Background Information on
the book of SONG OF SOLOMON
The Hebrew title (Shir Hashirim, lit. “song of songs”) is an expression of the superlative, meaning “the best song.” The Latin name is Canticles (lit. “songs”). The Hebrew Bible places the Song in the megilloth (Heb., lit. “scrolls”), a collection of books read on feast days of the Jews, Ruth, Esther, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations are also included in this group.
King Solomon (Heb., Lit. “peace”), the son of David and Bathsheba, claims authorship of the book (Song 1:1). The wisest man of his day, he authored 1,005 songs (see 1 Kings 4:32). The Song is consonant with his great wisdom and skill. Solomon’s name appears repeatedly in the book (Song 1:1, 5; 3:7, 9,11; 8:11, 12), and the events occur in a royal setting. Also the book’s geographic references seem to assume a united kingdom.
The Song was written during Solomon’s forty-year reign (971-931 B.C.), probably during the early years of his reign.
Setting: Solomon presided over the royal court in Jerusalem. However, many geographical locations throughout the kingdom are mentioned. Solomon’s authorship has been questioned, though not until the nineteenth century, and arguments suggested against Solomonic authorship have been inconclusive. Most evangelical scholars remain in support of Solomonic authorship.
Purpose: The Song is an epithalamium or nuptial song, an expression of love between a bride and her bridegroom. Biblical scholars have debated whether the Song should be read figuratively or literally. Many Jewish and Christian scholars have interpreted this poetic expression of human physical love as a historical relationship that could also be interpreted a as a divine parable.
Ancient Jewish scholars often regarded the story as a picture of Yahweh and His love for Israel. According to early church fathers such as Augustine, Origen, Jerome, and Bernard of Clairvaux, the Song revealed the love between Christ and His church.
As dissatisfaction with allegorical interpretations grew, evangelical scholars adopted the more literal reading as primary. Thus, the Song of Solomon was viewed as extoling human sexuality within the bounds of marriage, with a secondary application to Christ and His bride, the church.
Ancient Near Eastern lyrical poetry served as both entertainment and a catalyst for philosophical discussion. The metaphorical language delights and enhances the senses, while it illuminates the understanding. The poet’s intent was to underscore the most profound emotions in the human experience. The intensity of longing and loving, the rehearsal of searching and finding, vows of constancy and lavish praise for the one loved are literary conventions that evoke universal response.
No other Old Testament book is so full of technical terms for spices, plants, and shrubs. The Song of Solomon, part of the Old Testament wisdom literature (including Job, Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes), is not mentioned in the New Testament, and the book contains no definite reference to God. The Song contains no explicit doctrinal theology, but it does reflect monotheism in its celebration of God’s creation. In its praise of the joys of human love, the Song echoes Psalm 45 with its pastoral touch.
The Song stresses the themes of love and devotion between a man and a woman committed to one another, while also echoing the loving relationship between Yahweh and His people Israel and between Christ and His church. With aesthetic imagery, Solomon skillfully highlighted the splendor and majesty of God. No traces of the polytheism that appears in other poetry of this time period is found in the Song.
For women, the Song pictures a bride who is healthy, balanced, and truly loved. In contrast to many contemporary writers who depict female weakness or victimization as inevitable and absolute, God presents a portrait of wholeness and hope. A reflection of the intimate relationship between the man and woman in the Garden of Eden can be traced as mutual devotion and respect between a husband and wife develop and as they are related harmoniously with the natural world around them.
The dialogue forms five poetic units, each a renewal of feeling and growing intimacy. Refrains are interspersed with interjections by friends and supporters who celebrate with the couple.
Song of Songs 1
1 Solomon’s Song of Songs.
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers.
We rejoice and delight in you;
we will praise your love more than wine.
How right they are to adore you!
5 Dark am I, yet lovely,
daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I had to neglect.
7 Tell me, you whom I love,
where you graze your flock
and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I be like a veiled woman
beside the flocks of your friends?
8 If you do not know, most beautiful of women,
follow the tracks of the sheep
and graze your young goats
by the tents of the shepherds.
9 I liken you, my darling, to a mare
among Pharaoh’s chariot horses.
10 Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you earrings of gold,
studded with silver.
12 While the king was at his table,
my perfume spread its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
resting between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
from the vineyards of En Gedi.
15 How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Your eyes are doves.
16 How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
And our bed is verdant.
17 The beams of our house are cedars;
our rafters are firs.
February 17 Devotional Song of Solomon 1
1. What sense do you get from this passage about how the “Beloved” and the “Lover” regard one another?
2. Examine the images they use to describe one another (1:3, 7, 9, 10, 12-14, 15)?
- vs. 3- your name is like perfume poured out
- vs. 7- like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends
- vs. 9- I liken you, my darling, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariot horses.
- vs. 10- Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels.
- vs. 13-14: sachet of myrrh resting between my breasts. 14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
- vs. 15- Your eyes are doves
What do these word pictures reflect about the nature of their relationship?
3. What fears and insecurities does the beloved reveal (1:3-4, 5-7)?
- In 1:8 how do the friends pick up on the beloved’s imagery and reassure her?
- How does the lover reassure her (1:9-11)?
4. Why is it important to have supportive friends involved in a marriage or dating relationship?