The Song of Solomon (Song of Songs) doesn’t mention God and seems to mainly discuss romantic love. Why is it in the Bible? What are Christians to learn from it?
Let’s take a brief look at what many would consider one of the least read and most obscure books in the Bible, the Song of Solomon or Song of Songs. We’ll see that it is actually a fascinating and meaningful book.
Facts about the Song of Solomon
Here are a few facts about the book:
- It was written by King Solomon (probably before his love for “many foreign women” led him astray, 1 Kings 11:1).
- It is also referred to as the Song of Songs or Canticles.
- God is not mentioned once in the book.
- It contains explicit references to sexuality.
- It has historically been associated with the Passover festival and read at that season.
Perhaps at this point you might be thinking that such a book has no place in the Bible. There have been many people throughout history who have thought this way. Even today, it is rarely read and rarely quoted in sermons in most churches.
Support for the Song of Solomon
On the other hand, some have gone to the other extreme in singing the book’s praises. Rabbi Akiba, one of Judaism’s greatest scholars, wrote that if the other books of the Bible are holy, the Song of Songs is “holy of holies” (Megillah 7a). He also stated that “the world attained its supreme value only on the day when the Song of Songs was given to Israel” (Yadayim iii. 5).
The Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary points out that the basis for including the Song of Solomon in the Bible is solid: “Its canonicity is certain: it is found in all Hebrew [manuscripts] of Scripture; also in the Greek [Septuagint]; in the catalogs of Melito, bishop of Sardis, A.D. 170 (Eusebius, H.E., iv, 26), and of others of the ancient Church” (1962, p. 488).
The Song of Solomon’s acceptance as Scripture is well documented.
Summary of the Song of Solomon
Why did God inspire this book and what are the lessons we can learn from it that will be useful to us today?
One of the challenges in properly understanding the meaning of this book is that it is difficult to tell who is speaking to whom throughout the book. Various Bible editions and study aids have attempted to identify the speakers of the dialogues by inserting subheadings throughout the book. However, in the actual text, there are no such delineations made. We must deduce the speakers from the actual context.
Common modern divisions usually have two main characters, the male bridegroom/husband and the female bride/wife (along with choruses of the daughters of Jerusalem and the young woman’s brothers).
The book depicts the young Shulamite woman anticipating being with her husband-to-be and the joy of her wedding and time of intimacy, which followed the marriage. The bridegroom is, according to some commentators, King Solomon, the only man explicitly named in the book.
However, the Jewish Soncino Commentary lists another main character: a shepherd, whom she loved dearly and from whom she was taken, on account of her beauty, and brought to Solomon’s palace. According to this interpretation, she resisted all attempts to make her Solomon’s and was finally allowed to return to her true love.
Some of the older Jewish commentaries, such as the seventh-century midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah, understood the story as relating to the spiritual marriage of God to ancient Israel, while others apparently favored a more literal and less allegorical reading of the book. The Mishnah records a controversy about whether or not the Song of Songs “renders the hands unclean,” presumably because some viewed it as being too erotic to be read with the literal meaning, rather than with the allegorical meaning (Yadayim iii. 4).
Two major themes
There are two major themes in this remarkable book that fully justify its inclusion in the Holy Scriptures and make it valuable to study today.
1. The entire book upholds the value of moral purity.
True love, as defined by God, never compromises with God’s moral law, for any reason, under any circumstances.True love, as defined by God, never compromises with God’s moral law, for any reason, under any circumstances. This book and the entire Bible make it very clear that men and women are to keep themselves morally pure for marriage. It is an act of loyalty to a future mate—even before we know who that mate will be—to remain sexually pure.
The apostle Paul makes this point clear when he writes in a letter to the church at Corinth: “Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit [which] is in you, [which] you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:18-20).
Paul also explains that God did not make the body for sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 6:13). It is a misuse of the body to be involved in any sexual activity outside the bond of marriage.
When we buy a new appliance or computer, there generally is a book of instructions that comes along with the item. For example, a new lawn mower’s operating instructions might say, “Not for use in water.” We could ignore those instructions and try to cut the weeds out of the edge of a pond or lake, only to discover the hard way that the lawn mower will not operate correctly in water.
In the same way, God inspired His instruction book to tell us that He did not make the human body for sexual immorality. We can ignore those instructions, but there is a great price to pay—so say the Scriptures.
The Soncino Commentary explains: “Love transfigures and hallows, but it is a boon that requires zealously to be guarded and sheltered from abuse. This Book pictures love as a reward enjoyed only by the pure and simple, a joy not experienced by the pleasure-seeking monarch and the indolent ladies of his court. It is a joy reserved for the loyal and the constant, and is denied to the sensual and dissolute” (Dr. A. Cohen, The Five Megilloth, 1975, “Introduction to Song of Songs”).
2. The book depicts the beauty of sexual intimacy in marriage.
There are many who have taught, and even today teach, that sex is sin. The Bible doesn’t teach any such thing. Sex is a gift of God, a pleasurable part of the marriage relationship that has the blessing of the Creator when appropriately enjoyed within the confines of marriage. The Word of God defines marriage as being between one man and one woman (Matthew 19:5-6).
When the first man, Adam, and his wife, Eve, were created, Almighty God placed them alone in the Garden of Eden, where “they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Genesis 2:25). When God had created Eve as a helper to the man, He brought her to him, and expressed His approval of the sexual aspect of their relationship within marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (verse 24).
Part of the beauty and charm of this book stems from the fact that it is not about sexual love in isolation from the other forms of love. Note that the man refers to his bride as “my sister, my spouse” (Song of Solomon 4:9, 12; 5:1). His love for her was not only sexual, but it also included the family type of affection expressed in the term of endearment “my sister.”
Within this framework of sexual love expressed only in marriage, in a caring, loving and unselfish manner, the Song of Solomon includes some explicit language that explores the pleasurable aspects of sexual affection. The book is full of metaphors such as myrrh, spices, wine and honeycomb, wording that hints gently at erotic love, as well as some more explicit language, especially toward the end of the book.
Much more to learn
We are just scratching the surface of the meaningful and helpful lessons we can learn from the eight short chapters in the Song of Solomon, a book that extolls the beauty of sexual pleasure within marriage, as well as the importance of abstaining from sex outside of the sacred bonds of marriage.
Hopefully this will serve to inspire you to read and study this book and all the books in the Bible for the many wonderful truths they contain.
You can find helpful related articles in the “How to Have a Happy Marriage” section of this website.
For a quick link to all the other books of the Bible, see “Books of the Bible” on the Learning Center.