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Poetry in the Bible
Old Testament Literature

Author: Attributed to Solomon

Date: Solomon reigned from 970-930 B.C.

Theme: The pursuit of authentic love

Key Words: Love, garden maternal house

Author: The authorship of Solomon is disputed, but the glory of the solomonic symbolism is present in Song of Songs. Jesus referred, on two occasions to the glory and wisdom of Solomon (Matt. 6:29; 12:42). As king David's heir, Solomon occupied a unique place in the history of the covenant of Israel (II Sam. 7:12,13). The two names that he was awarded at birth, which symbolize peace (Solomon) and love (Jedidiah) apply without difficulty to the book (II Sam. 12:24,25; I Chron. 22:9). Solomon's glorious reign was like a restoration of the Garden of Eden (I Ki. 4:20-34); the temple and palace that he built represent the truths of the tabernacle and the conquest of the promised land (I Kings 6 and 7). Solomon appears here as the personification of the blessings of love, which is presented covered with all the royal majesty (1:2-4; 5:10-16).

Occasion and Date: Although Song of Songs doesn't offer sufficient information about the date of its composition, Solomon reigned over Israel between the years 970 and 930 B.C. Similar language and ideals to this book are found in the prayer that David pronounced for Solomon, for the temple, and for the people when Solomon ascended the throne. (I Chron. 29).

Purpose: "Love" is the key word in the book. This love, which appears as a passionate desire between a man and a woman, king Solomon and the Shulamite, celebrates the potential for joy that matrimony uncovers in light of the principles of the covenant with GOD. The basis of all human love should be the love that inspires the divine covenant, (or, which the divine covenant inspires), the greatest metaphor of the Bible. This covenant of love also constitutes the foundation of the relationship between GOD and man. Therefore, the book applies as much to marriage as to the history of the divine covenant. Thus the Shulamite personifies the wife in an ideal marriage, and the people of the covenant and their history in the Promised Land, under the blessings of the solomonic love.

Characteristics: Song of Songs, the greatest of all songs, is a literary work of art and a masterful theological work. In the second century A.D., one of the great Jewish rabbis, Akiba ben Joseph, said, "In all the world there has been nothing that equaled the day on which the Song of songs was given to Israel". The book itself is like its author's favorite fruit, the pomegranite, a text of vivid colors and replete with seeds. Much different than any other book of the Scriptures, it merits special consideration as the biblical archetype that presents the essential human realities in an original way.

The book employs a symbolic language to express eternal truths, in the same way that Revelation does.

Content: Song of Songs contains images of a Shulamite adorned with the plants of a garden. It should be considered a poetic parallel between marital love and the blessings of the divine covenant.

It offers clear indications that reveal the blessings of the covenant, "follow the footprints of the flock" (1:8). Following the "footprints" could be an allusion to Jacob, whose name connotes a part of the foot ("heel"). The labor of a shepherd fulfilled by Jacob and his struggle to be blessed by GOD are cited as the biblical guidelines that gave a name to GOD's people (Hosea 12:3-6,12,13). He was born, holding on to his brother's heel, as a congenital manipulator. He crumbled, afflicted in the innermost part of his being, as his fears demonstrated in Mahanaim (Gen. 32). He was obligated to live far from his land due to the bitterness of an offended brother. He returned after 20 years, feeling guilty before his family. Deception, lack of love, jealousy, fury and habits of bribery weaken his personality. The names of the twelve tribes themselves show a necessity for a renovation in the family history.

The Shulamite revives and rewrites that history. She executes the ritual dance of Mahanaim (6:13; see Gen. 32:2). When she finds the beloved, she clings to him and doesn't let him leave (3:4; see Gen 32:26). Fragrant mandrakes grow in her fields (7:11-13; see Gen. 30:14). When the daughters see her, they call her blessed (6:9; see Gen. 30:13). In the Shulamite, the corrupt tree of Israel bears "sweet fruits" (7:13; see Deut. 33:13-17). The blessings promised by the covenant, that had been broken, are restored in her.

These same incidents can also be seen as representative of marital love. In this case, it's her husband whom she holds on to and doesn't allow to leave (3:4). It's her husband who praises her beauty (6:4-10), and that which is presented in 3:6-5:1 is the nuptial procession of a royal pair of newlyweds who mutually rejoice.

Historical Setting: With his large harem, how could King Solomon write such a beautiful love song to one specific wife? Perhaps his union with the Shulamite woman was the only authentic marriage relationship which Solomon ever knew. Most of his marriages were political arrangements, designed to seal treaties and trade agreements with other nations. In contrast, the Shulamite woman was not a cultured princess but a lowly vineyard keeper whose skin had been darkened by her long exposure to the sun (1:6). Yet, she was the bride to whom Solomon declared, "How much better than wine is your love, and the scent of your perfumes than all spices!" (4:10).

This has a real message about the nature of true love. Authentic love is much more than a surface relationship it extends to the very core of one's being. Love like this cannot be bought and sold like some commodity on the open market. Solomon had many wives, but the Shulamite may have been the only one with whom he enjoyed a warm, enriching relationship.

Theological Contribution: The great message of the Song of Solomon is the beauty of love between a man and a woman as experienced in the relationship of marriage. In its frank but beautiful language, the song praises the mutual love which husband and wife feel toward each other in this highest of all human relationships.

The sexual and physical side of marriage is a natural and proper part of GOD's plan, reflecting His purpose and desire for the human race. This is the purpose and desire for the human race. This is the same truth so evident at the beginning of time in the Creation itself. GOD created man and woman and brought them together to serve as companions and to share their lives with one another: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh" (Gen. 2:24). Like the Book of Genesis, the Song of Solomon says a bold yes to the beauty and sanctity of married love.

But this book also points beyond human love to the great Author of love. Authentic love is possible in the world because GOD brought love into being and planted that emotion in the hearts of His people. Even husbands and wives should remember that the love which they share for one another is not a product of their human goodness or kindness. We are able to love because the love of GOD is working in our lives: "In this is love, not that we loved GOD, but that He loves us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if GOD so loved us, we also ought to love one another (I John 4:10-11).

Special Considerations: The symbols and images that the groom uses to describe the beauty of his Shulamite bride may seem strange to modern readers. He portrays her hair as "a flock of goats, going down from Mount Gilead" (4:1). Her neck, he says, is like "the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers" (4:4). Such compliments today would certainly not be flattering to most women!

In his use of these symbols, the groom is reflecting the cultural patterns of the ancient world. To those who lived in Solomon's time, the rippling effect of a flock of goats moving down a hillside was, indeed, a thing of beauty. And a stately tower atop a city wall reflected an aura of stability and nobility. The Shulamite woman would have been very pleased at such creative compliments from her poetic groom.

Scholars are not certain of the exact meaning of the phrase, "the Shulamite" (6:13), which has come to be used as a title for the bride in this song. No city or region known as Shulam has been identified in Palestine or any of the surrounding territories. Because the poem makes several references to Lebanon (3:9; 4:8,11,15; 5:15; 7:4), some scholars believe she came from this mountainous territory along the Mediterranean coast in northwestern Palestine.

Personal Application: Song of Songs is a continual stimulation to marriages that are drifting apart to reconcile, grow and achieve a joyful mutual relationship. It also is an excellent premarital manual. It presents a biblical archetype that can bring consolation to the innermost part of our being by recovering our marriages through the hope that divine love brings to them. It's exposition of the divine love also applies to the relationships that unite the Church with GOD. In this respect, the book can be filled with rich symbolisms, but it shouldn't be considered as an arbitrary allegory that uncovers hidden meanings by the reader's fantasy; on the contrary, every personal application of our loving relationship with Christ should be based on clear biblical parallels.

Christ Revealed: In the Song of songs, as in other parts of the Bible, the Garden of Eden, the promised land, the tabernacle with its Ark of the Covenant, Solomon's temple and the new heavens and new earth, are related to Christ, because there's no question of choosing a few verses that prophecy the coming of the Messiah. The true essence of the covenant of divine love is reproduced in Him (Luke 24:27; II Cor. 1:20).

The Holy Spirit in Action: According to Romans 5:5, "the love of GOD has been shed in our hearts by the Holy Spirit." On the foundation of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit is the tie that unites us with the power of love. The felicity that is revealed in the book is inconceivable without the Holy Spirit. The same symbolic literary form of the book is adapted to the Spirit, which is manifested through dreams, figurative language and the song (Acts 2:17; Eph 5:18,19). The subtle play on words based on the divine "gust" that gives breath to life (the Holy Spirit, Ps. 104:29,30) of Genesis 2:7, seems to flourish in the book, as it can be compared with the wind that gusts in the Shulamite's garden (4:16) and the fragrant smell of her face (7:8).

Structure of the Book: The Song of Solomon is a brief book of only eight chapters. But in spite of its brevity, it has a complicated structure that sometimes confuses the reader. Several different characters or personalities have speaking parts within this long lyrical poem. In most translations of the Bible, these speakers change abruptly with no identification to help the reader follow the narrative. But the NKJV clears up this confusion by publishing identification lines within the text. This helps the reader gain a clearer understanding of this beautiful son.

The three main parties with speaking parts in this long poem are: (1) the groom, King Solomon; (2) the bride, a woman referred to as "the Shulamite" (6:13); and (3) the "daughters of Jerusalem" (2:7). These women of Jerusalem may have been royal servants who served as attendants to Solomon's Shulamite bride. In this love song, they serve as a chorus to echo the sentiments of the Shulamite, emphasizing her love and affection for Solomon.

In addition to these main personalities, the brothers of the Shulamite bride are mentioned in the poem (8:8-9). These may have been her step-brothers. The poem indicates she worked under their command as "the keeper of the vineyards" (1:6).

This beautiful love song falls naturally into two major sections of about equal length - the beginning of love (chapters 1-4) and the broadening of love (chapters 5-8).

In the first section, the Shulamite tells about Solomon's visit to her home in the country in the springtime (2:8-17). She also recalls the many happy experiences of their courtship when she visited Solomon in his palace in Jerusalem (2:4-7). She thinks about the painful separations from his love during this time (3:1-5), as well as the joyous wedding procession to Jerusalem to become the king's bride (3:6-11). Solomon also praises his bride-to-be in a beautiful poem on the magic and wonder of love (chapter 4).

In the second section of the book, the love of the Shulamite and Solomon for each other continues to deepen after their marriage. She has a troubled dream when he seems distant and unconcerned (5:2-8). But Solomon assures her of his love and praises her beauty (6:4-7:9). Longing to visit her country home (7:10-8:4), she finally makes the trip with Solomon; and their love grows even stronger (8:5-7). The song closes with an assurance of each to the other that they will always remain close in their love.

The above section, as well as the sections on Theological Contribution, Historical Setting, and Special Considerations were taken from the "Illustrated Bible Dictionary", published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

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