Song of Songs : Introduction – Part 1

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I thought I would take a break from locusts and scorpions to talk about turtledoves and little foxes. I have wanted to write something about Song of Songs for some time because this little 8-chapter book of the Bible has been largely neglected or misunderstood by many professing Christians. Misunderstood in part because of spiritual declension in the past century which has led to man-centered, needs-focused, seeker-pleasing, sound-byte “preaching” (instead of God-centered, duties-focused, Bible-based preaching). Some today teach that Song of Songs should just be taken literally (e.g. Mark Driscoll, Arnold Fruchtenbaum) and that it’s mainly intended by God to be a marriage counseling book. I do not deny that this divinely inspired book offers much that is practical for couples but I prefer to believe the view of godly and learned Christian men of a more spiritually fruitful time period (News Flash: it’s not the 21st century! at least not in North America or Western Europe to be fair to very zealous Christians in other parts of the world) that ultimately this book figuratively points to Christ’s love for His bride, the Church.  The figurative portrayal of Christ’s love for His bride is what gives the book the greatest value. When coming to any book of the Bible our focus should be on Christ first and foremost. He is the Key that unlocks all of the Scriptures.

Jesus Christ : “Search the scriptures… they are they which testify of me.” (John 5:39a,c)

“… for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.” (Revelation 19:10)

“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2nd Peter 1:21)

“All scripture [that includes Song of Songs] is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:  That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17)

Let me quote some words from one of Charles Spurgeon’s sermons :

“Certain have doubted the inspiration of Solomon’s Song; others have conceived it to be nothing more than a specimen of ancient love-songs, and some have been afraid to preach from it because of its highly poetical character. The true reason for all this avoidance of one of the most heavenly portions of God’s Word lies in the fact that the spirit of this Song is not easily attained. Its music belongs to the higher spiritual life, and has no charm in it for unspiritual ears. The Song occupies a sacred enclosure into which none may enter unprepared. “Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground,” is the warning voice from its secret tabernacles. The historical books I may compare to the outer courts of the Temple; the Gospels, the Epistles, and the Psalms, bring us into the holy place or the Court of the priests; but the Song of Solomon is the most holy place: the holy of holies, before which the veil still hangs to many an untaught believer. It is not all the saints who can enter here, for they have not yet attained unto the holy confidence of faith, and that exceeding familiarity of love which will permit them to commune in conjugal love with the great Bridegroom. We are told that the Jews did not permit the young student to read the Canticles—that years of full maturity were thought necessary before the man could rightly profit by this mysterious Song of loves; possibly they were wise, at any rate the prohibition foreshadowed a great truth.”

“The Song is, in truth, a book for full-grown Christians. Babes in grace may find their carnal and sensuous affections stirred up by it towards Jesus, whom they know, rather “after the flesh” than in the spirit; but it needs a man of fuller growth, who has leaned his head upon the bosom of his Master, and been baptized with his baptism, to ascend the lofty mountains of love on which the spouse standeth with her beloved. The Song, from the first verse to the last, will be clear to those who have received an unction from the holy One, and know all things. (1 John 2:20.) You are aware, dear friends, that there are very few commentaries upon the Epistles of John. Where we find fifty commentaries upon any book of St. Paul, you will hardly find one upon John. Why is that? Is the book too difficult? The words are very simple; there is hardly a word of four syllables anywhere in John’s Epistles. Ah! but they are so saturated through and through with the spirit of love, which also perfumes this Book of Solomon, that those who are not taught in the school of communion, cry out, “We cannot read it, for it is sealed.” The Song is a golden casket, of which love is the key rather than learning. Those who have not attained unto heights of affection, those who have not been educated by familiar intercourse with Jesus, cannot come near to this mine of treasure, “seeing it is hid from the eyes of all living, and kept close from the fowls of heaven.” O for the soaring eagle wing of John, and the far-seeing dove’s eyes of Solomon; but the most of us are blind and cannot see afar off. May God be pleased to make us grow in grace, and give us so much of the Holy Spirit, that with feet like hind’s feet we may stand upon the high places of Scripture, and this morning have some near and dear intercourse with Christ Jesus.”

Charles Spurgeon actually preached many times from the Song of Songs (click here) so what excuse do we have to not study the book when this great man of God thought it was important?

In Chapter X (“Of Effectual Calling”) and Chapter XVII (“Of the Perseverance of the Saints”) of the Westminster Confession of Faith verses from the Song of Songs (Canticles abbreviated “Cant.”) are used as proof texts. The same can be said for the London Baptist Confession of 1689 (see here and here). The interpretation given to the proof-text verses taken from the Song of Songs in each case is allegorical/figurative not literal.

Here are the views of well-known Bible teachers:

Jonathan Edwards: “The great agreement between the BOOK OF SOLOMON’S SONG and the Psalm 45, and the express and full testimonies of the New Testament for the authority and divine inspiration of that psalm in particular, and that the bridegroom there spoken of is Christ, whose bride, the New Testament abundantly teaches us, is the church, I say, this agreement with those full testimonies are a great confirmation of the constant tradition of the Jewish church, and the universal and continual suffrage of the Christian church for the divine authority and spiritual signification of this song, as representing the union and mutual love of Christ and his church, and enervates the main objections against it. They agree in all particulars that are considerable, so that there is no more reason to object against one than the other.”

Arno Gaebelein : “this Song is a love-song, expressing the love of Messiah for His people.”

Matthew Henry : “It must be confessed, on the other hand, that with the help of the many faithful guides we have for the understanding of this book it appears to be a very bright and powerful ray of heavenly light, admirably fitted to excite pious and devout affections in holy souls, to draw out their desires towards God, to increase their delight in him, and improve their acquaintance and communion with him. It is an allegory, the letter of which kills those who rest in that and look no further, but the spirit of which gives life, 2 Corinthians 3:6; John 6:63. It is a parable, which makes divine things more difficult to those who do not love them, but more plain and pleasant to those who do, Matthew 13:14,16. Experienced Christians here find a counterpart of their experiences, and to them it is intelligible, while those neither understand it nor relish it who have no part nor lot in the matter.”

Matthew Poole : “The design of the book in general is to describe the passionate loves and happy marriage of two persons, and their mutual satisfaction therein, and the blessed fruits and effects thereof. But then it is not to be understood carnally, concerning Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, as some have fancied, although the occasion of this love and marriage may be taken from that, or rather he makes an allusion to that; but spiritually, concerning God, or Christ, and his church and people. This is sufficiently evident from the descriptions of this bridegroom and bride, which are such as could not with any decency be used or meant concerning Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, as when he is brought in like a country shepherd, Song of Solomon 1:7, and is called his bride’s brother, Song of Solomon 5:2, and when he gives such high and excessive commendations to himself, as we shall see, and when she is made the keeper of vineyards and of sheep, Song of Solomon 1:6,, Song of Solomon 1:8, and is said to be smitten and abused by the watchmen, Song of Solomon 5:7, and said to be terrible as an army, Song of Solomon 6:4, and to be like Pharaoh’s horses, and to have a head like Carmel, a nose like a tower, eyes like fishpools, teeth like a flock of sheep, &c.,, Song of Solomon 7:4-5. And there are many such-like expressions and descriptions, which being applied to them, are absurd and monstrous. Hence it follows that this book is to be understood mystically or allegorically, concerning that spiritual love and marriage which is between God, or Christ, and his church, or every believing soul.”

Arthur W. Pink : “An equally striking illustration is seen in the juxtaposition and order of the last two books of Solomon, for the theme of Ecclesiastes is unquestionably: “No satisfaction to be found under the sun,” while that of the Canticles tells of “full satisfaction in the Son”: over the one may be inscribed: “Whosoever drinketh of this water [the cisterns of the world] shall thirst again”; over the other: “But whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst” (John 4:14).”

John Owen : “The book of the Canticles is not in any part of it, much less in the whole, a meet subject for every ordinary undertaker to exercise upon. The matter of it is totally sublime, spiritual, and mystical; and the manner of its handling universally allegorical.”

The Puritan John Trapp : “Not a light love song – as some profane persons have fancied, and have therefore held it no part of the sacred canon – but a most excellent Epithalamium, a very divine ditty, a heavenly allegory, a mystical marriage song, called here the Song of Songs, as God is called the God of gods, [Deuteronomy 10:17] as Christ is called the King of kings, [Revelation 19:16] as the Most Holy is called the Holy of holies, to the which the Jewish doctors liken this canticle, as they do Ecclesiastes to the holy place, and Proverbs to the court, to signify that it is the treasury of the most sacred and highest mysteries of holy Scripture. (a) It streams out all along under the parable of a marriage, that full torrent of spiritual love that is between Christ and the Church (b) “This is a great mystery,” saith that great apostle. [Ephesians 5:32] It passeth the capacity of man to understand it in the perfection of it. Hence the Jews permitted none to read this sacred song before thirty years of age. Let him that reads think he sees written over this Solomon’s porch, “Holiness to the Lord.”

J. C. Ryle had this to say concerning Canticles 4:12 : “THE Lord Jesus Christ has a garden. It is the company of all who are true believers in Him. They are His garden. Viewed in one light, believers are Jesus Christ’s spouse. They are all joined to Him by art everlasting covenant that cannot be broken; wedded to Him by the marriage of faith; taken by Him to be His for ever, with all their debts and liabilities, with all their faults and imperfections. Their old name is gone, they have no name but that of their Bridegroom. God the Father regards them as one with His dear Son. Satan can lay no charge against them. They are the Lamb’s wife: “My Beloved is mine, and I am His” (Cant.2:16).”

A. W. Tozer : “Why do we consent to abide all our days just outside the Holy of Holies and never enter at all to look upon God? We hear the Bridegroom say, “Let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.” We sense that the call is for us, but still we fail to draw near, and the years pass and we grow old and tired in the outer courts of the tabernacle. What hinders us?”

Patrick Fairbairn commenting on Canticles  6:10 : “‘She is fair as the moon and clear as the sun’… And the Church is compared to the two luminaires of nature, only for the purpose of exhibiting under two similar, though slightly diversified aspects, the imposing and attractive appearance, which would belong to her, if she were in her normal condition of light and purity.”

The Puritan Thomas Watson : “In this Song of Songs we see the love of Christ and his church running towards each other in a full torrent.”

E. W. Hengstenberg : “An important link in the chain of the Messianic hopes is formed by the Song of Solomon. It is intimately associated with Ps. lxxii., which was written by Solomon, and represents the Messiah as the Prince of Peace, imperfectly prefigured by Solomon as His type. As in this Psalm, so also in the Song of Solomon, the coming of the Messiah forms the subject throughout, and He is introduced there under the name of Solomon, the Peaceful One. His coming shall be preceded by severe afflictions, represented under the emblems of the scorching heat of the sun, of winter, of rain, of dark nights, and of the desert. Connected with this coming is the reception of the heathen nations into His kingdom, and this, through the medium of the old Covenant-people.”

The Puritan Thomas Adams : “See in the Canticles how Christ is enamoured with the beauty and familiarity of his spouse, and they often mutually invite one another to walks and feasts.”

Louis Gaussen : “You have opened, for instance, at the forty-fifth Psalm, or at the Song of Solomon. Whilst you see nothing there, but that which  is the most thoroughly human… they [the Fathers, the Reformers and saints of every age] were there accustomed to see the glories of the Church, the bonds of Jehovah’s love, the depths of grace in Christ; in a word, that which is most divine in heavenly things; and if they could not read them there, they knew that they are there, and there they searched for them.”

Here is part of Charles Hodge’s testimonial concerning George Burrowes’s “A Commentary on the Song of Solomon” : “There is doubtless a great falling off in the devotional exercises of Christians of our day, as compared with those of some other periods of the Church. We have so many societies and so much outdoor life, that the work of the closet, and communion with God, and devout pondering on his Word, are often sadly neglected. Your work is adapted to counteract this evil; and I hope you will have the satisfaction of finding that it has ministered to the greater spirituality of the Church.”

J. A. Alexander : “The allegorical or Messianic sense is given [to Psalm 45] by the oldest interpreters, both Jewish and Christian. The allegorical idea of this psalm is carried out in the Song of Solomon, to which it bears the same relation as Psalm xxxvii. to the Book of Proverbs and Psalm xxxix. to the Book of Job.”

John Newton’s hymn “How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds” was based upon Canticles 1:3.

In his commentary on Revelation, Horatius Bonar wrote these words concerning Revelation 1:5 : “Thus we become ‘the Church without spot,’ like Himself; and then He can say of us, ‘You are all fair’ (Song of Solomon 4:1; Song of Solomon 4:7); ‘You have ravished my heart;’ ‘How fair and how pleasant are you, O my love!’ (Song of Solomon 7:6.)”

The Puritan Henry Ainsworth : “So this book, treating of man’s reconciliation unto God, and peace by Jesus Christ, with joy in the Holy Spirit, is called a Song : which, therefore, the faithful should learn to sing with understanding, making melody in their hearts to the Lord, when they feel themselves made partakers of his joy.”

Philip Doddridge : “Itis objected, that the Song of Solomon seems to be an amorous poem, and there are some passages in it which shock common decency.—To this we must answer, either by supposing (as some have done) that it is no part of the canon of scripture, or otherwise, by interpreting it as an allegorical sense, as referring to the Messiah and his church : compare Psal. xlv. passim with Heb. i. 8, 9. If it be said, that on this interpretation there are some indecent figures in it, as there are in Ezek. xvi, xxiii. and in many other places; it is answered, that the simplicity of the eastern nations made some of these phrases much less shocking to them, than the delicacy, or perhaps the licentiousness of these western parts make them to modest people among us”

Alexander Moody Stuart : “The argument for the allegorical meaning is equally strong, or rather is exactly the same ; for, if the Song is inspired but literal, it has no more to do with the relation between Christ and the Church, than if it were a merely human composition. The ground thus taken will be found to be firmer the more closely it is examined ; and having it, we stand no longer on the defensive in maintaining the allegorical meaning of the book. The literal interpretation, even as the supposed basis of allegory, lacks all countenance from the other Scriptures; but the purely spiritual hears the broad stamp of prophetic and Divine sanction… In the earlier and the latter portions of Isaiah, there is scarcely a page without reference, more or less direct, to the Song of Solomon. Their utterances, however, are often in the way of contrast; and the whole of the fifty-third of Isaiah appears to be the inspired outburst of a full heart, that had been deeply meditating on the beauty of Immanuel, as portrayed in the fifth chapter of the Song of Solomon: ‘ My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand, yea altogether lovely: (yet) who hath believed our report ? for he hath no form, nor comeliness, and no beauty that we should desire him.’ ’”

Charles Bridges commenting on Canticles 4:16 : “The Heavenly Bridegroom looks upon his espoused Church with unspeakable delight.”

Heinrich Bullinger : “I seeyou are assembled, brethren, with attentive minds to the exposition of those things which rest to be spoken of the catholic church of God; which we affirm to be one and unseparable, according to the holy oracles of the sacred scripture. Solomon in his Canticles saith: “One is my dove and my beloved.” Whereunto doubtless the doctor of the Gentiles had respect, when he said: “There is one body, and one spirit; even as ye are called in one hope of your vocation. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, which is above all, and through all, and in you all.””

J. A. Wylie in his book “History of Protestantism” wrote these words : “The preacher on the occasion of which we speak was Mr. John Welsh, and his text was selected from the Song of Solomon, 2:11, 12 – that sweetest of all lyrics, which paints the passing away of winter of the Old Economy, and the coming of the springtime of the Gospel, as comes the Eastern spring with its affluence of verdure, and blossoms, and songs: – “Lo, the winter is past: the rain is over and gone: the flowers appear on the earth: the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land.”

The Puritan Richard Sibbes : “You see the Lord works this disposition in the church in the Canticles, when the church had sinned by neglecting Christ ; and now he withdrew himself from her, what doth she do ? She comes and seeks him by the watchmen, and they smite her ; she comes to those that kept the tower, and they mock her ; she comes to the daughters of Jerusalem, and they slight her husband, him whom her soul loves ; she goes on seeking still. This is the case of a Christian after relapse into sin, that he is not set again in his peace and comfort till he be made to prize Christ at an higher rate than before. So likewise he describes the church, Jer. 1. 4, thus seeking after Christ: ‘They shall go weeping as they go; and shall seek the Lord God, and shall ask the way to Zion, with their faces thitherwards.'”

The Puritan Thomas Boston : “That this song is literally, although in a continued allegory, meant of Christ and his church, and that it is not all meant of Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter; does the more convincingly appear from the description of the bridegroom as a potent king, chap. i. 12, and yet a shepherd, v. 7. and from the description of the bride as a queen, and yet a keeper of the vineyards, v. 9. and of kids, v. 8.”

Robert Haldane commenting on Romans chapter 8 : “This is what is meant by the Church in the Song of Solomon, when she says, ‘Draw me, we will run after Thee;’ for this shows that she is drawn in such a way that she runs, that is, that her will being changed, and her perversity removed, she with alacrity follows the Lord. God gives His people to will and to do of His good pleasure, making them willing in the day of His power, and by His Spirit changes their hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. “

The Puritan Thomas Manton : “This chapter [Song chapter 1] is a sweet dialogue between Christ and the church, wherein they interchangeably express their mutual love to each other… The Jews compare the three books of Solomon to the three parts of the temple which he built; they liken the Proverbs to the porch, Ecclesiastes to the holy place, and the Book of Canticles to the sanctum sanctorum, the holy of holies within the vail, where all things were full of mystery, reverence, and religion. Every expression in this book needed distinct explication.”

The Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs : “[Christ] is said in the Book of the Canticles, to come leaping over the Mountains, he comes leaping over all difficulties to you, if you think there are some difficulties in your going to Christ, know, that there was far greater difficulties that lay in the way in his coming to you, but whatsoever there was in the way, he was resolved to go through them all, and did come, and was here in the world, in the flesh, that he might save you, and he that is thus come to you, calls you to come to him.”

The Puritan Richard Baxter : “Christ is a way as the cellars of wine are unto drunkards, that are never better than when they are at their cups; and therefore no place like the cellar, where is fulness of wine, always to be tippling and drinking: I say, Christ is such a way, and let me not be offensive to say so, for the church speaks in the same language (Canticles ii. 4,5), ‘He brought me (saith she) into his wine cellar: stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples, for I am sick of love.’ Beloved, Christ hath such variety of delicates served in continually, and such sweetness in this variety, that the soul is no longer satisfied than it is with Christ.”

William Kelly : “Many have applied this wonderful book of scripture to the church, many more to the soul, in relation to the Lord Jesus. Nor is it denied for a moment that there is a principle common to all born of God, the love to Him Who died for all that enter by faith into the love of God in Christ, the love which His known love creates, itself passing knowledge…. As a whole it is typical or allegorical, however unbelief may miss the object.”

John Wesley : “… the subject of it, which is not Solomon, but a greater than Solomon, even Christ, and his marriage with the church; or the matter of it, which is most lofty, containing in it the noblest of all the mysteries contained either in the Old or the New Testament; most pious and pathetical, breathing forth the hottest flames of love between Christ and his people, most sweet and comfortable, and useful to all that read it with serious and Christian eyes.”

John Gill : “The whole is figurative and allegorical; expressing, in a variety of lively metaphors, the love, union, and communion, between Christ and his church; setting forth the several different frames, cases, and circumstances of believers, in this life; so that they can be in no case and condition spiritual whatever, but there is something in this Song suitable to them; and which serves much to recommend it, and shows the excellency of it; and that it justly claims the title it bears, the Song of Songs, the most excellent.”

Thomas Scott : “In short, this Song is a divine allegory in the form of a pastoral, which represents the reciprocal love between Christ and his church, under figures taken from the relation and affection, which subsist between a bridegroom and his espoused bride; an emblem continually employed in scripture.”

Christopher Wordsworth : “We may be sure, therefore, that the Song of Solomon has religious lessons and spiritual doctrine for us if we will listen to the voice of Christ and of His Apostles, and of the Church. All these unite in teaching that the Song of Solomon is not to be interpreted literally. All the Ancient Christian Expositors agree in the opinion that the Song of Solomon represents the pure love and mystical union and marriage of Christ and His Church… The testimony of the learned Greek Expositor, Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrus, in the earlier part of the fifth century, in his introduction to the Canticles, may be inserted here as one specimen among many, of the statements of the Ancient Church on this subject. “Let us pray for God’s grace (he says) to open to us the meaning of this Book. Since, however, there are some who calumniate the Song of Solomon and deny it to be a spiritual writing, and weave fables which are unworthy of old wives in their dotage, and say that this Book was written by Solomon concerning himself and Pharaoh’s daughter, or Abishag the Shunammite, we must therefore first confute these false and pernicious opinions, and then declare the true scope of the writer. These theorists ought to consider that the holy Fathers are more excellent than themselves in wisdom and in spirit, and that they reckoned this Book as a part of holy Scripture, and as inspired by the Holy Ghost; which they would not have done if they had regarded it as a book of carnal passion and sensual voluptuousness.” Theodoret then refers to the Commentaries of Eusebius, Origen, S. Cyprian, S. Basil, S. Gregory Nazianzen, and S. Gregory of Nyssa, and Diodorus of Tarsus, and S. John Chrysostom; and he adds, “these Expositors and all others after them agreed in regarding the Canticles as a spiritual book, to be interpreted spiritually… Augustine says, “The Song of Songs is the spiritual ecstasy of holy minds, in the nuptials of that King and of that Queen and City, which are Christ and the Church. And this rapture is shrouded by an allegorical veil… And S. Jerome says, “Solomon the Peaceable and Beloved of the Lord, corrects human manners in the Proverbs, expounds Nature in Ecclesiastes, and unites Christ and the Church in the Canticles…”

Joseph Benson : The design of the book in general is to describe the love and happy marriage of two persons, but it is not to be understood concerning Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, (although the occasion might be taken from that, or rather he makes an allusion to that,) but concerning God or Christ, and his church and people. This is sufficiently evident from the descriptions of this bridegroom and bride, which are such as could not, with any decency, be used or meant concerning Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter. There are many expressions and descriptions, which being applied to them are absurd and monstrous. Hence it follows, that this book is to be understood allegorically concerning that spiritual love and marriage which is between Christ and his church. And this will be more than probable to any man who shall consider the following particulars: 1, That the Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, are full of allegorical passages; which being known and confessed, it is needless to prove: 2, That the doctrine of Christ being the head and husband of God’s church or people, was well known, at least, to the prophets, and the wise and pious Israelites in the time of the Old Testament: 3, That God compares himself to a bridegroom, and his church to a bride, Isaiah 62:5, and calls, and owns himself the husband of his people, Isaiah 54:5; Hosea 2:16; Hosea 2:19-20. In which places, by comparing these with many other texts of Scripture, by God, or the Lord, is meant Christ, the second person in the Godhead, who then was to come down, and since did come from heaven to earth, for the consummation of that eternal design of marriage between God and his people: 4, That the forty-fifth Psalm, which is a kind of abridgment of this book, although it alludes to the marriage between Solomon and Pharaoh’s daughter, was written concerning the Messiah, as all interpreters, both Christian and Jewish, agree. From these considerations, and many others which might be suggested, it is sufficiently manifest, that the scope of this book is to describe the mutual love, union, and communion which is between Christ and his church, in the various conditions to which it is liable in this world.

Charles Simeon : From the general scope of this whole poem, we can have no hesitation in saying, that the words which we have read are a part of a dialogue between Christ and his Church; the former part containing his testimony respecting her; and the latter, her testimony respecting him. It is a kind of pastoral song, as the images used by both the parties shew; and, though exceeding difficult of interpretation in some parts, it is very intelligible and instructive in others. We must bear in mind, that Christ speaks as the Bridegroom of his Church; and the Church, as his Spouse

G. Campbell Morgan : Now the thought of the relationship of bride and bridegroom as setting forth that existing between Jehovah and Israel is peculiarly Hebrew. In the prophets this is subsequently made clearly manifest. Moreover, Jewish expositors have so interpreted these songs, and it is certainly easily probable that Solomon had some such intention in mind… In the new dispensation, that of the Church, the same figure is the most glorious in setting forth the nature of the relation existing between Christ and His Church. Some of the most sainted writers of the Christian Church have interpreted these songs in the light of this New Testament truth, such, for instance, as Rutherford and McCheyne. Dr. Adeney, in the Expositor’s Bible, while arguing against the mystical interpretation, yet says: “It may be maintained that the experience of Christians has demonstrated the aptness of the expression of the deepest spiritual truths in the imagery of the Song of Solomon.

Joseph Angus : “And from the earliest times, Jews and Christians have applied the whole to the history of the chosen people of God, and their relation to Him. These views are confirmed by the fact that throughout the Bible, the union of Christ and his Church, or of God and his ancient people, is represented under the same endearing relation as that which this book discloses…”

Though I disagree with C. I. Scofield’s dispensationalism I would agree with these words found in his notes :

“The interpretation is twofold: Primarily, the book is the expression of pure marital love as ordained of God in creation, and the vindication of that love as against both asceticism and lust–the two profanations of the holiness of marriage. The secondary and LARGER INTERPRETATION IS OF CHRIST, the Son and HIS HEAVENLY BRIDE, THE CHURCH (2 Corinthians 11:1-4).”

The 19th century expositor Albert Barnes wrote the following  :

“The Song commences with two stanzas in praise of the king (now absent) by a chorus of virgins belonging to the royal household. EXPOSITORS, JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN, INTERPRET THE WHOLE AS SPOKEN BY THE CHURCH OF THE HEAVENLY BRIDEGROOM.” 

This view is also presented in the Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Commentary :

“Origen and Jerome tell us that the Jews forbade it to be read by any until he was thirty years old. It certainly needs a degree of spiritual maturity to enter aright into THE HOLY MYSTERY OF LOVE WHICH IT ALLEGORICALLY SETS FORTH. To such as have attained this maturity, of whatever age they be, the Song of Songs is one of the most edifying of the sacred writings…  As Ecclesiastes sets forth the vanity of love of the creature, Canticles sets forth the fullness of the love which joins believers and the Savior. The entire economy of salvation, says Harris, aims at restoring to the world the lost spirit of love. God is love, and Christ is the embodiment of the love of God. As the other books of Scripture present severally their own aspects of divine truth, so Canticles furnishes the believer with language of holy love, wherewith his heart can commune with his Lord; and it portrays the intensity of Christ‘s love to him; the affection of love was created in man to be a transcript of the divine love, and the Song clothes the latter in words; were it not for this, we should be at a loss for language, having the divine warrant, wherewith to express, without presumption, the fervor of the love between Christ and us. The image of a bride, a bridegroom, and a marriage, to represent this spiritual union, has the sanction of Scripture throughout; nay, the spiritual union was the original fact in the mind of God, of which marriage is the transcript (Isaiah 54:5; Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 3:1, etc.; Ezekiel 16:1-63; Ezekiel 23:1-49; Matthew 9:15; Matthew 22:2; Matthew 25:1, etc.; John 3:29; 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:23-32, where Paul does not go from the marriage relation to the union of Christ and the Church as if the former were the first; but comes down from the latter as the first and best recognized fact on which the relation of marriage is based; Revelation 19:7; Revelation 21:2; Revelation 22:17).”

This was also the view put forth in the Geneva Bible notes: “This is spoken in the person of the Church, or of the faithful soul inflamed with the desire of Christ, whom she loves.”

The Treasury of Scripture Knowledge also promotes this view of the book.

Halley’s Bible Handbook : “… both Jews and Christians have seen deeper meanings in this poem. Jews read it at Passover as allegorically referring to the Exodus, where God espoused Israel to Himself as His bride… Christians have, quite commonly, regarded it as a Pre-Nuptial Song of Christ and the Church…”

J. Sidlow Baxter (“Explore the Book”) : “A true interpretation of the poem, therefore, will recognize in it a duality in unity; for while it is primarily the expression of “pure marital love as ordained by God in creation, and the vindication of that love as against both asceticism and lust”, the deeper and larger meaning has reference to the heavenly Lover and His bride, the Church.”

Harry Ironside : “Therefore we may think of the book from four standpoints. – Looking at it literally, we see the glorification of wedded love. – Looking at it from a dispensational standpoint*, we see the relationship between the Lord God and Israel. – Redemptively, we find the wonderful relationship between Christ and the Church. – Studying it from the moral or spiritual standpoint, we see it as the book of communion between an individual soul and the blessed, glorified, risen Lord.”

* I agree with 3 of the 4 standpoints Ironside brought forth; I disagree with his dispensationalism

Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary to China, wrote a commentary on the Song of Songs. Here is a description of the book which I found on ccel.org : “Hudson Taylor is perhaps best known for his outstanding missionary work in China. However, later in his life, he published this little commentary on Song of Solomon in 1893. In it, he considers Song of Solomon to be “a poem describing the life of a believer on earth.” Divided into six short chapters, Union and Communion describes the believer’s return to the “King of Love,” i.e. God, in order to be in union and communion with God. Taylor frequently quotes Song of Solomon before providing his own analysis of it. Many have found the wisdom which propelled his powerful ministry to be spread throughout Union and Communion.”

E. M. Bounds, known by many Christians for his books on prayer, spoke or wrote these words: “Bad temper never made sinners saints, nor saints saintlier; but we do believe in disciplining the church till every step is in time, in tune to the music of the gospel and till its consecration to God is deeper than its consecration to business, or to money; till its heart is set in Heaven and not on Earth, till it stands in its true unearthly and heavenly attitude, looking heavenward, “fair as the morn, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners. (Song of Solomon 6:4)”

The great preacher George Whitefield preached a sermon on Song of Solomon 5:16 entitled “Christ our Friend”. These words are taken from his sermon : “I have chosen the words of the text for our present meditation; they are the words of the Church, for Solomon’s Song contains a dialogue betwixt Christ and his Church. The church had been commending Christ, had been telling what a glorious and blessed Saviour he was; and after she has done this, she did glory in the character, and her heart is so full of love to Christ, of being so nearly related to him, that, with humbleness of mind, she is obliged to cry out This is my Beloved. There is a peculiar emphasis to be put on. (This.) Was there ever a friend like him! She calls on all to admire him.”

Isaac Watts wrote different Christian hymns based upon the Song of Solomon (click here).

Paul Washer preached on Song of Songs and here is a description of a sermon he preached on Song of Songs entitled “The Glory of God in Moral Purity”: “Paul Washer argues that the Song Of Solomon is more than just a book about the relationship between a man and a woman, and he uses these verses to expound aspects of the church’s living relationship with Christ. It is easy to learn principles about holiness, he says, but how much time do we spend in the presence of Christ? As Martin Lloyd Jones warned, our lives will become nothing but a bunch of cold principles if the presence and power of God is not in our life. (78 minutes)”

Leonard Ravenhill preached on Song of Songs and here is a description of a sermon he preached on Song of Songs 1:6 : “To be effective for others, we must tend our own spiritual lives first.. The chief means of building ourselves up in the most holy faith is praying in the Holy Spirit.”

I could also mention Robert Murray McCheyne, James Durham, Theodore Beza, Benjamin Keach, Pierre Jurieu, Adolphe Monod, Ruben Saillens, F. W. Krummacher, Pierre Dumoulin, Jean Daillé, Samuel Rutherford, David Wilkerson and Wilhelmus à Brakel as other godly Christians who espoused the allegorical view put forth by the previously quoted authors. It’s interesting to note that one of the sermons that led to John Bunyan’s conversion was based upon Song of Songs 4:1. I hope to continue providing more useful quotes about Song of Songs in an upcoming post which I hope will stimulate the reader to look upon this divinely inspired book with renewed interest.

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2 Comments

Filed under Song of Songs

2 responses to “Song of Songs : Introduction – Part 1

  1. Hi.
    Thanks for visiting my small blog. The Song of Solomon should be used more for the comfort of the Church and the Christian and our relationship to Christ should be daily as close as that of that of the Bride and Bridegroom. We should rest satisfied and confident in the love and protection of our Saviour and beware of any estrangement from Him, or any growing cold in our first love towards Him.

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