A poetic book of the Hebrew Scriptures that tells of the unswerving love of a Shulammite girl (a country girl from Shunem, or Shulem) for a shepherd boy and King Solomon’s unsuccessful attempt to capture her love. The opening words of the Hebrew text designate this poem as the “song of songs,” that is, a “superlative song,” the most beautiful, the most excellent song. (See NW ftn on title.) It is but one song and not a collection of songs.
At the outset Solomon is identified as the writer. (Ca 1:1) Internal evidence agrees with this, for it reveals the writer to have been one who was well acquainted with God’s creation, as was Solomon. (1Ki 4:29-33) Repeatedly plants, animals, precious stones, and metals figure in the vivid imagery of the book. (Ca 1:12-14, 17; 2:1, 3, 7, 9, 12-15; 4:8, 13, 14; 5:11-15; 7:2, 3, 7, 8, 11-13) The writer, as would be expected from a king like Solomon, was very familiar with the land inhabited by the Israelites—the coastal plain; the low plains (2:1); the mountain ranges of Lebanon, Hermon, Anti-Lebanon, and Carmel (4:8; 7:5); the vineyards of En-gedi (1:14); and “the pools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim” (7:4).
The poem was composed when Solomon had 60 queens and 80 concubines. (Ca 6:8) This points to the earlier part of his 40-year reign (1037-998 B.C.E.), since Solomon finally came to have 700 wives and 300 concubines.—1Ki 11:3.
The expressions of endearment contained in The Song of Solomon may seem very unusual to the Western reader. But it should be remembered that the setting for this song is an Oriental one of about 3,000 years ago.
Persons Involved. The central figure of The Song of Solomon is the Shulammite. Other persons mentioned in the poem are her shepherd lover (Ca 1:7) and her mother and brothers (1:6; 8:2), King Solomon (3:11), the “daughters of Jerusalem” (the ladies of Solomon’s court), and the “daughters of Zion” (women residents of Jerusalem) (3:5, 11). The individuals can be differentiated by what they say of themselves or by what is said to them. In the Hebrew text, grammatical forms often imply gender (masculine or feminine) as well as number (singular or plural), thereby facilitating identification of the characters. To make this distinction evident in the English language it is often necessary to add clarifying words to convey fully the meaning of the original. Thus at The Song of Solomon 1:5 the Hebrew reads literally: “Black I and comely.” However, the Hebrew words for “black” and “comely” are in the feminine gender. Therefore the New World Translation reads: “A black girl I am, but comely.”
The Drama. The Shulammite met the shepherd at the place of his birth. (Ca 8:5b) Jealous for the chastity of their sister, the brothers of the Shulammite tried to protect her from temptation. Therefore, when she wanted to accept her lover’s invitation to join him in viewing the beauties of early spring (2:8-14), they became angry with her and, taking advantage of the seasonal need, appointed her to guard the vineyards against the depredations of the little foxes. (1:6; 2:15) Exposed to the sun’s rays, the Shulammite lost the fairness of her skin.—1:5, 6.
Later, while on her way to the garden of nut trees, she unintentionally came upon the encampment of King Solomon. (Ca 6:11, 12) Either seen there by the king himself or noticed by someone else and then recommended to him, the Shulammite was brought to Solomon’s camp. King Solomon made known his admiration for her. But she felt no attraction for him and voiced a longing for her shepherd lover. (1:2-4, 7) The “daughters of Jerusalem” therefore recommended that she leave the camp and find her lover. (1:8) Solomon, however, was unwilling to let her go and began praising her beauty, promising to fashion circlets of gold and studs of silver for her. (1:9-11) The Shulammite then informed the king that the object of her love was someone else.—1:12-14.
Thereafter the Shulammite’s shepherd lover came to Solomon’s camp and voiced his affection for her. She, too, assured him of her love. (Ca 1:15–2:2) When speaking to the “daughters of Jerusalem,” the Shulammite compared her lover to a fruit tree among the trees of the forest and solemnly charged them by what was beautiful and graceful not to try to arouse unwanted love in her. (2:3-7) Always, even during the night hours, she continued to long for her shepherd lover, and she reminded the “daughters of Jerusalem” that they were under oath not to attempt to awaken love in her until it felt inclined.—2:16–3:5.
Returning to Jerusalem, Solomon took the Shulammite along. Seeing them approaching the city, several “daughters of Zion” commented about the appearance of the procession. (Ca 3:6-11) At Jerusalem, the shepherd lover, having followed the procession, got in touch with the Shulammite and praised her beauty, thereby assuring her of his love. (4:1-5) The Shulammite voiced her desire to leave the city (4:6), and he continued expressing his admiration for her. (4:7-16a) “Let my dear one come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits,” she said. (4:16b) His response to this invitation was: “I have come into my garden, O my sister, my bride.” (5:1a) Women of Jerusalem encouraged them, saying: “Eat, O companions! Drink and become drunk with expressions of endearment!”—5:1b.
When the Shulammite, after having a bad dream, related it to the “daughters of Jerusalem” and told them that she was lovesick (Ca 5:2-8), they wanted to know what was so special about her dear one. At that the Shulammite proceeded to describe her lover in glowing terms. (5:10-16) Asked by them where he was, she informed them that he was shepherding among the gardens. (6:1-3) Once again Solomon confronted the Shulammite with expressions of praise. (6:4-10) Told that she had not sought his company (6:11, 12), Solomon appealed to her to come back. (6:13a) This prompted her to ask: “What do you people behold in the Shulammite?” (6:13b) Solomon used this as an opening to express further admiration for her. (7:1-9) But the Shulammite remained changeless in her love and called upon the “daughters of Jerusalem” not to awaken love in her when it did not feel inclined to come forth spontaneously.—7:10–8:4.
Apparently Solomon then allowed the Shulammite to return to her home. Seeing her approaching, her brothers asked: “Who is this woman coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her dear one?” (Ca 8:5a) The brothers of the Shulammite had not realized that their sister had such constancy in love. In earlier years one brother had said concerning her: “We have a little sister that does not have any breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day that she will be spoken for?” (8:8) Another brother replied: “If she should be a wall, we shall build upon her a battlement of silver; but if she should be a door, we shall block her up with a cedar plank.” (8:9) However, since the Shulammite had successfully resisted all enticements, being satisfied with her own vineyard and remaining loyal in her affection for her lover (8:6, 7, 11, 12), she could properly say: “I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. In this case I have become in his eyes like her that is finding peace.”—8:10.
The song concludes with an expression of her shepherd lover’s desire to hear her voice (Ca 8:13), and with the expression of her desire that he come leaping, crossing the mountains that separated them.—8:14.
Value. The Song of Solomon illustrates the beauty of enduring and constant love. Such unswerving love is reflected in the relationship of Christ Jesus and his bride. (Eph 5:25-32) Thus The Song of Solomon can serve to encourage those professing to be of Christ’s bride to remain faithful to their heavenly bridegroom.—Compare 2Co 11:2.
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HIGHLIGHTS OF THE SONG OF SOLOMON
The unswerving love of a Shulammite maiden for a shepherd boy in spite of King Solomon’s attempts to win her for himself
Written by Solomon, evidently quite early in his reign
The Shulammite maiden in Solomon’s camp (1:1–3:5)
She longs for the love of her dear one, a shepherd, and wants him to take her away from the royal surroundings
To the women of the court, she explains that the reason for her dark complexion is exposure to the sun while working in her brothers’ vineyards
Solomon promises her gold and silver ornaments, but she insists that she will keep loving her dear one
Her shepherd appears and praises the Shulammite girl’s beauty, likening her to a lily among weeds
The Shulammite tells the women of the court that her shepherd is like an apple tree whose shade she passionately desires; she puts them under oath not to arouse in her a love for Solomon; she remembers when her lover invited her to accompany him; however, her brothers told her that the vineyards must be protected from the little foxes
At night, she dreams about looking for her lover and finding him
Tested in the city of Jerusalem (3:6–8:4)
Solomon’s magnificent entourage begins its return to Jerusalem
The shepherd again gets in touch with the Shulammite (now veiled) and speaks of her beauty, likening her to a barred garden filled with aromatic plants
She invites him to enter this garden and enjoy its fruits
To the women of the court, the Shulammite relates her bad dream: Her lover arrived while she was in bed; he departed before she could open the door; she searched for him fruitlessly in the city and was mistreated by the city watchmen
The daughters of Jerusalem ask about her dear one, and she replies by giving a glowing description of him
Solomon now expresses his love for the Shulammite, saying she is more beautiful than his 60 queens and 80 concubines
The Shulammite is unmoved, pointing out that she is only here because an errand of service brought her near his camp
Solomon vividly describes her beauty, but the Shulammite resists his skillful speech, insisting that she belongs to her dear one
The Shulammite returns, her loyalty proved (8:5–14)
The Shulammite returns home, leaning upon her dear one
Earlier, her brothers wondered whether she would be constant like a wall, or fickle like a swinging door that admits anyone
The Shulammite has turned down all that Solomon could offer, proving her exclusive devotion to her dear one; her love is as strong as death, and its blazings as the flame of Jah