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Can someone explains what the song is all about. I read it and I found that the characters are not husband wife. I want to understand the context in which the poem is written and a jist of the same.

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Related question –  Affable Geek Oct 19 '12 at 12:31
    
are you asking about the book in particular or the chapter? As the answer has answered for the whole chapter I'm going to remove the number from the title –  wax eagle Oct 26 '12 at 19:27
    
"I read it and I found that the characters are not husband wife." But it is--that is, it is of a bride and bridegroom. In wax's removal of something in the title, I might guess that a supposition was made regarding a smaller body of text, but this leads me to confusion. The book of Song of Solomon is at its base read an erotic story between two lovers, which in fitting with the rest of the Bible must mean between a man and his wife. –  stimpy77 Dec 23 '13 at 1:02
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3 Answers

I am indebted to Dr. Peter Leithart for his writings and lectures on the Song of Songs. For further reading, you can visit his website. These thoughts might help in approaching the book.

Wisdom literature

It is helpful to consider the book’s position in the canon as part of the wisdom literature. In Proverbs, the king exhorts his son to seek wisdom and throughout the book, wisdom is personified as a great and righteous lady. She is contrasted with the harlot Folly, the strange or foreign woman who tempts the simple to turn aside to their ruin. “In the final chapter, we find that the prince has chosen well: He has made Lady Wisdom his bride. As King Lemuel’s mother urged, he has renounced the women who destroy kings (31:3) and embraces the woman who enables him to rule well.(Leithart)"

Ecclesiastes follows on this theme and shows the limit of wisdom. Wisdom is rightly prized and sought, but it is not ultimate. This life, this creation, is good and is meant to be enjoyed, but, to borrow a phrase from Doug Wilson, that joy is on a tether.

The Song of Songs displays the King’s desire for his Bride, the one in whom he delights. It is a love poem, to be sure, but it reaches beyond individual human relationships. It is the height of wisdom literature and the height of poetry. It is the Song of Songs - a verbal construction that parallels the Holy of Holies - the Most Songy Song, the Greatest Song Ever Written. As such, it is elusive, difficult to get a solid hold on. It is also allusive - it reaches out and pulls in imagery and ideas from all over the rest of scripture.

Land Imagery

The beauty of the Bride is often expressed in geographic or agricultural terms. Her body is like a rolling landscape, her breasts like spiced mountains, her hair like goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead (4:1). Her neck is like the Tower of David, set with warriors’ shields (4:4). She is beautiful as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem (6:4). Her eyes are pools in Heshbon, her nose like the tower of Lebanon, her head crowns her like Mount Carmel (7:4-5). This is the love of the King for his country, his people.

Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?

This alludes to the gathered host of Israel encamped under the tribal banners around the tabernacle (Num 2). The people surround the King as the Bridal City, the New Jerusalem, which is decked out in royal splendor and surrounds Christ, the Husband, and which outshines the sun and moon with the reflected glory of God (Rev 21).

Edenic Imagery

“The Song is full of the imagery of Eden. Solomon uses the word “garden” eight times (4:12, 15, 16 [2x], 5:1; 6:2 [2x]; 8:13), and the poem frequently refers to trees, fruits, flowers, springs.(Leithart)” The lovers are a sort of idyllic, unfallen Adam and Eve, maturing in their passion and love for one another. He describes her as a tree which he climbs to gather and eat her fruit (7:8), reminiscent of the fruit trees in the garden.

Four times Solomon calls her “my sister, my bride” which brings to mind Adam’s statement of Eve, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man." ‘Bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’ is a statement of kinship. It is nearly the same greeting Laban gives Jacob (Gen 29:14) and different groups claim kinship in similar terms (cf. Jud 9:2, 2 Sam 5:1, 19:12, 13). The Hebrew behind the ‘Woman’ and ‘Man’ is Ishah and Ish. Up until this point the man has been called adam because he was formed from the dust of the ground, adamah. The word Ish is almost exactly the same word as Esh, fire. So, the dirt-man becomes fire-man in union with his bride. He is transformed and glorified. This is the same thing Paul says in 1 Corinthians 11:7, “For a man ought not to cover his head, since he is the image and glory of God, but woman is the glory of man.” The woman lights up and glorifies her husband, making him better than he would be on his own.

Temple Imagery

“Eden’s garden was Adam’s original sanctuary, and the imagery of the garden in the Song shades over into imagery of the sanctuary. The house where the lovers meet is made from temple materials – cedar and cypress (1:17), and like the temple the garden of love is a place of feasting (2:4; 5:1). Solomon frequently mentions the fragrances that waft from the garden, reminding us of the pacifying smoke from Israel’s sacrifices.(Leithart)”

Both the Bride and the Beloved are described in terms of temple imagery. She is pictured as a lily, with cheeks like halves of pomegranates, like the lily-topped and pomegranate-encircled pillars in the temple court (1 Kg 7:21ff). Again, she herself is like a pillar that the Beloved climbs, a palm tree like the palm groves carved into the walls of the temple (1 Kg 6:29). Her aroma is that of frankincense, myrrh, cinnamon and spices, like the perfumed anointing oil used in the sanctuary (Ex 30:23ff).

He is described like a statue of a man with a head like gold - the Holy of Holies; eyes like doves - the seven branched lampstand*; cheeks of spices - the altar of incense; lips of lilies - again, the lily-topped pillars; body of ivory, legs of alabaster and gold, appearance like cedar - the foundation and structure of the temple.

“The interweaving of imagery in the Song hints at the double reference of the poem: It is a poem of ideal human love, the lovers like unfallen Adam and Eve, but it is also a poem about Yahweh’s trysts with Israel in the love-garden of the temple.(Leithart)”

Sexual Imagery

As a love poem, it expresses in very passionate terms the desire of the Bride for the Beloved, and that of the Beloved for his Bride. In Ephesians 5, Paul points out that the fundamental meaning of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife is that it is an image, a type, of the relationship of Christ and the Church. “‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”

Scripture, especially in the prophets, frequently refers to Yahweh as Husband and Israel as Wife (cf. Is 54:5, Jer 3:20, 31:32, Hsa 2) Ezekiel 16 is a retelling of the history of Israel in Husband/Wife imagery:

When I passed by you again and saw you, behold, you were at the age for love, and I spread the corner of my garment over you and covered your nakedness; I made my vow to you and entered into a covenant with you, declares the Lord GOD, and you became mine. Then I bathed you with water and washed off your blood from you and anointed you with oil. I clothed you also with embroidered cloth and shod you with fine leather. I wrapped you in fine linen and covered you with silk. And I adorned you with ornaments and put bracelets on your wrists and a chain on your neck. And I put a ring on your nose and earrings in your ears and a beautiful crown on your head. Thus you were adorned with gold and silver, and your clothing was of fine linen and silk and embroidered cloth. You ate fine flour and honey and oil. You grew exceedingly beautiful and advanced to royalty.

Yahweh brought His people out of wallowing in the blood of Egypt to bring them to His mountain and establish His covenant with them. He washed them by baptism in the Red Sea (1Cr 10:2) and by the sprinkling of blood at Sinai (Ex 24:8). He anointed Aaron and the whole tabernacle with oil, setting them apart for holy use. He adorned them with the glory of the tabernacle: gold, silver, embroidered cloth and leather - plunder from the Egyptians. The rendering of the story in Ezekiel highlights the covenant of Sinai as His marriage covenant with His people. But despite all this, Israel turned away and whored after other lovers, other gods, and lusted after the gods of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, or anyone else who happened to pass by.

The Song shows desire set over against lust. The desire of the two lovers for one another is full, passionate, mature. Each is fully longing for and seeking after the other and will not turn aside to any other. “As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.” He is captivated by her beauty. “You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes... Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me.” By the end of the Song, the Bride has taken on the name of the Beloved. She is the Shulamite, a feminine form of Solomon’s name. She has become the radiant, glorious, spotless Bride - a Bride fit for the King.

If what Paul says is true, that marriage is a picture of God with His people, Christ with the Church, then here we see the complete devotion and passionate desire of Christ for His Bride and of the Church for Christ. This has implications for how the Church should be viewed. How often was Israel led astray? How often is today’s Church led astray by lovers less wild than Jesus? The Song shows an idyllic relationship, one that has not been born out in the Church (at least with our limited perspective on history), but Paul says it will and that Christ will “present the church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.”

*the Spirit who descends as a dove at the baptism of Christ and as flames of fire on Pentecost is the same ‘seven Spirits (or seven-fold Spirit) of God’ in Revelation 4:5, and the seven flaming eyes of Christ in Revelation 5:6.

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Wow, great answer! –  El'endia Starman Oct 26 '12 at 5:35
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My one nitpick with this answer is "I'm not qualified to do a commentary." this is a superb answer! Thank you for taking the time to do this! –  Affable Geek Oct 26 '12 at 11:03
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@AffableGeek Thank you. I spent all week putting this together. I changed the intro statement to provide a link for further reading. –  Sticmann Oct 26 '12 at 13:09
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Historically, there have been two primary understandings of the Song of Solomon -

  1. It prefigures the love that Christ has for his church
  2. It is an erotic love story

Personally, I find it nearly impossible to accept the first, however. I submit, on the basis of SOS 5:3-6, the following:

I have taken off my robe— must I put it on again? I have washed my feet— must I soil them again? 4 My beloved thrust his hand through the latch-opening; my heart began to pound for him. 5 I arose to open for my beloved, and my hands dripped with myrrh, my fingers with flowing myrrh, on the handles of the bolt. 6 I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had left; he was gone. My heart sank at his departure.

I'd argue any sensus plenoir of the text is very simple - it's a man and a woman gettin' it on. It's pretty straightforward.

The characters themselves are pretty straightforward - there is a man, a woman, and a chorus of friends, pretty standard for any dramatised work of the period.

If one accepts this is a man and a woman, then the next question is, what is the relationship between man and woman in the context of the work -

Here, the case is often made that this is a newly married couple. SOS 5:1 has the man saying to the woman:

I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride;

The sister term must be clearly metaphorical, however, because 8:1 says:

If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts!

That understanding of bride, along with the common repeated refrain

I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;

can suggest an innocent interpretation.

That said, the only unequivocal statement that can be made is that these people are desperately in love - and they understand that

"love is as strong as death."

As far as wisdom literature goes (and this is clearly wisdom literature) the point is simple - love is wonderful, but

"do not arouse or awaken love, until it so desires."

Passion is great, you will be swept away by it - so be careful.

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I would respectfully challenge your position. Consider the use of sexual imagery in scripture. For example, the language of adultery is used more often in connection with Israel's relationship with Yahweh than it is with reference to a man and woman. "I am my beloved's and my beloved is mine" is an echo of the oft-repeated covenantal refrain "I will be your God and you will be my people." –  Sticmann Oct 19 '12 at 21:32
    
I would heartily encourage a better answer then! :) seriously, make the case for the opposing position. I promise I won't be offended! –  Affable Geek Oct 19 '12 at 22:55
    
Not opposing, exactly. I agree that is is a love poem, just not that it is only on the human level. –  Sticmann Oct 26 '12 at 5:00
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There are a variety of interpretations about the Song of Songs:

  • It is possible that this is just a love story.
  • There is a lot to be said of Christ's relationship to the Church.
  • It also could be about Israel.

It would take me a very long time to explain everything, but I find difficulty in both Israel as an analogy because she doesn't have sisters, the Church (also doesn't have sisters) is never "dark" (as in "dark but comely"), and I don't generally like taking scripture as, "Well, the whole thing's just irrelevant anyway," especially since the first verse declares the work to be both the greatest of songs as well as a song of peace (Solomon means "peace").

Instead, I think that this is the story of a Saint. A saint is someone who has sisters and someone who received beatings. A saint is someone who is dark (generally a condition of poverty (tan from working in the fields) as well as a possible reference to sin) and yet is redeemed by the beloved. But, the thing which I find the most conspicuous is what I view as the hidden prophecy.

As the woman likens describes herself in the opening verses, she drops a very subtle hint as to where she is from. She uses a borrowed word (from Arabic) and through the rest of the text it becomes more and more clear that she is supposed to be from the area the Danites dwelt. She would have been from Israel and yet she comes to Judah to wed. She was poor (and likely provincial), but she is now a queen.

And we can see this as a prophecy by looking to the life of Christ. Christ was born in Judah, but he is raised around where this maiden would have lived. Finally, he travels down to Jerusalem for the act which will marry them. It is almost like he is not only reuniting the pieces of Israel, but he is also taking the maiden from her place of weakness and abuse and exalting her.

Finally, the references to the girl's sister are also explained. So many Saints have died praying for others. Wishing that God would favor those around them and the maiden treats her sister in kind.

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I can provide some more as to how I cam to these conclusions, but that does take quite a bit of space. –  Ignatius Theophorus Oct 26 '12 at 19:13
    
I agree that the Song has individual application, but consider the possible connection of the Bride's forced work in the field with Israel's time under Pharaoh (Ex 1:14), or their on and off slavery to the surrounding nations during the time of the judges. As to Israel's sisters, please see Ezekiel 16:44ff. He describes Samaria and Sodom as Israel's sisters. –  Sticmann Oct 26 '12 at 19:34
    
Additionally, if Judah and Samaria, the divided kingdom, were considered sisters, then perhaps the Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant divisions within the church could also be considered sisters. –  Sticmann Oct 26 '12 at 19:45
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