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The first verse of this little book identifies Solomon as its writer: “The song of songs, which is Solomon's.” Solomon also wrote the Books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes.
This book is actually not a story at all; it is a song. We read in 1 Kings 4:32: “And he [Solomon] spake three thousand proverbs: and his songs were a thousand and five.” Solomon wrote three thousand proverbs, but it is quite interesting that if you count the proverbs in the Book of Proverbs and even include the Book of Ecclesiastes, you come up with quite a few less than three thousand. So we have very few of all that Solomon wrote. However, we can say two things about those that we do have: first, we have the best that he wrote—surely we would have that; second, we have those that the Spirit of God wanted us to have.
This verse also tells us that “his songs were a thousand and five.” Think of that—more than a thousand songs! That makes him quite a songwriter. He would have fit in on Tin Pan Alley any day. It is interesting to note that the Word of God is very specific when it says that he wrote one thousand and five songs. It doesn't simply give us a round number. Probably those which have been preserved for us are those five. Most of Solomon's songs, of course, we do not have. In fact, we generally say that we have only one song. But the Song of Solomon is also called the Book of Canticles. A canticle is a little song, and that means that in this book we have several canticles, several little songs. There is a difference of opinion as to how many songs there are. The old position is that there are five, and I agree with that. I notice that The New Scofield Reference Bible states that there are thirteen. That is an excellent Bible, but I will continue to accept the old division of the book into five songs.
“Beloved” is the name for Him; “love” is the name for her.
“I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies” (Song 6:3).
“Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned” (Song 8:7).
The Song of Solomon is a parabolic poem. The interpretation, not the inspiration, causes the difficulty. There are some who actually feel it should not be in the Bible; however, it is in the canon of Scripture. The Song of Solomon is the great neglected book of the Bible. The reader who is going through the Word of God for the first time is puzzled when he comes to it. The carnal Christian will misunderstand and misinterpret it. Actually this little book has been greatly abused by people who have not understood it. When Peter was puzzled by some of Paul's epistles, he wrote, “As also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things; in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction” (2 Pet. 3:16). I think this is also true of the Song of Solomon.
Origen and Jerome tell us that the Jews would not permit their young men to read this book until they were thirty years old. The reason was that they felt there was the danger of reading into it the salacious and the suggestive, the vulgar and the voluptuous, the sensuous and the sexual. On the contrary, this is a wonderful picture of physical, human, wedded love. It gives the answer to two erroneous groups of people: those who hold to asceticism and think it is wrong to get married, and those who hold to hedonism and think that the satisfying of their lusts is of primary importance. This book makes it very clear that both are wrong. It upholds wedded love as a very wonderful thing, a glorious experience.
Sometimes young preachers are counseled not to use the Song of Solomon until they become old men. A retired minister advised me not to preach on it until I was sixty years old. Do you know what I did? I turned right around and preached on it immediately—that's what a young preacher would do. Now that I am past sixty years, I think I am qualified, at least as far as the chronology is concerned, to be able to speak on it. This book means more to me today than it did forty years ago. The elaborate, vivid, striking, and bold language in this book is a wonderful, glorious picture of our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. I know of no book that will draw you closer to Him or be more personal than the Song of Solomon.
If you were to compare the Song of Solomon with other Oriental poetry of its period—such as some of the Persian poetry—you would find the Song of Solomon to be mild and restrained. Reading the Persian poetry, on the other hand, would be like reading some of the modern, dirty stuff that is being written today.
By contrast, the Jews called the Song of Solomon the Holy of Holies of Scripture. Therefore, not everyone was permitted inside its sacred enclosure. Here is where you are dwelling in the secret place of the Most High. That is one reason I hesitate to discuss this book. It will be abused by unbelievers and carnal Christians. But if you are one who is walking with the Lord, if the Lord Jesus means a great deal to you and you love Him, then this little book will mean a great deal to you also.
The Song of Solomon is poetic and practical. Here God is speaking to His people in poetic songs which unfold a story. We need to take our spiritual shoes from off our feet as we approach this book. We are on holy ground. The Song of Solomon is like a fragile flower that requires delicate handling.
There have been four different and important meanings found in this book:
1. The Song of Solomon sets forth the glory of wedded love. Here is declared the sacredness of the marital relationship and that marriage is a God–given institution. This little book shows us what real love is. The Jews taught that it reveals the heart of a satisfied husband and that of a devoted wife.
Today we see a great movement toward “sexual freedom,” which many people seem to think is good. One young man who had lived and believed in “free love” told me that he had come to realize that such a life is the life of an animal. He said, “For several years I lived like an animal. If you want to know the truth, I don't think sex means any more to my group of friends than it means to an animal.” The younger generation today is geared to sex; their life–style is one of sexual expression. But I am of the opinion that they actually know very little about it. All they know about sex is what an animal knows. A dog out on the street knows as much as they do. Something is missing—there is a terrible void in their lives.
This generation may have a great deal of experience with sex but knows little about love. They know the Hollywood version of love; yet they think they know it all. The story is told of the father who wanted to talk to his young boy about sex. He beat around the bush and finally blurted out, “Son, I'd like to talk to you about some of the facts of life.” The boy said, “Sure, Dad, what would you like to know?” The boy knew the raw facts about sex, so he thought he knew more than his dad knew. There was a veteran movie queen who had had five husbands. She knew about sex, but she didn't know anything about real love; so she committed suicide. Reading our modern novels and plays is like taking a trip through the sewers of Paris! There is a stark contrast between the ideas of our generation and the glory of wedded love as it is portrayed in the Song of Solomon.
2. This little book sets forth the love of Jehovah for Israel. That is not a new thought which is found in this book alone. The prophets spoke of Israel as the wife of Jehovah. Hosea dwells on that theme. Idolatry in Israel is likened to a breach in wedded love and is the greatest sin in all the world according to Hosea.
The scribes and the rabbis of Israel have always given these two interpretations to this book, and they have been accepted by the church. However, there are two other interpretations set forth by the church.
3. The Song of Solomon is a picture of Christ and the church. The church is the bride of Christ. This is a familiar figure in the New Testament (see Eph. 5; Rev. 21). However, in this book God uses a picture of human affection to convey to our dull minds, our dead hearts, our distorted affections, and our diseased wills His so great love. He uses the very best of human love to arouse us to realize the wonderful love that He has for us. This book can lead you into a marvelous, wonderful relationship with the Lord Jesus which you probably have never known before. My friend, what we need today is a knowledge of the Word of God and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I am afraid that very few of us are experiencing this today.
4. This book depicts the communion of Christ and the individual believer. It portrays the love of Christ for the individual and the soul's communion with Christ. Many great saints of God down through the years have experienced this. Paul could say, “… the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). Samuel Rutherford could spend a whole night in prayer. His wife would miss him during the night and would get up and go looking for him. Even on cold nights she would find him on his knees praying, and she would take his big overcoat and throw it around him. Men like Dwight L. Moody and Robert McCheyne came into a real, personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ. This is not some kind of second experience, as some people try to describe it. It is more than an experience. It is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ—seeing how wonderful He is, how glorious He is. We need to come to the place where it can truly be said of us that we love Him because He first loved us. To open up this little book will be like the breaking of Mary's alabaster box of ointment, and I trust that the fragrance of it will fill our lives and spread out to others.
People are being deluded today. They feel that living the Christian life is like following the instructions for putting together a toy. The instructions for a little truck or house will say to take piece “A” and put it down by piece “D” and then take piece “C” and fit it between them. I want to tell you, some of those instructions are really complicated! I know because I buy them for my little grandsons. It almost takes a college degree to be able to put some of those gadgets together. Some people think that the Christian life is like that. They have the impression that if you can get together a little mixture of psychology, a smattering of common sense, a good dash of salesmanship, and a few verses from the Bible as a sugarcoating over the whole thing, that makes a successful formula for living the Christian life.
My friend, may I say that what we need is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We need a hot passion for Him. The Lord is not pleased with this cool, lukewarm condition which exists today in the churches among so–called dedicated Christians. Too many who are called dedicated Christians are actually as cold as a cucumber. Some are even unfriendly and arrogant in their attitudes. What we all need is a real, living, burning passion for the person of the Lord Jesus Christ.
This little book is going to be personal. It is not for the ear of the unsaved man. But for the man who has a personal relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.
Since the Song of Solomon is a series of scenes in a drama which is not told in chronological sequence, I will make no attempt to outline the book. What we find in this little book is the use of antiphony; that is, one character speaks and another responds. We have many characters: the young bride (she is a Shulamite), the daughters of Jerusalem, the bridegroom, and the Shulamite's family. In the family there is the father (who is dead), the mother, two daughters, and two or more sons.
One interpretation of the story given in the Song of Solomon came out of the German rationalistic schools of the nineteenth century. (It was from these schools that liberalism first crept into the church. Actually, liberalism was and is simply unbelief.) These people tried to interpret the story so that the Shulamite girl was kidnapped by Solomon; at first she did not want to go with him, and then finally she did.
To a child of God who sees in this book the wonderful relationship between Christ and the church, such an interpretation is repugnant. men like Rutherford, McCheyne, and Moody—this was their favorite book—could not accept this kidnapping interpretation. Neither could the late Dr. Harry Ironside. So he got down on his knees and asked God for an interpretation. Much of what I am going to pass on to you is based on Dr. Ironside's interpretation.
The setting of the drama is the palace in Jerusalem, and some of the scenes are flashbacks to a previous time. There is a reminder here of the Greek drama in which a chorus talks back and forth to the protagonists of the play. The daughters of Jerusalem carry along the tempo of the story. These dialogues are evidently to be sung. Several lovely scenes are introduced at Jerusalem which find a counterpart in the church.
The Shulamite girl says, “Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Song 1:6). The elder daughter of this poor Shulamite family is a sort of a Cinderella, and she has been forced to keep the vineyard. She is darkened with sunburn from working out in the vineyard. Apparently this family lived in the hill country of Ephraim, and they were tenant farmers. We would call them croppers or hillbillies. We get this picture from a verse in the last chapter: “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal–hamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver” (Song 8:11).
I think that is the setting where the first scene takes place. The girl is sunburned and she feels disgraced. In that day a sunburn meant you were a hardworking girl. The women in the court wanted to keep their skin as fair as they possibly could. It was exactly the opposite of our situation here in California. Here the young girls go down to the beach and lie out in the sun all day in order to get a suntan. Today, it's not a disgrace to have a suntan; in fact, it is a disgrace if you don't have one!
Not only was this girl sunburned from working out in the vineyard, but she says that she was unable to keep her own vineyard. That means she hadn't been to the beauty parlor. Apparently she was a naturally beautiful girl, but she hadn't been able to enhance her beauty or groom herself.
She was an outdoor girl, a hardworking girl. Apparently her brothers also made her watch the sheep. “If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents” (Song 1:8). So she worked in the vineyards and also had to herd the sheep.
The place where she worked was along a caravan route there in the hill country. Perhaps some of you have traveled in that land, and you know how rugged it is. A tour bus goes up through there today, and the tourists take a trip into that part of the country. I have been through that rugged territory twice, and I have pictures of some Arab girls working in the fields. I think that is exactly the way it was with the Shulamite girl.
When she would look up from her work, she would see the caravans that passed by going between Jerusalem and Damascus. We see her reaction: “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?” (Song 3:6). She would see the caravans of merchants and also the caravans that carried beautiful ladies of the court. They were the ones who didn't have a sunburn. They had a canopy over them as they traveled on camels or on elephants. The girl would see the beautiful jewels and the satins. She never had anything like that, and she would dream about it, you know.
She also would smell the frankincense and the myrrh as the caravans passed by. We shall see how this is a wonderful picture of the Lord Jesus both in His birth and in His death. They brought Him myrrh as a gift when He was born; when He was dead, they brought myrrh to put on His body. There are wonderful spiritual pictures here, truths that will draw us to the person of Christ.
One day while the girl was tending her sheep, a handsome shepherd appeared. He fell in love with her. I must run ahead enough to tell you it is a picture of Christ and the church. This is what he said to her, “As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters” (Song 2:2). Again, he says, “Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead” (Song 4:1). This is beautiful poetic language. It is a picture of the love of Christ for the church. Christ loved the church and gave Himself for it.
Finally she gave her heart to the shepherd: “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3).
Remember that the word love is used when it is speaking of the bride, and beloved is the word that refers to the bridegroom.
The Lord Jesus has given us an invitation: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will [rest you]” (Matt. 11:28). Do you know what it is to rest in Jesus Christ? Is He a reality to you? Do you rest in Him? How wonderful this relationship can become to you! I am not talking about religion or about an organization. I am talking about a personal relationship, a love relationship with Jesus Christ.
After she gave her heart to him, they were madly in love. There is nothing quite like marital love such as they experienced. “My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the liles” (Song 2:16). How wonderful! They had that wonderful, personal relationship.
Apparently he took her to dinner one time as he traveled through the country. (All she knew of him was that he was a shepherd, but evidently a very prominent one.) “He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song 2:4).
He was a most peculiar shepherd. He didn't have any sheep that she could see. She asked him about his sheep: “Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon … ?” (Song 1:7). Where are his sheep? He is an unusual shepherd.
Then one day he announced that he was going away but that he would return. This is an obvious parallel to the words of the Lord Jesus: “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:1-3).
The days passed and she waited. Finally, her family and friends began to ridicule her. They said, “You are just a simple, country girl taken in by him.” This is exactly what Peter said would happen in our time: “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, And saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation” (2 Pet. 3:3-4).
Yet she trusted him. She loved him. She dreamed of him: “By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not” (Song 3:1). Now let me ask you a very personal question. Do you really miss Christ? Do you long for Him?
One night she lay restlessly upon her couch when she noticed a fragrance in the room. In that day it was a custom that a lover would put some myrrh or frankincense in the opening to the door handle. She smelled the perfume and went to the door. “I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock” (Song 5:5). She knew that he had been there. She knew that he really hadn't forgotten.
Are there evidences of the fragrance and the perfume of Christ in your life today? Oh, my friend, don't ever be satisfied with religious gimmicks. Why not get right down to where the rubber meets the road? What does Christ mean to you right now? Is the fragrance of Christ in your life today?
Now she knew that her lover was near. The Lord Jesus said, “… Lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world” (Matt. 28:20). Paul could say while he was in prison that the Lord stood by him. The Lord Jesus has promised, “… I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Heb. 13:5).
One day she is in the vineyard working with the vines. “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes” (Song 2:15). She is lifting up the vines so that the little foxes cannot get to the grapes. In that land, they raise the grapes right down on the ground. They do not string them up as we do in this country. So she is lifting up the vines and putting a rock under them so that the little foxes will not get to the grapes.
While she is doing this, down the road there comes a pillar of smoke. “Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?” (Song 3:6). The cry is passed along, “Behold, King Solomon is coming!” But she is busy, and she doesn't know King Solomon. Then someone comes to her excitedly and says to her, “Oh, King Solomon is asking for you!” And she says, “Asking for me? I don't know King Solomon. I've never met him, why would he ask for me?”
“The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills. My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice. My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song 2:8-10). And so she is brought into the presence of King Solomon. Do you know who King Solomon is? Why, he is her shepherd, and he has come for her.
This is the promise of the Lord Jesus: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Paul writes, “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1Thess. 4:16-17). The Lord Jesus has promised that He is coming again for us. “For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away” (Song 2:11-13). One of these days He is going to call us out of this world.
By the way, how much are you involved in the world? I have a feeling there are some people who are so satisfied down here, who are doing so well in this affluent society, that if He should come for them, they would go crying all the way to heaven because they have so much here in this life. He says to her, “Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away. O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock.” That is where the Lord puts us—in the cleft of the rock until the storm passes. “In the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely” (Song 2:13-14). What a glorious thing!
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love” (Song 2:4). Salvation is a love affair—we love Him because He first loved us. That is the story that this little book is telling.
(McGee, J. Vernon. Thru the Bible Commentary, Vol. 21: Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1991.)