Bible Book Number 22—The Song of Solomon
Place Written: Jerusalem
Writing Completed: c. 1020 B.C.E.
1. In what respect is this the “Song of the songs”?
“THE whole world was not worthy of the day in which this sublime Song was given to Israel.” Thus the Jewish “rabbi” Akiba, who lived in the first century of the Common Era, expressed his appreciation for The Song of Solomon.* The book’s title is a contraction of the opening words, “The superlative song, which is Solomon’s.” According to the Hebrew word-for-word text, it is the “Song of the songs,” denoting superlative excellence, similar to the expression “heavens of the heavens,” for the highest heavens. (Deut. 10:14) It is not a collection of songs but one song, “a song of the utmost perfection, one of the best that existed, or had ever been penned.”*
2. (a) Who was the writer of The Song of Solomon, what were his qualifications, and why could the book be called a song of frustrated love? (b) Where was the book written, and when?
2 King Solomon of Jerusalem was the writer of this song, as is borne out by its introduction. He was highly qualified to write this supremely beautiful example of Hebrew poetry. (1 Ki. 4:32) It is an idyllic poem loaded with meaning and most colorful in its description of beauty. The reader who can visualize the Oriental setting will appreciate this still more. (Song of Sol. 4:11, 13; 5:11; 7:4) The occasion for its writing was a unique one. The great king Solomon, glorious in wisdom, mighty in power, and dazzling in the luster of his material wealth, which evoked the admiration even of the queen of Sheba, could not impress a simple country girl with whom he fell in love. Because of the constancy of her love for a shepherd boy, the king lost out. The book, therefore, could rightly be called The Song of Solomon’s Frustrated Love. Jehovah God inspired him to compose this song for the benefit of Bible readers of the ages to follow. He wrote it in Jerusalem. Perhaps this was about 1020 B.C.E., some years after the temple had been completed. By the time he wrote the song, Solomon had “sixty queens and eighty concubines,” compared with “seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines” at the end of his reign.—Song of Sol. 6:8; 1 Ki. 11:3.
3. What evidence is there for the Song of Solomon’s canonicity?
3 The canonicity of The Song of Solomon was wholly unchallenged in early times. It was regarded as an integral and inspired portion of the Hebrew canon long before the Common Era. It was embodied in the Greek Septuagint. Josephus inserted it in his catalog of the sacred books. Therefore, it has the same evidence for its canonicity as is commonly adduced for any other book of the Hebrew Scriptures.
4. (a) Does the absence of the word “God” argue against the canonicity of The Song of Solomon? (b) What marks it for its unique place in the Bible canon?
4 Some, however, have questioned the book’s canonicity on the ground that there is no reference to God in it. The absence of any mention of God would not disqualify the book any more than the mere presence of the word “God” would make it canonical. The divine name does appear in its abbreviated form at chapter 8, verse 6, where love is said to be “the flame of Jah.” The book unquestionably forms a part of those writings to which Jesus Christ referred with approval when he said: “You are searching the Scriptures, because you think that by means of them you will have everlasting life.” (John 5:39) Moreover, its powerful portrayal of the exquisite quality of mutual love, such as exists, in a spiritual sense, between Christ and his “bride,” marks The Song of Solomon for its unique place in the Bible canon.—Rev. 19:7, 8; 21:9.
CONTENTS OF THE SONG OF SOLOMON
5. (a) How are the characters in the drama identified? (b) What touching theme is expressed?
5 The material in the book is presented through a series of conversations. There is a constant change of speakers. The persons with speaking parts are Solomon the king of Jerusalem, a shepherd, his beloved Shulammite, her brothers, court ladies (“daughters of Jerusalem”), and women of Jerusalem (“daughters of Zion”). (Song of Sol. 1:5-7; 3:5, 11) They are identified by what they say of themselves or by what is said to them. The drama unfolds near Shunem, or Shulem, where Solomon is camped with his court entourage. It expresses a touching theme—the love of a country girl of the village of Shunem for her shepherd companion.
6. What conversation takes place between the maiden and the court ladies of Solomon’s camp?
6 The Shulammite maiden in Solomon’s camp (1:1-14). The maiden appears in the royal tents into which the king has brought her, but she is anxious only to see her shepherd lover. With longing for her loved one, she speaks out as if he were present. The ladies of the court who wait on the king, the “daughters of Jerusalem,” look curiously at the Shulammite because of her swarthy complexion. She explains that she is sunburned from caring for her brothers’ vineyards. She then speaks to her lover as though she were free and asks where she might find him. The court ladies bid her to go out and pasture her flock by the tents of the shepherds.
7. What advances does Solomon make, but with what result?
7 Solomon comes forward. He is unwilling to let her go. He praises her beauty and promises to adorn her with “circlets of gold” and “studs of silver.” The Shulammite resists his advances and lets him know that the only love she can feel is for her beloved.—1:11.
8. How does the maiden’s lover encourage her? For what does she yearn?
8 The shepherd lover appears (1:15–2:2). The Shulammite’s lover makes his way into Solomon’s camp and encourages her. He assures her of his love. The Shulammite yearns for the nearness of her dear one and the simple pleasure of dwelling at one with him out in the fields and woods.
9. How do the girl and her lover appraise her beauty?
9 The Shulammite is a modest girl. “A mere saffron of the coastal plain I am,” she says. Her shepherd lover thinks her to be without compare, saying: “Like a lily among thorny weeds, so is my girl companion among the daughters.”—2:1, 2.
10. What does the maiden recall concerning her love?
10 The maiden longs for her shepherd (2:3–3:5). Separated again from her lover, the Shulammite shows how she esteems him above all others, and she tells the daughters of Jerusalem that they are under oath not to try to arouse in her unwanted love for another. The Shulammite remembers the time when her shepherd answered her call and invited her to the hills in springtime. She sees him climbing upon the mountains, leaping with joy. She hears him cry out to her: “Rise up, come, O girl companion of mine, my beautiful one, and come away.” However, her brothers, who were not sure of her steadiness, got angry and set her to work in guarding the vineyards. She declares, “My dear one is mine and I am his,” and she pleads for him to hurry to her side.—2:13, 16.
11. Of what oath does the Shulammite again remind the daughters of Jerusalem?
11 The Shulammite describes her detainment in Solomon’s camp. At night in bed, she longs for her shepherd. Again she reminds the daughters of Jerusalem that they are under oath not to awaken unwanted love in her.
12. What further encouragement does her lover give when the maiden is taken by Solomon to Jerusalem?
12 The Shulammite in Jerusalem (3:6–5:1). Solomon returns to Jerusalem in regal splendor, and the people admire his cortege. In this critical hour, the shepherd lover does not fail the Shulammite. He follows his girl companion, who is veiled, and gets in touch with her. He strengthens his beloved with warm expressions of endearment. She tells him she wants to get free and leave the city, and then he bursts into an ecstasy of love: “You are altogether beautiful, O girl companion of mine.” (4:7) A mere glimpse of her makes his heart beat faster. Her expressions of endearment are better than wine, her fragrance is like that of Lebanon, and her skin is like a paradise of pomegranates. The maiden invites her dear one to come into “his garden,” and he accepts. Friendly women of Jerusalem encourage them: “Eat, O companions! Drink and become drunk with expressions of endearment!”—4:16; 5:1.
13. What dream does the maiden have, and how does she describe her lover to the court ladies?
13 The maiden’s dream (5:2–6:3). The Shulammite tells the court ladies of a dream, in which she hears a knock. Her dear one is outside, pleading for her to let him in. But she is in bed. When she finally gets up to open the door, he has disappeared into the night. She goes out after him, but he cannot be found. The watchmen mistreat her. She tells the court ladies that if they see her lover, they are under obligation to tell him that she is lovesick. They ask her what makes him so outstanding. She launches into an exquisite description of him, saying he is “dazzling and ruddy, the most conspicuous of ten thousand.” (5:10) The court women ask her of his whereabouts. She says he has gone to shepherd among the gardens.
14. Despite all his arts, how does Solomon lose out in his quest?
14 Solomon’s final advances (6:4–8:4). King Solomon approaches the Shulammite. Again he tells her how beautiful she is, more lovely than “sixty queens and eighty concubines,” but she rejects him. (6:8) She is here only because an errand of service had brought her near his camp. ‘What do you see in me?’ she asks. Solomon takes advantage of her innocent question to tell her of her beauty, from the soles of her feet to the crown of her head, but the maiden resists all his arts. Courageously she declares her devotion to her shepherd, crying out for him. For the third time, she reminds the daughters of Jerusalem that they are under oath not to awaken love in her against her will. Solomon lets her go home. He has lost out in his quest for the Shulammite’s love.
15. (a) With what request does the maiden return to her brothers? (b) How has exclusive devotion triumphed?
15 The Shulammite returns (8:5-14). Her brothers see her approaching, but she is not alone. She is “leaning upon her dear one.” She calls to mind having met her lover under an apple tree and declares the unbreakableness of her love for him. Some of her brothers’ earlier comments about their concern over her when “a little sister” are mentioned, but she declares she has proved herself a mature and stable woman. (8:8) Let her brothers now consent to her marriage. King Solomon can have his wealth! She is content with her one vineyard, for she loves one who is exclusively dear to her. In her case this love is as strong as death and its blazings as “the flame of Jah.” Insistence on exclusive devotion “as unyielding as Sheol” has triumphed and has led to the glorious heights of union with her shepherd lover.—8:5, 6.
16. What valuable lessons are taught in this song?
16 What lessons are taught in this song of love that the man of God might find beneficial today? Faithfulness, loyalty, and integrity to godly principles are clearly shown. The song teaches the beauty of virtue and innocence in a true lover. It teaches that genuine love remains unconquerable, inextinguishable, unpurchasable. Young Christian men and women as well as husbands and wives can benefit from this fitting example of integrity when temptations arise and allurements present themselves.
17. (a) How does Paul show this song to have been written for the instruction of the Christian congregation? (b) Why may Paul well have had it in mind in writing to the Corinthians and the Ephesians? (c) What interesting comparisons may be made with inspired writings of John?
17 But this inspired song is also most beneficial for the Christian congregation as a whole. It was recognized as part of the inspired Scriptures by the Christians of the first century, one of whom wrote: “All the things that were written aforetime were written for our instruction, that through our endurance and through the comfort from the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Rom. 15:4) This same inspired writer, Paul, could well have had in mind the Shulammite girl’s exclusive love for her shepherd when he wrote to the Christian congregation: “For I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I personally promised you in marriage to one husband that I might present you as a chaste virgin to the Christ.” Paul also wrote of the love of Christ for the congregation as that of a husband for a wife. (2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:23-27) Not only is Jesus Christ the Fine Shepherd for them but he is also their King who holds out to his anointed followers the indescribable joy of “marriage” with him in the heavens.—Rev. 19:9; John 10:11.
18. In what way may the anointed followers of Christ Jesus benefit from the example of the Shulammite girl?
18 Certainly these anointed followers of Christ Jesus can benefit much from the example of the Shulammite girl. They also must be loyal in their love, unenticed by the materialistic glitter of the world, keeping balance in their integrity clear through to the attainment of the reward. They have their minds set on the things above and ‘seek first the Kingdom.’ They welcome the loving endearments of their Shepherd, Jesus Christ. They are overjoyed in knowing that this dear one, though unseen, is close beside them, calling on them to take courage and conquer the world. Having that unquenchable love, as strong as “the flame of Jah,” for their Shepherd King, they will indeed overcome and be united with him as fellow heirs in the glorious Kingdom of the heavens. Thus will Jah’s name be sanctified!—Matt. 6:33; John 16:33.
The Jewish Mishnah (Yadayim 3:5).
Clarke’s Commentary, Vol. III, page 841.