I have already noted that the grammatical construction with the singular of the plural indicates the superlative – Song of Songs = the best song. It is also worth noting as we begin to look at the book that it may also be an intentional clue to the genre of the book – Song of Songs then is one song made up of many songs. This is the suggestion of Tremper Longman. The word “song” indicates the genre of the book and of its parts. This is literature that was written to be sung. It is a poem that has been written to be sung. Usually the word indicates a glad song, there being other terms for other kinds (Marvin Pope).
As to the rest of the opening superscription…it all depends on how we choose to understand the preposition (for, by, to, concerning, belonging to, etc.). Unfortunately there is not enough context in the text to decide for sure how to read it. It is possible that we are to understand it in the same way that Proverbs 1:1 is the title of that book – in other words, Solomon may have written some of the poems that are now included in this Song. It is unlikely that Solomon was the author of the whole book (and possible that he did not write any of it). There are two times within the book when Solomon is mentioned – one might be understood in a positive light (Song 3:6-11) and one decidedly not (Song 8:10-12). Neither are written as if Solomon were the author.
Song of Songs 1:2-4
Longman tells us that Bernard of Clairvaux says that the woman’s poem opening the book presupposes an existing relationship and a conversation that started earlier. If we remember that the Song does not tell us a story it is not surprising to see that it does not begin in the beginning. Bernard called it a “beginning without a beginning.”
Nevertheless, we would expect that the order of the poems would be intentional. In this song the woman takes the initiative. This is no doubt on purpose and not the only time in the larger Song that she does this. Actually LaCocque and Goitein have analyzed the text to see that 53% of the time the woman is speaking in the whole Song and the man only speaks 39% of the time.
Now it is also worth noting, as Longman does, that the characters in the Song are not supposed to correspond with historical figures or any actual people whatsoever – instead the poet’s voice can become your voice in the right setting (as is also true in the Psalms). Thus the woman can speak for all women and the man for all men. It is for this reason (and because it serves as a liturgical text) that the Song is not very specific concerning either character.
The first verse of the poem switches from the third person to the second person – him/his to your. This is a secondary poetic device common in Scripture, but one I do not recall mentioning. It is called enallage. Note the comparison to wine – the kisses of his mouth are intoxicating. Next she moves onto his smell.
When she calls him “king” in verse 4 this need not refer to King Solomon, or be allegorized, but rather understood as typical love language of a wife for her husband. Kings are also often called shepherds, even if they were not literally shepherds, and we will see her call him a shepherd in verse 7. These are poetic devices creating a world for us to imagine different scenes in the Song.
In this poem the woman is desirous of sexual intimacy and it implies that she is satisfied. He brought her into his chambers – i.e. the bedroom.
This short song moves to a benediction – ”We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine.” And concludes with the woman’s response: ”Rightly do they love you.” The presence of a benediction in the first song of the book further supports the notion that the man and woman are to be understood as married. A benediction is fitting for a marriage context (Longman suggests looking at Psalm 45 and Prov 5:18).
Song of Songs 1:5-6
Longman suggests then that Song of Songs 1:5-6 is a second poem. This one is definitely short, but he argues that we should understand it as a complete poem because the mood is different from what we have seen and will see and because of the content. The brothers that she mentions will speak in Song of Songs 8:8-9.
The woman in the song says, ”I am very dark, but lovely.” The discussion that unfolds leads us to believe that in Israel dark tans (or burns for that matter) were unattractive. No doubt those who normally would have a tan at that time would be people who had to work outside and thus this would normally indicate the lower classes. It also may serve to differentiate between people living in the city and the country. The ”daughters of Jersualem” were light-skinned city dwellers. Just to be clear, the text is not saying anything about race or the ongoing debates about complexion. The text uses the secondary poetic device of similies – comparing herself to the tents of Kedar and the curtains of Solomon. We are missing the historical context but apparently both sights were dark but beautiful. She is upset because her skin does not look natural. And we see the reason why she had a dark tan – her brothers had forced her to keep the vineyard. This suggests as we suspected that the culture favored those who did not have to work such jobs.
Note that she does not call her brothers ”brothers” but rather ”my mother’s sons.” This is not necessarily because they are half-siblings, rather the idea is to use language that distances them from her. A young woman’s brothers would often serve to guard her chastity before marriage and they did play a role in the marriage of their sisters (Genesis 32). But in the whole Song these brothers are as Longman puts it, “’keeping her from acting on her sexuality.”
The mention of a vineyard also then becomes a metaphor. This is appropriate especially since the last poem mentioned intoxication by wine, which may be at least part of the reason these two poems are next to each other.
Song of Songs 1:7-8
The next poem is also short: Song of Songs 1:7-8. It would appear most likely that verse 7 is on the lips of the woman and then verse 8 on the lips of the man. This was the passage that I preached on Christmas Eve.
Song of Songs 1:9-17
The rest of the first chapter continues to consist in short poems. We will not see longer ones until the second chapter of the Song. Song of Songs 1:9-11 compares the woman to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots. Song of Songs 1:12-14 is spoken by the woman to the man focusing on smells. Song of Songs 1:15-17 then tells us of an outdoor intimacy. All of this suggests that it is very difficult to know for certain where one poem really was meant to begin and end in the first chapter. Each short poem does not appear to have much to do with another. They share the same characters, though not all of the characters speak or are in view in each poem. Perhaps the very reason for these being grouped together is their short length. Some commentators may try to group them into larger poems but such attempts are subjective. We will see that the closing chapter also appears to have several short poems, whereas the poems in the chapters in between are longer.