I am currently reading through the Old Testament and have just finished the Song of Songs [or Song of Solomon]. As I was reading through the chapters I kept thinking of what I think constitute the two major traditional interpretations of the book (though there are more out there) – the allegorical & the Solomon-Shulammite interpretations. A brief definition (excerpts selected from the ESV Study Bible’s introduction to this book) of the two interpretations are:
Allegorical Interpretation: the Song of Solomon [is] an allegory, namely, as an extended picture of the love between Israel’s God and his people, and then between Christ and his bride (either the church or the individual soul). This approach, in fact, dominated exposition of the book until the nineteenth century.
Solomon-Shulammite Interpretation: [Views] the Song of Solomon as a unified love poem with a two-character plot, the two primary characters being King Solomon and the unnamed young Shulammite woman. [It views] the book primarily as a celebration of love and the gift of sexual intimacy…by showing the pure and passionate love of the man and the woman in the story.
By looking at this beautiful book through both lenses really opened up a deeper appreciation within me. Personally, I do not think that we need to look at the Song of Songs exclusively through one or the other view, but that the book allows for both and that the views can even compliment one another – such as Paul’s writing in Ephesians 5:22-33.
It seems that the ESV editors and I are in agreement on this as their “Key Themes” section reads:
1. God’s covenant, which commands sexual purity, provides just the right framework (marriage) within which his people may properly enjoy the gift of sexual intimacy (cf. Gen. 2:23-24). Thus God’s people honor him and commend him to the world when they demonstrate with their lives that obedience in such matters brings genuine delight.
2. Marriage is a gift of God, and is to be founded on loyalty and commitment (see Gen. 2:24, “hold fast”), which allows delight to flourish. As such, it is a fitting image for God’s relationship with his people, in both the OT and the NT.
Now, for my enjoyment of the book of Song of Songs. Placing the two perspectives together & individually, I very much appreciated 8:6-7 and 8:13-14.
8:6-7 – “Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes or fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised.”
Viewing this as an allegory of Christ and the church brings out the strong and jealous love the the Lord for His church. How powerful and unshakable is His love that nothing can separate us from it & Him (c.f. Rom. 8:35-39). There is nothing we can do to “undo” or “quench” or “escape” His love for us for we will always be His when we say “I do” to Him. It also demonstrates how there is nothing that we can do to “buy” or “earn” His love – it is too valuable – we need simply to receive it and let it wash over us.
Seeing these verses as the picture of a husband and wife brings out the biblical beauty of an exclusive and everlasting marriage. The strength of a proper relationship that can endure all things together. And then seeing marriage in light of the allegorical view of Christ and the church takes the marriage covenant to an even higher level.
8:13-14 – Solomon: “O you who sit in the gardens, My companions are listening for your voice – let me hear it!” Shulammite: “Hurry, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices.”
Considering an allegorical approach, we may have the Lord delighting in hearing our voices crying out to Him in love and the desire of His church for His quick return. A picture of Christ and His church unified in their love and desire for one another. Or maybe even a picture of the oneness of Christ and His church in eternity.
As for marriage, we have a picture of the husband loving to hear the sweet words of his wife and the wife longing to spend time with her husband. A lovely picture of enjoying one another in a life-long marriage.
This book, the Song of Songs, is a very lovely book. Read either way or both ways (Mark Driscoll does an excellent sermon series, The Peasant Princess, on the relationship aspect and Watchman Nee does a pretty good look at the allegorical interpretation in his book Song of Songs: Unveiling the Mystery of Passionate Intimacy with Christ) and you will find a beautiful book of the Bible.