Song of Songs Introduction I

As the text in today’s reading, I will be posting the first part of the NIV Study Bible’s introduction to Song of Songs.  The reading does not have the authority of the biblical text.  It is a secondary source that comments on the Bible.  Why, then, would I encourage us to read it rather than attempt to jump straight in and read the inspired text?  The reasons are many, but I will try and explain some of them.  Reading the Word of God is like entering into a relationship.  Like entering into any relationship it is good to know the background of the one you are dating.  Of course, you can work it all out as you go along.  However, it is good to speak with someone who knows the person you are going to date.  There are those who have walked through the biblical text before.  Some love the text and see it as beneficial, others see it as fairy tales sent to comfort the weak.  I want to know what to look for and what to appreciate before I enter into the relationship.  In that way I will miss less of the beautiful details that are right before my eyes.  Secondly, we are reading someone else’s mail.  In a metaphysical sense the writing of the Bible is for all people in all the ages.  However, we gain insight into how the text is to be understood when we understand who wrote it, for what purpose, and how it would have been read originally.  Finally, we must still ourselves and prepare for the task at hand.  Just like an insensitive lover jumps into bed without thought for the one they are with, we also sometimes jump into the text unprepared.  We walk away unsatisfied because in affect we were not present to engage in a relationship but just to take a gem or word of assurance with us for our own sakes.

NIV Study Bible:  Song of Songs: Introduction

Title

The title in the Hebrew text is “Solomon’s Song of Songs,” meaning a song by, for, or about Solomon. The phrase “Song of Songs” means the greatest of songs (cf. Dt 10:17, “God of gods and Lord of lords”; 1Ti 6:15, “King of kings”).

Author and Date

Verse 1 appears to ascribe authorship to Solomon (see note on 1:1; but see also Title above). Solomon is referred to seven times (1:1,5; 3:7,9,11; 8:11-12), and several verses speak of the “king” (1:4,12; 7:5), but whether he was the author remains an open question.

To date the Song in the tenth century b.c. during Solomon’s reign is not impossible. In fact, mention of Tirzah and Jerusalem in one breath (6:4; see note there) has been used to prove a date prior to King Omri (885-874 b.c.; see 1Ki 16:23-24), though the reason for Tirzah’s mention is not clear. On the other hand, many have appealed to the language of the Song as proof of a much later date, but on present evidence the linguistic data are ambiguous.

Consistency of language, style, tone, perspective and recurring refrains seems to argue for a single author. However, many who have doubted that the Song came from one pen, or even from one time or place, explain this consistency by ascribing all the Song’s parts to a single literary tradition, since Near Eastern traditions were very careful to maintain stylistic uniformity.

Interpretation

To find the key for unlocking the Song, interpreters have looked to prophetic, wisdom and apocalyptic passages of Scripture, as well as to ancient Egyptian and Babylonian love songs, traditional Semitic wedding songs and songs related to ancient Mesopotamian fertility religions. The closest parallels appear to be those found in Proverbs (see Pr 5:15-20; 6:24-29; 7:6-23). The description of love in 8:6-7 (cf. the descriptions of wisdom found in Pr 1-9 and Job 28) seems to confirm that the Song belongs to Biblical wisdom literature and that it is wisdom’s description of an amorous relationship. The Bible speaks of both wisdom and love as gifts of God, to be received with gratitude and celebration.

This understanding of the Song contrasts with the long-held view that the Song is an allegory of the love relationship between God and Israel, or between Christ and the church, or between Christ and the soul (the NT nowhere quotes from or even alludes to the Song). It is also distinct from more modern interpretations of the Song, such as that which sees it as a poetic drama celebrating the triumph of a maiden’s pure, spontaneous love for her rustic shepherd lover over the courtly blandishments of Solomon, who sought to win her for his royal harem. Rather, it views the Song as a linked chain of lyrics depicting love in all its spontaneity, beauty, power and exclusiveness — experienced in its varied moments of separation and intimacy, anguish and ecstasy, tension and contentment. The Song shares with the love poetry of many cultures its extensive use of highly sensuous and suggestive imagery drawn from nature.

Questions

  1. How is the title ‘Song of Songs’ compared to ‘King of kings’?
  2. Why are people unsure of the author and date?
  3. Why is the book possibly an outline of a wise view on love?
  4. How can the unleashing of passion be wise?
  5. Do you experience ‘love in all its spontaneity, beauty, power and exclusiveness’?  How can you increase each of these areas?
  6. Think on each of the list ‘intimacy, anguish and ecstasy, tension and contentment’.  Discuss with your spouse or lover how you have experienced each of these.

Chapel Study

In the Chapel Sunday School at McHenry, Ken Gates asked us to meditate on a series of verses to develop our spiritual maturity.  There are 9 passages. The first two are as follows:

2 Corinthians 3:18

18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate[a] the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

Romans 8:29-30

 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

The first verse above seems to indicate that our faces will shine in a similar way to Moses.  Moses had to cover his face because it reflected God’s glory.  We are, like Moses, able to enter into the presence of the glory of God.  This is in varying degrees.  Although we and God have no veil between us, a full disclosure of God’s glory and holiness would kill us.  How then do we see God’s glory?  It is an abstract concept that is shown through something else.  For example, God demonstrates his glory in raising Jesus from the dead.  God demonstrates his glory in pulling our lives from the abyss.  Maybe the particular details for us involve God enriching a conversation with our spouse when we are faithful to him.  Maybe we follow God’s directives to discipline our children and we find that God receives glory when the directives work.  The most meaningful times, in my experience, when God receives glory is on the ‘path marked with suffering.’  This is shown in heart-rending times like watching my father find God in the midst of a painful death from cancer.  The Holy Spirit then shone from my father, who was a babe in Christ, as he passed from this world.  As we contemplate God’s very real presence with us we reflect his glory in our own lives.  The Spirit transforms us internally and we become something other than what we were.

The second verses are contentious ones.  The reason is that they are the basis of a debate as to whether God determines who will be saved or whether we determine our own salvation though a completely free choice.  The Chapel takes a position it calls ‘Responsivism’ which in loosely Arminian (Note:  there is a Responsivist Cult which is an entirely different thing).  I take a loose position affiliated with Calvinism. The point of the reading in the context of spiritual formation is that God is sovereign over a process by which the individual is changed.  Our changes and predicaments are no surprise to God and as we submit to him all things work for His good and for His glory.

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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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