Starting Points Matter Both in the Study of Genesis as well as the Study of the Song of Solomon

When I enter the study of the Song of Solomon, it is like discovering the world is merely 6,000 years old versus millions of years old. Everyone has the same evidence but where you start determines everything. Someone who starts with the Bible cannot legitimately come up with an old earth without twisting Scripture to get there. Neither can someone who starts with the Bible come up with a virtuous view of Solomon in the Song of Songs without twisting the text to get there. Yet, that is the status quo of many commentators. As I look over commentaries, the evidence is there so I can use all of them for different reasons, but (emphasis!) because they have begun with a positive spin on Solomon (equivalent to believing in millions of years before you consult the Bible) they only remain perplexed with certain verses in the Song. One example is that of the Apollos Old Testament Commentary by Daniel J. Estes when commenting on 6:4, “this song is strangely pale in its language when compared with the earlier lyric. Solomon seems to avoid the most erotic descriptions from his previous song, probably so as not to give her the false impression that he merely desires her sexually.” So, the commentator notices that Solomon is toning it down a bit, but he’s definitely speaking the same way, just not as strong. Solomon though is still objectifying the body parts of the Shulammite, but stops short of mentioning her breasts (as in 4:1–7) not because he wasn’t going there, but because the Shepherd lover interrupts him in 6:8–9. You have a totally different speaker there with a totally different character. He is challenging Solomon’s violation of God’s law for kings in v.8, and in v.9 he is making it clear he is a one woman man (unlike Solomon). So it may read as follows:

[Solomon continues to objectify the Shulammite]

You are beautiful as Tirzah, my love, lovely as Jerusalem, awesome as an army with banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me— Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that have come up from the washing; all of them bear twins; not one among them has lost its young. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.

[The Shepherd-lover interrupts!]1

There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, pure to her who bore her. The young women saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines also, and they praised her.

Perhaps Seerveld’s translation of the Hebrew here may be helpful:

SOLOMON

My! You have been dressed well, my lovely one; You are pleasantly clad as Tirzah, as beautiful as Jerusalem—frighteningly impressive! [What is it?!] Do not look at me so! Your eyes disturb me…. Your hair [floats as gently] as a herd of goats wending its way down Mt. Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of mother sheep coming up out of their watering place—all soon to be bearing twins, not one a barren. Your temples are like a piece of pomegranate [hidden] behind your veil. [note that Solomon is always trying to get behind her veil]

(Suddenly, a ringing young voice penetrates into the room from beyond the window. The Shulammite stands transfixed.)

HER LOVER [The Shepherd-Lover]

King Solomon has sixty queens, eighty concubines, and a hoard of young girls! this one only is mine, [think here of Nathan rebuking David for taking Bathsheba from Uriah, he called her in the story a little ewe lamb, his only one] this innocent dove–my beautiful one! … 2

O what beauty [of God] is robbed from the text when we do not begin with the Bible! A commentator, expositor, or whatever who begins with Solomon as virtuous is going to be puzzled at the language change and remain unable to see the plain and clear truth before them, just like someone who begins with millions of years and evolution will be forced to twist the Word instead of enjoy and study it. The Song of Solomon is a critique of Solomon and a celebration of what God’s love does in the life of this woman typifying the church toward her Shepherd-husband. The bride is thus in the world and not of it. She is captive in Solomon’s harem but her heart belongs to her Shepherd and she will not be unfaithful to him. She is gradually brought to her Shepherd and out of the clutches of Solomon’s harem by redemptive love that works graciously within her. Grace works from the inside out and where the world is fierce to woo even believers in Jesus, the truth is stronger still.

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1

As Calvin G. Seerveld observes in his book, Never Try to Arouse Erotic Love Until… by Dordt College Press.

2

Seerveld, except the italic notes are mine