Ecclesiastes/Song of Solomon

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Sex, Love, and Allegory

Aug 6, 2001
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The Bottom Line: Study is driven and intense. Allow you to penetrate the work and not be led along.


Introduction
This epinion is for half of the bible study above, specifically Song of Solomon or Song of Songs. I have not yet studied Ecclesiastes and cannot comment on my gleanings from the study. Below is my interpretation of Song of Songs after using "Ecclesiastes & Song of Solomon" to study the Bible's most controversial book!

Song of Songs is one of the most interesting and yet controversial books in the Old Testament. It's controversy is more likely than not based on society's tendency to keep love and sex inside the home. Not many people are comfortable talking about it outside the bedroom. However, that is no reason to shun the book. Song of Songs is very valuable to society, especially to married couples as well as the church. In fact, if everyone were to take the time to study the book and truly give it a chance, it is highly probable that they will see its outstanding value. So what is the value of Songs of Songs? Well that really depends on how one reads and understands the book. There are many different approaches to Song of Songs, four of which are; allegorical, cult drama, dramatic, and literal.

The allegorical view of Song of Songs has both Jewish and Christian levels of interpretation. In the Jewish interpretation, the male figure is said to represent Yahweh, while the female character is said to represent the nation of Israel. With this in mind, the song follows the history of Yahweh's passion for His people from the christening of Jacob (Israel) to the coming of the Messiah. The Christian level of interpretation is not much different. Here the male figure is representative of Jesus and the female figure is representative of the Church or the individual. The key thing to remember if using this approach is that everyone will not hold the same understanding of the book, therefore in a way, making no right or wrong interpretation.

The cult drama approach, probably the weakest of the four approaches, claims that the book was transformed from pagan rituals to fit the concept and usage of Yahweh. However, while there are a few small parallels to pagan liturgies, there is no evidence to support the idea that the book was adapted from an earlier cultic setting. On top of that, the parallels to pagan rituals can be explained by the incorporation of pagan words and phrases into the "love language" of Israel. This theory is only hypothetical, there is not really any significant evidence for such an interpretation. In fact, this view will get someone no where if they are attempting to understand the meaning of the text.

The dramatic approach, which came into consideration during the early 19th century, explains the book as a staged drama or reading. Under this idea, there are two logical casting ideas. In the first casting, the characters include: the king, the maiden, and the chorus. Together they celebrate the joys of married life. In the second casting, the characters include: the king, the woman, her shepherd lover, and the chorus. Here the king is cast as a villain, attempting to capture the woman's eye. She, however, stands by her man in an act of true love. The problem with this approach is that scholars have not been able in determine exactly how many characters there are, and scholars have been known to rearrange the text to fit their hypotheses.

The fourth approach, literal, takes the book just as it is, a collection of Israelite love poetry. Some scholars have even pondered whether or not these poems were originally used in weddings. This is debatable, perhaps a honeymoon setting would be more appropriately understood. Of course, of all the approaches to the book, this is the simplest. However, it still does not explain the book as a whole, especially its structure. How does this theory explain the last chapter? It doesn't, and it can't.

Of the four approaches discussed above, the allegorical approach seems to be the most logical. As previously stated, the allegorical view of Song of Songs has both Jewish and Christian levels of interpretation. The Jewish version focuses on God as the male figure and the nation of Israel as the woman figure. Similarly, the Christian interpretation identifies Jesus Christ as the male figure and the Church or the individual as the female figure. This idea reoccurs throughout the scriptures. For example, in Hosea 1-3, the story of Gomer, there are overtones of a marriage relationship between God and Israel. Later in the New Testament, the idea of Jesus as a bride-groom and the Church as His bride comes to surface. For example, Ephesians 5:22-33 compares how a husband and his wife should treat each other to how Jesus and His Church treat each other. The idea surfaces again in Revelation 18:23. In fact, there are more examples of this marriage relationship theme throughout the Old and New Testaments.

Another fact about Song of Songs is that the male figure is called both king (1: 2-4) and shepherd (1:7-8). Now on a topical level everyone knows that a king would probably not be found out among dirty, smelly sheep. However, one must keep in mind that David was a shepherd boy and king. Yet, supposedly, Solomon wrote the book and knowing his love for women, treasures, and wisdom, it is highly unlikely that he ever took a break from it all out on the plains as his father might have done. Again the allegorical approach comes to the rescue. Once again, the male figure represents the Messiah, Jesus. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus makes connotations that he is a shepherd. For example, according to the Gospel of John, Jesus tells Peter to "Feed my lambs, . . . tend my sheep, . . . [and] Feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17). Also, throughout the gospels Jesus commands certain individuals to "follow me." Sheep are notorious for loyally following their master wherever he goes, this is what Jesus desires from his flock as well. With these factors in mind, the allegorical approach is a very strong argument. It has the potential of turning lives around and bringing revival to churches and marriages all around the world.

Even through the best way to view Song of Songs is through the allegorical approach, one must never lose sight of the awesome power of the literal story. If the love of God for Israel and the passion of Jesus for His Church can be placed into a marriage setting, who knows what will happen. Perhaps in America the best thing married couples can do for themselves is read Song of Songs together. The words of the book are not meant to be in a porn magazine, or to be the cause for junior high boys' chuckle time, they are meant to be private, personal, passionate, and loving. They are meant to be enjoyed, because God created marriage and sex for man's enjoyment. There is nothing wrong for man to compose a few verses celebrating those gifts. Perhaps if everyone took on the attitude of the author of Song of Songs toward passion, sex would be taken off TV and put back into marriages where it belongs.


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