Solomon’s Song of Songs (1)

Preface

While it is true our days are numbered and no-one knows how many we have left, when one gets old or suffers from a terminal illness etc., the light often dawns those days are indeed few and many less than those already past. Given the inevitable physical and mental deterioration one realizes the limits of what can be done with the days left. That light has already dawned! Also what often happens is deciding what unfinished business needs completing and then to attend to it. One of the pieces of unfinished business I dearly wish to attend to is to write this book. Who will read it, I cannot say and neither can I say how excellent or helpful it will be, but what I do know is that for over fifty years I have been considering the words of Solomon’s Song of Songs and this is the time to let rip.

Some close to me will know that I have a particular fascination with the book in the Bible titled “Song of Solomon”, which I refer to as “Solomon’s Song of Songs”. It goes back to when I was a new Christian, aged 15, and being involved with a group referred to as the Plymouth Brethren. Given there was a particular fixation on focusing on the glories of Christ, especially during its regular, Sunday morning, open Breaking of meetings, this book, for reasons I hope will become apparent, provided rich pickings as one or other brother reflected on some aspect of Christ’s character in order to edify the others. I can remember, for example, one brother talking about the passage where the lover is described as “white”, “ruddy” and “outstanding” and, rightly in my view, relating this to Christ.

Ever since that time, I often found myself returning to the Song (and it isn’t all that long – just eight short chapters and 117 verses), especially when I had the opportunity to preach, right up to now, fifty years later. I decided one of the projects I would like to undertake, maybe as long ago as twenty-five years back, is to do a thorough study of the Song of Solomon and then write my own commentary. During that period, I did serious study and attempted to get going, and even published stuff sharing some of my reflections (and which are available on my website) but I always knew there was a lot more I needed to do to complete the project.

In one of my early attempts at writing, I decided to produce my commentary in two parts. The first part I subtitled “Fired up” and was looking at the bigger picture such as background and interpretive framework, and the main themes of the Song. The second part I subtitled “Pure Intimacy” and was meant as a verse by verse examination of the Song itself. I managed to write and publish Part 1 but not Part 2, something I am intending to remedy now. It strikes me now that not only does Fired up and Pure Intimacy encapsulate some of the key themes of the Song, these are pertinent to today’s culture, including among Christians, where half-heartedness has replaced being fired up and impure intimacy has replaced pure intimacy. Knowing these things especially marks out the Song as something that warrants a more in-depth study.

Another important theme of the Song, and one that is quite obvious when you think about it, is the subject of Love. Here I confess to a certain reticence given many elements in the church point to this as the main and over-riding theme in Christian doctrine whereas it seems to me that subjects like sin, judgement and righteousness are just as important and you can’t have one without the other. Which reminds me of a song that states love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. While it is unclear in the Song whether marriage took place, it is clear that correct doctrine would lead one to the view that love described in the Song can only be carried out in physical terms when the couple involved are married to each other.

This brings me to another essential point that we cannot get away from. Going back to the creation story when marriage was introduced: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” Genesis 2:24, it is quite evident that we have deviated big time from this ideal and we are all affected in one way or another:

  1. While not an issue in western culture, from  early on it was not uncommon for a man to have more than wife. Not only was the subject of the Song a polygamist, but so were the likes of Abraham (a friend of God) and David (a man after God’s own heart).
  2. While marriage is never easy and many marriages are a far cry from the sort of relationship we read about in the Song, the widespread incidents of divorce, often resulting in marrying other partners, is something we now take for granted.
  3. While it has gone on from time immemorial we are also seeing many instances of people looking to find sexual fulfilment in all sorts of ways outside of marriage, including most recently through the medium of Internet pornography.
  4. While a few years ago, sexual relationships between members of the same sex was  disapproved off or worse, we are now in a paradigm where same sex relationships are seen as right and proper and members of the same sex can marry each other

All the above subjects merit lengthy examination, but it won’t happen in this book. My contention is that while we need to handle these crucial subjects sensitively, none of the above was ever what God intended. But what the Song does demonstrate is love and marriage in the way that God did intend, and still does.

Since the Song was written, getting on for three thousand years ago, there would have been well over a thousand commentaries written, covering a wide range of perspectives and interpretations, often quite different and more so it seems than with most other books of the Bible, with many valid and many fanciful, a good number still accessible in archives etc. Amazingly, in every period since the Song appeared, people have offered profound insights as to what was going on and its significance, spiritual and otherwise, and it would have been good to have found out more. Then there is the issue of the cultural setting in which the Song was written and trying to understand the significance of the rich imagery that was used, as well as the language used. While it may surprise some, there is indication that this Song has inspired many down the ages, ranging from medieval mystics wanting to relate more closely with the divine, seventeenth century Covenanters meeting in secret in Scottish glens who, like their twentieth century Chinese brethren, were subject to severe State led persecution, but both finding comfort and inspiration in the words of this Song.

Given there is enough work here for at least one PhD thesis, given the research needed fo come up with a fully rounded comprehensive view, and my time is short, it is one project I must leave for someone else. While undertaking such a project is not going to be one of the things I will do before I die, writing down some simple yet profound thoughts based on the Song’s contents is something I intend to do in order to encourage others, and with God’s help that is what is I will do. While not attempting the definitive interpretation of this wonderful Song, and gaps are inevitable, I will be sharing some amazing stuff that over the years have blessed me and I have sought to pass on what I have discovered in order that it might bless others.

As far as I am concerned, there are many stand out verses in the Song of Songs that have encouraged me over the years and I would like to share my insights here. Consider the three times, with various transposing of words, the phrase “I am my beloved and my beloved is mine” appears. One can spend many a fruitful hour meditating on this verse alone as we consider our relationship with our heavenly lover and worship our God, and there are many other verses that give much the same effect, but more on these later. I hope readers, including those who are consigned to live a single life, will be drawn to examine the Song for themselves and, importantly, experience themselves the same sort of love that the Song talks about.

As I wrap up this section, it occurs there are two random shareworthy thoughts that are pertinent. I have been long aware of another item of Solomon’s wisdom that says “of making many books there is no end”. Moreover, in our present day culture, people tend not to read other than sound bites and the easy stuff, meaning countless folk who write something they consider profound and meriting attention are disappointed. Long ago I realised the need not to have delusions of grandeur on this score such that as I write it is not clear whether I cough up the expense up front and self publish or use the medium of the world wide web so any who wish can read what I wrote and not have to pay. My point though is that this is indeed the culmination of a life times journey, often with many ups and downs, failures and disappointments en route, but as I come to the end it is quite clear there is a right way to travel and that involves journeying with my own companion from heaven, and I want the world to know. As for readership, who can tell? But since a lot of what I wrote came together in my regular trips to India, where I have many family and friends, who have over the years showed me much kindness, and despite faults and limitations, many deeply love the Lord Jesus Christ and I want to encourage them, especially so they can share something precious to a world that desperately needs to know him. It is to such I especially dedicate this work.

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