Author and Time of Writing
The Song of Songs is one of the most peculiar and difficult books of the OT. The name of God appears just once in the whole book (chap. 8:6: Jah). The book is not mentioned in the NT at all. The expressive description of love between a man (Solomon) and a woman (Shulamite) has led many a scientist, especially in modern times, to very negative conclusions. Some have doubted that Solomon should be the author and that the book should be an entire work. The question has even been asked whether the book ought to have a place in the canon of Holy Scriptures!
Yet these questions have never arisen with the Jews. It is true that the Talmud-tradition says Hezekiah is the author of the book (probably so because during his time many an old tradition from the first period of kings came to honour; compare 2 Chron. 30:26; Prov. 25:1). But the place of the Song of Songs in the Hebrew canon of the AT has ever been in the third main part, that is the "writings" (Hebr. ketubim). Here the book belongs to the five scrolls (Hebr. megillot) for special feast days and is been read on the eighth day of the Passover.
The name "Song of Songs" is an absolute comparison in the Hebrew and means as much as the most beautiful song. The first verse already mentions Solomon as author. We find this mentioned seven times (chap. 1:1+5; 3:7+9+11; 8:11+12) and besides three times the title "King" (chap. 1:4+12; 7:6). According to 1 Kings 4:32+33 Solomon wrote 1,005 songs and he had a deep knowledge of nature. Only this one song of Solomon has been preserved. The song mentions 22 names of plants and 15 names of animals. As Solomon reigned from around 970 to 931 BC the time of writing would have to be set in the middle of the 10th century BC.
The Song of Songs is of a uniform composition as throughout the book the following persons appear again and again: the bridegroom, the bride, and the daughters of Jerusalem. Similar refrains are to be found at the beginning and ends of certain paragraphs (chap. 2:7; 3:5; 8:4 and 3:6; 6:10; 8:5). The sevenfold mentioning of Solomon's name would also be such a refrain.
Purpose of Writing
The expositors of the Song of Solomon have divers ways of thinking in ancient as well as in modern times. Some think the book is describing the king's (Solomon's) love for a poor shepherd girl; one version of this opinion says the girl was already promised to a shepherd and remained faithful to him in spite of the King's urge. Others think the book is a collection of (up to thirty!) love- or wedding-poems. Finally there are the some who think the origin is to be found in hymns of the Babylonian cult of Tammuz, which is idolatry.
The person of Shulamite (chap. 6:13) also prompted many suppositions but they all want a firm scriptural foundation. Out of Scripture we may conclude that although Solomon had 1,000 wives (1 Kings 11:3) his heart was not satisfied. Only one single one, a simple shepherd girl, was able to give him the love, joy and satisfaction, which according to the thoughts of God ought to control and dominate the relationship between woman and man (Gen. 2:18+24).
This brings us to the question which purpose the Holy Spirit is pursuing in the book. There again we find a variety of thoughts. The Jews have always seen a description of Jehovah's love for his people Israel. The fathers of the church have interpreted it for Christ's love for His church (or assembly, Greek: ekklesia) at the beginning of Christendom. A further explanation says the book contains songs wherein marital love is glorified.
Not regarding the external cause the subject of the book can only be the relation of the Jewish remnant out of Israel to their king, the Messiah. Of course the assembly of God is a bride also, but she is the bride, the Lamb's wife (Rev. 19:7; 21:2+9). Between her and the bridegroom there is a firm relationship from the beginning. This relationship is based upon the work of Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. The external completion will take place at the marriage supper of the Lamb only.
In the Song of Songs, however, Solomon as king is a type of Christ as the true king of peace. The content shows precisely that the bride does not yet have a firm fellowship with the king but that she is longing for his communion and love.
The book mainly contains dialogues between bride and bridegroom. Besides other persons are introduced: the daughters of Jerusalem, the watchmen of the city, the brothers and the little sister of the bride. But all these play a subordinate part.
Primarily the love of the bridegroom is described and then the growing love of the bride whose relationship to the bridegroom becomes firm and firmer until finally she comes into full enjoyment of his love. This development of love and confidence as well as the ripening experience finds its expression in the following words of the bride:
It goes without saying that the book also contains teachings for the believer of today. It can therefore also be practically applied to the personal relationship of the individual believer to his Lord.
a) The Language of the Song of Songs
With orthodox Jews we find the old tradition that men under the age of 30 years ought not to read the Song of Songs. At the same time the Jews have counted the book among the most holy ones and have accordingly estimated it very highly. This attitude becomes for us also. The Song of Songs is a book of oriental poetry that is marked by special pictorial language. Here it is the pictorial language of love, full of flowery, sentimental and sometimes very vivid expressions. But neither an Oriental nor a Hebrew would consider this book as a description of voluptuous passion! Such a judgment was reserved to a so-called Christian, western civilisation, which up to the mid of the 20th century made a taboo of all that was sexual. (Compare with paragraph "Hebrew Poetry" in the commentary on the Book of Psalms.)
b) The Bride in the Song of Songs
The prophets of the OT often called the people of Israel the wife of Jehovah (Jer. 31:32), which became unfaithful and therefore was rejected (compare Is. 54:6-7; Jer. 3:1-5; Hos. 1-3). Because of the division of Israel after Solomon's death two kingdoms arose: the Southern Part with Jerusalem and the Northern Part with Samaria as capital. These two kingdoms, which rose out of the maternal kingdom, are called "daughters of one mother" in Ez. 23 (compare Jer. 3:6-14). The Song of Songs mentions the mother (chap. 1:6; 3:4; 8:2) as well as the sister (chap. 8:8) of the bride.
We therefore find two different pictures of Israel. On the one hand the return of the whole of Israel to Jehovah in the last days is compared to the re-establishing of an unfaithful wife (Is. 54:6). On the other hand the believing remnant of Judah is compared to a young, beautiful bride who is united to the king, the Messiah. In the book of Ruth also the mother Naomi is pictured as the unfaithful people of Israel whereas the young Ruth, who is married by Boaz, the ancestor of the king of peace, is compared to the believing Jewish remnant (compare Psalm 45; Isaiah 62:3-5).
Now does this mean that Christ has got two brides, that is the believing remnant of His earthly people, and the heavenly wife, the assembly? This conclusion is not justified for the following reasons.
a) Different illustrations over divers relationships in totally different epochs under law in the OT and under grace in the NT are spoken of.
b) The bridegroom in the OT is Jehovah respectively His anointed, the Messiah, while in the NT it is the Lamb.
c) Finally the union of the Messiah and His earthly bride will happen after His appearing on earth while the wedding of the Lamb will take place earlier in heaven.
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