Lesson 24: Solomon and the Shulamite
The Song of Solomon has always amazed me with the way that this book celebrated sex. There is no talk of having babies and keeping things PG. Sex and romantic love are celebrated as gifts from God.
Some have come from Christian homes where they depicted sex as something no one talked about. The church didn’t talk about it and no one is on board with having sex and it is super taboo.
But for most evangelicals, we have come to the conclusion that sex is not only a part of pro-creation, it is this thing that should be celebrated. I think that is a welcomed change.
Now for the single person reading this book of the Bible, beware, it definitely wouldn’t fit in any contemporary conservative Christian dating books. I mean it starts off with the woman wanting to suck face with her man. She’s not trying to fain or hide her interest. Nor is she being quiet and waiting for the man to pursue her. She made her wants and desires known. She is ready to go. I’m not advocating this position, I am merely going to read this book as it is written and not try and super-spiritualize it and make it about something it is not.
Verse one starts off by titling the book. Essentially it could be retitled “The Best Song of Solomon.” 1 Kings 4:32 told us that Solomon wrote 1005 songs. He was a lyrical master and this was one of his most prolific.
A woman breaks on the scene in verse two and started by sharing her very deep affection for her non-husband. In most bibles the speaker is denoted in the margin or super-scripted. That wasn’t in the original text, however it does help in better understanding the song.
Song of Solomon `1:2-4a
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.
So I feel like I just walked in on an awkward conversation of a woman whispering sweet nothings her man’s ear. She wanted to play tonsil hockey. She noticed he smelled great and his name (or a better word might be reputation) preceded him. He was the complete package of attractive and well thought of by everyone. The NET Bible translates that last line as, “May the king draw me to his chambers,” expressing the woman’s desire to be his.[i]
Song of Solomon 1:4b
We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.
Here is a change in the character. The daughters of Jerusalem whom we will meet in the following verses are giving approval to the romance. They are excited for her.
Song of Solomon 1:5-7
I am very dark, but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.
Do not gaze at me because I am dark, because the sun has looked upon me. My mother's sons were angry with me; they made me keeper of the vineyards, but my own vineyard I have not kept!
This woman responded to the daughters of Jerusalem with her insecurity. Her brothers gave her no special treatment and put her to work. We don’t know why they had anger towards this woman, but they did and her working on their vineyards didn’t allow her to apply beauty treatments.
Her darkness would have made her feel insecure because she wasn’t a typical woman of Solomon’s court. Those in the Middle East wanted fair skin because that meant that the woman was an indoor girl.
Now some take her brothers being angry with her being good with authority. She may have been great with authority. I can’t imagine a woman in that day and age being courted by a king who didn’t do well with authority, but this verse doesn’t make that case.
It could in fact mean that she was rebellious and was punished often for her inability to respect authority. We don’t have enough information here to draw any concrete conclusion.
Song of Solomon 1:7
Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who veils herself beside the flocks of your companions?
The woman addressed her lover. Solomon was not a shepherd. Kings in general don’t hang out with sheep. However in ancient Near Eastern love poems a shepherd was a common terminology for a man. She wanted to spend some quality time with Solomon, but she had standards. She would not be confused with a prostitute who just played the part of his fan club.
Song of Solomon 1:8
If you do not know, O most beautiful among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats beside the shepherds' tents.
Scholars debate who is speaking in this verse, but it seems that Solomon wouldn’t chide her and tell her to do the very thing that would cause her to look like a prostitute. More likely it was the daughters of Jerusalem saying that if you don’t believe you’re gorgeous, you’re crazy, and you might as well go back to the losers back home and miss out on the king.
Song of Solomon 1:9-10
I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh's chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.
Solomon affirmed her beauty by comparing her to a horse. Before you go feminist on Solomon here, just realize that there were only stallions (male horses) in Pharoah’s army. Mares (female horses) were sent into the ranks to distract the stallions so that the other army might have an advantage in battle. So in other words, she is so fine, every man is staring distracting them from their task because of her beauty. He also admired her choice of jewelry. Apparently this woman was fashionable.
Song of Solomon 1:11
We will make for you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.
The daughters of Jerusalem come through for their friend and are going to hook her up with some bling to please the king.
Song of Solomon 1:12-14
While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance. My beloved is to me a sachet of myrrh that lies between my breasts. My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.
The couch that the king was on would be his banqueting table. It was common to have a couch like bench with pillows that allowed the king to sit up properly and eat. The sachet of myrrh was kinda like one of those smell-good things that people have hanging from their rear view mirror. Same concept—only on a person. She wore oils and impressed him with her smell. Remember, bathing wasn’t exactly an everyday thing, so perfumes and oils covered up the nasty B.O.
Her sachet of myrrh reminded her of him everytime she breathed in the wonderful aroma. Then she commented that Solomon was like a cluster of henna blossoms that smelled like roses but also made a reddish-orange dye.[ii]
Song of Solomon 1:15
Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.
This is where I think Solomon was stalling as he was searching for adjectives, because instead of going on and on like the woman, he resorts to repeating himself. Quite possibly he is just lost in her eyes. Some want to make a big deal about how commenting on eyes meant that Solomon was really commenting on how wonderful her character was, but I kind of doubt that that scholar has looked into a beautiful woman’s eyes as she stares back with a hunger.
Song of Solomon 1:16
Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly delightful. Our couch is green; the beams of our house are cedar; our rafters are pine.
The woman recounted how wonderful it was to be with Solomon. She gave us details of the fact that they sat on a grassy field surrounded by trees: a gorgeous date for two. Now some commentators note that they are outside which proves they are in public. I somehow doubt that. Two lovers staring into each other’s eyes are not going to want to be seen.
It’s possible that they are being chaperoned. Perhaps the daughters of Jerusalem are watching nearby as Solomon and the Shulamite gawk at each other, but the scripture doesn’t give us that information. Some assume that the king would never be alone and therefore was chaperoned. Again, tough to put into a 21st century context.
Again, I’m not advocating here to take a date to a secluded area on a first date and romance her and stare into each other’s eyes and share every deep dark secret one has, but I am going to argue that this scripture doesn’t say anything about not going on a romantic date ALONE.
Song of Solomon 2:1-2
I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valleys.
As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.
The woman compares herself to a rose of Sharon which is like a Lily. Solomon responds back that the other women were like ugly brambles, compared to her beauty.
Song of Solomon 2:3-6
As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men. With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love. Sustain me with raisins; refresh me with apples, for I am sick with love. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me!
The Shulamite again got a mouthful of Solomon. Apples and raisins were often used as aphrodisiacs. With the way Solomon’s hands are all over her body it is clear they are in full-fledged make out here.
The term “his banner over me was love” has been interpreted to mean that Solomon had marked his territory and was claiming her publicly.[iii] However, other scholars argue that it is from an Akkadian word that meant desire or intent so the phrase would mean “his intent toward me is lovemaking.[iv]”
It’s tough to make a call either way on that one, but we can see three things pretty clearly. Sitting in the shadow of another denoted protection. The banner over her was a clear mark of public identification, and their closeness showed a deep intimacy.
Now since no Israelite in their right mind would ever advocate sex before marriage, I can tell you that if the couple in this passage are having sex, then they are already married. If not, then they are deeply kissing one another with the man gripping her head and body passionately as they kiss.
That is why this book of the Bible is tough to use as a “dating” manual. There is just too much we have to make an educated guess at. If someone made this out to be a married couple, I wouldn’t argue it. Remember the point of this book was never to teach 21st century Christians how to date, but rather to celebrate sex and the romantic love that a man and a woman share.
Song of Solomon 2:7
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.
On the heels of a solid make out session, the woman gave some advice here to her friends. She wanted them to be patient for love to come to them. Perhaps a better way to put this is she wanted them to be patient for sex. To get close to a skittish animal like an antelope or to a deer one must be very patient. To get the real deal love, one must wait for it.
This verse which is repeated in 3:5 and 8:4 is the refrain of the song. It is a powerful verse that sums up how to get the kind of love that everyone wants. Be patient and wait.
Now it does seem odd that the woman who gives this advice is essentially drooling over Solomon and throwing herself at him. He isn’t exactly backing off, but patience seems to be the last thing on the mind of this young woman.
Can you make an application from this? If so what is it?
[i] NET Notes (Sol 1:4)
18 sn The verb מָשַׁךְ (mashakh, "draw") is a figurative expression (hypocatastasis) which draws an implied comparison between the physical acting of leading a person with the romantic action of leading a person in love. Elsewhere it is used figuratively of a master gently leading an animal with leather cords (Hos 11:4) and of a military victor leading his captives (Jer 31:3). The point of comparison might be that the woman wants to be the willing captive of the love of her beloved, that is, a willing prisoner of his love.
[ii] Dr. Constable’s notes
[iii] Song of Solomon, Tommy Nelson
[iv] Constables notes Song of Solomon page 15