Behind the Music: Song of Solomon

As a teenager, I used to write a ton of poetry. Admittedly, it was very moody, angst-filled, and tragic. You have to understand . . . I was a bit of a shy, self-conscious high schooler with social anxiety. All I wanted was to be accepted by the “cool” kids and to find myself a caring, sweet, pretty girlfriend who liked me for me. Needless to say, my high school experience didn’t exactly play out like TV shows would have had me believe; thus the “emo” poetry. Now, some of my poetry was meant to be deep, reflective, contemplative art about the nature of the universe and the meaning of life . . . but let’s be honest, most of it was about love and relationships. I’d write poems about the girls I fell for, about the heartbreak that assuredly followed, about unrequited love, and . . . well, you get the point. But when I met my future wife, my poetry took on a much brighter tone because I was filled with the joy and beauty of true love. In my study of Scripture, I came to discover that I wasn’t the only one who wrote poetry. From Psalms, to Proverbs, to Ecclesiastes, there is a ton of poetry in the Bible. Some can even be described as angst-filled and moody! But what struck me the most was discovering there is an eight-chapter love poem in the Old Testament! It’s called the Song of Solomon. This beautiful work covers romantic love in a way I never thought I’d find in God’s Word. So, as we prepare to uncover this unique book, let’s get a little context and background on it!

AUTHOR AND DATE

 The reason these two sections are together in this article is because of how closely linked they are. The first verse of the book tells us that this was “Solomon’s Song of Songs,” which essentially tells us it was either written by King Solomon or composed for his royal court, and that he was the patron behind its composition. While some scholars have sought to discredit this notion, positing a much later, post-exilic date, during the period under the Persians, there is really nothing in the style, language, or composition of the letter to suggest a later date. There is a great deal of internal evidence suggesting the original writing of this letter was during the Solominic period, which would put its writing at approximately 950 B.C.

AUDIENCE

 The first audience to hear this love poem—or compilation of love poems—was believed to be King Solomon’s royal court. However, it was compiled for the people of God to understand, honor, and celebrate the beautiful and life-changing gift that is romantic, sexual love within its proper context—marriage.

PURPOSE
The purpose of this book has been a subject of debate. For many years, it was believed that this love poetry was allegorical—a story, poem, or picture that can be interpreted to reveal a hidden meaning, typically a moral or political one, similar to a parable. Many Jewish scholars believed it was not only a picture of romantic love, but also a symbolic retelling of Israel’s history, with the male representing God and the female being Israel. Today, though, most simply view the song as love poetry. Some recent discoveries of similar ancient Egyptian love poetry during the preceding centuries has helped lend credence to this belief. Overall, the latter seems much more likely. Thus, we can safely understand Song of Solomon to be a celebration of the wonderful love shared between a husband and wife.

KEY THEMES
Love Is a Beautiful Gift From God: Song of Solomon is love poetry that highlights a beautiful relationship between a husband and wife. Its lyrics remind us that the intimate sexual relationship in marriage is a gift from God, one that is to be valued and enjoyed. The book shows us that love is precious (8:7), spontaneous (2:7), and powerful (8:6–78).
Marital Contentment: Song of Solomon demonstrates that satisfaction and fulfillment are found in the exclusivity (2:16) of the marriage relationship. The sexual love expressed in this book is tender, delightful, sincere, and natural. It is in no way shameful or debasing. The lovers are equals, praising each other and sharing the role of initiator.
Love Is Pleasurable and Painful: Song of Solomon provides us with a warning that love is a powerful emotion, one that can bring heartache and disappointment (5:2–6:3). The Song’s young woman repeatedly warned her female friends not to hurry love (2:7; 3:5; 8:4), explaining that love not only has a dangerous side (8:6), but it also deserves to be treated with caution; it is to be protected.

DID YOU KNOW?

  • The term “sister,” used frequently throughout the book, was a common term of endearment in the love poetry of the ancient Near East.
  • There was a fair amount of ancient love poetry from this region of the world— Mesopatamian, Akkadian, Sumerian, Egyptian, etc. Some of it is very religious in nature, while other more “secular” poems explore both the excitement and dangers—heartache and heartbreak—so common among young lovers.
  • Floral imagery was widely used in the ancient Near East. From decorating temples (Exodus 25:37; 1 Kings 16:7) to being prevalent in poetic and prophetic writing, flower and plant imagery were very common.
    • The rose of Sharon (2:1) has been identified as possibly being either a narcissus, anemone, or red tulip. The lily of the valleys is believed to be either chamomile, crowfoot, possibly narcissus, sea daffodil, or lotus.
    • The mandrake plant was essentially an ancient aphrodisiac, believed to arouse sexual desire and even increase fertility.
  • Weddings (chapter 3) in ancient Israel were occasions of great joy; much bigger affairs than they are today, lasting seven days. The marriage would be consummated on the first night of the seven-day banquet.

THINGS TO CONSIDER As you go through this study with us and begin to understand that Song of Solomon celebrates romantic love within the context of marriage, what can you learn? Whether you’re single, dating, engaged, married, or divorced, what principles can you apply to your life?

About the Author

Danny Saavedra

Danny Saavedra has served on the staff of Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.