There are three keys to unlocking the mystery of this odd little book. First, it tells a story – a love story about Solomon and one of his brides. It follows the ups and downs of their relationship, including her arrival at the palace, their courtship, wedding, honeymoon, and maturing love. If you don’t see the story line, the content seems random, repetitive, and purposeless.
Second, the story is given in form of conversation. The speaker shifts throughout the book as Solomon and his bride take turns speaking to (and about) each other. There are occasional statements made by others (often referred to as the daughters of Jerusalem), but basically the book is a dialogue between two lovers. If you don’t understand the switch in speakers, the book is very confusing.
Third, the story has a pretty obvious figurative meaning; the relationship between Solomon and his bride pictures the relationship between Christ and the Christian. God designed marriage as His best illustration of what He wants the believer’s relationship with Him to look like. (See Eph. 5:22-32.) Taking the time to state the story line in one’s own words will very quickly illuminate clear applications about the Christian’s relationship with God. And, if perchance, none of the marriages you know inspire you regarding your relationship with God, the Bible provides a divinely-inspired picture of what marriage can and should be – an honest examination of the challenges combined with an uplifting display of the sweetness. If you don’t understand this deeper level of meaning, the book appears to be (at best) an example for marriage and (at worst) inappropriate.
While the book certainly contains insights about marriage that can be profitable for married couples, the primary message is deeper than that. The theme of the book is the journey toward intimacy between Christ and the believer. Stated more fully – fulfilling intimacy is achieved when the Christian recognizes Christ’s incredible love for him and yields himself in complete openness and surrender to Him.
The synopsis below is designed to aid in understanding the content of the book. The chapter summaries reveal the progression of the story line. The notes following each summary identify the changes in speakers by verse number (h=he, s=she, o=others). These deal primarily with the first and second keys above.
Chapter 1: Introduction and Betrothal - s: 2-7; h: 8-11; s: 12-14; h: 15; s: 16; h: 17Chapter 2: Courtship - s: 1; h: 2; s: 3-6; h: 7; s: 8-13; h: 14-15; s: 16-17
Chapter 3: Readiness for Marriage and the Wedding - s: 1-4; h: 5; o: 6-11
Chapter 4: Wedding Night and Next Morning - h: 1-15; s: 16
Chapter 5: Bride Shuns Then Seeks Her Husband - h: 1; s: 2-8; o: 9; s: 10-16
Chapter 6: Restoration of the Relationship - o: 1; s: 2-3; h: 4-9; o: 10-13
Chapter 7: Increased Intimacy - h: 1-9; s: 10-13
Chapter 8: Mature and Lifelong Intimacy - s: 1-3; h: 4; o: 5; h: 6-7; s: 8-14
Once you understand the story line, it is fairly easy to see the parallels to the Christian’s walk with God, the third of the keys to understanding the book. The following questions and statements are designed to enhance that appreciation. These paragraphs are written in terms of the bride and groom, but remember that they are really about the believer and Christ. Consider them in that context.
Notice the intense love of the groom. Where in the book do you see his love faltering or failing? Was she worthy of such love when she came to him? Look for displays of his patience and tenderness. Notice how he waits for her to be ready for each deeper step rather than forcing her. Look at the things he did for her out of his love, and think of New Testament parallels.
Notice the tremendous change in her from the beginning (1:5-6) to the end (6:10-13 and 8:5). How did the change come about?
Notice the strong emphasis on fruitfulness. How important is fruitfulness to a woman? Is the groom’s desire for intimacy selfish or does he want blessing for his wife through it? Think about intimacy as having the purpose of fruitfulness. Consider the technical side; fruitfulness can only happen as he puts his seed into her, and that fruit will look like him because it comes from him.
From the beginning, his descriptions see her as what she will become rather than what is actually true and how she sees herself. What do his descriptions of her say about his estimation of her beauty? Most of them fit into the categories of jewels, objects of great beauty and admiration, spices and perfumes, fruitful plants and animals, and sweet things. Do his descriptions make sense, showing thoughtful consideration and careful examination of her parts? How well and how completely does he know her?
In light of the above paragraph, how completely does the bride need to yield and open herself to her husband? What can she hide and hold back from him? (You may find it insightful to look up the Hebrew meaning of the comparison in 7:1b.) Think about why this particular description receives some of his most outstanding praise. What is so special about it?
What does the bride do to prepare for their times together? How does that change throughout the book? Why does she do it? Think of the parallels between conditions conducive to intimacy in marriage and proper conditions for intimacy with God. Take note of the extreme pleasure he has in being intimate with her. Is there any doubt that he thoroughly enjoys these times?
Notice the bride’s increasing appreciation for intimacy. Does she initially appreciate his advances? Do her initial statements reflect passion/infatuation or true love? How many times does she put him off or shut him out? How does this change throughout the book? At the end of the book, who is doing the seeking (8:1 and 8:14)?
I think 4:16 is the key verse of the book. On the morning after their wedding night, he compares his time with her to a lovely garden full of wonderful things. In essence, he says, “Wow! That was incredible! I totally enjoyed it.” Then he kind of waits to see how she will respond. She answers with an open invitation: “If you enjoyed it that much, then I am yours. Partake of the garden as much as you want.”
After the sweetness of the passage above, you would think that nothing could ever come between them, so chapter 5 is somewhat shocking. Who is the one to allow the breach? If love exists, will the parties be content for the breach to continue? What is involved in pursuing a return to intimacy? She is asked two questions. Why is he so special (5:9)? Where would he have gone (6:1)? She knows the answer to both right away. This is a good place to mention 2:7, 3:5, and 8:4. You may have noticed I attributed these parallel statements to the groom, though some translations show them as from the bride. I believe this to be a mistranslation, as it is the feminine form of the word for lover. Throughout the book, who is likely to leave? The groom relishes their special time together; as long as she is willing to continue resting at his side, he will do everything possible to protect and elongate that time.
God uses the most intimate of human interactions to picture the communion He wants to have with His children. That special closeness will not happen every day, but it had better be happening on a regular basis. If it isn’t, do you see the threat to the relationship?
There’s much more in this book; my own study is nearly 50 typed pages. This is enough to get you started into this wonderful gem of a book. I’ve noticed something interesting about people who have studied and understood Song of Solomon. They don’t make mundane comments like, “I learned a lot” or “That was an interesting study.” No, after capturing the heart of Song of Solomon, people say things like, “Wow. What an incredible and special book!” Such a jaw-dropping, heart-quickening response won’t come in a mere reading of the book or a brief hour spent in its pages. It will come, however, with focused and extended study, because this book contains a phenomenal treasure for those bold enough to seek it.
“Awake, O north wind, and come, wind of the south; make my garden breathe out fragrance, let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden and eat its choice fruits!” Song of Solomon 4:16 (NASB)