Him: How beautiful you are, my darling!
Oh, how beautiful!
Her: How handsome you are, my beloved!
Oh, how charming!
—Song of Solomon 1:15a, 16a
Today our reading plan takes us to a very different sort of book: The Song of Songs, or The Song of Solomon.
I first learned about this book in my preschool Sunday School class. One of our regular songs was taken from these pages, the full lyrics being “He brought me to his banqueting table/His banner over me is love.” There was no context or explanation (though there were fun dance motions) and I had absolutely no idea what this song was about. These words made no sense to me at all. I assumed that “He” referred to God as “He” mostly did at church. But the banqueting table and banner were a mystery.
Now that I’m a bit older and have spent years studying and teaching the Bible, I realize my childhood understanding gap is common. Nobody seems to know what this book is about.
If you sit down and read The Song, the topic is immediately obvious: a young man and a young woman are madly in love with each other, and cannot stop singing of the delights they find (and hope to find) in each other. There’s no reason to think this is anything but an ancient love poem, or possibly a betrothal/marriage liturgy. In fact, most of the scholars and commentators I read believe the answer is just that simple. This is an old yet timeless love song.
On the other hand, Jewish readers have historically seen in this human expression of love a symbol for God’s commitment and desire for Israel. Christians expanded that to include God’s relationship to the Church.
In his short comments on The Song, D. A. Carson sums it up well, suggesting that after we acknowledge that this book is about the physical delights of human love, we might also see a way to understand the love God has for us. After all, what other reference point for God’s love do we have—in the Bibe or in our experience—than the loves we know on this earth?*
* April 26 entry of For The Love of God: A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God’s Word by D. A. Carson,
Questions for reflection and discussion: How were you taught to understand The Song of Songs? What is the benefit of including in the Canon a book about romantic love? Is there a benefit of seeing in human love also a metaphor for God’s love?