“Song of Songs.” This is a Semitic way of saying, “the best song.” The Semitic languages had no way to express the superlative degree. For example, they could speak of a song, a good song, and a better song, but they had no way to say, “the best song.” So to express the superlative degree, the word is doubled, and “the best song” was described by the phrase, the “song of songs.” This explains why God is called, “the “elohim of elohim” (normally translated, “God of gods”) and Jesus is “king of kings” and “lord of lords.” God is the “best God,” and Jesus is the “best King” and “best Lord.”
The Song of Songs is like a layer cake with a number of layers of meanings. It is a love song, but it is not just that. The whole Word of God is God-breathed (2 Tim. 3:16), and fulfills His purpose, and the Song of Songs uses the intensity and passion of young love to good effect to express His love for His people. Although we can see why the Rabbis say the Song expresses God’s love for Israel, while many Christian teachers say it expresses Christ’s love for the Church, both those views are myopic. God loves all His people individually, and to exclude any of them from the message of intense love that God was trying to communicate to His people misses the point. The Song, as an allegory, expresses God’s love for His people—any and all of them. They are all special to Him, and loved by Him. Furthermore, as the true expression of God’s love and following in His footsteps, we are also intensely loved by Christ.
The Song is also a teaching text, showing us that, although believers are to be modest and self-controlled in public, God created us as sexual creatures and so openly expressing and being free with our sexual feelings when we are alone with our spouse was part of God’s plan. The Devil has aggressively worked against the pleasure of sex that a couple can have together, and has manipulated religion so that some people cannot marry; some people believe that sex is a sin unless the couple is trying to get pregnant, many people believe that sex is somehow “dirty,” and so forth.
The extent to which the Christian Church has maintained a false or ungodly modesty is shown by the fact that the allegorical interpretation of the Song as God’s love for His people has been rejected by most scholars today, who feel that the sexual language in the Song is so graphic that it cannot represent the love between God and His people. For example, Duane Garrett writes: “Such language is simply inappropriate as a description of the love between God and his people….” (New American Commentary: Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, B&H Publishing, Nashville, TN, p. 357). We disagree, and remind the reader that the language in the Song is allegorical and on one layer shows the intense passion of His love for them (it does not describe how God will interact with His people), while on another layer describes how men and women can act with one another in a marriage without guilt or shame.
There are many proposals set forth by scholars to explain the Song of Songs. It has been called an allegory, a dramatic storytelling, a historical record of an encounter in Solomon’s life, literature from the fertility cult background of the ancient Near East, a kind of liturgy for a wedding of text to be read at a wedding ceremony, and more. Most of the interpretations can be rejected off hand because they do not take into account that God is the Author of the Song of Songs, and it expresses His purposes.
May we learn from the Song the wonderful freedom in married love and sex, and the amazing and intense love that God and Christ feel for their spiritual family.