Interpretation – #SoS Saturdays

This beautiful 8 chapter love song known as the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs can be interpreted in various ways. Many of these approaches hold great value. No single point of view captures all that the Song has to offer. Since the song's writing about 3,000 years ago, there have been more commentaries written about the Song that any other book of the Bible save Romans. So there are a great number of ways to approach this book and they vary greatly.

It's as though the Song were a beautiful diamond cut by a master jeweler. Each time you look at this masterwork from a different angle, you discover a new facet of its beauty.

These many interpretations fall into two major categories.

Natural interpretation

The natural interpretation sees the song as an actual account based on a historical relationship. For instance:

  1. A Shulamite maiden and King Solomon (perhaps his first love)
  2. A Shulamite maiden, her shepherd lover and King Solomon–in this case, Solomon is the antagonist.

Allegorical interpretation

In the allegorical interpretation, the characters in the story are fictional representatives of real people and places. This is by far the more common way to interpret the song. The Allegorical comes in many flavors.

Hebrew commentators approach the Song in many ways. Here are a few of the more common views:

  1. God and the Messiah
  2. God and Israel
  3. Messiah and Israel
  4. Torah and Messiah
  5. Torah and Israel

Over the centuries, the Church created its own library of interpretations.

  1. God and the Church
  2. Jesus and the Corporate Church
  3. Jesus and Mary
  4. Jesus and the individual believer
  5. Jesus and a select group of believers – this can be dangerous, and even cultic.

There are some hybrid approaches as well suggesting that the Song contains actual accounts recorded for our example. Paul, of course, tells us that all the stories from the Old Testament also serve as examples for our lives.

My approach will be allegorical. I will assume the Shepherd King represents Jesus and the Shulamite depicts an individual believer.

As we approach scripture with allegory in mind, it is important to lay down a couple rules. It's a little dangerous to approach any scripture as allegory. It's important that we proceed with caution and hold on to some interpretive hand rails.

The first of these handrails is the red letters. Jesus' word's become the plumb line by which we measure all scripture. This will ensure we are not jumping into lines of thought that will lead us astray. Jesus says this:

You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me. (John 5:349 NASB)

This approach turns the table on us, men. How often have we smugly insisted that the women in our lives suffer the indignity of being called 'Sons of God?' In the Song of Songs we get to be the bride of Christ. (I hope you can tell my tongue is firmly planted in my cheek.)

One other thing to note about this approach. While the Song is, for the most part, sequential, it is not entirely so. I have been born and raised in North America, and so I tend to think in timelines. But from what I have observed, much of Middle Eastern thought runs more like spokes and hubs. So there may be times when things seem a bit out of order, but stick with it. All will come together by the end of the Song.

It may take me some time, but if you dig into this little book, I promise you will get more out of it than you ever expected.

Come back next week and look with me at how unique this song is in so many ways.

Thanks for reading today.

See you next week.

Ben
photo credit: Tyler.Meyer via photo pin cc

 

This beautiful 8 chapter love song known as the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs can be interpreted in many ways. Many of these views hold great value. No single approach captures all that the Song has to offer. Since the song's writing about 3,000 years ago there have been more commentaries written about the Song that any other book of the Bible save Romans. So there are a great number of ways to approach this book and they vary greatly.
You might think of looking at a beautiful Jewel from a variety of angles, or on different backgrounds.

Here are a few possibilities.

Natural interpretation

An actual account based on a historical relationship. For instance:

  1. A Shulamite maiden and King Solomon (perhaps his first love)
  2. A Shulamite maiden, her shepherd lover and King Solomon (in this case Solomon is a villainous character.)

Allegorical interpretation

Here the characters in the story are fictional representatives of real persons and places. This is by far the more common way to interpret the song historically. The Allegorical view can be broken down further.

In Hebrew thought historically the Song has been approached in many ways:

  1. God and the Messiah
  2. God and Israel
  3. Messiah and Israel
  4. Torah and Messiah
  5. Torah and Israel

In the Church there have been various ways of looking at this as well.

  1. God and the Church
  2. Jesus and the Corporate Church
  3. Jesus and Mary
  4. Jesus and the individual believer
  5. Jesus and a select group of believes – this can be dangerous, and even cultic.

There are some hybrid approaches as well suggesting that the Song contains actual accounts that are written (as Paul says of all Old Testament stories) for our example that we may learn from them.

My approach will be allegorical. and I will assume the Shepherd King is Jesus and the Shulamite is every individual believer.

As we approach scripture with allegory in mind, it is important to lay down a couple rules. Much of the Bible is not intended as allegory, and it can be dangerous to go this way without some important hand rails to hold onto.

The first of these hand rails is the red letters. As you can read in the article "Why the Red Letters" Jesus' word's become the plumb line by which we compare all scripture to ensure we are not jumping into lines of thought that will lead us astray. Jesus says this:

You search the Scriptures, because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is these that bear witness of Me. (John 5:349 NASB)

My approach will be predominantly looking at the 4 option in the last set - Jesus and the individual believer.

All you women who are sick and tired of being called "sons of God" in the New Testament, take heart. All you men - get ready to learn to be a bride and wife!

One other thing to note about our approach, while the Song is for the most part sequential, it is not entirely so. I have been born and raised in North America, and so I tend to think in a linear way, but from what I have observed, much of Middle Eastern thought runs more like spokes and hubs. So there may be times when things seem a bit out of order, but stick with it. All will come together eventually.

It may take me some time, but if you dig into this little book, I promise you will get more out of it than you ever expected.

Come back next week and look with me at how unique this song is in so many ways.

Thanks for reading today. Come back next week. If this is your first SOS Saturday, check out the Why page for this theme above.

See you next week.

Ben
photo credit: Tyler.Meyer via photo pin cc

4 thoughts on “Interpretation – #SoS Saturdays

  1. Lacy

    "Much of the Bible is not intended as allegory, and it can be dangerous to go this way without some important hand rails to hold onto." I understand your reservation and yet, Paul did see much of the Bible as allegorical. Historical allegory doesn't take away from the fact that it actually happened, but that it does have a spiritual meaning that is applicable today.

    I am interested to hear you thoughts on this book. I personally believe that not understanding the law prohibits most from understanding these songs. It is why I haven't really tackled this book myself. I am still learning the law. Not that I am following it for that is impossible, but that I am working to understand its spiritual meaning as Paul said, "the law is spiritual."

    Reply
    1. Ben

      Hi Lacy,

      Thanks for your comments. You're exactly right about Paul looking at all of the Old Testament as types and shadows of spiritual truths. I believe the types and shadows we'll be examining in the Song will bless you in your endeavor to know the Lord through His word and His laws.

      Thanks for commenting - it's a great encouragement.

      Reply

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