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Sunday, October 11, 2009

What was Solomon singing about?

My daily Bible reading (see here) goes through the entire Protestant scripture in a year. So, it goes through the Song of Solomon. (Also known as the Song of Songs, Canticles, and probably by other names.) I read it this year. I've read it a number of times. I decided that it was time for me to do some musing about this book.

There is a classic idea about what the book is about. Matthew Henry's commentary says :". . . here is not the name of God in it; it is never quoted in the New Testament; we find not in it any expressions of natural religion or pious devotion, no, nor is it introduced by vision, or any of the marks of immediate revelation." Henry went on to give his interpretation, namely that the book is a ". . . nuptial song, wherein, by the expressions of love between a bridegroom and his bride, are set forth and illustrated the mutual affections that pass between God and a distinguished remnant of mankind." Henry believed that it originally portrayed the relationship between God and Israel, and now portrays that between God and the church. Robert Jamieson, in his commentary, agreed with Henry on the value and purpose of the book. John Wesley also agreed. The Wikipedia article on the book indicates that this idea goes back at least to Origen. It also says that the New Testament shows some influence from the book.

My source for John Calvin's commentaries indicates that Calvin didn't prepare a commentary on this book (or on a few others from the Old Testament.)

Is the view of Origen, Henry, Jamieson and Wesley tenable? Well, maybe.

However, the author of the introduction to the Song of Songs in the New International Version Study Bible (Grand  Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2005 -- the contributor was probably John H. Stek) believes that the book is love poetry, erotic love poetry. There is some evidence for that. For one thing, some or all of the commentators mentioned above say that the Israelites weren't supposed to read the book before they were 30 years old -- it mentions "breast" several times, and, taken literally, seems to be about a relationship including sexual activity. If so, fine. After all, God invented erotic love.

The book of Ezekiel, Chapter 23, speaks of God's relationship to the Israelites, using a marital relationship, including erotic love, as a symbol of God's love.

Thanks for reading.

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