A friend of mine keeps encouraging me to put my Bible teachings in blog form. I have no idea how to do that but I decided to try with a book I taught just this week. I had the privilege of teaching Song of Solomon to our current Bible students. I really love teaching this book because I have no problem talking about sex and love. And I am extremely grateful that God made sure this book was in the Bible. It was a battle to even get it into the Canon because of the explicit nature of the book. I keep calling it a book but in actuality, it’s a Song or a love poem and it was a common expression in the ancient near east. Scholars argue about the date but I have come to the conclusion that the book was written about 965 BC, during Solomon’s reign.
Why is dating the book important? The reason dating is important is that we teach our Bible students to interpret the books of the Bible according to the audience they were written for, meaning to take into consideration the original readers of each book. We teach them to delve into the historical background of the book, asking questions such as what was going on at the time in Israel? Surrounding nations? What’s the religious climate? What’s the worldview of sexuality? What was the author’s intent? Why did the author write this book? I am sure you get the point. We ask many, many questions to try to understand and interpret each book in a balanced and accurate manner.
The predominant view of this Song has been that it’s an allegory. It’s probably one of the main reasons it’s actually in the Bible! Song of Solomon being an allegory simply means that it is not a real love poem between two people but has a deeper spiritual meaning. The Jews thought it symbolized the relationship between God and Israel and now, modern day believers think it symbolizes intimacy between Jesus and His Bride or the Church.
I admit that until I studied this book in depth, I thought it an allegory as well. My opinion has since changed and I hope I can explain why without ruffling too many feathers. As I have tried to study the entire Bible chronologically, I have come across a mindset that I believe has been very damaging to the Church. In fact, it nearly derailed the early Church because of its pervasiveness. The mindset is the Greek mindset that came into Israel’s history about 333 BC. I don’t have time to discuss it here but most of the nation of Israel became Hellenized or influenced by Greek culture, language, philosophy and thought as did the whole world at the time thanks to Alexander the Great.
One of the ideas that the Greeks held was a dualistic philosophy. Simply put, anything heavenly, spiritual and of the soul was good. However, anything earthly, physical, bodily and having to do with matter was bad. This is why many Church fathers were monks! They were trying to deny the body of any physical pleasure because physical pleasure was considered bad. Denying one’s self was very spiritual because the physical was evil.
Because of this mindset and worldview, scholars had to come up with a plausible explanation for such an explicit Song. Even the Hebrews had trouble explaining it away. Both Hebrews and Greeks said it was an allegory, though for different reasons. The Hebrew mindset contrasts the Greek mindset. The Hebrews (before Hellenization) had no such dualism. In the Hebrew mindset, marriage is perhaps the most spiritual thing a man and woman do. All that is involved in a Godly marriage is seen as spiritual to the Hebrew. The body is not evil, according to Scripture, Old Testament or New Testament.
This was eye-opening to me as I studied. I began to ask myself, why is it so hard to look at this Song for what it is? A beautiful love poem between a man and a woman. Why do we need to spiritualize it? Is it because the conversation about sexuality embarrasses us or we think sex is bad? What if the Song was intended to teach God’s people about the proper view of sexuality and love?
I also began to think about God’s view of sexuality and love. What is God’s view of sexuality and love? Have you ever asked Him? Let’s go back to the garden of Eden to find out what God intended for sexuality and love between a man and a woman. Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. Genesis 2:24 says, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Two becoming one. This was God’s intention of sexuality and love. Unfortunately, sin entered the world and marred everything, including sexuality and love.
But God has always been about redeeming what was lost in the Garden. This includes sexuality and love. God even put guidelines into His law to protect sexuality and love; to keep it between one man and one woman as was His intention in the first place. Did you know that God placed boundaries on sexual contact between family members in order to protect people from molestation? Why did God put these guidelines and boundaries in place? Is it because He is a prude? No. It’s to protect His people because God knows that when sexuality and love are misused and abused, it damages not only our bodies but also our souls.
At the time of the writing, we are not entirely sure of the view of sexuality and love. We do know that Solomon had multiple wives and they led him astray into idolatry, walking away from the covenant God made with Israel. One thing Israel struggled with on and off throughout their history was Baal worship. This manifested itself through sexual acts in order to ensure fertility of their land. Baal worship legalized and encouraged sexually indulgent worship practices. I stumbled across this quote that rang so true to me regarding the Song. “In order to break the hold of Baalism on the people, a very different interpretation of sexuality had to be asserted and taught and embraced.”*
I believe this is the point of the Song; to teach Israel God’s view of sexuality and love and in turn, to teach us, in the twenty-first century. I think it is most beautiful that God wants to redeem our sexuality. After all, it’s a gift from God Himself! Sex is natural (George Michael had it right) and it’s beautiful and it’s amazing. We should not be ashamed or embarrassed to discuss sex! We, as the Church, need to talk about this issue in a healthy way.
What is the world’s view of sexuality and love today? What is the message in every television show, movie, rap song? “If it feels good, do it.” “There are no restrictions!” “Have as many partners as you can because you need experience.” “You don’t need to save yourself or your virginity, that’s archaic bull-crap or moral bologna.” “Be free and express yourself sexually, it doesn’t matter!” “Why wait? It’s all about immediate gratification.” “We are just animals!” Russell Brand, the famed sex addict, reportedly had eighty sexual partners a month. Um, there are thirty days in a month. Whoa. That’s a lot of sex. The man had stamina! But my issue here is that the world doesn’t really tell us the truth about the toll it takes living in this way.
|Razor Love, used by permission here.|
I can’t tell you how many men and women have shared with me how living out this worldview has damaged them and caused great pain and great shame. I am not even talking about the natural consequences, like STD’s or unwanted pregnancy or abortion. I am simply talking about the damage of two souls becoming one, over and over with many different people. Pain that could be avoided if people were offered another way. Is there another way, a way that could help us avoid this kind of pain? Yes. There is. And it’s beautifully modeled in the Song of Solomon.
Does the world need God’s view of sexuality and love? Oh yes. This is what I love about what I do. I get to offer the world another option, another view of sexuality and love. A view that is not popular in this day and age. A view that teaches that our sexuality is valuable and should be cherished, not devalued. A view that affirms that sex is beautiful and good, in the right context. A view that teaches that God ordained sexuality and love for our pleasure! And I use a beautiful, erotic Song called the Song of Solomon to do exactly that.
|Used by permission here. Artist is Sailko.|
Since this is the first time I have tried to put a teaching into blog form, I would appreciate your honest feedback. What did you think? Does it work in blog form or were you bored to tears? Would it have been better to make it a series so it’s not too long? Be honest, it’s how I can improve my blog! I’d love to hear from you even if you disagree with my viewpoint. I am very respectful of differing views and welcome any comments.
*This quote is from the Dictionary of Old Testament Wisdom, Poetry and Writings by InterVarsity Press.
2 thoughts on “Song of Solomon, unpacked”
My feedback is I'd love to hear more! Excellent writing and teaching…
Thanks for sharing, Megan! Thumbs up from me, I really liked reading this.