Song of Songs 1:1-17

A sexually empowered woman, a passionate lover, and a despotic king seem to comprise the major players in The Song of Songs.  The woman intrigues me because she is described in terms that sometimes describe a prostitute.  A prostitute enhances her sexual allure in order to engage in business.  A prostitute is sensually skilled in ways that will ensnare multiple men and so increase her revenue.  The senses are heightened in each area of smell, taste, sight, sound and touch.  A prostitute who is good at her trade knows how to enhance each of these areas.  Why does the woman of Song of Songs enhance her charms in ways that cause her to be afraid that if she appears to the shepherds she will be mistaken for a veiled woman (prostitute)?  What separates a sensual lover from a whore?   A true lover uses these skills to excite their exclusive love.  A prostitute uses these same God-given skills to excite partners in a way that lacks true love and intimacy.  However, the church has become so heavenly minded that it does not encourage the full enjoyment of the senses that God has given us.  Within marriage a we can explore and give each other gifts that excite the senses.  Passion is excited by sensual stimuli. 

If Song of Songs is a book of wisdom, then using the senses to enhance our passion and intimacy is wise.  The lovers in Song of Songs are treated to tasting kisses that are sweeter than wine and somewhat intoxicating too; they smell each others perfumes (literally and figuratively); they see each other’s tanned skin;  they lie in the open and make love on the green, fertile grass beneath the cedar and fir trees.  The lovers take risks.

We must now turn to the lucky man who gets to look upon and experience a woman who enhances all of her charms for him.  Are Solomon and the Shepherd the same person?  It is possible that this is the case.  In fact a king like Solomon would have been thought of as the shepherd of his people.  However, there seems to be a contrast between the table of Solomon and the chambers of the king, with the wild, untamed freedom of the domain of the shepherd.  The original language allows for Solomon and the Shepherd to be two different people.  In fact, this would make more sense.  The exclusive nature of the couple’s love is diluted among one of 1,000 lovers if we place the woman in the harem of Solomon and insist that her affair is with her husband.  If she has been taken into Solomon’s extensive harem and dares to escape back into the open to meet a shepherd to whom she has already ‘surrendered her vineyard’, then the exclusive nature of her passion and her equality with her lover is maintained.  In short, if we maintain that Solomon is the lover we create an unequal relationship and equate God with a polygamist if we press the book for an analogy of God’s love.

‘Solomon’s Song of Songs’ is therefore a book about Solomon.  It would better be titled a ‘Song of Songs regarding Solomon’.  It ceases to be a Song Sung by Solomon but becomes a song sung by two passionate, faithful lovers who have been separated by a sensate, despotic, polygamist.  We have in the book a rugged simple shepherd and a tyrannical symbol of male chauvinism.  Although this tanned, well adorned, sweet-smelling beauty is taken by a tyrant into his court at each opportunity she rushes into the open country and seeks out secret liaisons with her shepherd lover.  Who then is her husband?  To whom must she be faithful?  That is a difficult question.  It is possible that she does not consummate her relationship with either – however, it is more probable that she is forced through a male dominated power-system to have sex with a king she does not care for whilst maintaining a faithful secret sexual relationship with the shepherd.  If we were to press this further we might say that she is married to the shepherd and through fear and oppression she is raped by Solomon.  Solomon as the serial rapist is then a dark threat to true love who comes out in search of his possession in chapter 3 whilst she is in search of her love.  This fits with our knowledge of Solomon and his many wives.  Quite frankly, without this interpretation we are reading a book about ‘how to be a Casanova’ rather than how to be a faithful lover.  Solomon uses sensual skills to entrap women, or dominates them by his power.  The shepherd uses his sensual skills and words of love for one woman who is withheld from him against their will.  A prostitute uses her sensual prowess to excite many men and overpower them for profit.  A loving woman enhances and uses her sensual prowess to create intimacy between her and her partner.

Song of Songs 1:1-17

1The Song ofSongs, which is Solomon’s.

    She[a]

 2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
 3 your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
   therefore virgins love you.
4 Draw me after you; let us run.
   The king has brought me into his chambers.

   Others

   We will exult and rejoice in you;
   we will extol your love more than wine;
   rightly do they love you.

   She

 5 I am very dark, but lovely,
   O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
   like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
   because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
   they made me keeper of the vineyards,
   but my own vineyard I have not kept!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
   where you pasture your flock,
   where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
   beside the flocks of your companions?

    He

 8 If you do not know,
   O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
   and pasture your young goats
   beside the shepherds’ tents.

 9 I compare you, my love,
   to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
   your neck with strings of jewels.

   Others

 11 We will make for you[b] ornaments of gold,
   studded with silver.

   She

 12 While the king was on his couch,
   my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
   that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
   in the vineyards of Engedi.

   He

 15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
   behold, you are beautiful;
   your eyes are doves.

   She

 16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.
Our couch is green;
 17 the beams of our house are cedar;
   our rafters are pine.

Note:  I usually use the NIV but I think it loses the idea of Solomon as the villain.  In the more literal ESV it comes across more clearly.

Questions

  1. How do the lovers excite the senses?
  2. How are Solomon and the Shepherd related?
  3. Why might a woman who is using all her sensual charms be mistaken for a prostitute?
  4. How do you use the senses to enhance your marriage?
  5. Why do you think that many Christians who are strong in their faith make lousy lovers?  (For remedy see below)

Going Deeper

Plan a shopping trip with your spouse where you overcome your embarrassment for the sake of self-sacrificial love.  Go to shops like Bed, Bath and Beyond, The Body Shop, and Bath and Bodyworks to buy a few things that will enhance the fragrances that you share.  Go to a department store and sample the fragrances and check out the intimate apparel.  Buy some jewelry.  Take a day at the spa to have a couples massage and let her be pampered.  Rub each other’s shoulders to release tension.  Choose a place to eat that you know the food is not filling but tastes wonderful.  Cook a meal for your spouse.  Dress up for your spouse.  Overall show your spouse that you are willing to use your resources enhance their sensual experiences with you.  Be creative and unselfish. 

The Chapel Sunday School Verses for McHenry

1 Thessalonians 4:3

 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality

Matthew 22:37

 37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[a]

1 Samuel 16:7

 7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”

These verses are part of a study on spiritual formation.  I think the first is particularly important because to the conscience stricken, it may have seemed like a warning not to engage in the sensual practices mentioned in The Song of Songs.  Sexual Immorality, though is not all sexual activity.  Sexual immorality is only the sexual activity that takes the sexual organs and uses them in ways that they were not designed to be used.  Thessalonica and much of Greece would have had sexually active cults that used sex for fertility rites.  Also in a patristic society men often used their power to dominate women and have multiple sexual partners through prostitution or infidelity.  the Greeks needed to leave sex for selfish ends behind.  True intimacy begins with intimacy with God.  God created the genitalia and he knows their proper use.  If we do not obsess on sex but pursue God we will be transformed.  The passage in 1 Samuel shows us that the content of our character is more important than our physical prowess or external features.  In fact, internal transformation enhances appearance.  A joyful heart makes a happy face (Proverbs 15:13).  If we see a genuinely happy person we are attracted to them.  So the primary focus is to love the Lord God with everything.  If we do that our attraction and all other aspects of life will follow.

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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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