If we are to get anywhere in understanding the Song of Songs (as I shall from now on designate it) we must be perfectly candid and avoid the kind of Indo-European prudery that has sealed up its deeper meaning. And we must begin by saying that this piece of scripture is, in its essence, a piece of erotic poetry. If we fail to see the obvious p'shat (plain sense) we shall inevitably also miss its deeper esoteric meanings.
I began the previous chapter by following in the steps of most commentators who lance Solomonic authorship of the Book for the very reason that the author takes such a comical and scornful look at himself. "Would a King have gone out of his way to present himself as a fool?" is the usual retort. But such criticisms do little justice to the breadth of knowledge, experience and whit of the philosopher-king. Solomon, for all his subsequent faults, was not only a wise man but also a poet and a philosopher. George M. Lamsa writes:
The author of the Song of Songs is clearly no ordinary man and dating usually places the book within Solomon's reign (10th century BC). Its internal consistency of style, language, tone, perspective and recurring refrains provide compelling evidence for a single author. If the author is not Solomon, then we are dealing with a pseudepigraph or a targum, examples of which are otherwise only to be found in extra-biblical collections, and then only much later in history (the inter-testamental and immediate post-NT periods). Solomon is not only referred to seven times in the text (1:1,5; 3:7,9,11; 8:11-12) but the opening verse claims him as author. In the view of this writer, the author is most certainly King Solomon, as is the opinion of most Rabbis (though some claim Isaiah).
He was a lover of nature and a born poet. The author of the book is familiar with the beauty of the land in northern Israel and Lebanon. That is why he mentions Tirza, Carmel, and Lebanon. Lebanon is one of the most beautiful lands in the world. The country is graced with fertile valleys, lush fields, trees, vines, and cedars. Streams and brooks are also abundant. The region of Tirza and Galillee is also beautiful and prolific when compared to the stoney land of Judah.
The book is rich in poetic philosophy in which deep and sincere love is generously and vividly expressed (George M. Lamsa, Old Testament Light, 1964, Holman Bible Publishers, Nashville, p.603).
The caption, Sheer haSheereem ("Song of Songs") (SS 1:1) is well deserved for its style and beauty have never been surpassed - it is a song of "peculiar excellence", the "greatest of songs" (cp. Dt.10:17, "Elohim (God) of elohim (gods) and Lord or lords"; 1 Tim.6:15, "King of kings"). It was, moreover, written by a polygamist.
Polygamists tend to be a little wary of Solomon because of his great fall. Not only did he ignore the Mosaic injunction not to multiple wives excessively but ended up marrying pagan women who led his heart astray from true Yahweh-worship.
One thing we can be sure about is that the Song of Songs was not written in Solomon's old age for he had by this time 300 wives and 700 concubines, 1,000 women in all. At the time the Song was written we observe that he had 'only' 60 wives and 80 concubines. The Song almost certainly celebrates a marriage, whether between Solomon and the daughter or Pharaoh, or between him and some Judahite princess (I tend to the latter belief), it cannot be determined for sure. That the Song was written in his youth is most clearly evidenced by the high and glowing colouring and the strength of the images. These are the writings of a man in full bloom and at the peak of passion.
Why was the Song written in the first place? And what kind of writing is it? Is it a collection of Odes or Idylls, Pastorals, an Epithalamium? Probably none of these. It reads more like a mask, perhaps an entertainment for guests at a wedding ceremony, with a dramatic cast throughout the whole. But note that the persons who speak and act are never formally introduced. I suspect myself that Solomon wrote this with a view to its being read only by his family circle.
What is the purpose of the Song? Is it, as some commentators insist, intended to display the victory of humble and constant love over the temptations of wealth and royalty? The tempter, they claim, is Solomon himself: the object of his seductive endeavours is a Shulamite shepherdess who, surrounded by the glories of the court, pines for the shepherd lover from she has been involuntarily separated. As such, the moral would be obvious.
If we begin here at this very simple and obvious p'shat level we shall not go far wrong. Naturally, there is much more than this. However, let us not get sidetracked into the esoterica until we have clearly understood the very plain exoteric meaning.
If this scenario is true, then we have the very interesting situation of a paramour, Solomon, who has abused his power in his attempt to add to an already over-sized harem. Moreover, he understands exactly what is going on. He realises he has lost and makes sure that posterity has a record of kingly abuse so as not to imitate it. In this respect it would be very much like the book of Ecclesiastes in which Solomon identifies life's great enigma - man himself. And as he discovers therein that human wisdom has limits, so in the Song it could be said that he discovers that royal power and wealth are never enough to conquer a heart that is true.
Solomon might then be said to be a true Shakespeare, able to inject himself into different personalities, even his supposed romatic rival, the humble shepherd, something he never was in real life but which was his inheritance through his father David. No, I am persuaded the more I read Song that Solomon is truly the author, but I am not convinced that this is a story of romantic rivalry in which Solomon is wise enough to recognise his own defeat and is modest enough to mock himself.
This is altogether too complex and is reading more into the text than is actually there. We must not allow our fantasy to get the better of us as perhaps we might be tempted if, for instance, we are grinding a doctrinal axe. One commentator goes so far as to conclude that the Song is the story of Solomon's first love and exalts the the text as a eulogy to monogamy. Showing clearly his bias, he writes:
There is truth mixed with falsehood in this statement. Whilst it is true Solomon made many political marriages to pagan women contrary to the Torah (Law), and whilst it is also true that he multiplied women to excess, there is no scriptural evidence that he ever betrayed his first young bride or that polygyny is in someway sinful. The author, who is in the monogamy-only camp, has naturally had his views tainted by his false views on divine polygyny.
"Regrettably, Solomon was not content with his first love, evidently consummated very soon after he became king. For political reasons, he also "took Pharaoh's daughter, and brought her into the city of David" (1 Ki.3.1), and then eventually "loved many strange women" (1 Ki.11:1), who turned his heart away not only from his first young bride but from the Lord Himself" (Henry M. Morris, The Defender's Study Bible, World Publishing, Grand Rapids, MI, USA, 1995, p.712).
We must take the Davar Elohim (Word of God) as it is and not as we would like it to be. Neither can we afford to allow our cultural prejudices to distort our intepretation of the Davar Elohim (Word of God). On the p'shat level this is an erotic romantic story about Solomon and one of his love-sick wives. Whether it was his first wife is hard to say, though it is certainly possible - certainly he was a young man. His love of the pastoral environment, in spite of his being born in the Jerusalem court with a silver spoon in his mouth, would be consistent with his upbringing by his shepherd-king father, David, and this would account for how he met his Shulamite bride in the countryside. If we start here we shall certainly not go far wrong.
But the Song is not just a narrative of one of Solomon's romances - we can expect much more than that of such a great philosopher-king. It is not for nothing that he is called the qoholeth ("teacher of wisdom") in Ecclesiastes 12:9.
The Song of Songs has nothing random about it - it is not something just thrown out of the writer's fanatasy fuelled by burning love. It is, of course, possible, that Solomon wrote the Song later in life or wrote it when he was young and then later adapted it by rewriting it with a deep esoteric meaning in mind. It has a deliberate structure consisting of 8 sections, acts, scenes or chapters. We would do well to remember that in biblical numerology that the number 8 stands for resurrection, which is a compound of 7 (completion) and 1 (newness).