Welcome to BibleBum where we are exploring the entire Bible in one year to better learn how to follow God’s instructions and discover the purpose for our lives. The BibleBum blog uses The One Year Chronological Bible, the New Living Translation version. At the end of each day’s reading, Rob, a cultural history aficionado and seminary graduate, answers questions from Leigh An, the blogger host, about the daily scripture. To start from the beginning, click on “Index” and select Day 1.
Song of Solomon 1-8
Questions & Observations
Q. I can’t help asking what the purpose of this song is? One footnote said something about the man and woman’s relationship being an allegory to God and the church. But, why use such intimate or sexual language?
A. That’s life. Despite our modern Puritan almost obsession with not talking about sexuality in healthy terms — we discuss it plenty in unhealthy terms — the Bible does not shy away from talking about healthy sexuality between a (married) man and woman. Song of Solomon presents sexuality as God desires it. This offends our modern sensibilities that say you don’t talk about such things — there was some of this in Jewish culture as well: Jewish children weren’t allowed to read/hear this book until they had reached a certain age — but there is no reason that the love between this man and woman cannot be shared for our benefit. No doubt it is a unique book in the canon, but I for one think the Bible is better for having it than not. Regarding the idea that it’s not talking about human sexuality (i.e. its really about God and church), that idea is usually presented from people who don’t really want the Bible to discuss sexuality, frankly, in positive terms. The idea that the explicit descriptions of sexual adventures are somehow metaphor is a bit ridiculous to me.
Q. Then, let’s talk about the characters. The man is Solomon? And, the woman strongly desires Solomon and he desires her? What role do the Women of Jerusalem have? Just to elevate his attractiveness by them talking about him?
A. The text appears to discuss Solomon and one of his (many) wives — there might be portions of the text that discuss their courtship before they are married — but the general consensus is that it is talking about their married romantic relationship. The women appear to fill the role of “chorus” in Greek drama- as some sort of narrator who “responds” to the story.
Q. (Song of Songs 1:5): Why mention her dark skin? It sounds like that it’s something he desires and that he may like the fact that she works the fields?
A. She is concerned about it because in those days, many with dark skin got it from working out in the sun, which she thinks makes her less desirable. Generally, only the wealthy, who didn’t have to work, were pail, which made pail skin more desirable in that society. Little does she know that he apparently likes her that way.
Q. (1:7): It seems that the woman is doing most of the chasing here.
A. She’s looking for him, no doubt.
Q. (1:17): There are a lot of references to scents and vegetation. Why?
A. Most of the pleasant smells and scents came from natural extracts came from flowers, plants, or other vegetation. In a society without regular bathing or deodorant, it makes sense that such good smells would be highly desirable.
Q. (2:7, 3:5): This is a refrain? I do like the reference to not awakening love until it’s ready. I don’t know if “the time is right” means age-wise or just couples spending enough time together until they are sure of their love? Of course, waiting for the right person to come along is so hard for many because of loneliness, sexual desires, self-esteem, etc. So, this is a wise verse to wait for the right person to come along to marry. If not, it can give you loads of heartache and disappointment. I can wait a very long time to see my kids go through that!
A. The idea of when “the time was right” would have been very different in that society than in ours. Women got married in their late teens in ancient society, and women today average 29 years old for their first marriage. That’s a 10-year difference.
But regardless of the “drawbacks” of waiting, the advice is sound: this entire book points to the passion found in true love. If the man and woman didn’t really love each other, most of the emotional effect would have been lost.
Q. (3:1-4): It seems the woman is doing most of the chasing. This indicates how desirable Solomon was?
A. Sure, he was the king, and apparently handsome.
Q. (6:11-12): I don’t understand this, do you?
A. Nope. This is the most obscure set of verses in the text, and no one really knows what it means.
Q. (7:10-13): Is checking the vegetation a symbol used to describe if the lovers are ready to bloom and be together?
A. Nope. It’s a bit more explicit than that. It’s a double entendre that is used by the woman both to describe both their meeting place — in a garden — and her, um, personal garden. Aren’t you glad you know that now?
Q. (8:12): What is the woman saying here about caring for its vines?
A. We don’t really know. There are a number of verses of this text where the meanings are simply lost to history.