Song of Songs: A Dilemma

The dilemma presented by the Song of Songs has been around for a very long time. That it has been considered to be part of the Scriptures since many centuries before Christ is clear enough, and its controversial aspects since early times is also more than clear. There are ancient references to its having been read aloud in what we might call taverns since antiquity would lead us to understand that there were the same problems with it in ancient times as we have today. Around the time of Christ, there was controversy about the book as many Jewish leaders sought to strike it from the Scriptures. In the early church, we have manuscripts that suggest that the same problems were present, with many asserting its allegorical understanding and others asserting a literal understanding, and still others who wished it to simply go away. If nothing else, the Song of Songs gives scholars something to write literary criticisms about.

From our point of view as followers of Jesus Christ today, we might just wish we didn’t have the Song of Songs to deal with, and quite frankly, most of us simply pass it by. I can’t remember ever having come across a Sunday School curriculum based on it, for example; certainly not one that is for young people. I have come across a young preacher who wanted to preach a sermon series on it to teach “old people” about physical intimacy, because they “don’t have a clue,” but as I recall he was persuaded to preach about something else instead. I must admit that I got a chuckle out of that incident!

On an academic level, I have seen quite a few articles, essays and books of criticism and analysis, and I have also seen a few books on Christian marriage that quote it freely, but all of these are cases of specialized approaches to the book, as opposed to a general attempt at finding application to Christian life to a general audience. I’m sure such pieces have been written, I know that it is covered in commentary sets that comment of all 66 books, and I have gotten the impression once or twice that the authors of these breathed a sigh of relief when the Song of Songs sections were completed.

With all of that said, here I am at my keyboard setting out to try to do what few commentators or Christian teachers want to deal with; for the record, I’ve also been known to stay out in the rain.

I propose to approach the Song of Songs like I would approach any other book in the Bible and let the chips fall where they may. I’m not sitting at a desk piled high with commentaries and scholarly volumes, ripping off everyone else’s ideas and basing my conclusions on another person’s thinking; what would be the point of that? Instead, I’m going to simply comment on the text, in context, beginning with the overall context of the Word of God. When all is written, you dear reader are welcome as always to hang on to whatever you find useful, and to leave the rest behind. Seems fair enough to me…

So, let’s begin with overall Bible context. What is the Bible?

What we call “The Bible” is the collected works of Scripture, which are the written record of God’s revelation of Himself to Mankind. Often, we refer to this as the Word of God, but in doing so, we must bear in mind that the Word of God is not a bunch of collected writings on paper; it is a Person, the Person of Jesus Christ as revealed in John chapter 1. The Word of God cannot be separated from the Person of Jesus Christ: they are One. Second, the Bible is not a scientific manual or a self-help book, it is God’s revelation of Himself. In revealing Himself to Man, God reveals a little science, some rules for living, and ways in which He worked out His purposes among people in history. In fact, He has revealed Himself to us in many and various ways, but His whole purpose in inspiring the Scriptures is to reveal Himself to us. This is my first, and most important presupposition.

In doing so, God didn’t make mistakes; He got His facts straight. He also did not contradict Himself by teaching one thing in one place, and another thing in another place; He is consistent and in harmony. Thus, if we in our interpretation of His Word find ourselves having a hard time because of an apparent contradiction, it is our understanding and not His Word that is the problem: Time to start over. Finally, God has revealed Himself for a purpose, and has a purpose in all that He does; He has a purpose for each of us. Therefore, it seems highly unlikely to me that He would inspire Solomon to write down a divine sex manual or guide to happy and jolly romance.

Thus, in light of the fact that marriage relationships are used in Scripture as a metaphor for the relationship between Man and God in other places, I must conclude that this is most likely the intention of Song of Songs. In fact, I see this as being in some ways parallel to Ephesians 5:22-33, which I will discuss next. After that, I might drop in a thought or two on how this could be the case in an Old Testament book.

About Don Merritt

A long time teacher and writer, Don hopes to share his varied life's experiences in a different way with a Christian perspective.
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21 Responses to Song of Songs: A Dilemma

  1. I look forward to this 🙂

  2. pipermac5 says:

    I think the “dilemma” of The Song of Songs stems more from our own prudish-misgivings about the content of the Song than from the fact that God inspired it and it is included in the Canon of Scripture. We aren’t comfortable with talking and writing about sex, even when God, in the Bible, has no such misgivings.

    Why WOULDN’T God include a “divine sex-manual”? God was the designer and architect of our bodies, so He is the ultimate-authority about sex and sexuality. Solomon certainly didn’t pull any punches in Proverbs 5, and neither should we.

    Our culture has unmoored sex and sexuality from their biblical roots, so we are reaping the fruit of the church’s failure to be a “prophetic-voice” about sex and sexuality. While we should have the most to say, we have said the least, and the “sexual-revolution” is the result.
    Blessings!

    Steve

    • Don Merritt says:

      Well Brother Steve, we’ll take a look and see what the text says, and that’ll clear things up I’m sure. BTW, how’s the ministry doing these days? Well, I hope.

  3. DUDE! Song of Solomon is an allegory of Christ and the Church. Only mature Christians will understand the hidden meanings….

  4. photojaq says:

    Hmmmm…. this should be interesting. I’ve heard teaching both ways, and since I teach 4th to 6th graders, I’ve mostly stayed away with it. PS: It is called Song of Solomon in my Bible. Why the two titles?

  5. sullivanspin says:

    Christians have winced far too long around sexuality when people should look to the Church to define it and lead the world to a proper understanding. The intimacy God desires for relationship with Him and in marriage shouldn’t be relegated to the dungeon of unacceptable topics. I got your back Don! Looking forward to the series.

  6. It is hilarious to watch pastors avoid this particular book, or try and make up excuses for it when they have to address it. After reading it several times, I feel one has to do some serious contortions with GOD’s word to try and make it out to be an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church, etc. Sex is a gift from GOD…to us. It’s not shameful, it’s not simply for procreation, it’s not a sin.
    It’s a blessing.
    I thought this was hilarious:
    “I have come across a young preacher who wanted to preach a sermon series on it to teach “old people” about physical intimacy, because they “don’t have a clue.””
    How did the “young preacher” think he got here?

    • Don Merritt says:

      Funny you should say that; I asked him the same thing and suggested that ‘old people’ just might have enough sense to save it for when they get home. I’ve never seen such a bright shade of red 😊

      • When we’re younger we think when we learn some new thing, we’ve discovered something that no-one else knows about.
        Older people are just farther up the road of life. Whatever we face when we’re young, they’ve already been there and done that. I wish I had known that when I was young, as older folks tried to warn me about hazards on the path ahead…But I thought I was blazing a new trail that they had never seen.
        Often, when we visit a new area we ask someone who’s been there for directions and tips. Older folks have been there, and most would love to help steer the more youthful clear of potholes, bad curves, and worse. I wish I had listened more.

  7. Thanks Don, the verse about wishing he was my brother, we can use as all Christians are brother & sister, ought to be

  8. Wally Fry says:

    Well that young preacher was mistaken in that some pair of older folks must have had a clue or he would not have been here. Just sayin.

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