SOURCE FOR QUESTIONS
Song of Solomon 1:1 through 8:14
KEY VERSE FOR MEMORIZATION
“He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” (Song of Solomon 2:4)
The Song of Solomon is a poetic work with romantic love as its theme. Perhaps the most enigmatic book in the Bible, it contains no direct reference to God or religion. However, since we know that all Scripture is given by the inspiration of God and is profitable for us (see 2 Timothy 3:16), this book’s inclusion in the Word of God is no accident.
Commentators offer a wide variety of interpretations of the Song of Solomon. It has been viewed as an allegory, a typification of the love of Christ for the Church, a collection of Hebrew love lyrics, and a factual narrative. (See the Song of Solomon Overview for a more detailed description of the various interpretations.)
Along with many holiness scholars, we have chosen to regard the book as a factual narrative. Adam Clarke suggests that the plot concerns Solomon and his bride, who was the daughter of Pharoah; this interpretation provides a framework for the passages which present intimate details of the physical relationship between a husband and his wife. Another prominent holiness commentary views the narrative as a description of Solomon’s love for a Shulamite maiden who had already given her heart to a young shepherd. In this approach, the intimate passages are part of the Shulamite’s dreams of her beloved. This approach is the one used in the outline presented in Daybreak and Discovery. However, in view of the wide range of explanations of this book, we do not take a fixed position as to its interpretation.
Understanding the book is made even more complex due to the absence of indicators within the text as to who is speaking. Depending upon whom the passage is ascribed to, the interpretation of many passages can be quite diverse. In addition, the extravagant language and imagery within the Song of Solomon comes from another culture and era, and agricultural and botanical comparisons are frequent. Overall, ancient Eastern phraseology can be challenging for contemporary minds to grasp.
Difficulties notwithstanding, the Song of Solomon offers a beautifully descriptive celebration of love, marriage, and the physical relationship between a man and a woman. In our society, human sexuality frequently is exploited in books, movies, and advertising. Sexual relationships are regarded as temporary and are often based on personal gratification. By contrast, the relationship portrayed in the Song of Solomon is one of fidelity, self-giving, and bonding. There is much to be learned and understood in a study of this book.
SUGGESTED RESPONSES TO QUESTIONS
- There are many comparisons in the Song of Solomon which describe love, including those in chapter 1. To begin our overview of this book, how would you summarize the nature of love within the context of God’s plan for marriage?
Class discussion of this question should bring out that the love between a husband and wife is to be a deep, committed bond and lasting intimacy that is compared in God’s Word to the relationship between Christ and His Church. We can enjoy and appreciate love because God created it as a gift for us. Your students’ comments will establish the basis for your study of this book with its portrayal of intimate love.
As an interesting follow-up, you might ask your group to mentally compose a metaphor or descriptive comparison of what love is like. You may have one or two in your group who are willing to share with the class what they came up with, but unless you have an exceptionally creative group, they will find it is not easy to frame word pictures that adequately portray the nature of love. Attempting to do so may give them a new appreciation for the lyrical descriptions found in these eight chapters!
- In verse 3 of chapter 1, the Shulamite refers to her beloved, saying, “Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth.” Like many statements in the Song of Solomon, her words could be interpreted in a number of ways. What message or attitude of heart do you think she might have been conveying?
Your class should conclude that the very name of the Shulamite’s beloved was precious to her, and sweeter than the most costly of perfumes. Point out to your class that ointments and perfumes, which were compounds of expensive and fragrant ingredients, were very significant in Solomon’s culture; they frequently had a role in entertainment and symbolic rituals such as the anointing of kings and priests. The woman may have been intimating that the sweet and costly perfume represented the precious qualities that were so attractive in her beloved’s character.
You could expand this thought by bringing out that names carry impressions. What comes to mind when you hear the name of the president, a heroic individual in history, or a sports or entertainment star in our day? Often, our initial thought or impression is an indication of the actions and character of the person named. One conclusion that can be drawn from the Shulamite’s statement is that her beloved was known for his exceptional character. Ask your group what role character and integrity play in a successful love/marriage relationship.
- Many of the passages in Song of Solomon employ images and descriptions that were extravagantly complimentary. What are some of the word pictures given in Song of Solomon 1:9-17; 2:1-3? What part do words of praise and appreciation play in building a successful relationship?
Images employed in these verses include:
● A company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots (chapter 1, verse 9)
● A bundle of myrrh (verse 13)
● A cluster of camphire (a flowering plant, probably henna) in the vineyards (verse 14)
● Dove’s eyes (verse 15)
● The rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys (chapter 2, verse 1)
● A lily among thorns (verse 2)
● An apple tree among the trees of the wood (verse 3)
While the specific comparisons in these verses might not be considered complimentary in our day, the point is that praise and appreciation are valuable tools in building a successful relationship. This is especially true in a marriage. When we offer compliments and words of appreciation to our spouse, his/her self-confidence is increased and the bond between us is strengthened.
It is important for compliments to be sincere and honest. When they are not, they are simply flattery, which is untrue or insincere praise. Flattery is usually viewed negatively and is often perceived as being manipulative. Our words of appreciation and praise should be motivated by a desire to please our spouse, rather than to gain something for ourselves.
- While many of the verbal exchanges in the Song of Solomon allude to physical intimacy, a contrasting message occurs in Song of Solomon 3:5. What behavior does this passage enjoin?
This verse points to the necessity of physical restraint. It is interesting to note that the injunction not to arouse or awaken love occurs four times within this short book. While the love between man and wife should be unrestrained and unashamed, love must only be aroused at the time and under the circumstances prescribed by God. Restraint is to be exercised by those outside of the bonds of marriage.
Depending upon the age and marital status of those in your class, this may be a good opportunity to point out that God intends that His children walk in sexual purity and victory. As holy people who have dedicated ourselves completely to God, we must follow the directives of Scripture. For married individuals, that means to be faithful to our spouses. For unmarried individuals, that means to avoid situations that might lead to a compromise of our integrity and physical purity, and to ask the Spirit of God to help us establish appropriate boundaries and guidelines for behavior in our relationships.
- In Song of Solomon 4:12, Solomon referred to the Shulamite maiden as “a garden enclosed,” and “a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.” Bible scholars agree that this passage was an affirmation of the maiden’s purity. While virginity is considered out-of-date in today’s culture, it has always been God’s plan for those who are unmarried. What impact can moral integrity have when it comes to our Christian testimony?
A blameless, holy life will shine as a light in this dark world. Our associates can tell our moral principles by the way we live. Holding to Scripturally ordained moral boundaries could make or break the credibility of our testimonies. A moral failure could cause our Christian witness to be of no account or even a reproach.
- In response to the question posed in Song of Solomon 5:9, “What is thy beloved more than another beloved?” the Shulamite described the man she loved. She ended that description by saying, “This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Song of Solomon 5:16). Why is friendship such an important element in a courtship and then in a healthy marriage?
Open your class discussion of this question by asking your group to describe the qualities that make a good friendship. They should conclude that friendship involves respect, shared commitment, mutual trust, effective communication, support of one another, caring consideration, faithfulness, and a whole range of other attributes.
Ultimately, these behaviors will provide a solid foundation for a good marriage if and when the relationship grows and blossoms into love. Romantic ardor and feelings of love are wonderful and necessary in a healthy marriage, but it is important that the two individuals are also best friends. The intense emotions of romantic love may fade somewhat once the ongoing realities and challenges of everyday life set in. Differences between husband and wife will occur in every marriage. There are adjustments to make, and situations that come our way to try us. However, a marriage that is built on and supported by a strong friendship between the two individuals will have a much greater chance of success.
- In chapter 5, the Shulamite maiden stated, “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine.” How does this statement, which emphasizes belonging to one another, contrast with the “put yourself first” mindset so prevalent in our day?
Class discussion should bring out that in the “put yourself first” mindset of present-day society, emphasis is placed on individual rights, needs, opinions, and preferences. Self is all-important. However, the Bible teaches that if we truly belong to our spouse, our independent rights, needs, and privileges are secondary to the concerns of our marriage.
You may wish to emphasize the concept of belonging to one another by referring to Ephesians 5:32, which speaks of a man being “joined” unto his wife. The original Greek word translated joined means “to be glued to” or “to adhere to.” When we are “joined” with our spouse in marriage, we become one flesh. This is to be a life-long bond. The prevailing attitude of our day is that self comes first, and there is no need to stay married if the union no longer satisfies or fulfills the individual. However, this is in direct contrast to Scriptural principles. Jesus himself decreed, “What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6).
- What characteristics of love did the Shulamite maiden describe in Song of Solomon 8:6-7?
She stated that love is as strong as death, it cannot be destroyed by disaster, and it is beyond price — even a king with all his riches could not buy it, because it can only be received as a gift. This question leads directly into a discussion of the following question.
- Many commentators compare the love relationship described in the Song of Solomon to the much deeper love relationship that exists between Christ and His Bride. Throughout the Song of Solomon, we see verses that refer to the fact that those in love desire to be together. What do these passages teach us about the appropriate attitude of the Bride toward Christ the Bridegroom’s ultimate return?
Two people who are in love and awaiting their wedding day desire to be together. Being apart is not easy, and the thought of seeing each other causes great anticipation. As Christians, we desire the presence of Christ with us every day, looking for and anticipating His presence when we come to Him in prayer. However, when we love the Bridegroom as we should, we can think of nothing we desire more than His return to this earth to claim His own. Then we will see Him face to face, and be united with Him throughout eternity!
The Song of Solomon is a beautiful picture of love, and it can teach us much about the fulfillment and joy that marriage can bring.