Song of Solomon - What is it?

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Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
Of Note: Unless I searched incorrectly I could find no other thread on the Song of Solomon in the PB archives.

I have always loved the older interpretations of the Song where it is taught that its purpose is to describe and to encourage a deeper understanding of the bond between Christ and the Church. Right now I am mostly through John Gills 340,000 word commentary, where he never hints that the Song is anything except a love story between Christ and the Church, including Old Testament Israel and Yahweh.

And we have the Apostle in Ephesians 5:31, 32 who states that marriage is "a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."

But modern commenters usually say that it is a kind of textbook of romantic and sexual love in marriage. But then there's that Ephesians 5 verse again.

Is it an allegory like Pilgrim's Progress? No, not really.
Is it simply a series of love poems between Solomon and his new (perhaps first) bride? I think it's more.
But what is it? Serious help please since I will be discussing it briefly at a small group I lead this Wednesday.

Here's what must be a very condensed version of Gill on the Song.
 

TheOldCourse

Puritan Board Sophomore
Not that it isn't profitable to discuss this again, but there have been quite a few threads on this, for example:

https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-solomon-hermeneutic.7080/
https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-solomon-method-of-approach.40305/
https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-solomon-traditionally-literal-or-allegorical.83510/

Perhaps you put in too many search terms?

Stealing the quote from one of Andrew's (VirginiaHuguenot) old posts, I prefer Durham's approach:

The Second Proposition is, that this Song is not be taken properly or literally, that is, as the words do at first sound; but it is to be taken and understood Spiritually, Figuratively and Allegorically, as having some Spiritual meaning contained under these Figurative Expression, made use of throughout this Song: My meaning is, that when it speaketh of a Marriage, Spouse, Sister, Beloved, Daughters of Jerusalem, &c., these Expressions are not to be understood properly of such, but as holding forth something of a Spiritual Nature under these.

I grant that it hath a Literal meaning, But I say, that literal meaning is not immediate, and that which first looketh out, as in Historical Scriptures, or others which are not figurative, but that which is spiritually, and especially meant by these Allegorick and Figurative Speeches, is the Literal meaning of this Song: So that its Literal Sense is mediate, representing the meaning, not immediately from the Words, but mediately from the Scope, that is, the Intention of the Spirit, which is couched under the Figures and Allegories, here made use of: For, a Literal Sense (as it is defined by Rivet out of the School-men) is that which floweth from such a place of Scripture, as intended by the Spirit in the words, whether Properly or Figuratively used, and is to be gathered from the whole complex expression together, applied thereunto, as in the Exposition of Parables, Allegories, and Figurative Scriptures is clear; And it were as improper and absurd to deny a Figurative Sense (though' Literal) to these, as it were to fix Figurative Expositions upon plain Scriptures, which are properly to be taken.

For there is a Two-fold Literal Sense of Scripture. 1. Proper and Immediate, as where it's said, Solomon married Pharaoh's Daughter. The Second is Figurative and Mediate, as when it is said, Matth 22.2. A certain King made a Marriage to his Son, &c. Both have a literal meaning. The first Immediate, fulfilled in Solomon: The second is Mediate, setting out God's calling Jews and Gentiles unto Fellowship with His Son; and so that Parable is to be understood in a Spiritual Sense. Now we say, this Song (if we would take up its true sense and meaning) is not to be understood the first way, Properly and Immediately, but the second way, Figuratively and Mediately, as holding forth some Spiritual thing under borrowed expressions, which will further appear from these things.

First, There can be no Edification in setting out Humane Love (amongst Parties properly understood) so largely and lively; and yet Edification must be the end of this Song, being a part of the Scripture; it must have therefore an higher meaning than the words at first will seem to bear.

2. There can be no Parties mentioned, beside Christ and his Bride, to whom this Song can agree; nor can any proper meaning thereof be assigned, which can make it applicable to these Parties: and therefore it cannot be understood Properly, but figuratively, and that not of any other, but of Christ and Believers: To Solomon it cannot agree in its Application, nor to his Queen, yea, to no Man, if it be taken in a Proper sense: For, 1. These Commendations given to the Bridegroom, Chap. 5 to the Bride, Chap. 4.6,7. If properly understood, would be monstrous, blasphemous, and ridiculous; such as to have Teeth like a Flock of Sheep, an Head like Carmel, &c. and so in many other things. 2. Some things are attributed to this Solomon, who is the Subject of this Song, that were not within Solomon's reach, as that, his presence at the Table, Chap 1.12. Maketh her Spikenard to smell, which influence cannot proceed from one Man more than another, and Chap. 3.10. where it is said, He made a Chariot, and paved it with Love, which is no material thing, and so could be no Pavement in Solomon's Chariot. 3. That Solomon being the Penman of this Song, yet speaketh of Solomon in the second Person, Thou, O Solomon, Chap 8.12. makes it appear that some other was designed than himself; and many such like expressions that fill up the matter of this Song (such as Spices, Gardens, &c.) cannot be understood properly of these very things themselves, but of some other thing vailed under them; And so also, when she is called Terrible as an Army with Banners, it cannot be understood of Solomon's Queen, and applying it to the Church, we cannot understand it of any carnal terror, which the external aspect of the Church doth beget in Beholders.

3. The Stile and Expressions will bear out more than any Humane Love, or any Humane Object, upon which Men set their love: We are sure, no such love would be proponed to Believers as a warranted pattern for their imitation, as if it would be commendable in them to be so much ravished and taken up, even with the most lovely Creature.

4. Many things here are inconsistent with Humane Love, and that Modesty that is required in it (as the Hebrews themselves, apud Mercer, observe) as to propone him to others, to excite them to Love him, others undertaking to follow after him, her speaking to him in her Sleep, Chap. 5.2. Running in the Night through the Streets, and slighting him at the Door; which by no means can admit a Proper, Literal, Immediate Sense, but must needs aim at something Figurative. Besides, what reason can there be to plead a Proper Sense here, more than in other Figurative Scriptures of the same sort, as of these that speak of the Soul's Union with Christ, under the Similitude of a Marriage, and particularly that of Psal. 45. which is (as it were) a compend of this Song, and is looked upon by all as Figurative?

If it be enquired in what Sense we call this Song figurative, whether as Typical, or Allegorical? The answering and clearing of this Question will further us in the Interpretation of this excellent Scripture. We shall therefore shew, 1. How Allegorical properly so called, differeth from Typical. And 2. Why we call this Song Allegorical, and not Typical.

Allegorical Scriptures, or Allegories (we take Allegory here as Divines do, who take it not as Grammarians, or Rhetorians, for a continued Discourse of many Figures together) properly and strictly taken (for sometimes Allegory may be taken largely, and so may comprehend whatever is Figurative, whether Typical, Tropological, Analogical, &c. As the Apostle taketh it, Gal. 4. speaking of Abraham's two Sons, which is yet properly a Type) differeth from Types, or Typical Scriptures, thus,

First, Types suppose still the verity of some History, as Jona's casting in the Sea, and being in the Fishes Belly Three Days and Three Nights, when it is applied to Christ in the New Testament, it supposeth such a thing once to have been: Allegories again, have no such necessary supposition, but are as Parables proponed for some mystical end. Thus, while it's said, Matth. 22.2. A certain King made a Marriage, planted a Vineyard, &c. That place supposeth it not necessary as to the being of the Allegory, that every such a thing was, it may be an Allegory without that; but a Type cannot be without reality in the thing, or fact, which is made a Type.

2. Types look only to Matters of Fact; and compare one Fact with another (as Christ's lying in the Grave for such a time, to that of Jona, who did ly so long in the Whale's Belly) but Allegories take in Words, Sentences, Doctrines, both of Faith and Manners, as in the former Examples is clear.

3. Types compare Persons, and Facts under the Old Testament, with Persons and Facts under the New, and is made up of something that is present, prefiguring another to come: Allegories look especially to Matters at hand, and intend the putting of some hid Spiritual Sense upon Words, which at first they seem not to bear, whether the Allegory be only in the Old Testament, or only in the New, or in both, it looks to the Sense and Meaning, being so considered in its self, as the Words may best serve the Scope, and teach, or manifest the thing the Spirit intends, without any comparison betwixt this, and that of the Old Testament and New: Yea, an Allegory may be in Precepts, as Muzzle not the Mouth of the Ox, and cut off thy right hand, &c. which have an Allegorick Sense in them.

4. Types are only Historical, as such, and the Truth of Fact agreeing in the Antitype, make them up, it being clear in Scripture that such things are Types; for we must not forget Types without Scripture warrant: But Allegories are principally Doctrinal, and in their Scope intend not to clear, or compare Facts, but to hold forth and explain Doctrines, or by such Similitudes to make them the better understood, and to move and affect the more, or the more forcibly to convince, as Nathan made use of a Parable, when he was about to convince David, 2 Samuel 12.1,2, &c.

5. Types in the Old Testament respect only some things, Persons, and Events, as Christ, the Gospel, and its Spreadings, &c. and cannot be extended beyond these: But Allegories take in every thing, that belong either to Doctrine, or Instruction in Faith, or to practise for ordering ones Life.

Hence we may see, that Allegories are much more Extensive and Comprehensive in their Meaning and Application, than Types, (which cannot be extended further than some one thing) and so are much more Doctrinal, and concern both the Faith and Manners of God's People much more, and may for that, more warrantably be applied, and made use of for these ends.

2. We say, that as this Song is not Typical, as being made up of two Histories, to wit, Solomon's Marriage, and Christ's, nor doth it in any way intend the comparing of these two together in the Events, as to their Facts, or Deeds: But it is Allegorick, nor respecting Solomon, or his Marriage, but aiming to set out Spiritual Mysteries in Figurative Expressions, in such a manner as may most effectuate that end, for enlightening the judgment, and moving of the Affections, without any respect to that Story, or Fact of Solomons: For,

First, the strain and Series of it, is clearly Allegorick, as the reading and considering of it will clear. 2. There can be no History to which it can relate, unto which the things spoken in this Song can be properly applied, as is said. 3. Solomon's Marriage was at least Twenty Years before this Song was written; See on Song 7.4. concerning the Tower of Lebanon, and compare it with 1 Kings 7.1,2. and Chap. 6 ult. Therefore it cannot be thought so much as to be Penned on that occasion, as an Epitalamium which was to be Sung that Night on which he as Married, (and altho' occasion of penning of it were taken from that, yet would it not prove it Typical, and to respect that as its Type.) And 4. What more is this Allegory of a Marriage to be accounted Typical, than other places of Scripture, where this same manner of expression is used? 5. If it be partly Typical, how is this Type to be made up? For Christ's Love unto, and Marriage with His Church, is not only set out here as peculiar to the New Testament, but is applicable to Believers under the Old: There can therefore be here no comparing of Facts of the Old Testament, with any thing answering to them in the New. If it be said, Solomon's Marriage Typified Christ's Marrying of the Gentiles. I answer, beside that there is no Scripture for this conjecture (and it's hard to coin Types without Scripture Authority, otherwise we might make Solomon a Type in as many Wives, possibly, and in many other such things; also that of his Marrying Pharaoh's Daughter was against the Law, as well as this) it cannot be said that this Song setteth out only Christ's Love to the Gentiles; or the believing Gentiles, their carriage and love to him: for, was it not fulfilled (in that which they could make its Anti-type) before Christ came in the Flesh, in the believing Jews? yea, before ever that Marriage was: and therefore, there can be no typical respect had to that Marriage here. Besides, it would much darken the Spiritualness and Divineness of this Song, to make it in such a way typical, as having any proper fulfilling, or meaning, that were possibly verified in the Deed of any Man. We conclude then, that this Song is simply Allegorick.
 
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TheOldCourse

Puritan Board Sophomore
And Matthew Henry:
All scripture, we are sure, is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for the support and advancement of the interests of his kingdom among men, and it is never the less so for there being found in it some things dark and hard to be understood, which those that are unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction. In our belief both of the divine extraction and of the spiritual exposition of this book we are confirmed by the ancient, constant, and concurring testimony both of the church of the Jews, to whom were committed the oracles of God, and who never made any doubt of the authority of this book, and of the Christian church, which happily succeeds them in that trust and honour. I. It must be confessed, on the one hand, that if he who barely reads this book be asked, as the eunuch was Understandest thou what thou readest? he will have more reason than he had to say, How can I, except some man shall guide me? The books of scripture-history and prophecy are very much like one another, but this Song of Solomon's is very much unlike the songs of his father David; here is not the name of God in it; it is never quoted in the New Testament; we find not in it any expressions of natural religion or pious devotion, no, nor is it introduced by vision, or any of the marks of immediate revelation. It seems as hard as any part of scripture to be made a savour of life unto life, nay, and to those who come to the reading of it with carnal minds and corrupt affections, it is in danger of being made a savour of death unto death; it is a flower out of which they extract poison; and therefore the Jewish doctors advised their young people not to read it till they were thirty years old, lest by the abuse of that which is most pure and sacred (horrendum dictu—horrible to say!) the flames of lust should be kindled with fire from heaven, which is intended for the altar only. But, II. It must be confessed, on the other hand, that with the help of the many faithful guides we have for the understanding of this book it appears to be a very bright and powerful ray of heavenly light, admirable fitted to excite pious and devout affections in holy souls, to draw out their desires towards God, to increase their delight in him, and improve their acquaintance and communion with him. It is an allegory, the letter of which kills those who rest in that and look no further, but the spirit of which gives life, 2 Cor. iii. 6; John vi. 63. It is a parable, which makes divine things more difficult to those who do not love them, but more plain and pleasant to those who do, Matt. xiii. 14, 16. Experienced Christians here find a counterpart of their experiences, and to them it is intelligible, while those neither understand it nor relish it who have no part nor lot in the matter. It is a son, an Epithalamium, or nuptial song, wherein, by the expressions of love between a bridegroom and his bride, are set forth and illustrated the mutual affections that pass between God and a distinguished remnant of mankind. It is a pastoral; the bride and bridegroom, for the more lively representation of humility and innocence, are brought in as a shepherd and his shepherdess. Now, 1. This song might easily be taken in a spiritual sense by the Jewish church, for whose use it was first composed, and was so taken, as appears by the Chaldee-Paraphrase and the most ancient Jewish expositors. God betrothed the people of Israel to himself; he entered into covenant with them, and it was a marriage-covenant. He had given abundant proofs of his love to them, and required of them that they should love him with all their heart and soul. Idolatry was often spoken of as spiritual adultery, and doting upon idols, to prevent which this song was penned, representing the complacency which God took in Israel and which Israel ought to take in God, and encouraging them to continue faithful to him, though he might seem sometimes to withdraw and hide himself from them, and to wait for the further manifestation of himself in the promised Messiah. 2. It may more easily be taken in a spiritual sense by the Christian church, because the condescensions and communications of divine love appear more rich and free under the gospel than they did under the law, and the communion between heaven and earth more familiar. God sometimes spoke of himself as the husband of the Jewish church (Isa. lxiv. 5, Hos. ii. 16, 19), and rejoiced in it as his bride, Isa. lxii. 4, 5. But more frequently is Christ represented as the bridegroom of his church (Matt. xxv. 1; Rom. vii. 4; 2 Cor. xi. 2; Eph. v. 32), and the church as the bride, the Lamb's wife, Rev. xix. 7; xxi. 2, 9. Pursuant to this metaphor Christ and the church in general, Christ and particular believers, are here discoursing with abundance of mutual esteem and endearment. The best key to this book is the 45th Psalm, which we find applied to Christ in the New Testament, and therefore this ought to be so too. It requires some pains to find out what may, probably, be the meaning of the Holy Spirit in the several parts of this book; as David's songs are many of them level to the capacity of the meanest, and there are shallows in them learned, and there are depths in it in which an elephant may swim. But, when the meaning is found out, it will be of admirable use to excite pious and devout affections in us; and the same truths which are plainly laid down in other scriptures when they are extracted out of this come to the soul with a more pleasing power. When we apply ourselves to the study of this book we must not only, with Moses and Joshua, put off our shoe from off our foot, and even forget that we have bodies, because the place where we stand is holy ground, but we must, with John, come up hither, must spread our wings, take a noble flight, and soar upwards, till by faith and holy love we enter into the holiest, for this is no other than the house of God and this is the gate of heaven.
 

timfost

Puritan Board Senior
Yet, the love (including sexual) between husband and wife is certainly not beyond the dignity of scripture. Regardless of what side you come out on concerning its interpretation, it should be on an exegetical basis, not one that throws out the literal for the figurative because of a bias of priority (e.g. biblical sexuality is of less dignity than our union with Christ and therefore it must be figurative).
 

jwithnell

Moderator
Staff member
Why do we have to choose? Why can't it be a record of a real couple in sanctified marriage whose relationship was divinely recorded to show Christ's love for the church?

BTW, Sinclair Ferguson preached a great series on SoS while at First Church Columbus.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
"The truth is, that the Song in its whole conception and structure is such as never could have been welcomed or tolerated by any earthly bride, by whomsoever composed; and least of all if written for her by her own consort. With the exception of the fourth chapter, the greater part of it is, in one form or other, put into the mouth of the bride; it is commenced by her, closed by her, chiefly conducted by her; while the narrative throughout is put into her lips, never into the lips of her Betrothed. Would any earthly bridegroom so construct a song for his bride, or earthly bride receive it so constructed? Then, she is represented as now self-condemning, and again self-excusing, but as uniformly helpless, reverent, entreating; while the Bridegroom is always full of majesty, his affection ever mingled with condescension, frequently he is reserved and distant, sometimes stern and severe. All this is intelligible only on the supposition that the Song itself was never in any form designed for scenes of earth; but, under an earthly veil, to shadow out the communion of the ransomed Church and her glorious Redeemer." (Alexander Moody Stuart, The Song of Songs: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon, pg. 7)

The way the book is structured and written seems quite conclusive that it represent Christ and His Church. The idea that it represents a physical picture between a man and wife was also foreign to almost all Jewish commentators as well.

"The Chaldee Targum, which is the oldest Jewish Commentary on the book, entitles it ‘The Songs and hymns which Solomon the prophet, king of Israel, delivered by the spirit of prophecy, before Jehovah the Lord of the whole earth;’ and explains it throughout as a divine allegory, representing the dealings of God with his people Israel. The Christian fathers compared the whole teaching of Solomon to a ladder consisting of three steps, moral, natural, mystical; Proverbs embracing instruction in morals; Ecclesiastes indicating the nature of things sensible, and the vanity of the present life, that despising these things as transient we may desire the future as firm and eternal; and the Song of Songs containing the mystic relation and union of Christ and his Church, that we may fly upward to the great Bridegroom to love and embrace him as promising everlasting blessedness. (Origen, Theodoret.) Any attempts either amongst the Jews or Christians to attach a lower sense to this divine Song were extremely few and quite exceptional, serving only to bring out more clearly the general and all but universal judgment for the allegorical interpretation. ‘Far be it! far be it!’ exclaims one of the Hebrew doctors, ‘that the Song of Songs should treat of earthly love; for had it not been a pure allegory, and had not its excellence been great, it would not have been numbered with the holy books; nor on this head is there any controversy.’" (Alexander Moody Stuart, The Song of Songs: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon, pg. 8)
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
To think that this is an expression of love twixt Solomon and the princess of Egypt, in which there is a verbal public uncovering of her anatomy; or the descriptive dalliance of Solomon with a shepherd girl as many hold, is repugnant to the dignity of scripture and to moral taste. Dr Sibbes, Dr Owen Dr Gill and Dr Hengstenberg are in agreement that this book is an epic love duet between Christ and the Church. That is why it is called the Song of Songs, and the Song of Loves. Solomon wrote 1005 songs, but only this one is extant and inscripturated. He wrote it prophetically, and built on the foundation that his father laid in Ps45, which is called the Song of Love. That too reveals the love relationship twixt Christ and the Church.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
This thread contains one of the most extensive, though still unfinished, discussions:
https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-songs-literal-typological-or-both.66561/
Since contributing to this earlier thread, I have completed two commentaries on the Song, one more technical (Tyndale OT Commentary) and one more expository (REC). I have preached it twice, in Grove City and here in Glenside (sermons are available at Christarp.com). My conclusion is that the Song is wisdom literature; as such it directs our behavior and thinking about sex and relationships, as does Proverbs 5, for example. However, wisdom literature also points us to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow. It does so by convicting us of our many failures in these areas, for which Christ died, and to Christ's perfect righteousness in his relationships (especially toward his bride) which is now credited to us. There is thus no disjunction between the Song addressing us in our relationships and it speaking to us about the gospel, any more than those proverbs that direct our relationships. This allows us to make appropriate parallels from the Song to Christ without being forced into having to interpret every aspect of the Song allegorically - such as the sachet of myrrh between the woman's breasts being Christ coming between the two testaments (Cyril of Alexandria) or the watchmen on the walls who beat the woman in chapter 6 being unskillful ministers of the gospel!
 

Jake

Puritan Board Senior
Since contributing to this earlier thread, I have completed two commentaries on the Song, one more technical (Tyndale OT Commentary) and one more expository (REC). I have preached it twice, in Grove City and here in Glenside (sermons are available at Christarp.com). My conclusion is that the Song is wisdom literature; as such it directs our behavior and thinking about sex and relationships, as does Proverbs 5, for example. However, wisdom literature also points us to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow. It does so by convicting us of our many failures in these areas, for which Christ died, and to Christ's perfect righteousness in his relationships (especially toward his bride) which is now credited to us. There is thus no disjunction between the Song addressing us in our relationships and it speaking to us about the gospel, any more than those proverbs that direct our relationships. This allows us to make appropriate parallels from the Song to Christ without being forced into having to interpret every aspect of the Song allegorically - such as the sachet of myrrh between the woman's breasts being Christ coming between the two testaments (Cyril of Alexandria) or the watchmen on the walls who beat the woman in chapter 6 being unskillful ministers of the gospel!

I found your sermon series to be helpful. I recommend listening to at least the first sermon available on Songs from christarp.com as it's a good general introduction.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
This allows us to make appropriate parallels from the Song to Christ without being forced into having to interpret every aspect of the Song allegorically - such as the sachet of myrrh between the woman's breasts being Christ coming between the two testaments (Cyril of Alexandria) or the watchmen on the walls who beat the woman in chapter 6 being unskillful ministers of the gospel!

Aside from the exegetical problems one has with making this about a relationship (one is forced to conclude between a husband and wife), there seems to be cause for questions as to why modern scholarship goes this route. Modern doesn't mean "good". I assume this quoted portion is a jab at those who take the "old" approach.

I am always suspicious of "new" interpretations or what was considered very "few". One has to basically say the best of scholars (to date) that the church has ever produced in one century is wrong. Not to mention those prior to them.
 

ZackF

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
Since contributing to this earlier thread, I have completed two commentaries on the Song, one more technical (Tyndale OT Commentary) and one more expository (REC). I have preached it twice, in Grove City and here in Glenside (sermons are available at Christarp.com). My conclusion is that the Song is wisdom literature; as such it directs our behavior and thinking about sex and relationships, as does Proverbs 5, for example. However, wisdom literature also points us to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow. It does so by convicting us of our many failures in these areas, for which Christ died, and to Christ's perfect righteousness in his relationships (especially toward his bride) which is now credited to us. There is thus no disjunction between the Song addressing us in our relationships and it speaking to us about the gospel, any more than those proverbs that direct our relationships. This allows us to make appropriate parallels from the Song to Christ without being forced into having to interpret every aspect of the Song allegorically - such as the sachet of myrrh between the woman's breasts being Christ coming between the two testaments (Cyril of Alexandria) or the watchmen on the walls who beat the woman in chapter 6 being unskillful ministers of the gospel!

Our pastor used your commentaries extensively in the SS class he gave on the SoS. I know this blunt term, "middle ground" between the old and new may not describe your position adequately but I found your arguments powerful and convincing.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The "ideal marriage" or "ideal love" interpretation requires allegorical interpretation. If any one takes the literal reference to Solomon seriously there is nothing in his status or function in redemptive history which can provide anything like an ideal for ordinary marriage. It is his peculiarity which makes the Song so striking and so fitting an emblem of Christ. Solomon is idealised in the Song, not marriage. To adopt the "ideal marriage" view the Song must be reinterpreted to make it fit the Christian ideal of a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman, with the added romanticist ingredient of spontaneous love.
 

Cymro

Puritan Board Junior
As Rev M.W has indicated, a greater than Solomon is here. The mere fact that his name occurs seven times in the song , the perfect number, and that it means the prince of peace, should alert us to the spiritual significance. The whole book should be spirituality interpreted, and thus even the use of unguents, myrrh, camphire and spikenard, have underlying meanings that have a wealth of gospel intention.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
As Rev M.W has indicated, a greater than Solomon is here. The mere fact that his name occurs seven times in the song , the perfect number, and that it means the prince of peace, should alert us to the spiritual significance. The whole book should be spirituality interpreted, and thus even the use of unguents, myrrh, camphire and spikenard, have underlying meanings that have a wealth of gospel intention.
The problem with allegorical interpretation in general is the tendency to read rather far fetched meanings into the text that, however spiritually uplifting, are unlikely to have been in the mind of the Holy Spirit when he inspired the text. This problem is actually not limited to the spiritual interpretation of the Song (i.e. the interpretation that sees its primary referent as the relationship of God, or Christ, to the believer); those who adhere to the natural interpretation can be equally far fetched in their applications (anyone read Tommy Nelson's Book of Romance?). And there are genuine and appropriate connections to be made between the Song and the gospel, as I demonstrate in my commentaries. But we do need to be careful to understand the Song within its proper context in Biblical Theology which, in my view, will normally mean not assigning spiritual meanings to every single spice and image.
 

Ed Walsh

Puritan Board Senior
But we do need to be careful to understand the Song within its proper context in Biblical Theology which, in my view, will normally mean not assigning spiritual meanings to every single spice and image.

I just finished John Gill's nearly 340,000 word commentary on the Song. I loved it for some of the great points he made. But he went far and wide, "assigning spiritual meanings to every single spice and image." And not just one interpretation but several, sometimes many. Towards the end of his commentary I skipped a lot of the possible interpretations in favor of the Bible text itself. Especially chapter 7 & 8. Will I read it again? Probably not.
 

Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
Here is something interesting. I'm not sure what he means by this:

"The Song of Solomon is an allegory borrowed from the fellowship of man and wife, to signify the communion between Christ and his church; and so also is the 45 Psalm."

William Perkins, Works, 2.297
 

KMK

Administrator
Staff member
This problem is actually not limited to the spiritual interpretation of the Song (i.e. the interpretation that sees its primary referent as the relationship of God, or Christ, to the believer);

Doesn't the 'spiritual interpretation' see, as Perkins says above, that the primary referent is the relationship of Christ to the church considered corporately, and not the believer considered individually?
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
The Song itself is an allegory. It should be interpreted according to the usual rules of grammatical, historical, and theological exegesis, though it should not be understood as if it intended to speak literally. It should be treated in the same way that we regard other non-literal, figurative forms of literature, such as a parable. We do not call the interpretation of the parables "allegorical" or "spiritual" when they are understood to speak of the kingdom rather than natural life. For the same reason the view that the Song is speaking about Christ and the church should not be called "allegorical" or "spiritual" interpretation. It is the interpretation of allegorical Scripture; it is not allegorical interpretation, as James Durham noted many moons ago.
 

iainduguid

Puritan Board Sophomore
This is, of course, the key interpretive question. If the Song is an allegory, then it should be interpreted as such. If it is wisdom literature, then it should be interpreted according to the rules of that genre. In my commentary, I have given my reasons why I see it belonging in the latter category, which of course does not mean that it has nothing to teach us about the relationship of Christ and the church. Ultimately, I have not found the attempts to interpret it as an allegory convincing. The relationship between sign and thing signified sometimes seem forced in this approach, while those connections that are natural can be made from within the framework of the parallel between human marriage and the relationship of Christ and the church.
 

MW

Puritanboard Amanuensis
To make it apply to wisdom the book would have to be interpreted allegorically because wisdom is not literally found in the book. In Proverbs 5 there is context, theme, and verbal statements which provide internal controls for understanding the referent as wisdom. There are no such controls in the Song.

There is no "human marriage" in the Song, so again, one would be required to interpret it allegorically in order to find it there. At that point, though, one would miss the fact that the personages are idealised. Solomon is not ordinary and his relationship/s cannot be regarded as ordinary. There is a play on the name Solomon in order to give us the Shulamite. There is an endearment of the name of David in order to give us the beloved. There are continual movements from singular to plural and back again. The fact this is no ordinary relationship means the book provides no norms for an ordinary marriage. To apply it to marriage in the name of the Lord is to teach for doctrines the commandments of men. Then to apply "marriage principles" back to Christ and the church is to devise strange divinity.
 
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Afterthought

Puritan Board Senior
Here is something interesting. I'm not sure what he means by this:

The Song does speak of the woman as the man's "spouse." Perhaps he simply means that the primary characters are a man and wife (not necessarily an historical marriage), and their fellowship is then used to create an allegory? James Durham notes that parables sometimes have non-historical characters, e.g., the King and his son having a banquet, but these characters are used to create an allegory for some spiritual truth.

In his commentary (and possibly the Key too), James Durham also says that not every last detail should be interpreted as having spiritual significance, since they are simply part of making the allegorical Scripture. E.g.,

"The expression, 'by the roes and hinds of the field,' is but added, for keeping the strain of this song (which is composed in an allegoric way, and every similitude is not to be narrowly searched into)..."
 
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Andrew P.C.

Puritan Board Junior
James Durham notes that parables sometimes have non-historical characters, e.g., the King and his son having a banquet, but these characters are used to create an allegory for some spiritual truth.


Right. The bigger quote is here:

The Song of Solomon is an allegory borrowed from the fellowship of man and wife, to signify the communion between Christ and his church; and so also is the 45 Psalm. The book of Daniel, and the Revelation, is an allegorical history. The parables of the old and new testaments, are figures or allegories.

William Perkins, Works, 2.297
 
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