In the Garden of Delight: An Overview of the Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon contains eight romantic chapters of love, setting forth the affection king Solomon had for a Shulamite (Heb. “peaceful”) maiden. “Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee” (Song 4:7).

The identity of the Shulamite Maiden is uncertain. Some Bible scholars believe she is an unknown woman from the city of Shunem, in the tribe of Issachar, north of Jezreel, and south of Mount Gilboa.  Other Bible scholars suggest she is the well-known, and beautiful Maiden, Abishag, a concubine in the harem of king David who was brought to the palace to comfort him in his old age (1 Kings 1:1-4).

A large part of this great love song is told from the perspective of a woman who speaks about her special someone in many ways. She refers to him as her Beloved.  

  • The Beloved is like a lovely plant. 1:14
  • The Beloved is pleasant, and sweet. 1:16
  • The Beloved is desired. 2:3
  • The voice of the Beloved is anticipated with joy. 2:8
  • The Beloved is like an alert young roe (buck). 2:9
  • The Beloved is romantically persuasive. 2:10
  • The Beloved is exclusively hers, and she is his. 2:16
  • The Beloved lingers until the last moment when he must go. 2:17
  • The Beloved is desperately longed for. 4:16
  • The Beloved dares to visit in the middle of the night. 5:2
  • The Beloved is desperate to see the woman he loves. 5:4
  • The Beloved is responded to in the night, but too late. 5:5,6
  • The Beloved is sought after. 5:8
  • The Beloved is handsome beyond compare. 5:10
  • The Beloved is a friend. 5:16
  • The Beloved is romantically thoughtful. 6:2
  • The Beloved is wholly faithful. 6:3
  • The Beloved is pleasant to kiss. 7:9
  • The Beloved is one to be pursued. 7:11
  • The Beloved is carefully prepared for. 7:11, 13
  • The Beloved is terribly missed until his return. 8:14

Though the Shulamite Maiden might have been totally enthralled with Solomon, given the fact that the king had 700 wives and 300 concubines, it is hard to believe Solomon was really committed to any relationship with a particular woman. Perhaps that is why he is only mentioned five times in the book (1:5, 9; 3:9, 11; 8:11, 12).

There is another way to understand this Song of love and romance. Solomon was a gifted writer, and the words of this book are designed to touch the heart. If the book was written in the spirit of Solomon, meaning after the pattern of his wisdom, poetry, and quest for learning, then primary attention can be turned from the king of Israel to an unknown Shepherd-Lover who had caught the attention, and captured the heart of the Shulamite woman.  Together, they express love for one another, and verbally explore sexual desire.

The Introduction: Song of Solomon 1:2–7

The theme of the book is set forth in the first verses as we read of a woman and her desire for a young shepherd-lover. They are not married at the time, but they are definitely in love and cannot wait to be together. The couple is constantly seeking and finding one another.

The Main Narrative: Song of Solomon 2:1—8:5

Following the Introduction, the narrative flows back and forth between the Maiden and her Beloved. Ideas, and emotions, are intertwined and repeated in a turbulent expression of poetic emotion. Actions follow their words. The Shulamite Maiden looks for her Shepherd-Love, she calls out to him, she goes in search of him. When they are together, they embrace. Suddenly, the moment ends and a new cycle begins.

It is obvious throughout the narrative the couple enjoys a physical attraction to one another. They long to enjoy “The Act of Marriage”, meaning the beauty of sexual love, as Tim LaHaye, and Beverly LaHaye would express it in their 1976 book on this subject.

As an expression of their love and desired intimacy, the Shulamite Maiden and her Shepherd-Love describe one another. Their words are not to be taken literally and visualized, for that would create something grotesque. A man that actually had hair as a flock of goats, shorn teeth, lips like a thread of scarlet, and a neck that resembled the tower of David could not possibly be attractive (Song 4:1-4). Hebrew poetry is designed to meditate on the representative meaning of the images.

The Conclusion: Song of Solomon 8:6–14

The book concludes with the Shulamite-Maiden and her Shepherd-Love expressing their total commitment to one another. They have a love that will never die, nor be diminished. They have a passion for one another that cannot be quenched. “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it” (Song 8:7).

If there is a word of caution to be found in the Song, it is that while love is beautiful, it can also be dangerous. Like fire, love can destroy people when it is abused. Love is meant to be lifegiving and protective. However, when misused love can be counterproductive and destructive. Love expresses the natural human desire to know, and to be known by another. How that love is processed is important. Like every other facet of God’s creation, intimate love must be done God’s way and that is through marriage. The Bible says that “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4). Promiscuous love is never authorized by God. It is not the way to happiness in life.

In the final analysis, love is a wonderful gift from God. Pitiful is the person who cannot love someone else because their own heart is so consumed with self-love.

An Intriguing Question

Over the centuries, the question has arisen why love poetry is found in the Bible. The Law was necessary to guide the nation of Israel, and the writings were important to record Hebrew history. But why has a book of love poetry been included in Scripture?

A Jewish Allegory

Jewish tradition suggests the Song was written as an allegory. The Shulamite-Maiden is Israel, while the Shepherd-Love is God. Their love is rooted in a covenant relationship of mutual affection and faithfulness. “The LORD hath appeared of old unto me, saying, Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore, with lovingkindness have I drawn thee” (Jer. 31:3).

A Christian Allegory

Church tradition borrowed conceptionally from its Hebrew heritage, but altered the allegory so that it speaks of the love between Christ and the Church. “Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it” (Eph. 5:25).

The Voice of Archeology

Archeological evidence supports the idea that the love poetry of the Song merely reflects a cultural facet of Hebrew society. Like other nations, Israel enjoyed talking, and writing about the subject of love. After all, love is the universal language of the heart.

The Final Word

Because all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Tim. 3:16), there must be an overarching reason for this book in the Bible, beyond cultural representation, and Jewish tradition. A possible clue might be found by noting the references to the garden mentioned in the narrative. There are six references which speak of “a garden” (Song 4:12), “my garden” (Song 4:16; 5:1),  “his garden” (Song 4:16; 6:2), and “the garden” (Song 6:11).

It can be remembered that in the original creation, the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden, and “there He put the man whom he had formed” (Gen. 2:8). Later, God created Eve in The Garden of Delight and united her with Adam in marriage. The image of the Shulamite-Maiden and her Shepherd-Lover being intimate, unified, and safe with one another, while in fellowship with the Lord in a home of His own making is a delightful reminder of what marriage ought to be like. It is the divine ideal to strive for. Sin, and selfishness, have no place in The Garden of Delight.

One day, God’s love will permeate and transform all of creation. That is the promise found in the Revelation. “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea” (Rev. 22:1). There is a New Garden to be enjoyed containing the Tree of Life which bares fruit for the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2). “And there shall be no more curse” (Rev. 22:3).

The question comes.

“In the present earth, will you strive for idealized love by giving up sin and selfishness and seeking intimacy, unity, and safety with someone?” And then, in the new earth, “Will you eat of the Tree of Life which bears fruit for healing?”

If you have never committed your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, why not do that right now? Then, you can begin to love others while enjoying Gods great love in anticipation of better days to come.

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