Reflection and Discussion
Read through the complete passage for this study, Song of Solomon 3:6–5:1. Then read the passages and related questions below and record your responses.
The word “What” in 3:6 is literally “Who” in Hebrew, and it is in the feminine gender. Taking this into account, it is best to read 3:6 as the man speaking about the woman coming up from the wilderness. The wilderness is a place of barrenness and of hostile forces of nature. Yet the woman emerges refined, perfumed, and ready to be a blessing to her future spouse. The woman is seen as a garden of rest and refreshment for the man amid a hostile world. Man and woman were created for a perfect world in the garden of Eden, and there is a sense in which the blessings of God upon marriage are a foretaste of the restoration of that perfect home. In 4:12–5:1, both the man and the woman employ a garden metaphor. Compare and contrast how the two of them use this metaphor to describe their wedding and the consummation of their love.
Verse 7 contains a sharp shift marked by “Behold!” as the scene shifts to a procession of Solomon, carried on a couch (“litter”; 3:7) on the day of his wedding (vv. 7–11). This is the only time Solomon has an active role in the Song. In our reading of the Song of Solomon, supported especially by the Hebrew text of 3:6 (with “Who” referring to the shepherdess; see discussion above), Solomon is not appearing here because he is the groom featured in this book. Rather, Solomon appears here as a literary foil, providing a point of contrast. What our couple enjoys is more glorious than the wealth and power of Solomon’s kingdom. The epilogue at the end of the Song contains an allusion to the day of the wedding, with the woman again “coming up from the wilderness” (8:5), this time with her beloved on her arm. Then, in 8:11–12 the woman compares her relationship with her beloved to the relationships Solomon had with his wives and concubines. Hers is superior to the royal king’s because it is exclusive.
The implications of these comparisons are clear. First, the woman’s beauty is more glorious than Solomon clothed in all his splendor. Second, the wedding of a shepherd and a shepherdess, though they are ordinary people, surpasses the glory of King Solomon. His wedding procession is marked by signs of power and money. The two lovers of the Song, by contrast, have a wedding marked by their own pure love and delight in each other. This pure love is to be desired more than power or money. Read the description of Solomon (3:7–11). Write down the words, phrases, and descriptions associated with his power and wealth.
In 4:1–16 the voice of the man breaks forth powerfully. These 16 verses comprise the longest section in which the man speaks in the Song. They include his praise for his bride’s beauty (vv. 1–7), a request for her to go away with him (v. 8), a description of how she has captured his heart (v. 9), another section praising her beauty and comparing her to a locked garden (vv. 10–15), and final pleas for the forces of nature to come and unleash the treasures of the locked garden (v. 16). Read verses 1–7 and 10–11. Of the many metaphors used to describe the woman, which do you find most compelling to modern readers? Which are most distant?
There is progression in the Song. In 2:8–17, what physical barrier stands between the woman and her beloved? By contrast, what barrier separates them in 4:1–3? What does the change in these physical barriers indicate?
The beloved has described seven aspects of the woman’s body, a number of perfection. With this complete examination of her beauty he exclaims, “You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you” (4:7). Presented as an ideal for married couples, what do these verses suggest for husbands and wives in times of intimacy?
In 4:12 we find a series of evocative metaphors the man uses to describe his bride. If there is any doubt as to what is referenced in these metaphors, the woman seems to remove it in 4:16b: “Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.” In our age of sexual coarseness, we should not miss the beautiful way in which the Scriptures speak of the consummation of this marriage. The images are powerful and clear, perhaps even so much so as to embarrass some readers. Nevertheless, they are tasteful and appropriately restrained. What four verbs does the man employ in 5:1 to describe the consummation he experiences with his bride?
How do we see this consummation of marriage affirmed as a good and godly thing at the close of 5:1?
Read through the following three sections on Gospel Glimpses, Whole-Bible Connections, and Theological Soundings. Then take time to consider the Personal Implications these sections may have for you.
KING SOLOMON, MARRIAGE, AND CHRIST. God provides foundational instruction for all of the kings of Israel in Deuteronomy 17. In 17:17 the Lord warns that Israel’s king “shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.” No king of Israel violated these commands more than Solomon. First Kings 11:3 records that Solomon “had 700 wives, who were princesses, and 300 concubines.” And every year Solomon received in tribute the equivalent of 25 tons of gold (1 Kings 10:14). One of the most important lessons to take away from the Song of Solomon is that God offers extraordinary blessing to ordinary men and women who commit themselves to godly marriage. The pleasure and glory of such a union surpasses anything Solomon ever experienced. The Song teaches us that a lifelong marriage to the same spouse is the pathway to the richest blessings. There is a spiritual, emotional, and psychological depth intended for the sexual relationship that cannot be cultivated with multiple partners. It takes an exclusive commitment to one’s husband or wife to discover truly the deepest joys God intends for sexual intimacy. Anything else is a fleeting and ultimately painful substitute. This message must be promoted in an age that constantly heralds the fleeting pleasures of promiscuity and sexual experimentation. Further, the glory of a godly marriage is intended to point to the greater glory of Christ himself. Every husband will fall short of Christ. King Solomon was a moral failure as Israel’s king. But, thankfully, we have One greater than Solomon (Matt. 12:42) who perfectly kept the law of God for the people of God. Christ loved the church, his bride, even unto death.
SEX, MONEY, AND POWER. The Scriptures warn against the allure and abuse of sex, money, and power. Solomon’s reign was characterized by all three to an extreme. Christ, by contrast, held fast in the face of temptation to exalt himself, so that he could save us from our sins (Matt. 4:1–11). In the book of Revelation, the city of Babylon is judged for her adulteries and excessive luxuries (Rev. 18:3). This ungodly city is adorned in purple, gold, and pearls (Rev. 18:16). The bride of Christ, by contrast, is clothed in “fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:8). There is a simplicity and purity commended to the people of God in this contrast, as well as a warning not to be seduced by the money, sex, or power of this world. The woman in the Song of Solomon enjoys face-to-face intimacy with her beloved in a way that Solomon could never enjoy with all of his wives, and the church similarly enjoys a face-to-face intimacy with the Lord (2 Cor. 3:18) that cannot be surpassed by all of the pleasures, riches, and power of this world.