My series of threads on the Song of Songs has now reached the end of the poem.
Here, then, is the promised Index, to help people find their way around them
Chapter 1 vv2-6
Draw me after you
The poem begins, as it ends, with a speech from the Woman.
This Woman addresses the one she loves, and tells him that she wants his love.
She believes that she had a close relationship with him, but she’s also conscious that others may hold her in low esteem.
I believe the best way to read this poem is to understand the Woman as representing God’s people, in the same way that God describes Israel as his
wife in other places in the Old Testament.
Chapter 1 vv7-17
Tell me where you rest at noon
The one whom the Woman loves begins to respond
He assures her how much he loves her.
In fact, there is a sense in which he knows the Woman much more closely than she knows him.
He can be seen both as a shepherd and as a king.
I believe the best way to read this poem is to understand the Loved One as representing the Creator God.
Chapter 2 vv1-7
Sustain me with raisins
In this passage, we see the Woman and the Loved One in a time of rest and mutual enjoyment.
This is the relationship in the ideal state.
But I believe these early passages are retrospective, looking back from a time when the relationship seemed to have gone wrong.
Chapter 2 vv8-17
Arise my love, my fair one
The Loved One, in the form of a gazelle, invites the Woman to join him in a shared enjoyment of the Creation.
Chapter 3 vv1-5
I will seek him
The Woman describes how she sought out and found the Loved One, and brought him home.
Chapter 3 vv6-11
Behold the litter of Solomon
Solomon enters, accompanied by power and glory, and depicted as a bridegroom.
Solomon was the ruler of the ideal kingdom of Israel’s past.
But this passage is also about one who “comes up from the wilderness”, which points to the arrival in the land of God and his people.
Therefore my understanding is that this marriage represents the Covenant relationship between them.
Chapter 4 vv1-8
Your hair is like a flock of goats
The Loved One praises the beauty of his bride.
Chapter 4 vv9-16 and chapter 5 v1
My sister, my bride
This praise continues. The marriage relationship seems to be secure.
Chapter 5 vv2-8
I am sick with love
This passage is the central episode of the Song of Songs, because it explains why the poem was written.
The Woman describes the devastating impact of the apparent loss of contact with the Loved One.
I believe this represents the catastrophe of the Fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile, when it would seem to God’s people that they had indeed
lost contact with their God.
Chapter 5 vv9-16 and chapter 6 vv1-3
One among ten thousand
The Woman praises the Loved One, showing how her love perseveres, despite the apparent separation.
Chapter 6 vv4-13
The dance of the Shulamite
This passage combines two themes.
The Woman’s thoughts, on the one hand, are focussed on the Loved One, and she regrets his absence.
Meanwhile the Loved One seeks to assure the Woman that his love towards her remains undiminished
Chapter 7 vv1-9
The queenly maiden
The Loved One continues to praise the Woman.
He is hidden, but he is not absent.
In reality, the Covenant relationship, the marriage bond of the Loved One and the Woman, remains unbroken.
Chapter 7 vv10-14 and chapter 8 vv1-4
I would kiss you
Not fully conscious of the Loved One’s assurances, the Woman expresses her sense of loss.
Chapter 8 vv5-10
Under the apple-tree
The sense of loss which the Woman has experienced begins to be replaced by a message of hope.
The Loved One continues to love and protect her, and she is moving towards the time when her restoration will be complete.
Chapter 8 vv11-14
Make haste, my beloved
Therefore the poem ends on this appeal. I have suggested that it is the emotional equivalent of the Christian’s “Even so, come Lord Jesus”.
At first sight, the Song of Songs looks like an ordinary love-poem, and is often interpreted that way.
I suggest that it belongs to the genre of “love poetry” to the same extent that Kings and Chronicles belong to the genre of “history”, or
Proverbs belongs to the genre “collection of proverbs and wise sayings”.
In each case the literary genre has been given a spiritual dimension.
It is easy to see that the “historical” books are not just pure secular history, but have been used to say something about the relation between
God and his people.
We find in Proverbs not just secular wisdom, but warnings against different kinds of unrighteousness.
Similarly the writer or compiler of Song of Songs has taken the genre of “love-poetry” and adapted it, turning it into another picture of the
relationship between God’s people and their God.
Many scholars believe, for language reasons, that the poem was more probably written in the period after the Return from the Babylonian Exile.
In which case the “life-situation” of the poem can be seen as a response to the disaster of the Fall of Jerusalem.
The story of the poem goes like this;
The early chapters are nostalgic, looking back to the “honeymoon” period of the relationship, when the two lovers, God and his people, could enjoy
each other’s company and enjoy the land together.
This honeymoon period is identified, retrospectively, with the kingdom of Solomon.
The nightmare episode of the fifth chapter is central in every way, because it represents the catastrophe caused by the power of Babylon, when the
relationship between God and his people appeared to be broken.
The two themes of the chapters thereafter are the sense of loss and the sense of renewed hope.
They are assured, over and over again, that they have not lost their God after all.
The final note of the poem is the prospect of complete reconciliation
A different response can be found in the allegories of Ezekiel ch16 and ch23.
These allegories are complaining about the idolatries of the old kingdoms, in terms of sexual jealousy, and the language can be so bluntly and
brutally sexual that the passages cannot be read in church services.
I believe this love- poem was deliberately intended as a more optimistic and benevolent version of the same kind of allegory.
So the intended purpose of the poem would be to encourage God’s people to believe in his love towards them, despite the discouraging aspects of
their situation, and to remain faithful.
Therefore the most natural way of understanding this poem is that the people who placed the book among the sacred writings of Israel, believing it to
have a sacred meaning, were correctly grasping the writer’s intentions.