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Sunday Gatherings: After Hours

Song of Songs: An Overview

Posted by Yucan Chiu on

Some helpful background information as we begin to read through and discuss this fascinating book in the Hebrew Scriptures.

Who are the main characters?

Historically, there have been two main ways to read and interpret Song of Songs. The first understands Solomon as the main male character, and an unnamed female lover as the main female character. The second understands Solomon as a character brought in to compare/contrast with what true love looks like between an unnamed male and an unnamed female lover. A careful reading of the text[1] favors the second view, which also corroborates with what we know of Solomon’s broken love life (he was a womanizer with a large harem, displeasing God-1 Kings 11:1-8).


How is the book/poem structured overall?

While scholars each have different perspectives on how this book /poem is structured, here is a more helpful one:

Prologue: Desires Expressed (1:2-2:7)

Before the Wedding: Joined and Separated (2:8-3:5)

The Wedding and Consummation (3:6-5:1)

After the Wedding: Separated and Rejoined (5:2-6:3)

Continued Contemplation and Consummation (6:4-8:4)

Epilogue (8:5-14)[2]

 

Is this meant to be about more than just sex?

Yes- this book is actually about the beauty of redeemed sex. But sex throughout the rest of the Bible is seen as a “sign” for human union with God. Examples: Hosea 1-3, Ephesians 5:22-33. And so Song of Songs should get us thinking about the ecstatic, exciting nature of our love with God as well as sex.[3]

 

Is this book only about married sex? Is this only about heterosexual sex?

We will process this in further discussions- stay tuned!

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[1] Examples: 1:1- “which is Solomon’s” can be understood as being written by, for, or about Solomon- the original language allows for various interpretations. Further study and reading (below) make us think that it is “about” Solomon in that he is used as a foil for what true love looks like.

1:4, 12- in this view, “king” would refer to the unnamed man; the woman sees him as her “king.” Solomon is only referred to when His name is explicitly mentioned (3:7-11, 8:11-12). There is another interpretation, however, that sees Solomon being referred to with the usage of “king.” This view understands the woman as being part of Solomon’s harem, longing for her true lover (perhaps she was forcibly removed). Thus these sentences involving “king” are seen as negatives- she is stuck in the king’s chambers (4) and she is actually longing for her true lover while with her king (11).

3:7-11: it is clear from the text that this is about an un-ideal view of Solomon’s love- it is one of sheer power and manipulation. These verses are meant to contrast with 3:6 and 4:1 (note: 3:7 is not the answer to the question of 3:6- we know this because a similar question is asked with the same feminine form of the word in 6:10 and 8:5, and both times the answer is actually the woman).

 

[2] Iain Duguid, Song of Songs. Based on a careful reading of the text. For example, note how key words like “bride” are used only in 4:8-5:1, and the couples see each other as belonging to the other fully afterward in 6:3, 7:10.

 

[3] The history of interpretation has gone through seasons where one was exclusively emphasized over the other. You will often hear of the “allegorical” approach (it’s just a “sign” of our relationship with God), or a “literal” approach (it’s about sex!).

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