Study 1 – Musings in Solomon’s Song of Songs

Study 1 – The format of the book

A spiritual health warning is in order. If you are predominantly left-brained, as I am, you tend to approach any subject logically. Since Solomon’s Song is poetic we must take care not to analyse it until it is chopped as fine and lifeless as sawdust if we are not careful. Nevertheless, we must recognise the structure of the book. This we will consider in this first of three studies. But if you tend to have an arty-crafty right brain bias you might read the romantic poetry of these few short chapters and just float off like a child’s lost balloon. The lyrics of Solomon’s Song of Songs are quite beguiling. Perhaps the poetry should come with a spiritual health warning as when God cautioned Ezekiel about his pulpit oratory (Song of Solomon 33:30-33, New Living Translation throughout this short series, unless otherwise indicated):

‘. . . your people’ gossip ‘about you . . . and . . . say to each other, “Come on, let’s go [and] hear the prophet.” . . . You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice. . . . They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it.’

So, reader, beware: don’t treat the Song as ‘A Poetry Reading’ at the Llangollen Eisteddfod or ‘Top of the Pops’ on TV.

How well do we know the author?

We are all well aware that Solomon was a king who ‘ruled over all Israel for forty years’ (1 Kings 11:42), that he was rich and famous, and the wisest man who ever lived (1 Kings 3:12-13). But here from I Kings is a list of his unique qualification to be the author of this poetic Bible book.

[1] He was a dreamer; Solomon actually received his gift of wisdom in answer to his prayer in a dream! See 1 Kings 3:5-15. And we’ll find dreams and day dreams in the Song.

[2] He was a developer (1 Kings 9:17-19) who ‘built everything he desired in Jerusalem and Lebanon [two places that feature often in the Song] and throughout his entire realm.’

[3] He was a naturalist and ‘could speak with authority about all kinds of plants . . . animals, [and] birds’ (1 Kings 4:33); and although you will find very little mention of these in Proverbs or Ecclesiastes, the Song of Song abounds with detailed examples.

[4] He was a lyricist who composed ‘1,005 songs’ – a very specific number when compared with the round figure of ‘some 3,000 proverbs’ mentioned in that same verse! Most commentators agree that the Song of Songs naturally comprises five sections – maybe hinted at there in 1 Kings 4:32.

[5] Solomon was also an owner of horses and chariots, and even ‘constructed towns where his chariots and horses could be stationed’ (1 Kings 9:19). That fact may help us to distinguish the king’s speeches addressed to the country lass from those of her rural boyfriend.

[6] And, sadly, he was a womaniser: he refers to his ‘sixty queens and eighty concubines and countless young women’ in the Song (Song of Solomon 6:8), and eventually he accumulated ‘700 wives of royal birth and 300 concubines’ (1 Kings 11:3).

[7] But he was also a philosopher. He tells us in Ecclesiastes 2:1,4-12 how he experimented with all kinds of pleasures: ‘I said to myself, “Come on, let’s try pleasure. Let’s look for ‘the good things’ in life” . . .  I also tried to find meaning by building huge homes [needed to house his many women] . . . and . . . beautiful vineyards . . . gardens and parks . . . filled . . . with all kinds of fruit trees . . . I bought slaves . . . and had many beautiful concubines. I had everything a man could desire . . . But . . . it was all so meaningless.’ The lesson of his ‘Song’ is much more positive.

Who’s who in the Song?

[1] The young country lass – recognised by the use of feminine Hebrew words, and indicated in various Bible editions as ‘She’ or ‘Bride’ or ‘Young Woman’; she speaks nearly 70 verses of the Song, has the first and last speeches in the book and in most stanzas.

[2] Her rural boyfriend – mentioned in masculine Hebrew words, and called ‘Young Man’ or ‘Bridegroom’ or ‘He’ in subtitles in different Bible versions. The question that Bible teachers must decide is whether there is only the one ‘he’, namely ‘the king’ who is courting the girl, or if Solomon is the rival of her true love, the country lad? I am convinced that there are two men whose individual phraseology in those ‘He’ speeches have vividly contrasting styles; Solomon uses palace lingo as in Song of Solomon 1:9, ‘I’ve compared you, O my love, to my mare in Pharaoh’s chariots’ (Hebrew text) in contrast to the country boy’s comments as in Song of Solomon 4:1-2, ‘Your hair falls in waves, like a flock of goats winding down the slopes of Gilead! Your teeth are as white as sheep, recently shorn and freshly washed.’ He speaks in about 20 verses, as does the king. Other characters only utter seven verses. Unlike his father David, Solomon was not a natural shepherd.

[3] The king (‘Solomon’) – referred to in Song of Solomon 1:1,4-5,12; 3:7-9,11; 8:11-12.

[4] His harem (‘daughters of Jerusalem’) – mentioned in Song of Solomon 1:5; 2:7; 3:5,10-11; 5:8,16; 8:4.

[5] Friends and neighbours from her home village – spoken of in Song of Solomon 1:8; 6:13; 3:6-10, and her brothers, who get bad press at the start of the Song (Song of Solomon 1:5-6) but perform better at its conclusion (Song of Solomon 8:8-9).

[6] City watchmen – found twice, Song of Solomon 3:3 and 5:7; first time they are helpful; next time, cruel to her.

[7] A narrator’s voice can be heard in the final lines of Song of Solomon 5:1 that could possibly be an invitation by YHWH himself to enjoy marital sex: ‘Oh, lover and beloved, drink deeply of love.’ 

Is there a story line?

‘Solomon has a vineyard’ in the north (Song of Solomon 8:11), and during a visit there he takes captive a gorgeous village maiden, bringing her south to his complex of palace residences in Jerusalem. She recounts the incident in Song of Solomon 6:11-12, ‘I went down to the grove of walnut trees and out to the valley to see the new spring growth, to see whether the grapevines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom. Before I realized it, my strong desire had taken me to the chariot of a noble man.’ After all, Samuel had warned Israel when they asked for a king like the nations: ‘The king will take your daughters from you and force them to cook and bake and make perfume for him’ (1 Samuel 8:13).

At the start of the Song she expresses her concern because ‘the king has brought me into his private apartments’ (Song of Solomon 1:4, Hebrew text) where she meets women of his harem. Some of the later scenes are described as either dreams (for instance, Song of Solomon 5:2, ‘I slept, but my heart was awake’), or as reveries (day-dreams, such as Song of Solomon 1:12-14: while ‘the king is lying on his couch enchanted by the fragrance of my perfume, my love is like a sachet of myrrh lying between my breasts. He is like a bouquet of sweet henna blossoms from the vineyards of En-gedi’). In one dream she imagines herself roaming the city streets in her night attire, for which she was beaten by the watchmen (Song of Solomon 5:6-7), only to find that all the while her beloved has been browsing nearby among the lilies in his garden (Song of Solomon 6:1-2). Such events would hardly have been possible in real life for a queen-in-waiting!

What’s the theme music of the Song?

This is expressed in such figurative terms as: ‘vines’, ‘vineyards’, ‘wine’, ‘gardens’ and ‘blossom’ representing ‘love’, ‘endearments’, a ‘lover’ and a ‘beloved’ – all mentioned a grand total of 50 times. In fact, the key (so to speak) hangs just inside the front door of the Song – Song of Solomon 1:2, ‘your endearments are better than wine (Hebrew text). Right off, she longs for her rural boyfriend to ‘take me with you. Let’s run’ because ‘the king has brought me into his private chambers’ (Song of Solomon 1:4). Next, she tells the harem: ‘Don’t stare at me because I am dark – the sun has darkened my skin. My brothers were angry with me; they forced me to care for their vineyards, so that I didn’t care for myself – my own vineyard(Song of Solomon 1:5-6). Hence the need to cull those little fox cubs that ruin the bark of the blossoming vines and prevent the fruit from developing. No wonder she immediately sends a ‘prayer’ to her absent shepherd boyfriend: ‘Tell me, my love, where are you leading your flock today? Where will you rest your sheep at noon?’ (Song of Solomon 1:7-8).

Who says what?

Here is the general pattern offered by The New Living Translation and The New International Version with a very few tweaks of mine, plus my heading for each of the five song stanzas:

  1. First Love (Song of Solomon 1:2 – 2:7)

The Young Woman Song of Solomon 1:2-4a; Women of the Harem Song of Solomon 1:4b; ‘She’ again Song of Solomon 1:4c-7; The Young Man Song of Solomon 1:8; The King Song of Solomon 1:9-11; She Song of Solomon 1:12-14; He Song of Solomon 1:15; She Song of Solomon 1:16 – 2:1; He Song of Solomon 2:2; She Song of Solomon 2:3-7.

  1. Faltering Love (Song of Solomon 2:8 – 3:5)

She Song of Solomon 2:8-13; He Song of Solomon 2:14-15; She Song of Solomon 2:16 – 3:5.

  1. Fight for Love (Song of Solomon 3:5 -5:1)

She Song of Solomon 3:6-11; He Song of Solomon 4:1-15; She Song of Solomon 4:16; He 5:1a-c; YHWH himself 5:1d;

  1. Fashioned by Love (Song of Solomon 5:2 – 8:4)

She Song of Solomon 5:2-8; Harem Song of Solomon 5:9; She Song of Solomon 5:10-16; Harem Song of Solomon 6:1; She Song of Solomon 6:2-3; King Song of Solomon 6:4-9; Harem Song of Solomon 6:10; She Song of Solomon 6:11-12; Women of Her Village Song of Solomon 6:13a; King Song of Solomon 6:13b – 7:9; She Song of Solomon 7:10 – 8:4,

  1. Fullness of Love (Song of Solomon 8:5-14)

Village Women Song of Solomon 8:5a; She Song of Solomon 8:5b-7; Her Brothers Song of Solomon 8:8-9; She Song of Solomon 8:10-12; He Song of Solomon 8:13; She Song of Solomon 8:14.]

Some portions of the Song intentionally echo each other

[] There is a repeated chorus or reprise in Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5 and 8:4 that each concludes one of the sections of the book: ‘Promise me, O women of Jerusalem, [by the gazelles and wild deer], not to awaken love until the time.’ The other two sections end with similar but different conclusive sentences: Song of Solomon 5:1, ‘Oh, lover and beloved, eat and drink. Yes drink deeply of your love!’ and Song of Solomon 8:4, ‘Come away, my love. Be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountain of spices.’

[] Some characters are seen ‘sweeping in from the wilderness’ on two different occasions, and each time the reader is asked: ‘Who is this?’ (See Study 3).

[] Three distinct statements of the young woman about her attachment to her young man clearly convey a sense of development in her understanding of their relationship – Song of Solomon 2:16; 6:3 and 7:10. (We will comment on these in Study 3.)

How long did she endure her capture?

Early in the Song the young woman hears her lover approaching, announcing: ‘Look, the winter is past,’ and that ‘flowers are springing up,’ so ‘the fragrant grapevines are blossoming’ (Song of Solomon 2:10-13). And she tells us that her capture occurred in springtime: ‘I went . . . out to the valley to see the new growth, to see whether the grapevines had budded’ (Song of Solomon 6:11-12). Then in the final, triumphant scenes of the Song, as she anticipates reunion with her betrothed, obviously this takes place in the season of Spring: ‘Let us . . . see if the grapevines have budded, if the blossoms have opened . . . There I will give you my love’ (Song of Solomon 7:11-13). Was this after the passing of a whole year of detention at the palace? Or did Solomon release her promptly, so that her imprisonment resembled Jonah’s symbolic ‘three days and three nights’ in Whale Jail (Matthew Song of Solomon 12:40)?

This entry was posted in Song of Solomon Studies. Bookmark the permalink.