Telos has a meaning that simultaneously includes the end, purpose, and goal. From the first post on Song of Song we have been discussing these things, especially whenever we have talked about the genre of the Song. However, much of the commentary herein has focused on the first level of meaning in light of those genre conclusions. Below we will explore Song of Songs 6:4 through the end of the book in the same way. Fittingly, the end of the book is not really an ending but points us to the end. Thus we will offer some comments on the goal of the Song since it presents us with types or patterns for an even more important relationship. Hopefully then you will agree that the Song has more than one purpose.
Song of Songs 6:4-10
Song of Songs 6:4-10 is encased with an inclusio – ”awesome as an army with banners” (Song 6:4, 6:10). This is another waṣf song. The man is speaking and he describes the woman and then at the end he quotes the young women, queens and concubines. It does include some of the same imagery as his first description of the woman’s beauty (even quoting lines).
The new thing about this descriptive poem is that the man argues that she is uniquely beautiful – more beautiful than any other. You will remember that in the previous poem the young women had asked why he was so special and and thus she described him in a way that made him larger than life. This poem answers that waṣf. It has the same motivation – to explain why she is so special.
The waṣf says that she is more beautiful than others by representing the others with sixty queens, eighty concubines, and virgins without number (Song 6:8). Then it says that they will praise her (Song 6:9) by saying, ”Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?” (Song 6:10). To say that the queens and concubines represent Solomon at an early stage, since he would come to have many more wives and concubines than those numbers, is to miss the point of the text. A ”royal fiction” is being used here. The queens, concubines, and virgins presumably are the three divisions of the king’s harem. But the poet is using numerical parallelism going from 60 to 80 to a number beyond reckoning. In other words, the point of the text is not to tell us how many queens and concubines Solomon had. The point of the text is to say that no one compares with the woman. 60 and 80 were meant to be an unbelievably large number of queens and concubines. The fact that Solomon would have many more than these two numbers offers an obvious rebuke of the king. The parallelism also goes from the most important women (queens), to the least important women (the virgins). Concubines are obviously second-class wives.
The army with banners in the rhetorical question is a reference to the stars (Song 6:10).
Song of Songs 6:11-12
Some argue that the next two verses belong together as a larger unit with the descriptive poem we just explored. However, Longman argues that these two verses are best understood as their own song. The problem with lumping them together is that there is not a clear connection between them and the waṣf. Longman also notes that Song 6:12 is one of the most difficult verses to understand in the whole book. To give you a sense of the challenge offered by these two verses the NLT says Song 6:11 is spoken by the woman but the NIV says it is spoken by the man.
Song of Songs 6:13-7:10
The next poem begins with Song 6:13 (which in the Hebrew Scriptures is Song 7:1). Here we find yet another waṣf, but strangely it does not begin with her head but with her feet. The reason? She is dancing. This one is even more explicit than the previous descriptive poems. And it ends with a deep kiss. The waṣf is followed by a refrain: ”I am my beloved’s and his desire is for me.” This we recognize as a variation on a marriage refrain.
Song of Songs 7:11-13
The rest of the chapter (3 verses: Song 7:11-13 in English) is the next song. This poem is an invitation to the man from the woman. You can guess pretty easily by now what she is inviting him to do.
Song of Songs 8:1-4
So a short song brought chapter seven to a close. Chapter eight consists of several short songs. Longman divides them as follows: Song 8:1-4, 5-7, 8-10, 11-12, 13-14. Song 8:1-4 is another poem of yearning. Compare Song 8:3 and 2:6 and Song 8:4, 2:7, and 3:5. These serve as refrains bringing this poem of yearning to a close and letting us know that her desire was met. The latter refrain is the one of warning. The song leaves many questions unanswered for us, but the best guess is that their marriage was unacceptable to many.
Song of Songs 8:5-7
Longman says that Song 8:5-7 ”is arguably one of the most powerful in the whole book.” He also notes that the poem uses ANE ”mythological overtones” for imagery. But the key reason it is so important: ”It is the only place in the Song that really steps back and reflects on the nature of love itself.” Commenting on Song 8:5, Longman notes the similarity with Song 3:6 that began the poem about a wedding day. He assumes that it is the chorus who ask this question. Thus we move from the country to the city.
We have previously discussed the idea of being under the apple tree. The third part of the verse says that this was the place where he was born (perhaps conceived). In any case, this may mean that she is hoping to get pregnant this time.
Song 8:6-7 read as follows: ”Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave (Sheol). Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of YHWH. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it. If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised.”
The song views this relationship as exclusive – the seal is one, Longman says, ”of ownership and personal identification.”
The comparison of love and death perhaps prepares us for Qoheleth. After all, the power of death is a major theme in that book – as we will see. If nothing can stop death, and love is stronger, then her love is unshakable.
Here in this poem jealousy is not to be thought of negatively. Jealousy in the context of marriage is a proper emotion in the sense that it is a desire to allow no other ”partners” – to be exclusive. YHWH is said to be a jealous God in this sense. Longman notes that the only relationships where jealousy can be appropriate – the relationship between God and His people and the relationship between a husband and wife. I would add that no doubt this is at least in part due to the fact that the marriage relationship is a parable for the relationship of God and His people.
The term for flame used is the word related to the Ugaritic god of plague. This makes it likely that earlier references to Death and Sheol are meant also to be personifications. The Ugaritic god Mot is ”Death” and it was said that he was so powerful that for a time he defeated and even swallowed Baal. Baal is a god associated with fertility. Sheol is personified more than once in Scripture.
The image in this last part of the verse is meant to be very hot. Thus the poet adds on more and more words indicating fire and then ends with a superlative. The ESV had rendered it with the divine name YHWH as LORD. The form is actually “Yah” at the end of the word – a suffix. This is likely meant instead to be a superlative even greater than the normal form (think ”Song of Songs” as the best song). Such that Longman says, ”the force of the word is to say that it is a ‘god-awful’ flame.” The fact that the flame burns so hot is the reason for all the warnings in the Song.
Thus we cannot read ”many waters” as simply saying ”many waters” either. ANE mythology showcased battles between the God of order and chaos personified. In the Ugaritic myth, Baal fights Yam (the Sea) for kingship of the pantheon. That myth mentions ”many waters” and another name for Yam is ”Prince River” – related linguistically to the word river (translations vary) used in the verse. Thus not only would water not put out love, but these demons/deities would not be able to put out love.
Song of Songs 8:8-10
The next song is Song 8:8-10. Her brothers represent the restraint of society on her upcoming marriage. Clearly such a poem shows that these songs are not in some kind of chronological order. They think that she is immature and not ready for marriage (hence they say her breasts are small). They present two scenarios – she is a wall or a door. If she is a door, Longman says that means she is promiscuous. If she is a wall, then she is a virgin. She responds to the brothers by saying that she is a wall and she is mature, thus she will be in the man’s eyes like one who brings peace.
I have not mentioned this before when the word “peace” appeared but this word in Hebrew is “shalom.” It means more than peace – it means wholeness, fulfillment, contentment, satisfaction, wealth, etc. Thus this is a play on the word “shalom.” She will complete him. Yes, this is said well before Jerry Maguire.
Song of Songs 8:11-12
The next two verses are the next song. Here the reference to Solomon is clearly negative though not every detail of the verses are easy to understand. The message of the song is that the monogamy of the couple is to be praised and the polygamy of Solomon is not. The woman is the most likely speaker – she is telling Solomon that her ”vineyard” is not for sale.
Song of Songs 8:13-14
As the book began like it was without a beginning, the book ends like it is without an ending. She tells the man to be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices. (This is all familiar imagery now.) But the idea is that it is a poem of yearning, thus the idea that the Song does not quite end. This reflects reality – those who are in love are never really satisfied at least not for long, but continue to long for more.
The Goal of Song of Songs
Having explored then the meaning of the Song on the first level let me note a few things about the meaning of the Song as a type pointing to our bridegroom Jesus Christ. No doubt, as Warren Gage says, it is important that the Bible begins and ends with the celebration of a wedding because the whole story is a great romance. Thus as we read the romance of the Song, it points us to that romance story – a story of the woman yearning for the man, seeking the man, and the like and vice versa.
Thus on a second level we are meant to reflect on the man as a type for Christ and the woman as a type for the church. I do not mean to say that the Song of Songs is an allegory, but rather that it presents a type for this ultimate relationship. For this reason too the Song is associated with Solomon – for Solomon is not only known for wisdom but also for being the son of David. Ultimately the son of David who would reign forever is Jesus Christ.
Gage notes the line, “I am my Beloved’s, and His desire is for me!” (Song 7:10). And Gage notes that this is a comedic restoration in light of the curse of the fall: ”your desire will be for your husband, and he shall rule over you” (Gen 3:16). And in the end He will bring the bride to the banqueting house for His banner over her is love (Song 2:3-4).