It took Christians nearly 2,000 years to admit that the Song of Songs is a book with no mention of God—but with a lot of sex-talk. An awful lot.
That’s why some Jewish scholars argued against adding it to their Bible, which Christians usually call the Old Testament or the First Testament.
Other Jews said we shouldn’t take the book literally, but should take it as a metaphor, kinda like a parable.
So, they argued, the Song of Songs isn’t the story of a love-hungry young man telling his lady how beautiful she is and that he is going to climb her like a palm tree.
Instead, it’s God expressing his love for the Jewish people.
If so, God sure did love them. Love, love, love.
The Jewish scholars said that the man in the story represents God and the woman represents the nation of Israel. The various places where they make love represent the land of Israel. And the man kissing the woman is God giving the Jewish people the laws they need to live a happy and blessed life.
Christians seemed to like that idea. So, they adapted it to their beliefs. Christian scholars said the woman in the Song of Songs represented the church, not the Jewish people. And the man represented Jesus, who loves the church.
So, it was Jesus speaking to the church and saying:
“Sugar Lips, my bride,
I taste honey and sweet milk under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11).
It wasn’t until the 1800s that Jewish and Christian scholars started introducing the idea that the allegorical interpretation of past centuries was wrong.
They said a kiss is a kiss, a tongue is a tongue, and two breasts fragrant with frankincense made up a double dose of the real deal and a genuine cause for a man in love to shout his Hallelujah.
A modern approach to the book argues that passionate love expressed in love talk and in the love dances is God-sanctioned. Sex isn’t just fun. It’s good and godly fun. Hallelujah.
But the Song can make for an awkward sermon and embarrassing moments in a Bible study. Yet, it doesn’t have to. Love is a good thing. Still, sometimes people need to get a room.
“This is Solomon’s Song of Songs” (Song of Songs 1:1).
Apparently, it’s the best song he ever wrote. And he wrote 1,005 (1 Kings 4:32). That’s one for each wife and five extra, for future needs? We kid the king with love.
Many scholars say they doubt he wrote it. The first verse sounds like someone else telling the story and crediting it to the king. And some phrases the writer uses weren’t common until centuries after Solomon.
In one section (3:6–11) the lovers seem to be watching a wedding procession in which Solomon is the groom. It would be difficult for Solomon to stand outside and watch his own wedding procession as though he were a subject who happened upon the scene. Also, in 8:11–12 Solomon is said to be someone who tries to buy love and is ridiculed for the attempt. Would Solomon write that about himself?
Scholars speculate this is a collection of poems recited or sung at weddings. Some say a woman wrote it, since a woman gets most of the speaking parts. But if a woman wrote it, she sure had fine insight into the driving hunger and sexual appetite of a young man. She nailed it.
Other scholars argue that Solomon wrote it because some of the details come from his time and his stories reported elsewhere in the Bible. The writer talks about the exotic spices, plants, and gems mentioned in Solomon’s story (1 Kings 10). And the genre itself tracks with Solomon’s day, when Egyptians were writing the same kind of love songs—which were not metaphors.
There aren’t any clues in the Song that would tag events to a specific time in history. But if Solomon wrote this Song or someone wrote it for him, the events took place sometime during his reign, about 970-930 BC.
The song is set in Israel. Characters mention Jerusalem, the Plains of Sharon on Israel’s coast, along with Mount Hermon on the northern border with Syria and Lebanon.
Bible scholars have always argued that the Song of Songs is about love. For most of the past 2000 years, scholars have said the Song is about God’s love for people, whether it’s for the Jews or for the Christians.
Many scholars today, however, say it’s about love between a couple.
Some say it’s about the love of a married couple, but others say they see evidence in the verses that indicate that the lovers were not married. For example, they dream of being together but seem to be still dating: “We’ll run away together. And we’re off, to my king’s bedroom” (1:4).
The point of the book, many scholars suggest, is that sex is a good and godly thing when it’s between consenting adults.
Some say the Song reads like a collection of love poems patched together into a musical compilation that could have been sung at a wedding—perhaps one of the many royal weddings of King Solomon.
Others say they see a plot unfolding in the Song. It’s unclear what the plot is. Scholars have suggested several possibilities:
- Solomon picks a dark-skinned country girl as his next bride (one of a thousand), but she rejects him and stays true to her country lover.
- Solomon is the country lover who gets the girl.
- The country girl falls in love with the country guy and she considers him the king of her life—royalty at its finest, with dirt under the fingernails and mud between the toes.