By Sam E. Stone
Last week’s lesson from Ecclesiastes showed us how differently King Solomon viewed his life as it drew to a close. Today we see a similar contrast. Earlier he had wandered away from God, at one time having 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). In Song of Songs, he shows instead what true love between a man and his wife is like.
Some feel this is a record of Solomon’s marriage to a shepherd-maiden of northern Palestine, whom he truly loved. Others suggest that there are in reality three main characters in the book—Solomon, the Shulammite woman, and the shepherd who is her true love. This interpretation suggests that she refuses Solomon’s offer and remains devoted to the man she loves. Regardless of which view one accepts, married love is exalted and held up as the ideal.
The Hebrew title for the book is “Solomon’s Song of Songs,” suggesting it is the greatest of his songs. When we remember that Solomon wrote 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32), this makes the title all the more significant.
Love Described/Song of Songs 4:8-15
Solomon’s beloved lived in the northern part of Palestine, near the site of Mount Hermon, a land of lions’ dens and the mountain haunts of the leopards. Barnes points out the writer’s familiarity with natural scenes and objects. This poem contains the names of 18 plants and 13 animals.
“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride.” In the Middle East, young women are often referred to as “my sister,” but here Solomon adds the definitive title that can apply to only one person—my bride. He wants to be near her, protecting her from wild animals or anything else that might harm her. She has captured his heart’s affection, and he is a prisoner of his love for her. He was captivated by just one glance of her eyes. Later he extols the beauty of her eyes again (see Song of Songs 6:5).
How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! True love includes more than physical attraction. Throughout this song, such love is explained and clarified. We read, “Love is more delightful than wine” (1:2); “My lover is mine and I am his” (2:16); “Love is as strong as death” (8:6). True love is a worthy goal. How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice! Fragrances were associated with love and romance back then, even as they are today.
You are a garden locked up . . . a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain. The loveliness and purity of the bride are pictured by the image of a garden, safely enclosed so nothing evil could enter. Like the Garden of Eden, it is filled with the scent of beautiful flowers and watered by abundant streams. A similar illustration is found in Proverbs 5:15-20. The well-spring is covered with a stone (Genesis 29:3), sealed with the king’s own signet (see Daniel 6:17; Matthew 27:66). None but the rightful owner has access to this space, and the sealed fountain is protected from all impurity.
A wide variety of plant life is listed and described. Pomegranates are known for carrying many seeds, suggesting fruitfulness. Aloes were used to perfume royal nuptial robes (Psalm 45:8). You are a garden fountain . . . streaming down from Lebanon. Fresh and pure like a mountain stream is the one to whom he gives all of his love.
Some commentators also apply these descriptions of love between the bride and groom to the relationship between Christ and the church. Throughout the New Testament the illustration of a bride and her bridegroom is frequently used (see Mark 2:19, 20; John 3:29;
2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22, 23; Revelation 21:2, 9).
Love Accepted/Song of Songs 4:16
The Shulammite maiden
responds, expressing her love. Let my lover come into his garden and
taste its choice fruits. He alone will have access to her “garden.” She yields herself completely to him—and only to him (see Song of Songs 6:2, 3).
Love Experienced/Song of Songs 5:1a
In reply her lover declares, I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. Keil observes, “The plucking, eating, and drinking are only interchangeable figurative descriptions of the enjoyment of love.” The poem has a happy ending: both have found true love!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.