What are some common misunderstandings today about the Song of Songs?
The biggest problem is when interpreters fail to connect the Song of Songs to the rest of the Bible and treat it as though it is not informed by the Bible’s storyline, enriched by the Bible’s Symbols, and imbued with the Bible’s hope.
Disconnecting the Song from the Bible then leads to all kings of misuses, some of which are more harmful than others. It’s one thing to find it difficult to see how the Song links up with the rest of the Bible, it’s quite another to conclude that it doesn’t and then to read it as though it’s some kind of ancient sex-help guide, or as though it celebrates Solomon’s sin, or as though it’s an opportunity to play free-association and let the allegorical imagination spiritualize the text’s meaning out of all recognition.
You’ve said that your new commentary seeks to “vindicate the age-old Christian reading of the Song of Songs.” How would you describe this traditional view of the book?
The traditional view of the book for Jews was that it was an allegorical love story of the relationship between Yahweh and Israel, for Christians that it was about Christ and the Church. I try to show from valid exegesis and biblical theology that these impulses are going in the right direction.
How does the Song of Songs guide Christians in our marriages?
The Song of Songs is the closest we get in the Bible to a description of life in the Garden of Eden, under the blessing of God, in the presence of God, naked and unashamed. This vision is meant to inspire us with what life looks like when we fear God appropriately and live in his presence. It’s meant to give us hope that the King from David’s line has overcome every obstacle and will roll back every curse. It’s meant to give us his footsteps in which we can follow, imitating the example that typifies the one to come.
Poetry works on us at a different level than Paul’s epistles do. Paul’s letters speak to our mind, to our reason, logically convincing and explaining (not denying for a second that he can inspire the heart as well!). But Poetry has a way of working its way into our hearts and emotions, speaking to us in a visceral way, causing us to feel what we should, desire what we should, and love what we should.
We need Paul’s teaching on marriage in Ephesians 5, and we need the poetic picture of the Song of Songs that Paul is expositing as he points to its fulfillment in Christ and the church.
How does the message ultimately point to Christ?
Paul says that marriage is about Christ and the church in Ephesians 5. I try to show how the covenant between Yahweh and Israel is evoked in the Song of Songs in such a way that it organically finds its culmination and fulfillment in the relationship between Christ and the Church. The details about how to get from point A at Mount Sinai, to point B in the Song of Songs, to the destination of point C at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, are in the book.
About James M. Hamilton Jr.:
James M. Hamilton Jr. is Professor of Biblical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Preaching Pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky.
Where to Buy:
Song of Songs is available at any good Christian bookstore. If you don’t have a Christian bookstore near you, you may want to consider purchasing a copy from one of the online book retailers listed below: