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Song of songs, introduction and background

Different backgrounds, and frameworks, for the Song of Songs are almost as numerous as students of the book. There are perhaps more different interpretations of this Book than of any other in the Bible, including Revelation! Plainly, this is a difficult book to place in historical context, and to present in outline form. There are a number of separate short songs, which are clearly related but not necessarily sequential in time. At times it is very difficult to know for sure who is speaking, and to whom the words are being spoken; also, it is difficult to know whether the person or persons to whom the words are being spoken is/are physically present or absent at the time.

The author of the book is not stated (it is not necessarily Solomon: see Song 1:1n). This in itself allows for any number of possible backgrounds and outlines.

As to the historical, or Old Testament, background, this study (following HAW's idea) suggests that the Song of Songs is based on King Hezekiah's attempts to regather the remnant of the Northern Kingdom back to his own Southern Kingdom. This would include especially his effort to reclaim them for the worship of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Only a study of the whole book, in some detail, can prove (or disprove) the reasonableness of this scenario.

Other scenarios are therefore offered, in the Outlines section. The reader may find that one or more of these are perhaps more appealing as a framework for study; and to this the author can make no objection.

Whatever the historical context that gave rise to the Song of Songs in the first place, it is almost universally accepted that -- in an Old Testament context -- the underlying theme is the relationship between the God of Israel and His people (cp Isa 62:4,5; 64:5; Hos 2:16,19). And furthermore that -- in New Testament terms -- the Book is an allegory about Christ and his Bride, the church or ecclesia (cp Mat 25:1; Rom 7:4; 2Co 11:2; Eph 5:32; Rev 19:7; 21:2,9). There is a natural progression and development in these ideas. No matter where the Song of Songs is placed as to its composition and historical context, these spiritual truths will surely be recognized as the primary purpose, and most fulfilling study, of the Book.

These twin themes (of God and Israel, and Christ and the body of believers) will receive most of the attention in the verse-by-verse notes that make up the main part of the commentary.

Old Testament background: one possible view

Hezekiah inaugurated a great religious reformation: The temple was cleansed and rehabilitated; idolatry was swept away. He sent messengers throughout all 12 tribes inviting them to renew their allegiance to Yahweh and to come to Jerusalem for the Passover (2Ch 30:5-12,18,21). His intention was no doubt to reunite the nation politically as well as religiously. (The Northern Kingdom was in turmoil with devastations from the Assyrians, and this would appeal to many of the victims therefrom.)

This master plan was thwarted, however, by the invasion of Sennacherib. Only Jerusalem escaped. But the enemy host was overthrown, and there ensued a 15-year period of unmatched peace and prosperity. During this time Hezekiah's wooing of the northern tribes would undoubtedly be resumed (although Scripture does not mention this) -- this time without fear of Assyrian interference.

The first purpose of the Song of Songs, then, may have been these worthy attempts to unite at least the faithful remnant of the North with the God-given religion and kingship centered in Jerusalem. Thus the name "Shulammite" would suggest the northern tribes, and "betrothal" would suggest Hezekiah's great Passover. In this scenario, the shepherd's disappearance and the woman's resultant nightmares, fears, and separations would symbolize the Assyrian invasion of the Northern Kingdom and the continuing attempts thereafter to unite nation.


[GL Carr, in the "Tyndale OT Commentary", refers to an ancient tradition preserved in the Mishnah, that "Hezekiah and his company... wrote the Song of Songs." (This would match what is known about Hezekiah's work in compiling the Proverbs in Pro 25:1.) He adds, however, that this may be understood in terms of editorial work done on an already existing body of material.]

In the "Hezekiah" scenario, "Solomon" does not refer to the real person of that name, but is a designation of spiritual significance -- a royal prototype. It refers to a righteous son of Solomon, and hence son of David -- one who is keenly interested in the worship at the temple built by his ancestor Solomon.

Other Hezekiah connections

Psalm 45 is the portion of Scripture that most closely resembles the Song of Songs. For various reasons, the authorship of Psalm 45 may be attributed to Hezekiah -- and the bride there described could have been, in the first instance, Hephzibah (for more on this point, see George Booker's "Psalms Studies"). From that, we quote the following:

"Psalm 45 is a 'miniature Song of Songs'. Both Scriptures describe the marriage of a great 'king' to a special 'bride'. The righteous King (vv 2,7), taken from among his fellows (v 7), but now elevated above all them to sit on God's throne (v 6), celebrates a great marriage (vv 9-11). This is none other than 'the marriage of the Lamb' (Rev 19:7-9), with a 'Bride' out of the Gentiles (vv 11,12)! This King is also a great High Priest (cp Isa 61:1,2,10: a 'bridegroom who decketh himself as a priest'), for (as in the Song of Songs) he is described in imagery reminiscent of the temple and its services. It is because of the surpassing sacrifice that the King-Priest has offered that his prospective Bride has been cleansed, and prepared for him (Eph 5:25-27, citing Song 4:7; cp Song 6:8,9)."


Other possible historical backgrounds have been suggested:


The historical background of the Song of Songs may be distinguished from the Old Testament theme. The underlying theme of the Book, in OT terms, is the great love of the God of Israel for His people -- even when they were forgetful of him. It is noteworthy that the Song was traditionally read at the time of Passover -- because that feast commemorated the purest expression of God's covenant love. This love was expressed in the promises to Abraham and the fathers, when He delivered His children out of slavery in Egypt, and solemnly "betrothed" them to Himself at Sinai. (Hosea 1-3 corroborates this picture -- there, plainly, the relationship of a real man and his wife is made to describe, typically, the relationship between God Himself and His people Israel. Throughout the Old Testament the idea of a marriage union between God and His people occurs repeatedly, and the most frequent metaphor for religious apostasy is drawn from the crime of adultery: cp Exo 34:15,16; Num 15:39; Psa 73:27; Eze 16:23; Jer 3:11.)

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