Dear Associates, Students and Friends:
This month’s article for August 2007 is “The Significance of the Song of Solomon.” Dr. Ernest Martin explains the background and his understanding of this Book of wisdom and physical love from the Bible. It may be difficult for you, as it has been for me, to find any two commentators on the Song of Solomon that agree on how the book is structured and its meaning. 1 So do not be discouraged if you disagree with other commentators, or even if you disagree with Dr. Martin. I think his explanation makes excellent, even the best, sense.
The Song of Solomon, or as it often called the Song of Songs, is a unique book of the Bible as Dr. Martin describes in his article. Perhaps it is unique and difficult for commentators to agree on because the Song of Solomon has a large number of words that are of questionable or unknown meaning simply because they occur only once in the entire Old Testament. 2 When several of those words occur within a group of passages it can be difficult and guesses are made.
There are many songs in the Bible such as the Song of Moses proclaiming God’s victory after Israel crossed the Red Sea (Exodus 15:1–19, cf., Revelation 15:3), and Moses’ and Aaron’s sister Miriam’s song given in response to the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:20–21). Israel sang a song of joy about the well that gave water where God commanded they dig (Numbers 21:16–18). Moses told Israel he was writing a second Song and he told them why he composed the song (Deuteronomy 31:19–30). That song encompasses (Deuteronomy 1:30–32:1–47). There is the Song of Deborah (Judges chapter 5) commemorating victory over Edom. King David (who was famous for his songs) gave a Song of Thanksgiving (2 Samuel chapter 22, paralleled in Psalm 18).
Of course, most of the Psalms are songs set to music. Psalm 30 is “A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the house of David,” which may relate to the tomb of David. The Songs of the Degrees (Psalms 120–134) are linked by a common theme. It is good to sing praises and thanksgiving to God (Psalms 147 and 149). The righteous sing and rejoice (Proverbs 29:6). Isaiah sang a song of the unfruitful vineyard, meaning Israel (Isaiah 5:1–7), and of praise (Isaiah 42:10–20). Israel is prophesied to sing a Song of Joy in Zephaniah 3:14–20.
Mary sang a song of praise to God at the announcement by the angel Gabriel about her coming pregnancy by the incarnation of Jesus (Luke 1:46–55). Zacharias (Luke 1:68–79), the angels (Luke 2:13), and Simeon (Luke 2:29) all sang songs of praise to God.Many commentators consider portions of Philippians chapter 2 to be an early Christian hymn of joy. In the Pauline ekklesias there were many “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:19, cf. Colossians 3:16). Then there is singing in Revelation 5:9, 14:3, 19:1.
One thing is sure, the Song of Solomon is a story of passion, a story of love, presented in detailed and explicit terms. As you read the Song of Solomon use several translations, although modern translations are better to use and they will give you a more expansive understanding of various possibilities in the text. One naturalistic translation with detailed explanation of terms of the text, yet done in a respectful and cautious way, is The NET Bible (www.netbible.org). I recommend the translation and notes for the Song of Solomon. Coupled with Dr. Martin’s explanation, the Song of Solomon will “open up” to your understanding.
The Song of Solomon deals with natural sensuality between a man and a woman. It is very descriptive as each lover uses vivid terms to describe their partner. There is a 1951 American ballad by the Weavers made popular by Jimmy Rodgers in 1957 titled Kisses Sweeter than Wine. This song uses terminology from the Song of Solomon although not kisses but love that is sweeter than wine:
“Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for your love is better than wine ...”
“Draw me, we will run after you: the king has brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in you, we will remember your love more than wine: the upright love you ...”
“How fair is your love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is your love than wine! and the smell of your ointments than all spices!”
Song of Solomon 1:2, 4, 4:10
The Song of Solomon is a presentation about physical love. As usual the churches have perverted the good things of Scripture, even the tale of physical love of the Song of Solomon. 3
A second short article “The Folly of Modern Preaching” discusses the basics of what all preachers should be teaching. I know that many of you attend congregations that do not believe what you believe. You likely go to a “church” in which there are few members of the ekklesia of God. This is a fact for most all groups of people. However, if you go to a “church” (and especially if you are not learning anything of substance), begin asking questions of the teacher. One per session should do it. Have some fun! Proper questions asked with respect show others that you are a knowledgeable and serious student of the Bible.
Ask them bluntly about the Gospel. After all, as a teacher, that is their job, their purpose, and presumably their joy.
An honest teacher will give you a ready answer and admit that the Gospel teaches people how they are saved already. Those less than honest may waffle 4 their answers. A few may say “I don’t know.” However, be persistent in seeking an answer, especially if your teacher/preacher is a “professional.” If he or she is not a professional, then ask that person to find out the answer from someone who knows. Again, have fun, be respectful, and keep in mind Christ’s admonition to the twelve apostles He sent out:
“Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be you therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves.”
If you, a sheep, hang around with wolves, then expect to be nipped every once and a while. However, certainly strive to avoid the problems Jesus warned his apostles about in Matthew 10:17–19.
As the Song of Solomon teaches, passion in life can be a good thing, if directed to the right object at the right time. Contrary to Christian ascetics throughout history, married passion is not a sin. It is a good thing. In fact, under proper circumstances physical passion is a wonderful thing as God’s gift to mankind.
We can always be passionate toward God and with God. As you read the Bible the Old Testament people of faith (the patriarchs, judges, prophets, and kings), and New Testament disciples and believers in Christ were passionate unto death to communicate the truths of God. Are we so passionate? Probably not. But God has not required us to be so. Soon such passion may be necessary again, a passion for the truth of God that will commit a Christian to die to remain true to his or her faith. In Third World countries today around the world many Christians (who know far less than you do about God, Christ, and the Bible) are dying for their faith. Passion is required for them to survive. God places them in such positions so they can grow spiritual fruit, just as he has placed us in our positions. We should grow spiritual fruit also. Throughout Christian history there have always been some who are in positions of choosing death or denying their faith. Most of you reading this should be — and act like — mature Christians.
On Friday, August 17, 2007 at 7:00 p.m. in Bellingham, Washington, I will present “The Lost Tomb of King David.” Of course, Dr. Martin’s Temple evidence is the necessary starting point for the true location of King David’s Tomb. 5 My presentation is part of the Logos Bible Software Lecture Series for the summer of 2007 (http://www.logos.com/lectures). Bellingham is 90 miles north of Seattle, and some 50 miles south of Vancouver, British Columbia. If you will be in that area (the northwest tip of the Continental United States) I hope you can attend. Those who cannot attend, your prayers would be appreciated for the success of this presentation. It should be interesting and stimulating for those attending.
The Bible should hold an important place in your life. You determine the degree of that importance. You should even develop a passion for the Word of God. Our job at ASK is to facilitate your learning and increase the importance of the Bible in your life. We do this by publishing and presenting the works of Dr. Ernest Martin, and using his scholarship as a steppingstone to conduct further research to learn more and look farther into the depths of God’s Word, and to occasionally publish and speak on those research findings.
We are all dependent on God the Father, Christ, and the ekklesia, His body. So too, at ASK we depend on your prayers, encouragements, and financial support. Without your help it would be next to impossible to put before you “strong meat” (Hebrews 5:12–14). Whether you can handle it and digest it is for you to determine. Ask God to help you if you need it. We greatly appreciate each encouragement you send to us. Your encouragements lift us up each time we receive them.
Thank you so much. We are grateful to (and for!) each of you.
David W. Sielaff
1 Historically there are several historical methods of interpretation of the Song of Songs: (1) The allegorical interpretation, where the characters are someone or some group other than the characters of the physical love story. (2) The typical interpretation, where the characters are types that represent someone or some group. In this interpretation both the physical love story and the antitype are real. (3) The literal interpretation that considers the Song to refer only to the physical relationship of the love story. DWS
2 Words used only once in the corpus of a language or book (like the Old Testament) are called hapax legomena (Greek for “once counted or once said”). It is often difficult when there is only one context to assist in determining the meaning of a word. If that word occurs within a figure of speech or in poetry, then problems arise. What if we had only one occurrence to understand “hot dog”? Would we easily misunderstand the true meaning? The Song of Solomon has many such single use, single context words, second only to the number found in the Book of Job, and the Song of Songs makes extensive use of poetic and figurative language. DWS
3 See Dr. Martin’s article “Female Sex Signs in the Churches” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d981127.htm and “What Is God’s Viewpoint Regarding Sex” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d981025.htm. For a proper biblical consideration of marriage, see his article “Marriage, Divorce, and Living Together in the Bible” at http://www.askelm.com/doctrine/d870301.htm. For a discussion about interpersonal relations after your resurrection, see Dr. Martin’s book Essentials of New Testament Doctrine (Portland, OR: ASK Publications, 2001/2004), chapter 31, “God’s Divine Headquarters” at http://www.askelm.com/essentials/ess040.htm. DWS
4 Yes, “waffle” is a real word. It means “to speak or write evasively.” DWS
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