The Song of Songs has been attributed to Solomon, who was known to be a prolific song-writers, having written some 1,005 songs (1 Kings 4:32). This song is described as the "song of songs" and focuses on his love relationship with a young Shulammite woman, which tells also of their physical relationship. Solomon has many "lovers" and spent his life collecting them--by the time he has reached his old age, he has accumulated 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). Despite his profligate lifestyle, this song has been retained in the Hebrew canon (scripture) as a story about God and His people.
Historically, the book has been interpreted in three ways:
- Allegorical: The historical, cultural and literary contexts of the Song of Songs are ignored and words and phrases are picked up to mean different things to different interpreters: the kisses, the breasts, the gold chains, neck, etc have special and hidden meanings. The book has been interpreted as a prophetic history of Israel, as a history of redemption, as a cryptic text in support of Mariology, etc. Allegorical interpretations are not controlled by the historical, cultural and literary contexts. The interpretations are limited only by the creativity and ingenuity of the bible teachers. The church fathers have consistently interpreted this book in an allegorical manner, starting from Origen who has interpreted it as a soul's longing after God.
- Literal: This approach takes the Song as nothing more than an erotic poem celebrating the sexual love of a Solomon and his lover. It is a erotic song celebrating the physical intimacy between a man and woman. This view suggests that sex is a gift to be celebrated, not hushed up, because God created humans as male and female. Some authors even manage to draw out some sexual techniques from this book. So, according to this approach, the Song becomes a kind of watered-down Hebrew version of the Hindu Kamasutra.
- Spiritual: The spiritual interpretation takes the historical, cultural and literary contexts seriously, but seeks to draw out spiritual lessons about how we can draw near to God. This approach is similar to that of interpreting parables. Just as we cannot ignore the historical and cultural context of Jesus' parables (the fields, farming, vineyard, pearl, harvest, servants and sons, etc. refer to contemporaneous contexts) the points of the parables are spiritual, rather than historical or literary. In fact, we may say that all scriptures are "inspired of God" and profitable for "teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16). So, the Song of Songs has a real historical context in the person of Solomon and the young Shulammite woman, but the lessons to be drawn are spiritual - the celebration of physical intimacy between a man and his lover teaches us lessons in the cultivation of our spiritual intimacy with God.
Father, thank You that Jesus is our Bridegroom and we are His Bride. You have created sexual intimacy to illustrate our intimacy with You. May Your Holy Spirit create within us an unquenchable spiritual longing to seek after You, just as the Shulammite woman did for Solomon's love. Amen.