Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentSONG OF SOLOMON 4
Solomon's Love Song to the Shulamite
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; Thine eyes are doves behind thy veil. Thy hair is as a flock of goats, That lie along the slope of mount Gilead. Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes that are newly shorn, Which are come up from the washing, Whereof every one hath twins, And none is bereaved among them. Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, And thy mouth is comely. Thy temples are like a piece of pomegranate Behind thy veil. Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armory, Whereon they hang a thousand bucklers, All the shields of the mighty men. Thy two breasts are like two fawns That are twins of the roe, Which feed among the lilies. Until the day be cool, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountains of myrrh, And to the hill of frankincense. Thou art all fair, my love; And there is no spot in thee Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, With me from Lebanon, Look from the top of Amana, From the top of Senir and Hermon, From the lion's dens, From the mountains of the leopards."
"Cook regarded this whole chapter as Solomon's love song to the maiden."F1 Balchin agreed with this in the first seven verses, but wrote that, "The song of the shepherd lover may appear in Cant. 4:8ff."F2 Bunn ascribed Cant. 4:9-15, "To the shepherd who pleads his case to the maiden with renewed zeal."F3 Redford saw the whole chapter as, "The conversation of the bridegroom and the bride as they travel together in the procession."F4 We cannot accept the view that the maiden accepted Solomon. Also Sierd Woodstra made these first fifteen verses of the chapter, "The bridegroom's praise of the bride's beauty."F5 Several scholars agree that there is a division in this chapter between two love songs; but, "It is not certain where the division should be made."F6 This writer accepts Cant. 4:8 as part of Solomon's plea, and Cant. 4:9-15 as the shepherd's love-song. Bunn also allotted Cant. 4:9.15 to the shepherd.F7
Here again we are confronted with inexplicable mysteries and contradictions. What is Solomon doing in Lebanon? Lebanon is in Syria; it pertains to the ruler of Tyre, and is completely out of Solomon's jurisdiction."F8 Are we to suppose that Solomon is here chasing this woman into a foreign country? Admittedly, Solomon was capable of a folly like that; but still this does not explain it. Several scholars speak of "Solomon's court in northern Israel," here; but Lebanon is not "northern Israel"; it is Syria. Solomon had to buy "cedars of Lebanon" from Hiram the king of Tyre. (1 Kings 5).
Two separate and dramatically different pictures appear in these two love songs: (1) that of Solomon (Song of Solomon 4:1-8), and (2) that of the maiden's true lover, the shepherd, in Cant. 4:9-15.
In the one ascribed to Solomon, the maiden is compared to animals, namely, goats, ewes and fawns. It must be remembered also that Solomon also mentioned Pharaoh's chariot horse in another comparison. The true lover's song mentions no animals, but sweet smelling spices, fountains, gardens, honey, orchards and `all the chief spices.' Solomon's love song suffers greatly in this comparison. How can we account for this on any other thesis than that which assumes that Solomon looked upon every woman as merely an animal?
As for the Jewish and Christian interpretations of these first eight verses, we have this from Pope.F9
(Song of Solomon 4:1). (a) The Jews related this to the sacrifices of Solomon at the dedication of the Temple. (b) Tertullian said it represented the modesty of Christian maidens and the bride's submission to her husband (Christ to the Church). It was also interpreted as a token of virginity and chastity.
(Song of Solomon 4:2). (a) The Targumists made these to be the Priests and Levites who ate the sacrifices. (b) A Christian interpreter made these to be the Doctors of the Church who chew up the hard doctrines so the laity can understand them.
The scarlet lips
(Song of Solomon 4:3). (a) These were the prayer of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement. (b) Some Christian scholars applied it to Rahab the harlot and the red string hanging out her window!
The tower of David. the shields ... etc…
(Song of Solomon 4:4). (a) The Targum applied the tower to the Head of the Academy, and the weaponry they thought was the learning of the Law. (b) The shields were taken by Gregory of Nyssa to be the angelic guardians of the church.
Thy two breasts are like two fawns
(Song of Solomon 4:5). (a) The Jews saw the maiden's two breasts as representing the two Messiah's (one the Suffering Servant, and the other as the Glorious Conqueror), and the two brethren who led Israel, Moses and Aaron. (b) Christian writers saw these as the Old Testament and the New Testament, the outer and the inner man, or the blood and water from the side of Jesus on the Cross!
Until the day be cool and the shadows flee away
(Song of Solomon 4:6). In warm climates, the day becomes cool only at daybreak, when the sun rises and the shadows flee. The best translation of this line we have ever seen is inscribed upon a tombstone in Cache, Oklahoma:
Last Chief of the Comanches
"Until Day Breaks and Shadows Flee Away"
That this is actually the meaning appears in the RSV, the Today's English Version, and the Moffatt translation.
(a) The Targum (Jewish) explained the fleeing shadows as demons expelled by the incense of the Temple. (b) Christian interpreters saw the passage as a reference to the resurrection (as on Parker's tomb).
I will get me to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense…
(Song of Solomon 4:6). Waddey applied this to the maiden's breasts;F10 which is undoubtedly correct. What Solomon is saying here is that he will come and lie between her breasts all night long, that being the only thing Solomon ever had in mind where women were concerned. There is no hint here of any interest of
Solomon other than in corporeal beauty."F11 Another interpretation (probably Jewish) considered the hill of bitter myrrh as a reference to the Gentiles and the frankincense as a reference to the Jews. That was the traditional Jewish estimate of themselves and Gentiles.
Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee
(Song of Solomon 4:7). (a) The Jews, of course applied this to Israel. (b) Christian interpreters applied it to the Church, not the Church Militant struggling with sins and sorrows, but to the Church Triumphant in heaven where she is presented, having neither spot nor wrinkle (Ephesians 5:27). One may only laugh at the idea that any such thoughts as these were in the mind of Solomon as he said this!
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride
(Song of Solomon 4:8). This does not mean that any marriage had occurred. Such expressions as my bride and my sister were customary expressions found in all the ancient love songs of that period.F12 Such expressions indicate friendly relations without implication of consanguinity.F13 These words are a gentle invitation from Solomon for the Shulamite to leave the security and protection that she enjoyed in Lebanon and to go with him to Jerusalem. Why did Solomon not command her? She was not within his jurisdiction; she was a citizen of another country.
From the top of Amana
(Song of Solomon 4:8). This was the same as Abana one of the rivers of Syria mentioned by Naaman (2 Kings 5:12).
From the top of Senir and Herman
(Song of Solomon 4:8). Senir is the Amorite designation of Mount Hermon (Deuteronomy 4:48).
From the lions' dens…
(Song of Solomon 4:8). The leopards are also mentioned here; and what Solomon was saying meant, Come with me out of this wild and dangerous country to Jerusalem.
(a) The Jewish interpretation recognized the bride here as Israel. (b) "The Christian interpretation saw Christ in this passage in the person of Solomon (!) calling the Gentiles to the Church."F14 This is precisely the interpretation that outrages and disgusts this writer. Solomon, a type of Christ! Judas Iscariot would serve just as well. The great error of many interpreters in this is their false understanding of Israel's earthly kingdom as God's Israel. It was no such thing. The prophets called it "The Sinful Kingdom"; and the true Israel was always a righteous remnant.
THE APPEAL OF THE SHEPHERD LOVER
Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my bride; Thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, With one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love, my sister, my bride! How much better is thy love than wine! And the fragrance of thine oils than all manner of spices! Thy lips, O my bride, drop as the honeycomb: Honey and milk are under thy tongue: And the smell of thy garments is as the smell of Lebanon. A garden shut up is my sister, my bride; A spring shut up, a fountain sealed. Thy shoots are an orchard of pomegranates, with precious fruits; Henna with spikenard plants, Spikenard and saffron, Calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; Myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices. Thou art a fountain of gardens, A well of living waters, and flowing streams from Lebanon."
We have entitled this "The Song of the Shepherd Lover"; it contrasts vividly with the sensuous love-song of Solomon, as noted above. Balchin mentioned another possibility. "Based upon the idea that the shepherd would not have been allowed in the maiden's presence when Solomon was also there, the scene may be imaginary, or the reminiscence of the dreamy girl."F15 This objection, if we may call it that, is cleared up completely by the consideration that this love song had been delivered to the maiden in the lover's absence.
This writer is supremely grateful for this chapter; because it reveals what is undoubtedly the true interpretation of the Song of Solomon. What is it? The intuition of countless thousands of students and scholars for thousands of years is absolutely valid in finding an allegory here. Otherwise, the Song makes no sense at all.
THE TRUE ALLEGORY
SOLOMON IS SATAN.
This truth is so big and overwhelming that the scholars of many ages have simply overlooked it. How could any mortal, much less a Christian, see in Solomon a type of God, or of Christ?
Solomon: that old slave-driver was the leading debauchee of a thousand years, a builder of pagan temples, a strutting old peacock who probably thought of himself as the greatest stud in human history, who saw every beautiful woman on earth as merely an animal. He desecrated the very Temple that he erected with twelve images of the pagan bulls of the god Baal in the twelve "oxen" (as he called them) that supported the laver, and the images of lions that decorated the steps of his throne, every one of them a violation of the Decalogue, Commandment II. He even erected two pagan phallic symbols, Jachin and Boaz, in front of the Temple itself -- could such a man as this have been a valid representative of Christ? A million times NO!
What fruit did he have of all those women, how many sons? The Bible mentions only one, Rehoboam the fool. He lost most of Solomon's empire in a week's time, and later surrendered Jerusalem to Shishak king of Egypt who plundered it, and looted the Temple.
The very Temple he erected was contrary to God's will as was also the Jewish monarchy, of whom Solomon was the most conspicuous specimen. His oppressive taxation ruined Israel and eventually destroyed the kingdom. He was even an adulterer (with the Queen of Sheba); can anyone imagine a thing like that on the part of a man who already had a thousand women at his disposal? This man a symbol? He certainly was. HE WAS A SYMBOL OF THE DEVIL! Once this fact is understood, this whole Song of Solomon is clear.
Solomon represents worldly power, fame, and glory. He represents pride, ostentation, wealth, physical splendor, the pomp and glitter of the world and all of its allurements. He represents the persuasion and allurement of sensual indulgence, lasciviousness and fleshly gratification -- in short, he represents in this allegory all of the temptations that assail the child of God.
THE SHULAMITE MAIDEN
She is the bride, not of Solomon, but of the Shepherd. She is the true Israel of both the Old and the New Covenants. Note, that her lover is never present with his bride, except in the Incarnation, when he rescued her from Satan (Solomon) and conferred upon her a marvelous citizenship in another kingdom (Philippians 3:20). That is the reason that the bride in this chapter is represented as living beyond the domain of Solomon.
Both the dreams in this Song stress the absence of the Shepherd. And in Cant. 4:9-15, the Shepherd's love song is not delivered by the Shepherd in person. She receives it in his absence; just as the Church today has her message from The Good Shepherd as it has been delivered to us by his holy apostles. That is why the Shepherd does not appear in person in these verses. Nevertheless, the validity of the message is just as genuine as the sacred words of the New Testament.
THE SHEPHERD WHO LOVED THE MAIDEN
The Shepherd can be none other than Almighty God in his own person or in that of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord. "The Lord is my Shepherd" (Ps. 23:1; John 10:11. etc.). The notion that the Wolf Solomon was the shepherd of Israel is repugnant. But neither God nor his Son Jesus Christ is personally present on earth with their servants and followers. That is why the maiden's lover in this Song is always absent (except in the rescue scene standing for the Incarnation). Where is the Shepherd? He is in "the far country" (Matt. 21:33; 25:14; Mark 12:1 and Luke 20:9).
In this understanding, the item by item discussion of the spices, the orchards, the fountains, the gardens, the honeycomb, the sweetness, beauty, purity and holiness of the Shepherd's love song (Song of Solomon 4:9-15) becomes totally unnecessary, in fact, irrelevant. All of them stand for the precious revelation of the Good Shepherd's matchless love and concern for his holy bride the Church of Jesus Christ, as found in the sacred New Testament.
The item by item interpretations of Cant. 4:9-15 are, for the most part, too fanciful to have any value. The locked garden and the sealed fountain appear in the eyes of Jewish interpreters as, "The modesty of Jewish women, whether married or unmarried; and the Christian scholars related them to the Bride of Christ, or to the Virgin Mary."F16
THE MAIDEN'S RESPONSE
Awake, O north wind, and come, thou south; Blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, And eat his precious fruits."
This cannot possibly be the maiden's response to Solomon who is standing right there in front of her. She prays for the winds of heaven to carry the message of her love to her "absent lover."F17 In our understanding of the allegory, the Bride of Christ prays for and longs for the Second Advent.
Footnotes for Song of Solomon 4
1: Barnes' Notes on the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989 reprint of 1878 Edition), Song of Solomon, p. 128.
2: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 593.
3: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), Vol. 5, p. 140.
4: The Pulpit Commentary, 9d, p. 91.
5: Wycliffe Old Testament Commentary, p. 600.
6: Peake's Bible Commentary by Arthur S. Peake (Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 421.
7: Broadman Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 140.
8: George Frederick Wright in International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (Chicago, Illinois: The Howard-Severance Company, 1915), p. 1864
9: The Anchor Bible Commentary (Garden City, New York: Doubleday and Company, 1972), Vol. 7c, pp. 460-478.
10: James Waddey, p. 107.
11: The Anchor Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 473.
12: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 584.
13: The Anchor Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 480
14: Ibid., op. cit., p. 478.
15: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 583.
16: The Anchor Bible Commentary, op. cit., pp. 489, 490.
17: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 584.