The Background of Song of Solomon
Author and Date
The wording of the first verse in Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs; 1:1) does not necessarily mean that Solomon wrote the book. It may have been written by Solomon himself, or it could have been written in his honor. When he is mentioned (Song of Solomon 1:5; 3:7, 9, 11; 8:11–12), it is generally as a distant, even idealized figure. What is known about Solomon suggests that he probably was not the writer himself (1 Kings 3:1; 11:1–8). However, the book was probably composed during Solomon’s time, perhaps under his oversight, between c. 960 and 931 BC.
The Song of Solomon contains beautiful poetry expressing romantic love between a young man and a young woman in ancient Israel. He is a shepherd (Song of Solomon 1:7) and she is a shepherdess (Song of Solomon 1:8). They are looking forward to their marriage and the pleasure it will bring.
Interpreting Literary Images
The Song of Solomon includes several extravagant comparisons. For example, the woman is compared to a horse in Pharaoh’s court (Song of Solomon 1:9), and her hair is compared to a flock of goats (Song of Solomon 4:1). It is helpful to remember that (1) the comparisons are figurative rather than literal, and (2) what the person has in common with what he or she is compared with is a certain quality, usually the quality of excellence, or of being the best of its kind.
The author has presented the Song of Solomon as a series of exchanges, mostly between the shepherdess and the shepherd, with the chorus-like “others” sprinkled in. These others usually pick up items from the lovers’ speeches and urge the two forward in love. There is also a refrain, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, . . . that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4; variation in 5:8), spoken by the shepherdess. This is understood as her urging the other women not to push this love too fast, in order to let it reach its consummation at the right time (the marriage bed, which seems to begin in Song of Solomon 8:5).
1. God’s Law Commands Sexual Purity
Marriage provides the right framework within which his people may properly enjoy the gift of sexual intimacy (see Genesis 2:23–24). Thus God’s people honor him and commend him to the world when they demonstrate with their lives that obedience in such matters brings genuine delight.
2. Marriage Is a Gift of God, and Is to be Founded on Loyalty and Commitment (see Genesis 2:24, “hold fast”), Which Allows Delight to Flourish
As such, it is a fitting image for God’s relationship with his people.
I. Title: The Best of Songs (1:1)
II. The Lovers Yearn for Each Other (1:2–2:17)
III. The Shepherdess Dreams (3:1–6:3)
IV. The Lovers Yearn for Each Other Again (6:4–8:4)
V. The Lovers Join in Marriage (8:5–14)
The Global Message of the Song of Solomon
The Song of Solomon paints a beautifully passionate, pure, and even provocative picture of marriage and sexuality. It may seem remarkable, to Christians and nonbelievers alike, that such a book is a part of the biblical canon. And how different Scripture would be without this book! What, then, is the global message of the Song of Solomon? What message does the universal church need to hear from its pages?
God’s Glorious Design in Marriage and Sexuality
Sexuality Was God’s Idea
Human sexuality is one of God’s most marvelous and blessed ideas. God is not boring, prudish, or ashamed of sex. To make the mating procedure whereby procreation takes place an experience of intense attraction, intense bonding, and intense pleasure was his idea! The beauty of human sexuality is expressed thoroughly and without hesitation in the Song of Solomon. The very first words of the young maiden express her intense desire for her beloved: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (Song of Solomon 1:2). There is a refreshing freedom, joy, and delight expressed by the couple in their passionate mutual admiration (Song of Solomon 1:9–10, 12–16; 2:9, 14; 4:1–15; 5:10–16; 6:5–10; 7:1–9), their intense sexual longing for marriage (Song of Solomon 1:2–2:17; 7:11–8:3), and the final and wonderful consummation of their marriage bond.
God’s Gift to All Humanity
The command to become one flesh pre-dates the fall (Genesis 1:28). Sex was not a concession to sinful mankind. It was a blessed provision and gift from God for humanity to enjoy. It is a gift of common grace.
God’s Design for Sexuality
God designed sex to be enjoyed within the marriage context. The repeated admonition not to “stir up or awaken love until it pleases” emphasizes that there is a right and a wrong time for sex (see Song of Solomon 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). Scripture strongly forbids the improper use and context of sex. For example, sex outside of marriage, or with someone other than one’s spouse, or with someone of the same sex are explicitly prohibited (Leviticus 18:22; Proverbs 5:20–23; 1 Corinthians 6:9). Yet Scripture just as strongly commends the full enjoyment of sex within the God-ordained context of marriage (Proverbs 5:15–19; 1 Corinthians 7:3). Such sexual enjoyment between a husband and wife is a blessed expression of lifelong commitment and mutual delight. There is joyful celebration of the beauty of creation in the human body in all its features and distinctiveness. There is a wonder and glory in God’s creation of male and female, and the beauty of each gender complements the other. There is freedom and security found in unrivaled, exclusive, passionate, and lifelong commitment.
The Song of Solomon is refreshingly honest in acknowledging that waiting for love and not misusing sexuality are difficult. Sexual longing is not wrong, but sexual enjoyment before marriage defiles God’s design. Though sexual desire is great, sexual enjoyment must be waited for and enjoyed in God’s proper timing and design.
The World’s Broken Sexuality
This is a message that our world needs to hear. One of the most painful expressions of the fall of mankind in our world today is in the area of sexuality. Sexuality is broadly misunderstood, misused, and abused. While various cultures and each generation offer varied and supposedly “progressive” perspectives on sexuality, God’s view is timeless.
We live in a fallen world in need of a Savior. Marital conflict, divorce, sexual immorality, and sexual abuse teach us of the painful impact of sin and each person’s desperate need for a Savior. The Internet has radically transformed the nature of pornography, now that it is almost universally accessible. Around the world there is an unprecedented amount of trafficking in human beings, a large proportion of whom are exploited and abused in the sex industry. Such abuse of men, women, and even children, all of whom are made in God’s image and have inherent dignity, is wicked. Indeed, it is one of the most God-offending, pervasive, and evil forms of wrongful sexuality in our world today.
The Global Church’s Witness in Sexuality
Through Christ, God’s design for humanity in all its fullness is being restored and renewed. The Song of Solomon presents a picture of God-honoring sexual delight that is one expression of the blessed life that we have in Christ and his glorious redemption.
Christians, however, have often been among those who have misunderstood or misused sexuality. Some have taught or have been taught to be ashamed of sex. To lack joy and delight in the gift of sexuality within marriage is to miss God’s perfect design and provision. There is also brokenness in the global church because of failing marriages, adultery, and sexual abuse. Such sexual abuse has stained not only the church but also its leaders.
There is a need for discussion and teaching about sexuality within the church. This is utterly countercultural in some societies, where sex is not something openly discussed. Whatever its cultural situation, however, the church must take up its responsibility to teach about such topics rather than allowing its people to learn about sexuality from secular society.
Discussion and teaching about issues of sexuality should be forthright but also appropriately modest. It requires cultural sensitivity and biblical wisdom. The content of such teachings and discussions will likely challenge cultural norms. In addition to such discussion there is need for repentance, gospel renewal, mentoring, and encouragement.
Our Witness to the World regarding Sexuality
The area of sexuality and the beautiful picture presented in the Song of Solomon are opportunities to share with the world the blessed “otherness,” the holiness and beauty, of the Christian faith.
The original meaning of the word “martyr” is “witness.” This word was used in the early days of Christianity not merely for those who suffered death for the faith; it was more broadly applied to every Christian’s privilege to bear witness to Christ and the Christian faith, whether in life or death. As witnesses, Christians have the tremendous opportunity to share and to show to the world the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the glorious vision of a life renewed in the gospel. Such witness can be displayed to the world in each sphere of life—in finances, work, family, leisure, study, and even in sexuality.
Christians should have more accurate things to say about sex and a more rightful enjoyment of sex than anyone. This is a part of our living and visible witness to the world— that God and God’s ways are right and righteous and joy-filled. The enjoyment and the jealous protection of love are “flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (Song of Solomon 8:6). Through Christ, God is jealously and graciously restoring humanity. A part of that restoration is in the blessed enjoyment of and witness to God’s wonderful gift of sexuality.