Wednesday, March 3, 2010
I thought I would start a new series of articles looking at the prophetic interpretation of the Biblical book Song of Solomon (also known as Song of Songs and Canticles).
Is it a Picture of Christ and the Church?
There has been a tendency to shy away from any form of allegorical interpretation of this beautiful love song due to the abuse and over imaginative manipulations of the meaning of the imagery used. However, I sincerely believe that the Church is missing out profusely on an important message if this song is seen only as a celebration of marital love (which it definately is).
The Apostle Paul saw the marriage of man and woman as a prophetic picture of Christ and the Church and indeed we see the two intertwined in his teaching in Ephesians 5, the marital union revealing the mystery of the union of Christ and His bride, the Church.
All other books in Scripture reveal God's redemptive plan and Christ can be seen typologically in every Old Testament book so why should Song of Solomon be any different? I agree that an allegorical interpretation is going too far but I do believe that we can interpret the song as an extended Type (prophetic foreshadowing) of Christ and the Church.
Solomon wrote a song that is his best out of the 1005 he wrote (1 Kings 4:32,33),for his best bride out of the 1000 he had (1 Kings 11:3-4). The Shulamite (a female version of Solomon meaning 'Princess of Peace' and showing that the woman came from a village called Shulem in Lebanon) was a poor vineyard worker in comparison to the royal origins of Solomon's other brides. In the same way Jesus wants us to hear his best prophetic song over his best (and only) bride, the Church. The Church is made up of those poor in Spirit, most not of any note in worldly eyes, but we are destined to be his royal bride.
Solomon may not seem to be a good foreshadowing of Christ or even a good example of love but neither is David a perfect Type of Christ, and yet scholars have no problem stating that David is indeed a positive Type of Christ and an example for us as a worshipper seeking the heart of God.
Interpreting the Song
Song of Songs is a JEWISH LOVE SONG. This means that in order to interpret the meaning of this book we need to understand two things...
(i) The Jewish mind.
(ii) Jewish Songs / Poetry.
(i) The Jewish Mind.
We need to look at the difference between the modern (western) mind and ancient Jewish thinking...
The Difference Between Jewish and Western Thought.
What something or
someone DOES (functional).
What something or
someone IS (Descriptive)
Jewish thinking does not look at what something, someone IS (descriptive) but what something, someone DOES (functional). That is why we do not get much description of what biblical characters look like, but mostly it is about what they do (all but one (Luke) biblical writers were Jews). Therefore, in looking at the things mentioned in Song of Songs we must ask, not what they look like, but what is their function, nature, quality etc. This will give us the correct interpretation.
For example...how would you describe a pen ? How would a ancient Jew describe a pen ? Jewish thought goes, “I am not the pen...I cannot percieve what PEN is, therefore I must relate the PEN to me. How to use it ?” etc...
The Jewish mind looks at IMPRESSIONS rather than IMAGES. For example, see Song of Songs Chapters 4 & 7 . The modern mind would see an UGLY WOMAN.....
1 Behold, you are fair, my love! Behold, you are fair! You have dove's eyes behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats, going down from Mount Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep which have come up from the washing, every one of which bears twins, and none is barren among them.
3 Your lips are like a strand of scarlet, and your mouth is lovely. Your temples behind your veil are like a piece of pomegranate.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David, built for an armory, on which hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, which feed among the lilies.
...the biblical mind would see the beautiful personality and heart of the woman as we will see when we come to interpret these passages. Prophetically this passage is Jesus singing of the beauty of an obedient, loving Church, revealing the character of such a people.
(ii) Jewish Song /Poetry.
As this is a poetic song we must interpret the ‘heart’ of the song, not simply taking it literally. As mentioned above, we should interpret the meaning of the things mentioned (plants , animals, buildings) according to their function and biblically revealed meaning (such as the dove representing the Holy Spirit as can be seen at the baptism of Jesus with the Spirit decending as a dove).
Where there is a place or person's name it is useful to look at the original meaning (eg. Solomon = Prince of Peace).
How The Song Is Divided.
The Song is divided into stages of love by a phrase that contains “I charge You” in all cases. Mostly the phrase will be something like “I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases.”( 2:7; 3:5; 5:8; 8:4 - five stages of love.)
This phrase shows us that we cannot force someone into a deeper love relationship either on a human level , or with God. Each person has to go through each season at the pace that love dictates!
The stages, or seasons of love can be given the following names.Each stage or season denotes a particular quality of the love of the woman to the man (the Church to Christ) - the higher the stage, the more mature the love.
STAGE 1: ( 1:1-2:7) : Premature Love.
STAGE 2: ( 2:8-3:5) : Possessive Love.
STAGE 3: ( 3:6-5:8) : Painful Love.
STAGE 4: ( 5:9-8:4) : Powerful Love.
STAGE 5: ( 8:5-8:14): Perfecting Love.
We see how the Beloved (Christ) constantly draws the Lover (Church) out of her comfort zone into the mountains and fields (which speaks of her calling in this world).
Many Christians have seen this book as one of the greatest missionary challenges in the Bible. Hudson Taylor wrote that Song of Songs was ‘..the strength of my life and missionary endeavour.”
In my following musings I will go through each season exploring what qualities of love should be seen in the relationship of us, the Church, with the lover of our souls, Jesus. He draws us out of our comfort zones and into His harvest purposes. The following picture describes this journey of love - You will see the terrain change as you progress through this song and it will be useful to constantly refer to this picture to plot roughly where the Bride is!
We must ask ourselves, where are we in this journey of love? The Lord is calling us more and more to a deeper level of relationship with Him. Are we responding to His love ? Are we reaching out beyond our limits into His heart, His purposes and His desires ?