The Song of Solomon is one of those books that we read when it comes up in our Bible-in-a-year plans, but we seldom talk about it. There are a few reasons for this. First, there is the debate among some teachers as to whether or not the book should be interpreted figuratively, as a metaphor for Christ and the church. Others get caught up in unveiling the racy language of the book, the intimacy and passion between a husband and wife, and they make the book nearly impossible to read without blushing.
Sadly, both of those interpretations rob us of some of the great beauty in the Song of songs. First, to interpret this book primarily as an allegorical representation of Jesus and the church is to force upon it a meaning that simply could not have been understood by its original audience. There is no biblical warrant for spiritualizing this text any more than what is done in the rest of Scripture. In Ephesians 5, Paul shows us that marriage as a whole depicts the faithful and self-giving love of Christ and the church. And so we can rightly say that this marriage is a depiction of marriage, and then we can go a third step to draw the metaphorical connection in Ephesians. But that is a far cry from making every detail of the book somehow uncomfortably refer to something religious.
At the same time, there is no goodness in striving to uncover every poetic metaphor for sexuality. The author wrote some racy things in this book, things to be shared between a husband and his bride. But the author wrote them in poetic form. He used symbols and metaphors instead of medical terminology on purpose. He did not want to be crass. He did not want to be pornographic. He simply wanted to express the truth of the relationship in a way that could be understood by the husband and wife in their day. But there was no form in the writing of being crude or of exposing to a watching world things that were supposed to be shared by the couple.
The sad thing is, if we allow either a fully metaphorical view or a crass view of this book to rule our understanding, we miss the beauty of the book. Yes, it is a book about marital love. Yes, it is a book that shows tenderness, commitment, reconciliation, passion, beauty, and so much more. And no, we do not have to put an R rating on it. Instead, we should read it for what it actually shows us about the beauty of a truly committed marriage.
Look at the end of the book.
Song of Solomon 8:5-8
5 Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
leaning on her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labor with you;
there she who bore you was in labor.
6 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.
7 Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.
Don’t let the poetry mess you up. This is a scene of the couple from the book walking together. Perhaps they are visiting the husband’s old home, his birthplace. This seems to be a place of memories for them, maybe even of a first date or meeting. She is leaning on his arm. She is sealed to him, never to be removed. She trusts in him. She knows he will stand with her as long as they live.
But how can she say that love is so unquenchable? So many in our world know that the feelings of passion fade. So many know that their affections wax and wane. We have seen people “fall out of love.” So how can she talk like that? Is she a fool?
No, the woman is no fool. Nor is her marriage perfect. WE saw some conflict between them because she was selfish in chapter 5. But the point is that their love will not fail. This is not about emotion. It is about commitment. The woman and the man in this book are committed to one another. They are clinging to each other, even as they age. They have decided to be given to each other’s good regardless of the circumstances. And because of that commitment, they walk together into the twilight with a full assurance that neither of them would give up their relationship, no matter what another person on earth could offer.
In the book, we see the sparks of love and passion. We see desire that is kept in check before marriage. WE see the wedding and the joys of the marriage bed. WE see conflict and reconciliation. WE see growth in the relationship. And we see, at the end, an older couple walking together, leaning on each other, and declaring that they will do each other good until death parts them. And this is a beautiful and biblical picture of a love that is better with age.