As a young king, Solomon asked the Lord for wisdom, and God granted his request by making him the wisest man in the world. Out of that wisdom God used Solomon to write three books of the Bible. As a young man he wrote The Song of Solomon, a passionate rhapsody of love; as an elderly man he wrote Ecclesiastes, his testimony about the meaning of life; and in between the two he compiled the Proverbs, the Bible’s book of wisdom.
The Song of Solomon is unique among the sixty-six books of the Bible. It is mysterious and tucked away deep in the Old Testament — that is where most people would rather keep it, but I encourage you to read it. Today’s blog will serve as a reader’s guide to this beautiful piece of Holy Spirit-inspired poetry.
The Song of Solomon is romantic, it is poetic, and it is explicit. One tradition says that the Jewish rabbis would not allow a man under 30 to read this book because it speaks freely about the physical love between a man and a woman on their honeymoon — but that is a good, God-given, beautiful thing. The introductory verse gives us the title: “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (v.1). The Bible says that Solomon had written 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32), and this is his “greatest hits” collection. You will notice as you read it that the songs are not necessarily in any kind of order, but they are on “random shuffle”. They are various love songs that a husband and a wife sing to one another.
You will notice that the publishers of your Bible have tried to make it easier to understand by telling you who is speaking, like reading a Shakespearian play. The truth is, sometimes they just guessed at it using grammatical clues, but basically it is a very small cast of characters. There is the man, Solomon, and his wife whose name we do not know (we do know that she was a country girl from the Shulammite region; see 6:18). And then there are the “back-up singers”, her friends who regularly drop in to repeat certain lines or to pose questions, like a Shakespearian chorus.
The main theme of Solomon’s songs is the beauty of intimacy between a husband and wife. We hear these lovers sing about physical nearness, kissing, embracing, and holding each other (see 1:2 and 2:4-6). The physical expression of intimacy in marriage ought to be celebrated and redeemed from the filth our culture has turned it into. The Song of Solomon is God’s encouragement to enjoy to the fullest one of His most brilliant creations: the capacity for physical intimacy between a husband and wife. It is a sacred and beautiful gift.
We also hear Solomon and his wife expressing their intimacy verbally, in words of compliment and appreciation. These are the most memorable lyrics in the book, as the man and woman alternately give each other a valuable gift: to see themselves through the eyes of the one who loves them most. (For a sampling of this sweet-talking from the man, see 4:1-5; from the woman, see 5:10-16).
Many people look at The Song of Solomon and ask, “Why is this in the Bible?” For me, another passage of Scripture answers the question; Titus 2:14 says, “Christ gave Himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for Himself a people that are His very own, eager to do what is good.” In that statement I find two purposes for The Song of Solomon. First is the purpose of redemption: Christ came to redeem us from all wickedness, including that part of His creation that has been most ruined and perverted by sin — romantic love between a man and a woman. Second is the purpose of reflection: there is a call here to reflect the redeeming love of Jesus in the most precious of human relationships — love given unconditionally and expressed freely in marriage.