I. How to Interpret the Song of Solomon
A. Natural interpretation: this view depicts a natural love story between King Solomon and his bride, the Shulamite maiden. It emphasizes biblical principles that honor the beauty of love within marriage. This view has grown in popularity in the last 100 years and has many good commentaries. There are two basic story lines when interpreting the Song as a natural love story. The first tells of a Shulamite maiden who was wooed by the handsome and wealthy King Solomon who progressively wins her heart as the storyline unfolds. The second is the story of a godly Shulamite maiden who deeply loves a poor shepherd in her hometown (Shunem). King Solomon passed through her town and noticed her working in a vineyard. He was struck by her extraordinary beauty. Thus, he sought to steal her heart away from the poor shepherd that she loved. She remained loyal to the poor shepherd in the midst of the temptations of King Solomon’s wealth and power.
B. Spiritual interpretation: this is a symbolic interpretation to see the spiritual truths in our relationship with Jesus behind the natural love story. This is the approach I will use in this study course. We study the Song to gain deeper understanding of our relationship with Jesus. This is the most common interpretation over the last 3000 years (since Solomon wrote this Song).
C. Jesus is exalted in the Song. He spoke of Himself from all the Scriptures to the disciples on the Emmaus road. He went through all thirty-nine books of the Old Testament to speak of Himself.
- He expounded … In all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself. (Luke 24:27)
- The law (Old Testament), having a shadow of the good things to come, and not the very image of the things… (Hebrews 10:1)
D. The Spirit inspired all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16) and exalts Jesus in all that He does.
- He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you. (John 16:14)
E. The Spirit has deep friendship with Jesus and a fierce loyalty to fill people with love for Jesus. They have been together from eternity past. Thus, it is inconceivable for the Spirit to inspire a book in the Bible without Jesus being the predominant theme.
II. The Spiritual Interpretation: 3 Common Approaches
A. First, is the relationship between Jesus and the individual believer. This approach gives spiritual principles that aid us in our progression of holy passion. This is the way we approach this study.
B. Second, is the relationship between Jesus and His corporate Church throughout history.
C. Third, is the relationship between God as the Bridegroom and ethnic Israel as His Bride (Jeremiah 2:2; Hosea 2:16–20; Ezekiel 16:8–14, 20–21, 32, 38; Isaiah 54:5–6). This was the primary approach of the scribes in Old Testament times, as well as with Jewish rabbis today.
D. We bless different interpretations as long as they exhort others to grow in wholehearted love for Jesus.
III. All Believers are Included in the Bride
A. Theologically, all believers on Earth are betrothed (engaged) to Jesus. In Hebrew tradition, an engaged couple was legally married and needed to be divorced if they broke their engagement (2 Corinthians 11:2). The consummation of the marriage relationship occurs in the age to come (Revelation 19:7). I believe that the Bride of Christ is the entire Church from history that is filled with mature love. In the resurrection, the Spirit will bring God’s work to completion in the whole church. In other words, every believer will experience a mature bridal relationship with Jesus.
B. First, the maturity of the Bride is ultimately the fruit of Jesus’ work on the cross (Romans 8:31–32). Second, in heaven there will be only one unified people, rather than two classes of believers. Jesus prayed that His people would be unified like the Father and the Son (John 17:21). Third, we will be like Jesus when we see Him in glory. The impact of seeing God will release great power that will transform all believers in the age-to-come. When He is revealed we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. (1 John 3:2). Fourth, the Bride’s destiny is ensured by God’s ravished heart for her. His heart is ravished for all of His people (Song 4:9). God’s heart is ravished for all the redeemed, not just for those who are spiritually mature during their brief time on the Earth. Jesus is not more ravished for one group in the Church than He is for another group. Summary: the maturity of the Bride is based primarily upon Jesus’ work on the cross, His intercession, the revelation of His glory and His ravished heart for us.
C. The three main characters in the Song of Solomon
1. King Solomon: in the spiritual interpretation he is a picture of the triumphant resurrected Jesus Christ who is King of Kings. Shulamite maiden: in the spiritual interpretation she is a picture of the Bride of Christ. She is introduced as a young maiden who grows up to become a Bride in mature partnership with King Jesus. The Shulamite is mentioned once by name (6:13). She lived in Shunam (north of Jezreel). Daughters of Jerusalem: in the spiritual interpretation they speak of sincere yet spiritually immature believers. They look to the Shulamite for answers on how to grow close to the King. They are not an actual group that we can identify in history (they personify immature believers).
2. In the Song of Solomon, Solomon shows forth the joy of life that can be attained without regard to how our circumstances are going. In this book, the Holy Spirit is calling us to make intimacy with God the goal of our life. The Song highlights how full our life is when our consuming passion is to love and know Jesus. Even with hard circumstances, our spirit can be alive in God. Song of Solomon speaks of entering fulfillment through humility, obedience and the impartation of God’s love. The Song of Solomon speaks of the spiritual pleasure of pursuing the best things found in heavenly life.
D. Allegorical interpretation
- But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic (figurative in NIV; allegorically speaking in NAS). For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar ... for this Hagar is Mount Sinai…and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all. (Galatians 4:23–26)
1. The allegorical interpretation has been used in different ways through history. Paul’s treatment of the Hagar–Sarah story is described by Paul as symbolic by the NKJV, as figurative by the NIV and as an allegory by the NAS.
2. Paul’s use of the Sarah–Hagar story in Galatians 4:21–31 is more “figurative” (typology) instead of an “allegory.” Paul’s use of allegory differed greatly from Alexandrian allegory (first-century Philo as well as the third and fourth century Origen and Chrysostom).
3. The Alexandrians used allegory in a way that ignored its historical context and meaning. In 1 Corinthians 9:9–10, Paul used an allegorical interpretation of the “muzzled ox” (Deuteronomy 25:4) to apply to the full-time workers in the Gospel receiving finances.
4. An allegory is a fictional story with symbolic meaning without historical facts as its basis. An experience of this type of an allegory is seen in the book, The Chronicles of Narnia.
5. An allegory is a literary form where people or objects symbolically represent truths. Allegories illustrate truths to make them easier to understand. Our primary interpretation of Scripture must be the historical grammatical that takes the Scripture at face value. We approach the Scripture this way unless the Scripture indicates otherwise (Ezekiel 16; Daniel 7:2–8, 16; Hosea 2:1–14; Isaiah 5:1–7; John 15:1–6; Galatians 4:24; Revelation 11:8).
6. Allegorical interpretations are helpful if we only use them to illustrate truths that are clearly established throughout the New Testament.
E. The theme of the Song of Solomon: to receive the kisses of God’s Word
- Let Him kiss me with the kisses of His mouth (Word)… (Song 1:2)
1. We may cry “Father, let Jesus kiss me with the kisses of His Word.” We ask for grace to receive the Word in a way that empowers us to love Jesus with all our heart so as to walk in holy obedience to the Word of God.
- Jesus said to him, "You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Matthew 22:37)
2. The Word of God is what proceeds from God’s mouth. Our heart can only live by that which comes from God’s mouth. Jesus quoted Deuteronomy 8:3 in His temptation (Matthew 4:4). For 3,000 years, rabbis have referred to the “kisses of the mouth” in this verse as the “kiss of the Torah”.
- That He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
3. The theme of the Song is the Bride’s cry for the kiss of God’s Word to touch the deepest place in her heart. This refers to encountering the Word in the deepest and most intimate way. In other words, to receive the Word in a way that reveals the King’s love for His Bride and awakens our heart in the 3-fold love of God (love from God, then for God, which overflows to others). Jesus is the Living Word. He is the Person who longs to be our “close friend” and who frees us from profound loneliness (John 1:1).
4. The Divine kiss is a metaphor for intimacy with God. There are 3 metaphors of intimacy with God in the Song. The Divine kiss (1:2), the Divine seal (8:6), and the Divine embrace (2:5, 8:4).
5. We are to think of God's hand touching our heart by the Holy Spirit to expand our capacity to receive His love and to give ourselves back to Him in love. It speaks of God’s invitation to go deep with Jesus. The kisses of His mouth speak of the release of God’s Word that tenderizes our hearts in God’s love. We want the deepest things that God will give the human spirit in this age.
6. We receive the kisses of God’s Word by pray-reading God’s Word or in meditation. In times of temptation, we speak this truth before the Lord. We say, “I will not yield to sin. Father let Him kiss my heart with the power of God’s holy Word.
7. We are not to think of kissing Jesus on the mouth. This is outside the boundaries of God’s Word. We renounce all interpretations of the “kisses of the Word” that come from sensual imagination. The Word of God covers many different subjects such as relationship skills, financial blessing, ministry skills or apostolic strategies for outreach (Book of Acts). The Word as it pertains to growing in these skills and insights is valuable to us. In Song 1:2, the Bride cried out specifically to receive the Word of God in a way that would reveal and impart God’s love to her heart.