Introduction to The Song of Solomon

Timeline

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 (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 b.c.

Theme

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 (1:7) and she is a shepherdess (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 (1:9), and her hair is compared to a flock of goats (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.

Structure

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” (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 8:5).

Key Themes

  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 Gen. 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 Gen. 2:24, “hold fast”), which allows delight to flourish. As such, it is a fitting image for God’s relationship with his people.

Outline

  1. Title: The Best of Songs (1:1)
  2. The Lovers Yearn for Each Other (1:2–2:17)
  3. The Shepherdess Dreams (3:1–6:3)
  4. The Lovers Yearn for Each Other Again (6:4–8:4)
  5. The Lovers Join in Marriage (8:5–14)
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