Song of Songs

Good morning! Today we read all eight chapters of the book variously called the “Song of Songs” or the “Song of Solomon”. Supposedly attributed to Solomon (but with scant textual evidence to support that), this book is curious on multiple fronts. It celebrates the sensual love between an unmarried woman and her male “beloved” with an explicit sexiness that may cause one to blush. The unnamed woman has a strong speaking role, at least matching that of the male voice. A chorus of friends interjects occasionally, encouraging the breathless adoration of the couple. Finally and perhaps most curiously, this is the only book of the Bible where God is not mentioned even once.

Ancient Hebrew and Christian readers of the Bible were so uncomfortable at the uninhibited expressions of gleeful love here that they reportedly forbade men to read these verses until he was at least 40 years old. When this book was accessible, the gatekeepers of proper religious thought all but enforced an interpretation of this as strictly an allegory. The woman searching desperately for her beloved became a stand-in for the people of Israel, for the church, or for the individual believer. The young man represented God or Jesus Christ, with the love between them as the Holy Spirit. While this flies in the face of a plain reading of the text, it may have been the only way to make sense of this text’s presence in the Bible. Generations of interpreters have gone to fanciful lengths to extend these allegories further, sometimes humorously avoiding what is right there on the surface of this text.

As helpful as allegorical understanding is sometimes in adding further dimensions to a text, it’s foolish to pretend this is not what it so clearly is—an ancient text about erotic love and longing between two young people given to rebellious midnight romps. The heartache that they feel for one another is an even match for the “star-crossed lover” soliloquies of Shakespeare himself, and there’s no need to shoehorn God into the story. I believe God is already present (even though unnamed) in the sexiness, desire and beauty of these people and the text which conveys them to us. Such hot poetry is not often appreciated as a manifestation of divine presence, but the God who knits babies together in a mother’s womb (Psalm 139) certainly knows how those babies came to be in the first place! Furthermore, if God chooses a human body to become incarnate and live among us, certainly that teenager Jesus had opportunities to find the spirituality intertwined with sexuality. There is much, much more that could be said on this, but for now I hope you’ll appreciate this little counter-cultural book as a gift that reveals still further facets of God and humanity. Maybe those who first saw God in these chapters all those centuries ago were on to something after all.

Please note that the link below is just to the first chapter. For copyright reasons that forbid a whole book of the Bible to be displayed, you’ll need to click the button to the right at the bottom of the page to advance through each of the book’s eight chapters. Happy reading!

Read Song of Songs.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Isaiah 1-4. Thanks for reading!

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