Song of Solomon - What is it?

Discussion in 'OT Wisdom Literature' started by Ed Walsh, May 28, 2017.

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  1. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    Of Note: Unless I searched incorrectly I could find no other thread on the Song of Solomon in the PB archives.

    I have always loved the older interpretations of the Song where it is taught that its purpose is to describe and to encourage a deeper understanding of the bond between Christ and the Church. Right now I am mostly through John Gills 340,000 word commentary, where he never hints that the Song is anything except a love story between Christ and the Church, including Old Testament Israel and Yahweh.

    And we have the Apostle in Ephesians 5:31, 32 who states that marriage is "a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church."

    But modern commenters usually say that it is a kind of textbook of romantic and sexual love in marriage. But then there's that Ephesians 5 verse again.

    Is it an allegory like Pilgrim's Progress? No, not really.
    Is it simply a series of love poems between Solomon and his new (perhaps first) bride? I think it's more.
    But what is it? Serious help please since I will be discussing it briefly at a small group I lead this Wednesday.

    Here's what must be a very condensed version of Gill on the Song.
     
  2. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    Not that it isn't profitable to discuss this again, but there have been quite a few threads on this, for example:

    https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-solomon-hermeneutic.7080/
    https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-solomon-method-of-approach.40305/
    https://puritanboard.com/threads/song-of-solomon-traditionally-literal-or-allegorical.83510/

    Perhaps you put in too many search terms?

    Stealing the quote from one of Andrew's (VirginiaHuguenot) old posts, I prefer Durham's approach:

     
    Last edited: May 28, 2017
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  3. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

  4. TheOldCourse

    TheOldCourse Puritan Board Sophomore

    And Matthew Henry:
     
  5. timfost

    timfost Puritan Board Junior

    Yet, the love (including sexual) between husband and wife is certainly not beyond the dignity of scripture. Regardless of what side you come out on concerning its interpretation, it should be on an exegetical basis, not one that throws out the literal for the figurative because of a bias of priority (e.g. biblical sexuality is of less dignity than our union with Christ and therefore it must be figurative).
     
  6. jwithnell

    jwithnell Moderator Staff Member

    Why do we have to choose? Why can't it be a record of a real couple in sanctified marriage whose relationship was divinely recorded to show Christ's love for the church?

    BTW, Sinclair Ferguson preached a great series on SoS while at First Church Columbus.
     
  7. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    "The truth is, that the Song in its whole conception and structure is such as never could have been welcomed or tolerated by any earthly bride, by whomsoever composed; and least of all if written for her by her own consort. With the exception of the fourth chapter, the greater part of it is, in one form or other, put into the mouth of the bride; it is commenced by her, closed by her, chiefly conducted by her; while the narrative throughout is put into her lips, never into the lips of her Betrothed. Would any earthly bridegroom so construct a song for his bride, or earthly bride receive it so constructed? Then, she is represented as now self-condemning, and again self-excusing, but as uniformly helpless, reverent, entreating; while the Bridegroom is always full of majesty, his affection ever mingled with condescension, frequently he is reserved and distant, sometimes stern and severe. All this is intelligible only on the supposition that the Song itself was never in any form designed for scenes of earth; but, under an earthly veil, to shadow out the communion of the ransomed Church and her glorious Redeemer." (Alexander Moody Stuart, The Song of Songs: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon, pg. 7)

    The way the book is structured and written seems quite conclusive that it represent Christ and His Church. The idea that it represents a physical picture between a man and wife was also foreign to almost all Jewish commentators as well.

    "The Chaldee Targum, which is the oldest Jewish Commentary on the book, entitles it ‘The Songs and hymns which Solomon the prophet, king of Israel, delivered by the spirit of prophecy, before Jehovah the Lord of the whole earth;’ and explains it throughout as a divine allegory, representing the dealings of God with his people Israel. The Christian fathers compared the whole teaching of Solomon to a ladder consisting of three steps, moral, natural, mystical; Proverbs embracing instruction in morals; Ecclesiastes indicating the nature of things sensible, and the vanity of the present life, that despising these things as transient we may desire the future as firm and eternal; and the Song of Songs containing the mystic relation and union of Christ and his Church, that we may fly upward to the great Bridegroom to love and embrace him as promising everlasting blessedness. (Origen, Theodoret.) Any attempts either amongst the Jews or Christians to attach a lower sense to this divine Song were extremely few and quite exceptional, serving only to bring out more clearly the general and all but universal judgment for the allegorical interpretation. ‘Far be it! far be it!’ exclaims one of the Hebrew doctors, ‘that the Song of Songs should treat of earthly love; for had it not been a pure allegory, and had not its excellence been great, it would not have been numbered with the holy books; nor on this head is there any controversy.’" (Alexander Moody Stuart, The Song of Songs: An Exposition of the Song of Solomon, pg. 8)
     
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  8. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    To think that this is an expression of love twixt Solomon and the princess of Egypt, in which there is a verbal public uncovering of her anatomy; or the descriptive dalliance of Solomon with a shepherd girl as many hold, is repugnant to the dignity of scripture and to moral taste. Dr Sibbes, Dr Owen Dr Gill and Dr Hengstenberg are in agreement that this book is an epic love duet between Christ and the Church. That is why it is called the Song of Songs, and the Song of Loves. Solomon wrote 1005 songs, but only this one is extant and inscripturated. He wrote it prophetically, and built on the foundation that his father laid in Ps45, which is called the Song of Love. That too reveals the love relationship twixt Christ and the Church.
     
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  9. py3ak

    py3ak They're stalling and plotting against me Staff Member

  10. Ask Mr. Religion

    Ask Mr. Religion Flatly Unflappable

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  11. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Since contributing to this earlier thread, I have completed two commentaries on the Song, one more technical (Tyndale OT Commentary) and one more expository (REC). I have preached it twice, in Grove City and here in Glenside (sermons are available at Christarp.com). My conclusion is that the Song is wisdom literature; as such it directs our behavior and thinking about sex and relationships, as does Proverbs 5, for example. However, wisdom literature also points us to the sufferings of Christ and the glories that will follow. It does so by convicting us of our many failures in these areas, for which Christ died, and to Christ's perfect righteousness in his relationships (especially toward his bride) which is now credited to us. There is thus no disjunction between the Song addressing us in our relationships and it speaking to us about the gospel, any more than those proverbs that direct our relationships. This allows us to make appropriate parallels from the Song to Christ without being forced into having to interpret every aspect of the Song allegorically - such as the sachet of myrrh between the woman's breasts being Christ coming between the two testaments (Cyril of Alexandria) or the watchmen on the walls who beat the woman in chapter 6 being unskillful ministers of the gospel!
     
  12. Pilgrim72

    Pilgrim72 Puritan Board Junior

    I loved Sibbes' sermons on this topic. Absolutely beautiful.
     
  13. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Is that Vol 2 of his Works?
     
  14. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    Agreed. They are some of Sibbes' best work (out of so many treasures he wrote/preached)
     
  15. Joshua

    Joshua Administrator Staff Member

    That's correct, Brother.
     
  16. Jake

    Jake Puritan Board Junior

    I found your sermon series to be helpful. I recommend listening to at least the first sermon available on Songs from christarp.com as it's a good general introduction.
     
  17. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    Aside from the exegetical problems one has with making this about a relationship (one is forced to conclude between a husband and wife), there seems to be cause for questions as to why modern scholarship goes this route. Modern doesn't mean "good". I assume this quoted portion is a jab at those who take the "old" approach.

    I am always suspicious of "new" interpretations or what was considered very "few". One has to basically say the best of scholars (to date) that the church has ever produced in one century is wrong. Not to mention those prior to them.
     
  18. ZackF

    ZackF Puritan Board Graduate

    Our pastor used your commentaries extensively in the SS class he gave on the SoS. I know this blunt term, "middle ground" between the old and new may not describe your position adequately but I found your arguments powerful and convincing.
     
  19. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The "ideal marriage" or "ideal love" interpretation requires allegorical interpretation. If any one takes the literal reference to Solomon seriously there is nothing in his status or function in redemptive history which can provide anything like an ideal for ordinary marriage. It is his peculiarity which makes the Song so striking and so fitting an emblem of Christ. Solomon is idealised in the Song, not marriage. To adopt the "ideal marriage" view the Song must be reinterpreted to make it fit the Christian ideal of a lifelong relationship between one man and one woman, with the added romanticist ingredient of spontaneous love.
     
  20. Cymro

    Cymro Puritan Board Junior

    As Rev M.W has indicated, a greater than Solomon is here. The mere fact that his name occurs seven times in the song , the perfect number, and that it means the prince of peace, should alert us to the spiritual significance. The whole book should be spirituality interpreted, and thus even the use of unguents, myrrh, camphire and spikenard, have underlying meanings that have a wealth of gospel intention.
     
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  21. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    The problem with allegorical interpretation in general is the tendency to read rather far fetched meanings into the text that, however spiritually uplifting, are unlikely to have been in the mind of the Holy Spirit when he inspired the text. This problem is actually not limited to the spiritual interpretation of the Song (i.e. the interpretation that sees its primary referent as the relationship of God, or Christ, to the believer); those who adhere to the natural interpretation can be equally far fetched in their applications (anyone read Tommy Nelson's Book of Romance?). And there are genuine and appropriate connections to be made between the Song and the gospel, as I demonstrate in my commentaries. But we do need to be careful to understand the Song within its proper context in Biblical Theology which, in my view, will normally mean not assigning spiritual meanings to every single spice and image.
     
  22. Ed Walsh

    Ed Walsh Puritan Board Junior

    I just finished John Gill's nearly 340,000 word commentary on the Song. I loved it for some of the great points he made. But he went far and wide, "assigning spiritual meanings to every single spice and image." And not just one interpretation but several, sometimes many. Towards the end of his commentary I skipped a lot of the possible interpretations in favor of the Bible text itself. Especially chapter 7 & 8. Will I read it again? Probably not.
     
  23. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior

    Here is something interesting. I'm not sure what he means by this:

     
  24. KMK

    KMK Administrator Staff Member

    Doesn't the 'spiritual interpretation' see, as Perkins says above, that the primary referent is the relationship of Christ to the church considered corporately, and not the believer considered individually?
     
  25. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    The Song itself is an allegory. It should be interpreted according to the usual rules of grammatical, historical, and theological exegesis, though it should not be understood as if it intended to speak literally. It should be treated in the same way that we regard other non-literal, figurative forms of literature, such as a parable. We do not call the interpretation of the parables "allegorical" or "spiritual" when they are understood to speak of the kingdom rather than natural life. For the same reason the view that the Song is speaking about Christ and the church should not be called "allegorical" or "spiritual" interpretation. It is the interpretation of allegorical Scripture; it is not allegorical interpretation, as James Durham noted many moons ago.
     
  26. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    This is, of course, the key interpretive question. If the Song is an allegory, then it should be interpreted as such. If it is wisdom literature, then it should be interpreted according to the rules of that genre. In my commentary, I have given my reasons why I see it belonging in the latter category, which of course does not mean that it has nothing to teach us about the relationship of Christ and the church. Ultimately, I have not found the attempts to interpret it as an allegory convincing. The relationship between sign and thing signified sometimes seem forced in this approach, while those connections that are natural can be made from within the framework of the parallel between human marriage and the relationship of Christ and the church.
     
  27. MW

    MW Puritan Board Doctor

    To make it apply to wisdom the book would have to be interpreted allegorically because wisdom is not literally found in the book. In Proverbs 5 there is context, theme, and verbal statements which provide internal controls for understanding the referent as wisdom. There are no such controls in the Song.

    There is no "human marriage" in the Song, so again, one would be required to interpret it allegorically in order to find it there. At that point, though, one would miss the fact that the personages are idealised. Solomon is not ordinary and his relationship/s cannot be regarded as ordinary. There is a play on the name Solomon in order to give us the Shulamite. There is an endearment of the name of David in order to give us the beloved. There are continual movements from singular to plural and back again. The fact this is no ordinary relationship means the book provides no norms for an ordinary marriage. To apply it to marriage in the name of the Lord is to teach for doctrines the commandments of men. Then to apply "marriage principles" back to Christ and the church is to devise strange divinity.
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  28. Afterthought

    Afterthought Puritan Board Junior

    The Song does speak of the woman as the man's "spouse." Perhaps he simply means that the primary characters are a man and wife (not necessarily an historical marriage), and their fellowship is then used to create an allegory? James Durham notes that parables sometimes have non-historical characters, e.g., the King and his son having a banquet, but these characters are used to create an allegory for some spiritual truth.

    In his commentary (and possibly the Key too), James Durham also says that not every last detail should be interpreted as having spiritual significance, since they are simply part of making the allegorical Scripture. E.g.,

    "The expression, 'by the roes and hinds of the field,' is but added, for keeping the strain of this song (which is composed in an allegoric way, and every similitude is not to be narrowly searched into)..."
     
    Last edited: Jun 2, 2017
  29. Andrew P.C.

    Andrew P.C. Puritan Board Junior


    Right. The bigger quote is here:

     
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