Introduction to Song of Solomon
The song of songs, which is Solomon’s. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—For your love is better than wine.
Song of Solomon 1:1-2 NKJV
It is clear from the very first verse of the book, that Solomon is the author of the author of Song of Solomon. Song of Solomon is titled “Song of Songs” in the Hebrew text and in the Greek Septuagint. Early Latin translations titled it “Canticles” (Latin for Song of Songs). English translations began titling the book “Song of Solomon,” thus giving the fuller sense on 1:1. The phrase “song of songs” means “the superlative (best or most excellent) song.” Song of Solomon was written early in Solomon’s reign which began in 971 B.C., but before he took Pharaoh’s daughter as his second wife (I Kings 3:1).
The main theme of Song of Solomon is the love that should exist between a husband and wife (Song. 1:2, 13-16; 2:16; 3:11; 4:9-11; 5:1, 16; 6:3; 7:10). Two people dominate this true-life, dramatic, love song. Solomon, whose kingship is mentioned 5 times (Song. 1:4, 12; 3:9, 11; 7:5), appears as the beloved husband. The Shulamite maiden (Song. 6:13) is the beloved wife. In 1826, Heinrich Ewald, a liberal scholar, proposed a triangle in which the Shulamite falls in love with a shepherd who is not Solomon, but a young man from the maiden’s home town. In Ewald’s interpretation, the Shulamite actually resists the overtures of Solomon to be his wife, longing to be with the young shepherd from her home instead, and eventually she and her shepherd are reunited and marry. Ewald based his interpretation on the argument that Solomon was a polygamist and therefore could not have written a book on the purity of wedded bliss. However, this interpretation is not only dishonoring and without historical foundation, it assumes that Solomon could not have truly loved only one woman early in his reign as king. It is important to note that Solomon entered into his later marriages for political reasons, not for love.
The Shulamite is never mentioned by name in the book, but according to Jewish tradition, she is Abishag, the Shunammite maiden, who cared for King David on his death bed (I Kings 1:3-4, 15; 2:17-25). There are a number of parallels between the Shulamite and Abishag. Both were from Shunem (the consonants, lamed and nun, are frequently interchangeable in Semitic languages and some Hebrew manuscripts (as well as the Septuagint) read Shunammite instead of Shulamite). Examples of this interexchange of lamed and nun can also be seen in Hebrew words such as Azal and Azan (both meaning “to go away from”) and Ya`al and Ya`an (both meaning “to have purpose”). The same type of letter exchanges can be found in most languages, including English (examples: cipher and cipher, offence and offense, gray and grey, sceptic and skeptic, adviser and advisor, barbecue and barbeque, and enquire and inquire). Both the Shulamite and Abishag were outsiders brought into the court. Both of them were contemporaries of Solomon. Both of them knew him personally. Both of them were in an emotionally charged situation involving marriage. Both were virgins. Both were beautiful. Both were brought in to serve kings. Both of them vanish from the pages of scripture before Solomon marries Pharaoh’s daughter. Since the love between Solomon and the Shulamite is a picture of the love between Christ, the shepherd/king, and His bride, the church (Eph. 5:25-33), it is worth noting that Abishag actually served the shepherd/king, David.
It is curious that the Shulamite vanishes from the pages of scripture before Solomon marries Pharaoh’s daughter. Roberta Kells Dorr, a former Middle Eastern scholar and author, in her book, Solomon’s Song, makes the compelling case that, as happened so often in those days, the Shulamite died in childbirth and suggests that it may have been at that time that Solomon wrote his great love song. In Song of Solomon 8:5, the references to death” and “the grave” may have forshadowed the Shulamite’s early death.
Some have objected to the inclusion of Song of Solomon in the canon of scripture, claiming that God is never mentioned in the book, but a closer examination of the book will demonstrate that this claim is in fact, not true. The name of God is actually found in Song. 8:6 in the phrase “most vehement flame.” This entire phrase is one word, “shalhebeth” in Hebrew and literally means “flame of Yah.” “Yah” is the shortened name of “Yahweh” or the “LORD,” the Hebrew name for God, so the phrase “most vehement flame” literally means “flame of the LORD.”