An Introduction to the Song of Solomon
The time between finding the perfect husband and the day of your marriage can seem like an eternity. It feels as if you are conscious of the passing of every second. Yet at the same time there is so much that needs to be done before the wedding that it seems impossible to have it all come together at the right moment. Even in these hectic days of a young woman’s life, God has given her guidance. She is not the first young woman who has been distraught over the hurry-up-and-wait days just prior to marriage.
The Song of Solomon is an unusual book. It is the only book that is written entirely from a woman’s point of view. It is also written as a play where we listen to the conversations of various people. It is only by listening carefully to what the people say that we can piece together the background events.
The name of the book comes from the first verse: “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s.” The phrase “song of songs” can either mean that it is the very best song (or poem) or it can mean that is a song (or poem) that is composed of smaller songs. It is likely the vagueness is due to the fact that both meanings are intended by the author because both statements are true. The Song of Solomon is both an excellent example of Hebrew poetry and it is a large poem composed of smaller poems. The phrase “which is Solomon’s” can mean it was either written by Solomon or written for Solomon. We don’t know which is intended. We do know that Solomon wrote many songs – a thousand and five as a matter of fact (I Kings 4:32). The uncertainty is whether this was one of them.
There are two things that make the Song of Solomon difficult to understand. First, since it is a poem, it uses images to depict ideas and emotions in our minds. However, these images are from a culture with which most of us are unfamiliar. To tell a young lady that her hair looks like a flock of goats coming down the mountain sounds like an insult to modern ears. In that culture goats were plentiful and generally were dark-haired. To see goats coming down the mountain in the distance where it would be hard to distinguish one goat from the other invokes a picture of dark, flowing hair that bounces and moves.
The second difficulty to understanding the Song of Solomon is that it is a play, but the parts for each of the players are not marked in the original text. The story is told by conversations. Most translations have sections marked with character names, such as “Solomon,” “Shulammite,” “Lover,” “Beloved,” “Daughters of Jerusalem,” and others. All of these markings are guesses by the translators. Where you or I may decide to place the divisions may be quite different. In fact, where you think the divisions should go will be heavily influenced by what you think the song is about. The divisions is not completely impossible to determine. Hebrew has male, female modifiers for pronouns and verbs. In addition there are tenses that allow you to determine if one person or several people are being discussed. By using a detailed lexicon, you can track when the modifiers and tenses change and thus determine when the speakers change.
There are two main views to the story in the Song of Solomon. The first is that the Song is a story of a young woman who is to wed the King of Israel. The story line goes from the time of her arrival in Jerusalem, through her engagement, her wedding and their first night together, to their first quarrel, and ends in their mature years together. The second view sees the story as a love triangle. The young woman is being wooed by the King of Israel, but she is really in love with a young shepherd from her hometown. She has a great deal of difficulty deciding whom to marry, but ultimately decides to follow her heart and marry the shepherd. I have studied both views, but I find the love triangle view awkward. It glosses over images that would be inappropriate feelings for an unmarried woman and requires using flashbacks (or flash-forwards in some cases) to keep the wrong things from happening at the wrong time. I find the first view simpler to understand, so this will be the view I will present. However, this is not to say that first view is without difficulties. Since this poem deals with King Solomon, many people have a hard time linking this song of love to a man who eventually has 700 wives and 300 concubines. Even within the song, the king is mentioned to already have 60 queens, 80 concubines, and an unspecified number of unmarried maidens in the wings. How could such a man truly love a country maiden from Israel?
One explanation that has been offered up is that Solomon’s marriages were mostly political arrangements (I Kings 3:1; 11:1-4). Though he loved his wives in his old age, at least at some point earlier in his life, Solomon did not treat his foreign wives with equal status to an Israelite (II Chronicles 8:11). While his many wives eventually lead Solomon astray, it is suggested that early on, Solomon’s wives were perhaps wives in name only and that the only wife that Solomon and the people truly viewed as his wife was the woman he married from his own nation.
Suggestion for Study
As you progress through the book, use color pencils to mark the different parts. Avoid using highlighters unless you have a kind that does not bleed through the thin pages of a Bible. The coloring will make it easier to determine who is speaking as you read through the book. You will need five colors. I would suggest red or pink for Shulammith, blue for Solomon, green for the daughters of Jerusalem, purple for the narrator (God), and orange for the bystanders.
1) What are the major events in a person’s life?
2) If you are a boy, how do you court a girl? If you are a girl, how do you court a boy?
3) What is courtship?