marriage to the Shulamite
In the same way Jesus went away to prepare a place for us
And when He comes again, He comes in glory, as Solomon did
He will call us by name, and we shall go to meet Him and sit at the banqueting table
There we will hear the precious words of our Savior and King as He tells us of His great love and how lovely we are to Him
And we will finally be able to look Him in the eyes and tell him face to face of our great love for Him
That is the spiritual application of this book
But let's not miss out on the important practical application of this wonderful Song
And that is this:† Marital love-making is a thing of joy and celebration
It is a rich, full, an enjoyable act that is meant by God to be a normal and regular part of marriage
Donít let your love life become dry, routine, and boring
Read the song together and see if you canít make the words and pictures of love-making your own.