Interpretations of Song of Solomon
Throughout history, the meaning of Song of Solomon has been a topic of great debate. Arguments about its purpose can be traced as far back as when the Jews and early church were deciding whether or not to include it in what we now call the Bible. Even though the book has been recognized as Scripture, the book’s main topic of human sexuality has caused many to shy away from its inclusion in religious services. Cases of its exclusion can be traced all the way back to the second century when its erotic nature banned its use within certain Jewish synagogues. Since these debates have gone on for hundreds and even thousands of years, it puts the Christian in a unique situation where he is left to study and conclude for himself what Song of Solomon is truly about.
Today, I’d like to present you with what I believe is the best way to interpret the book. For the rest of this article, I will be referring to the book by its original name, “The Song of Songs.” In case you are not familiar with the original name, the title “The Song of Songs” should be understood to mean “The Loveliest Song,” or if you were to be more literal rather than poetic, “The Song Greater than All Other Songs.”
The Art of Reading as Intended
Normally when you read literature, the natural reading of the words is the intended meaning. When we look at the Song of Songs, we can see it is erotic wisdom literature. While some may find it distasteful to refer to the song as “erotic” since the word usually carries a negative connotation, it is the only word one can use to properly describe its genre as a literary piece. The book’s main emphasis is the passion and allure of emotional and physical intimacy and how the wise will not stir up or awaken it before it is appropriate. If the natural reading is the true reading, which I believe it is, that means the Song of Songs’ primary purpose is to show us what true love looks like. It tells of the passion, the hurt, the trials, and the triumphs of love. It shows human love as it truly exists in real life, both the good parts and the bad.
For some reason, this interpretation is generally frowned upon by believers solely because it recognizes the sexual nature of the song’s lyrics. However, this is a mistake. Human sexuality was designed by God and is a natural part of the human experience. It is not something to hide from view but to recognize as good and healthy when it is experienced the way God intended it to be.
When we study the Bible, we should seek to take it at face value. It’s foolish to assume God hides the truth behind multiple layers of abstraction. Unless the textual context directs the reader to look deeper (for example, prophecies or parables) the natural reading should be considered the intended meaning. God says He is not the author of confusion, so we should read His words as they are given. Attempts to find “deeper meanings” often lead to poor theology and faulty conclusions.
If we take The Song of Songs at face value, then the main topic of the book truly is about the love shared between a man and a woman. That does not mean the Song of Songs has no spiritual significance, as some might claim, but instead that its spiritual significance comes from a direct comparison between its literal reading and the rest of Scripture.
Getting the Spiritual Lesson of Song of Solomon
As with most Old Testament books, the content of the Song of Songs describes events and narratives. Old Testament narratives rarely teach spiritual truths directly; instead, they provide a contextual framework that we can use to gain a practical understanding of spiritual truths by observing the lessons learned by the characters in the narrative. The true spiritual significance of the Song of Song does not come internally from the actions of the characters in the book but from an external comparison between human love and the love of God.
The characters we see in Song of Solomon have a strong earth-bound love. They passionately desire and long for each other, yet there are still times when they are left unsatisfied, concerned, or lovesick. For example, in Song of Solomon 3:1, the woman searches for her love but does not find him. Those who would say the song is a direct allegory for the love of God would find a contradiction. Surely this would not demonstrate the relationship between God and His people since God does not leave his people abandoned but rather draws near to those who seek Him. However, when we compare the lover’s character with God’s character, the narrative does demonstrate a spiritual truth to the reader, specifically, that God’s love is greater than human love. God will not leave us lovesick or worried about Him because we can know He is always there.
When reading the song, people are presented with a beautiful and emotional picture of love. As one reads, they cannot help but wish to experience love like it is presented in the book. If the love demonstrated in the book is so great even with its times of desperate longing and searching, then how much greater is the love between God and us? How much more will one find satisfaction and peace in God?
The Song of Songs’ purposefully presents the reader with the truth that even a “perfect relationship” results in some amount of pain and heartache. Love leaves us vulnerable. Love brings longing, and even if that longing comes from a healthy desire, it will often be left unsatisfied in some way. The woman’s struggle as she longs to be with her lover. Her longings are so strong that her lovesickness causes her to go through the streets searching for him just to see him for another moment more. She shows her struggles with love, expressing the truth that even the best of relationships have some level of trials. From here, the comparison to the love of God comes naturally. It demonstrates the superiority of God’s love and the shortcomings of human affection due to a human’s fallen nature. As previously stated, with God, there is no need to go searching in the streets looking for His love, nor is there a need to beg Him to stay for another moment! God will never leave or forsake! Where humanity’s love fails, God’s love remains and triumphs over it. This is the spiritual significance of the Song of Songs!
What is Song of Solomon Then?
The Song of Songs is a song that presents the beauty and hardship of true love. That is its original purpose. It demonstrates the nature of love through the longing the two share for each other. It provides a picture of the desires true love creates and gives a proper example of the struggles that come with managing such strong desires. While the lovers find fulfillment in each other, they are left unsatisfied at times. The Song of Songs shows us the beauty of human sexual intimacy in a God-honoring relationship and expresses the reality of the sexual desires aroused between a man and a woman who are deeply in love. It even shows the often neglected woman’s perspective on sexuality by openly discussing a woman’s desire for sexual intimacy.
Yes, The Song of Songs has an earthly lesson about sexuality, and it is the main topic of the book, but it does have a heavenly lesson as well. While The Song of Songs teaches all these things about earthly love, it also teaches a spiritual truth about heavenly love. Ultimately, The Song of Songs allows us to realize that even the most perfect form of human love cannot compare to the love of God. So let’s not neglect the Song of Songs in our churches and Bible studies. It has much to say, and there are righteous things to be learned from it.