Introducing The Keller Center
The Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics helps Christians show unbelievers the truth, goodness, and beauty of the gospel as the only hope that fulfills our deepest longings. Help train Christians to boldly share the good news of Jesus Christ in a way that clearly communicates to this secular age.
Song of Solomon
“The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (Song 1:1) possibly represents the greatest of King Solomon’s 1,005 songs (see 1Kgs 4:32), penned sometime during his reign (c. 971–931 BC). Perhaps this song, as it advocates a monogamous marriage between a bride and groom, also serves as a symbol of Solomon’s repentance for his polygamy and idolatry. Although we cannot be certain of the author or his motive, we are certain that the Song contains a number of God-inspired lyrical poems that celebrate pure passion and covenant commitment (“My beloved is mine, and I am his; he grazes among the lilies,” Song 2:16). This wedding song describes the desire for sexual intimacy (“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth,” Song 1:4), the beauty of the human body (“your rounded thighs are like jewels, the work of a master hand,” Song 7:1), and the joys of physical consummation (“I came to my garden . . . my bride,” Song 5:1). The target audience for this erotic poetry set within the ethical limits of Israel’s moral law is “the daughters of Jerusalem,” who are “virgins” (Song 1:3). They are charged to stay pure until their wedding day (“I adjure you, . . [do] not stir up or awaken love until it pleases,” Song 2:7; 3:5; 8:4). Patience and purity before passion and pleasure is what that wisdom admonition instructs. Like all biblical wisdom literature, the Song makes us “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2Tim 3:15) as it reveals aspects of how the “mystery” of marriage (Eph 5:32) expresses “the mystery of the gospel” (Eph 6:19)—Jesus, the ultimate revelation of wisdom and love.
Song of Solomon teaches God’s wisdom on waiting for sexual intimacy and growing in marital intimacy.
Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.
— Song of Solomon 8:6 ESV
I. Rejoicing in Love (1:1–4)
II. Behold, You are Beautiful (1:5–2:7)
III. In Blossom (2:8–17)
IV. The Day of Gladness (3:1–11)
V. Into the Garden (4:1–5:1)
VI. Sick with Love (5:2–6:3)
VII. Captivating Beauty (6:4–8:4)
VIII. Longing for More (8:5–14)
Rejoicing in Love (1:1–4)
This God-inspired book, which is undoubtedly the design of a literary genius, opens with rhetorical flair. The book’s title “The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s” (1:1) is an example of a consonance, wherein the repeated sh sound in Hebrew (shir hashirim asher lishlomoh)
followed by the r sound emphasizes the Hebrew word for “song” (shir). The singular word (“the Song”) suggests that the various poetic scenes throughout the book are to be read as a unified whole. Moreover, it introduces its genre. The Song is a song! There is no record in Scripture of it set to music and sung at a seven-day wedding celebration, but Scripture does speak of love songs sung at weddings (Ezek 33:32; Jer 33:11). With the different voices, the reader can easily envision then and now the bride singing soprano, the groom tenor, and the bridesmaids the chorus. This greatest of songs on the most enduring of virtues is the perfect celebration of the new creation of man and wife as “one flesh” (Gen 2:24).
The Song is a song, but also a mini-drama that contains refrains, bodily descriptions, dream sequences, and a climactic definition of love. The full story of the bride and groom is far from complete. No names, specific locations, or aspects of their courtship are provided, but there is enough of a storyline to decipher the drama. The Song tells the love story of a young couple who, with the blessing of friends and family, celebrates their commitment and consummation.
The shape of that story is debated. Some scholars believe the couple moves from courtship to the wedding to married life. Other scholars, due to the physical forthrightness of the first lines, set the whole Song within the context of marriage. The second view, that the couple is already wed, makes better sense. For surely a covenantal relationship is implied in the woman’s provocative plea, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!” (Song 1:2) followed by the community’s wholehearted approval (Song 1:4, as translated by Richard Hess):
We will indeed rejoice and be happy for you.
We will indeed recall your lovemaking more than wine.1
Thus, in the opening scene this married couple details three movements. First, the bride, with justifiable impatience (now is to the time to arouse and awaken love!), expresses to her newlywed husband two wishes: for him (“let him kiss me,” 1:2) and to him (“draw me after you,” 1:4). She desires his lips and his lovemaking—to run away with him into his bedroom (“let us run . . . into his chambers,” 1:4) to enjoy the intoxicating pleasures of his sweet and tasteful touches (“your love is better than wine,” 1:2b). The cause of such desire is not merely physical and emotional. It relates also to his commendable character: his “name” (shem) is described as a fragrant perfume or “oil [shemen] poured out” (1:3). To her, as she reaches for a metaphor fitting his love and name, she grasps for royalty. Though he is a shepherd who shepherds a flock by day (1:7), that night he lovingly rules over her body like a “king” (1:4; cf. 2:4).
At the climax of the scene—as the grammar enhances the growing expressions of intimacy (the bride moves from “him” in the third person to “you” in the second person to “us” in the first person)—the others (likely the bridesmaids) interrupt to agree with and approve of both the bride’s assessment of her man (“therefore virgins love you,” 1:3; “rightly do they love you”) their relationship, and expression of that relationship (“we will exult and rejoice in you” 1:4).
Behold, You are Beautiful (1:5–2:7)
After the opening verse introduces the genre (“song”), the song’s ranking on the charts (the superlative title “Song of Songs” expresses that it is the greatest of songs), author (likely Solomon), and the historical setting (written in the time of Solomon’s reign), the reader moves from that tame title (1:1) to the titillating text (1:2–4). The bride calls for her husband’s lips and lovemaking! What follows, in 1:5–2:7, cools down before things heat up again.
The bride—the star of the Song—yet again begins the next scene. She starts with a negative view of her body. Due to her “very dark” skin (blackened like “the tents of Kedar” and tanned because the “sun has looked upon” her as she works in the vineyard daily, 1:6), she deems her working-class complexion unattractive. And while she knows she is a natural beauty (“lovely,” 1:5), her compulsory labors (her “mother’s sons” force her to work the family farm) also allow her no time to beautify her own vineyard. Her body is not presentable. She says this to her beloved as he approaches.
This couple is either married now and back at their daily labors, or as she lies upon the marriage bed (1:4) she has a flashback to their first rendezvous. Again, I favor the view that they are married, as the scene ends in sexual intimacy. She is so lovesick that she begs again for her husband’s loving rule over her (to be “brought” into the “house”) and to taste afresh his fresh fruit (“sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples,” 1:5), or put less metaphorically (she envisions and/or experiences: “his left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!” 2:6). Thus, as she arrives at their midday meeting point in the fields of labor—she coming from the vineyards and he from shepherding—she rests not only in his shade (his “shadow,” 2:3), but she is transformed by his loving words. She views her appearance as unattractive; he looks beyond her disheveled hair and dirty hands. To him, Queen Esther cannot come close to her beauty! This shepherd-king is aroused by her sunburnt cheeks and cannot wait to love fully the imperfect body of his perfect soulmate. She is no common countryside wildflower (“a lily of the valleys”) but “a lily among brambles” (2:1–2).
With his affectionate and transformative words, he compliments her overall beauty: she is the “most beautiful among women” (1:8). He also compliments her natural (she is “a mare,” 1:9) but innocent (her eyes are “doves,” 1:15; cf. 1:7) beauty, along with the jewelry that further adorns her beauty (her “cheeks are lovely with ornaments,” her “neck with strings of jewels,” 1:10). He dismisses such self-deprecation as he invites her for a lunchtime tryst (to “follow the tracks” to find him, 1:8).
Such compliments are returned (e.g., he is as attractive as the “henna blossoms” found in the royal “vineyards” of the Engedi oasis, 1:14, and compared with all young men he is “as an apple tree among the trees of the forest,” 2:3), and his invitation is accepted. Echoing their first expression of sexual intimacy (the woman being brought into the king’s chambers, 1:4), now she is brought into “the banqueting house” (2:4), which can be translated literally “the house of wine.” As they lay next to each other on the grass (“our couch is green,” 1:16) beneath a canopy is the trees (“the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine,” 1:17), more intoxicating kisses follow. As they smell each other’s bodies mixed with her perfume (“my nard” 1:12; “my beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts,” 1:13), their verbal foreplay turns to physical foreplay. Lying beside her or atop her (she sits “in his shadow” (2:3), “his left hand” holds up her head as “his right hand embraces” her body. His sweet love (“refresh me with apples,” 2:5) is the only remedy for her lovesickness.
This peaceful, picturesque scene where love has conquered (“his banner over me was love,” 2:4), ends with an admonition, the first of three warnings to the young women to remain sexually pure until marriage (“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases,” 2:7). The animal imagery supports this exhortation to innocence in that the bride seeks to persuade these virgins to take an oath before God. The Hebrew word for “gazelles” sounds like the word for “hosts,” perhaps an allusion to God as the “Lord of hosts,” and the phrase “does of the field” sounds like “El-Shaddai.” Their purity pledge is made in the sight of God and with the need for his help.
In Blossom (2:8–17)
Song of Solomon 2:8–17 is a short poem on time, and reflective of Ecclesiastes 3:5b, its theme can be summarized as there is “a time to embrace.” Following the Song’s refrain (do “not . . . awaken love until it pleases,” Song 2:7), is what might be called the Song’s version of Ecclesiastes 3:5a (there is “a time to refrain from embracing”), the bride approaches her husband. She repeatedly calls him “my beloved” (Song 2:8, 9, 10, 16, 17) and he addresses her as “my love” (2:10, 13). The language of mutual possession (“My beloved is mine, and I am his,” 2:16) highlights afresh, and in a fresh way, the basis of their holy desires for physical intimacy.
2:8–9 Before the groom invites such intimacy, the bride describes him as “a gazelle or a young stag” (2:9) who is “leaping over the mountains” (2:9). The imagery, which links to the end of the previous poem and the end of this poem (note the inclusio of “gazelle”/“young stag” in 2:8–9, 17), is employed because she views her young lover as a “swift, handsome, cautious, curious, strong but not violent, easily excitable animal, especially in the spring.”2 Yet, ironically, this easily excitable animal is depicted as idle at the start of the scene. He faces an obstacle: he “stands behind our wall . . . looking through the lattice” (2:9). Whatever the barrier between them, 2:10–15 depicts poetically how he breaks down that wall, or perhaps leaps through the window!
2:10–15 She is like a dove nestled in “the crannies of the cliff” (2:14). He cannot see her beautiful face or hear her sweet voice. For some reason, she is acting inaccessible. Perhaps playing hard to get! He takes matters into his own hands. He first pursues her through a direct invitation: “Arise . . . and come away” (2:10, 13). This is an invitation to sexual intimacy. Next, he praises her attractiveness. He calls her “beautiful” (2:10, 13) and “lovely” (2:14). Finally, he tells her that the timing is perfect. Just as the arrival of spring brings warmth (“the winter is past; the rain is over and gone,” 2:11), along with fruit (“the flowers” bloom, the “figs” are ripe to eat) and birdsong (“the voice of the turtledove is heard,” 2:12), so the sight, smells, tastes, and sounds of the changing season should remind her that now is the right time for their lovemaking. Whatever might spoil the moment (“catch . . . the little foxes that spoil the vineyards,” 2:15), he asks her to set them aside. Now is the time to eat! Both their young bodies “are in blossom” (2:15). So, grab the sweet raisins (eat the “choicest fruits,” 4:16) and indulge in the world’s finest wine (“drink, and be drunk with love!” 5:1).
2:16–17 His carefully crafted invitation to intimacy is convincing. She was not so hard to get. His woo is quickly followed by her summons. She tells him to “be like a gazelle” by grazing (“he grazes among the lilies”) and climbing “the cleft mountains” (2:16–17). Later in 4:6, 5:13, 6:2–3, and 7:8 the reader will learn, if he or she has not figured out the figurative language at this point, that the bride is asking her husband to touch the places on her body reserved only for him. The newlywed bride, who was at first seemingly inaccessible, gives her beloved unlimited access to her whole body throughout the night (“until the day breathes and the shadows flee,” 2:17).
The imagery and ideas expressed in this Edenic ode are indeed erotic, yet the whole scene is absolutely innocent. For the third straight scene (1:4; 2:6, 17), this song is a pure celebration of lovemaking within a covenant commitment (“my beloved is mine, and I am his,” 2:16).
The Day of Gladness (3:1–11)
This text is divided into two parts: the bride’s dream (3:1–4) and Solomon’s arrival after his wedding (3:5–11), to which the innocent young couple’s love is compared. The scenes are connected in that both end with an adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem (3:5, 11).
3:1–4 The bride’s dream is recounted in four short movements. First, she is on her bed dreaming or daydreaming about her husband, whom she repeatedly labels “him whom my soul loves” (3:1, 2, 3, 4). She desires to be with her lover, but for some reason she cannot be (“On my bed by night . . . I sought him, but found him not,” 3:1). Second, she moves from the bedroom to the city streets and squares, which is a dangerous move at night. As she is seeking him (note the verb “seek,” is used four times), she comes upon the night “watchmen” (3:3), whom she hopes will help with her search. “Have you seen him?” (3:3), she asks. No reply is recorded. Then suddenly she finds him (“scarcely had I passed them when I found him,” 3:4). Mission accomplished. Well, almost. 3:1–4 closes, as all the scenes have thus far closed (1:4, 2:7; 2:17), with a picture of sexual union. The reason the bride sought (“I sought him whom my soul loves,” 3:1) and found her husband (“I found him whom my soul loves,” 3:4) was to bring him back to bed (“I held him, and would not let him go until I had brought him into . . . the chamber,” 3:4; cf. Ruth 4:13). As the city lights dim, the reader envisions them strolling hastily hand in hand to the safety of the family home (her “mother’s house,” Song 2:4) and again under the shelter of love.
3:5 Finally, and once again, the bride from the bedroom calls out to the virgins to wait for what she is now enjoying (“I adjure you . . . that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases,” 3:5). The three nearly identical refrains—2:7; 3:5; 8:4—are all given in the context of intimate sexual embraces (“his right hand embraces me,” 2:6; 8:3; being “brought” into chambers, 3:6) and the wisdom message is identical: purity and patience now; passionate pleasure later.
3:6–11 That pursuit of pleasure and promotion of purity is then, in the second half of the poetic unit (3:6–11), followed by King Solomon’s glorious, almost theophanic (“columns of smoke,” 3:6), advent. He rides within a luxury “litter” (3:7), a cedar “carriage” (3:9) with an expensive exterior (“its posts of silver, its back of gold”) and a beautiful (“its seat of purple,” 3:10) and sweet-smelling interior (“perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,” and “fragrant powders,” 3:6). His opulence is also reflected in his elite military escort (“around it are sixty mighty men,” 3:7; nearly twice as many as his father had, see 2Sam 23:13–39) and the “crown” upon his head, likely “a crown of fine gold” (Ps 21:3).
As I have argued elsewhere, I take “the pageantry of his post-wedding processional, along with what the reader knows of his ungodly love life” to provide an intentional foil to “the unspectacular, single-minded, committed love of our everyday man and wife described in 1:2–3:4. . . . Although they lack the external embellishments of Solomon’s majestic nuptial, their love is greater even than Solomon in all his glory!”3 Just as the daughters of Jerusalem/Zion are commanded at the end of the first part to remain pure until the wedding day (3:5), so here at the end of the second part they are to “go out” and “take a look” (3:11) at Solomon’s arrival so they might note the difference between Solomon’s love life (his illicit harem—sixty queens and eighty concubines,” 6:8; “the thousand,” 8:12), that lead his “heart” away from following the Lord into idolatry (“His heart was not wholly true to the LORD his God,” 1Kgs 11:4), and the wedded purity of the humble Shulamite and her shepherd. Her “king” (Song 1:4) and “beloved” (“him whom my soul loves,” 3:4) is greater than even the “beloved” King Solomon in all his glory (2Sam 12:24–25).
Into the Garden (4:1–5:1)
4:1–7 Up to this point, the woman’s voice has dominated the discussion. Now the man speaks at length, starting with an affectionate inventory of his bride’s body (cf. 6:4–7; 7:1–5). He starts there because she stands before him with only a veil (4:1, 3) and necklace (4:9). No wonder he declares, “Behold, you are beautiful, my love,” and then, with his jaw still dropped, he repeats, “Behold, you are beautiful” (4:1). He then describes seven body parts to tell her that, to him, she is completely perfect (“there is no flaw in you,” 4:7).
In 4:12 he will speak of “her garden,” for now he stops and stares at her breasts and sings of enjoying throughout the night (“until the day breathes and the shadows flee”) her sweet “mountain” and scented “hill” (4:6).
4:8–15 After he praises her beautiful body, he next invites her to intimacy. He asks his “bride” to “depart” from her inaccessibility (like the mountains peaks of Lebanon, Amana, Senir, and Hermon) and to “come with” him (4:8) to a safe place, a place where he once again can offer the tender touches of his two hands (2:6). Since she has apparently not yet run into his arms, he continues his wooing by complimenting her sexual allure (4:9–15). Starting with her eyes (“you have captivated my heart with one glance,” 4:9) and ending with her vagina (“her garden fountain” (4:15)—a place usually inaccessible (“locked” and “sealed,” 4:12) and wet (“a spring,” “a fountain,” and “a well of living [and “flowing”] water,” 4:12, 15)—he speaks again of her lovemaking as “better than wine” (4:10; cf. 1:2). He wants to experience anew the smell of her perfumed body against his (“the fragrance of your oils [are better than] any spice,” 4:10), the “nectar” on her “lips” (4:11), the “honey and milk . . . under [her] tongue” (4:11), her “choicest fruits” (4:13) and “spices” (4:14), and “the living water” (4:15)—the part of her body that is private to all but not to him. He wants her garden, which is presently closed to him, to reopen and let him enter to taste again the pleasures of paradise.
4:16–5:1 After his invitation to intimacy, she gladly accepts and offers an invitation of her own: “Awake, O north wind, and come O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow”—now is the time for love to awaken! “Let my beloved come to his garden and eat its choicest fruits” (4:16). He quickly complies. And as he afterwards stops to celebrate their Promised Land-like lovemaking (“I came to my garden . . . I gathered my myrrh . . . I ate my honeycomb . . . I drank my wine with my milk”), their friends applaud this couple’s covenant consummation (“Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” 5:1).
Here at the very structural center of the Song (5:1), as there are 111 lines from 1:2 to 4:15 and 111 lines from 5:2 to 8:14, is its thematic focus. The Song is about sex! And it instructs through abbreviated narrative and virtuously veiled poetry that sex between a husband and wife should be an act of mutual submission that creates unity. Through lovemaking, her body as “a garden” (4:12, 15) and becomes “his garden” (4:16). As he completely and unreservedly gives himself to her, so she completely and unreservedly gives herself to him.
How Should Christians Think about Sexual Intimacy?
In a fallen world that promotes, and at times revels in, sexual expressions that are selfish and only self-satisfying, the less-than-prudish biblical Song provides an antidote for such damaging idiocy. With modesty and without crudity it invites readers to be “be drunk with love”—to slowly sip the wisdom of God joining together two people as “one flesh” (Matt 19:6). Moreover, this depiction of the unreserved but undefiled wedding bed points the reader, with all its garden imagery, to the intimacy offered in the Lord of Love in whom all desires will be satisfied. Sex is a signpost to the ultimate love between Christ and his church. Only through union with him will Christians experience Eden surpassed and the fulfillment of the promises of the Promised Land. When those united to Christ come to the city of God—a garden-like city with a river with fruit trees—to join in the wedding feast (Rev 19:7, 9; 21:6) they will then see their Savior’s “face” (Rev 22:4) and experience the ultimate ecstasy, what Augustine called totus Christus (“the whole Christ”), that is, “Christ together with his church, who together will enjoy God in the consummation.”
Sick with Love (5:2–6:3)
Thus far, the Song has depicted an Edenic love story filled with idyllic arousal and spirited sex. The first of three poems that comprise the next poetic unit (5:2–7/5:8–16/6:1–3), however, features the realities found in any marriage east of Eden. Their story has had some obstacles—the harshness of the bride’s brothers (1:6) and foxes who spoil the couple’s harvest of fruit (2:15)—but now for the first time, original sin slithers into the story. The groom is insensitive (5:2), the bride selfish (5:3), and the city watchman brutal (5:7). Thorns and thistles crunch under this couple’s feet and beneath their bed. Yet, through the bride’s sacrificial lovesickness, a cure is found. The second and third poems (5:8–16/6:1–3) show that paradise is not lost. This realistic part of their story returns to their idealistic celebration of their covenant commitment (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine”) and more Edenic lovemaking (her husband is once again in “his garden,” grazing “among the lilies,” 6:2–3).
5:2–7 Here is a second dreamlike sequence. Unlike 3:1–4 (and every expression from her to date—see 1:2, 4, 7; 2:5; 4:16), the bride is uninterested in intimacy. She is in bed. Her husband is not home. But she is not out looking for him. When he returns, he finds the door locked. This “door” might be a euphemism for her body. She remains indifferent. He wants in but she just gives excuses: Why should she allow him access? The timing is now not right. She is not properly dressed. It would require some motivation and work to get herself out of bed to let him into bed (5:3).
Since his knock has not worked, he takes matters into his own right hand—he “put his hand to the latch” (5:4). Here his hand is a euphemism for foreplay. This method of unlocking her door has worked in the last scene (4:12), and he thinks it will work again. It does! She “was thrilled within” (5:4). She is awakened to love. “I arose,” she says, “to open to my beloved,” with her body aroused and eager (her “hands” and “fingers” once cold to him are now melting “myrrh,” 5:5). She flies the door open to find that her beloved is gone (“my beloved has turned and gone,” 5:6). He has had enough. He is angry. He walks away.
But she takes her newfound passion and turns it into heartful pursuit. She, once again (3:2–3), seeks after him in the city. She was safe and successful last time. She is optimistic. She asks the watchmen who watched her run about the city streets and through the squares a few nights ago to help her in her hot pursuit. But those tasked to protect, abuse. “The watchmen . . . beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil” (5:7). This awful action could mean they raped her. It could mean, quite the opposite, that they upheld the city’s law. Or, their violence could signify, as this is likely a dream, how unprotected she feels when her protector has gone missing.
5:8–9 What a nightmare! It is a nightmare intended to remind the reader that disappointment and conflict are also part of all marriages this side of heaven. But then, she awakens to her senses. She asks for help from her bridal party, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if you find my beloved, that you tell him I am sick with love” (5:8). Her apprentices teach her, or at least remind her to refocus: “What is your beloved more than another beloved . . . ? What is your beloved more than another beloved, that you thus adjure us? (5:9). A contemporary paraphrase might be, “What is so great about your man?” This is just the prompt needed for her to spout out a poem on his incomparability.
5:10–16 She inventories his sculpted body (“polished ivory,” 5:14) and overall “appearance” (5:15). He is as tall, dark, and handsome as the lofty, shady, and attractive cedars of Lebanon. She reminds herself of his complexion (“radiant and ruddy”), strong arms (“rods of gold”), and firm legs (“alabaster columns”). But she does not focus on his private part but his most public feature which features some private moments for her—his face (head, hair, eyes, cheeks, lips, and mouth).
Her more modest description (than her husband’s—he moves from head to breasts and stops to stare, 4:1–5) focuses not only on his face but his overall worth, as the chiasm below shows.
a 5:8b O daughters of Jerusalem . . . tell him . . .
b 5:9ac What is your beloved more than . . .
c 5:10b distinguished among . . .
d 5:11a His head is the finest gold
d’ 5:15b [his feet are] gold
c’ 5:15d choice as . . .
b’ 5:16c This is my beloved
a’ 5:16d O daughters of Jerusalem.4
To answer her bridesmaids’ question, he is worth finding because her “beloved,” who is also her “friend” (5:16), is to her the most valuable earthly entity.
6:1–3 This poetic unit concludes, as all the major poetic units have concluded, with another picture of the couple’s physical affection. The others ask where the beautiful bride’s beloved has gone? (6:1). She again has found him. They have somehow found each other. Their separation is over. Here the author gives no record of confessions and absolutions, only a picture of reconciliation. They have returned to the garden of delight. From the Edenic metaphors of trees (“cedars”) and eating fruit (“his mouth most sweet,” 5:16), they return to Edenic actions. Through their renewal of vows (“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,” 6:3a) and their physical actions, they are united again. His plea, “Open to me” (5:2) is finally answered with a “yes.” She allows him to go into her body (“My beloved has gone down to his garden,” 6:2; cf. 4:12) and enjoy the kisses from her mouth (“among the lilies,” 6:3; cf. 5:13).
Captivating Beauty (6:4–8:4)
6:4–10 This section ends with the final wisdom admonition to the virgins to patiently pursue purity (8:4). Before that, and identical to the previous plot (5:2–6:3), the couple moves from conflict (some form of separation) to climax (the bride agrees to intimacy) to resolution (lovemaking). Before their brief separation (6:11–13), however, in 6:4–10 the groom sings of his bride’s beautiful body. Her beauty is unique. Compared with Solomon’s “sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number,” she is the “perfect one” (6:8–9), something even her peers admit (“the young women . . . queens and concubines . . . praised her,” 6:9). Her beauty is also awe-inspiring. She is as “awesome as an army with banners” (6:10), grand as Israel’s capital cities (Tirzah and Jerusalem, 6:4), exquisite as the heavenly lights (the moon and sun, 6:10), and stunning as a sunrise (“looks down like the dawn,” 6:10). Once again, “her long, black, wavy hair, perfect white teeth, and rouged, round cheeks have captured his imagination and captivated his heart.”5
6:11–13 With his compliments, he woos her with words. Song of Solomon 6:11–12, however, records her hesitancy. She wants to make sure the time is right. So, she travels on a metaphorical journey to “the nut orchard” to check on the new growth brought about through the change from winter to spring. She wonders if “the vines had budded” and “the pomegranates were in bloom” (6:11). As she sees the signs of spring, she warms to her husband’s touch. In fact, she is overcome with “desire” for him (6:12). The others agree. Now is the time! “Return, return . . . return, return” (6:13), they shout, hoping she will continue to school them in the matters of love.
7:1–5 Then, apparently, she does return. Whereby, her beloved does not hesitate to return to his high homage of her form. He echoes his “You are beautiful” (6:4) with the line “How beautiful” (7:1) and continues to praise her body. In this second utterly intimate inventory, he journeys feet to head (7:1, 5), stopping along the way to praise her thighs, navel, belly, breasts, neck, eyes, and nose (7:1–4). She is strikingly and captivatingly beautiful (he is “a king held captive,” 7:5).
7:6–13 The rapt husband now seeks to move from seeing his bride’s body to touching it. He wants to again enjoy her “delights” (7:6), describing their physical intimacy with the images of climbing a “palm tree” and grabbing “its fruit,” and drinking “the best wine” (7:8–9). She agrees and releases him! Finally, “the vines have budded” (6:11). She invites the right person (“Come, my beloved”) to find the right time (“let us go out early”) and right place (“the [secluded] vineyards”) where she will give the pleasures she has “laid up” for him (7:13; “There I will give you my love,” 7:12). His kisses will “flow from his lips” to hers (7:9 MSG), and, as their lips lock, so their whole selves reunite again (“I am my beloved’s”) in their mutual passion (“his desire is for me,” 7:10; cf. 6:12 for her “desire”). Once again, their lovemaking is Edenic.
8:1–3 The intimacy continues. It just moves from the outside to the inside (“into the house,” 8:2). In her mother’s house, the place where the newlywed bride was taught by her mother both purity and passion (“she who used to teach me”), the lovemaking continues. “I would give you,” promises the bride, “spiced wine to drink, the juice of my pomegranate” (8:2), or less metaphorically, “His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!” (8:3). This text concludes with the final refrain, moving once again from the warm marriage bed to the admonition that the virgins cool off for now (do “not stir up or awaken love until it pleases,” 8:4).
Longing for More (8:5–14)
The conclusion to the Song is quite different than what precedes, in that this is the first poetic unit that does not describe sexual arousal and intimacy. It takes an important aside from their love story so as to define love itself through two images.
8:5 The first image is that of the bride “leaning on her beloved” as they return to the family homestead (“the apple tree” where the groom’s “mother . . . bore [him] in labor,” 8:5). The image of leaning is non-erotic. It symbolizes their affection, companionship, closeness, and safety. It fits well what the bride said in 5:16, “This is my beloved . . . my friend.” And the imagery of the apple tree on the beloved’s homestead, the first place where their love was aroused (“under the apple tree I awakened you,” 8:5), is also, in this scene, nonsexual. The same place of their first intimate act—the apple tree—was the actual place where his mother gave birth to him. This might seem odd, but the point of this detail is to show that the union between a husband and wife is a family affair. They are not independent. They are branches on the family tree. His parents made love. His mom gave birth to him. He then married a wife. She will likely give birth someday. And thus, the legacy of love continues. As there is dependence between the husband and wife (she leans on him), so there is dependence on their family and community to sustain their love.
8:6–7 The second image is that of a seal. She sings, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm” (8:6). She expresses their internal (“heart”) and external (“arm”) public commitment to each other. The reason for this strong covenant bond relates to love’s permanence: “for love is strong as death . . . its flashes are . . . the very flame of the Lord,” and “many waters cannot quench love” (8:6–7). Just as “the grave” is a place of permanence (a corpse cannot dig through the dirt to escape) and “floods cannot drown” the Almighty and eternal flame of the true God of love (8:6–7), so love “never ends” (1Cor 13:8). And because such love is invaluable, “if a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised” (Song 8:7). Money is worthless to buy God-sealed love.
8:8–12 Following the Song’s inspired definition of love, we return to a familiar theme of the Song’s refrain. Now the focus is on the importance of sexual purity before marriage. Song of Solomon 8:8–9 speaks of the benefits of a young woman (“a little sister”) waiting for marriage (“on the day when she is spoken for,” 8:8). “If she is a wall” (remains a virgin), her family will celebrate her victory (they “will build on her a battlement of silver,” 8:9).
This is the bride’s story, something she celebrates afresh. Even though she was quite attractive (“my breasts were like towers”), she “was a wall” (8:10). Her vignette on her purity before marriage and monogamy in marriage is contrasted with Solomon’s story. Her love story brought “peace” (8:10, a sense of wholeness), not a division of heart and kingdom. Her marriage also brought a sense of true freedom. The bride compares her body (“my vineyard, my very own,” 8:12) to Solomon’s massive “vineyard at Baal-hamon,” 8:11), which might be an allusion to his 700 wives and 300 concubines (1Kgs 10:3) and can be translated “lord of a multitude.” He has more than he can handle! He cannot possible personally attend to his beautiful vineyard (“he let out the vineyard to keepers,” 8:11). His love life brought financial benefits but at the cost of true liberation. He tried to “offer for love all the wealth of his house” and he is now “utterly despised” (8:7) by her (“you, O Solomon,” 8:12).
8:13–14 The Song ends with a line from each lover. The beloved speaks directly to her, inviting her to speak to him: “O you who dwell in the gardens . . . let me hear” your voice (8:13). She returns to her opening invitation (see 1:2) to intimacy: “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle . . . on the mountains of spice” (8:14). “She is calling on him to make love to her,” as Duane Garrett frankly phrases it.6 But, unlike the end of most of the poetic units, this unit ends with longing not consummation. We do not read the groom’s joyful pronouncement (“I went into my garden”) followed by an affirmation of unity (“my beloved is mine and I am his”). Moreover, the Song does not return to the theme of waiting (“Do not . . . awaken love until it so desires”). Instead, the reader is left, as the couple longs to touch again, with an almost eschatological yearning for another ecstatic encounter.
What happens with them is left to the readers sanctified imagination, but it also creates a longing to read what happens next in the story of salvation. The Jewish canon goes to Ruth next and the Christian canon to Isaiah, both providential placements pointing to the coming Son of David who is Immanuel. The Song’s abrupt and inconclusive ending is intentional, for God’s love story is not fulfilled until “the marriage of the Lamb” comes and Christ’s “bride has made herself ready” by keeping herself “pure” (Rev 19:7–8). The Bible concludes, as the Song does, with a call from the bridegroom (“Surely I am coming soon,” Rev 22:17), followed by a passionate plea from the bride (“Come, Lord Jesus!” Rev 22:20). As God’s people await “the appearing of the glory of . . . Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13), hands are held out with deep longing for the return of the King greater than Solomon, whose reign of love will satisfy all who are lovesick.
Duguid, Iain M. Song of Songs. Reformed Expository Commentary. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2016.
Estes, Daniel J. “Song of Songs,” in Daniel C. Fredericks and Daniel J. Estes, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs. Apollos Old Testament Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2010.
Glenhill, Thomas. The Message of the Song of Songs. The Bible Speaks Today. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994.
O’Donnell, Douglas Sean. The Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy. Preaching the Word. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012.
Ryken, Philip. The Love of Loves in the Song of Songs. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
Endnotes & Permissions
1. Richard S. Hess, Song of Songs (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017), 41.
2. O’Donnell, Song of Solomon (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2012), 56.
3. O’Donnell, “Song of Solomon,” in ESV Bible Expository Commentary (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, forthcoming).
4. Othmar Keel, Song of Songs (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1994), 206.
5. O’Donnell, “Song of Solomon,” forthcoming.
6. Duane Garrett, “Song of Songs,” in Song of Songs/Lamentations, Word Biblical Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2004), 265.
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Song of Solomon 1
1:1 The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
The Bride Confesses Her Love
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine;
3 your anointing oils are fragrant;
your name is oil poured out;
therefore virgins love you.
4 Draw me after you; let us run.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
5 I am very dark, but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has looked upon me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
where you make it lie down at noon;
for why should I be like one who veils herself
beside the flocks of your companions?
Solomon and His Bride Delight in Each Other
8 If you do not know,
O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your young goats
beside the shepherds’ tents.
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make for you2 ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13 My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of Engedi.
15 Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
16 Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful.
Our couch is green;
17 the beams of our house are cedar;
our rafters are pine.
The translators have added speaker identifications based on the gender and number of the Hebrew words
The Hebrew for you is feminine singular