Why is this seemingly erotic little book included in the sacred canon? What is its message? Is it allegorical- really about God’s love for his people Israel (Jewish interpretation) or Christ’s love for the church (Christian interpretation)? Not definitive, but the accreditation to Solomonic authorship is pretty strong, probably the first of his three books. Song of Songs is patently a collection of ancient Hebrew love poems celebrating the experiences of a lover and his beloved as they taste the beauty, power, agony, and joys of human sexual love. Is such a book appropriate to be included in Hebrew/Christian Scriptures?
In a sense there is almost an Edenic quality to much of the Song of Songs, almost as if it were a commentary on Genesis 2:18-25. The psalmist looked at the awesome beauty and order of the heavens and saw in them subjects fit for scripture. They were a declaration of the glory of God. This writer looked at and experienced the beauty of human love and wrote about it. With similar awe and respect both authors see the glory of God. The explicit references to the Creator found in the OT’s praise of the heavens are not found in the Song of Songs. They were though, through the unchallenged assumption of whoever gave us this text.
The explicit nature of portions of the Song of Songs may be a bit shocking to some readers. However, metaphorical erotic-literature was not uncommon in the ancient Near East, as is seen especially in Egyptian Love Songs. Fertility was a major issue for the people of these cultures, since their lives revolved and relied upon the harvest. Most of their religious festivals and holidays centered on the agricultural calendar, and it was an easy step to employ these images of plowing, seeding, cultivation, and harvest to human relations. As a result, the sexual metaphors that appear in the text express the high emotions of a loving couple, who find it difficult to be separated and who in sometimes flamboyant terms describe each other’s merits and beauty. It would be impossible in the light of their passion to speak in anything other than sensuous and intimate terms.
Be careful not to read too much between the lines- there is no moralistic hidden meaning behind the poems in the book. It merely contains love songs with a number of observable and important themes. When Song of Songs talks about love, it emphasizes the necessity that love be kept under control despite the passion, the longing, and the anticipation. These characteristics must be controlled because they give love power over a person. That power can work in positive ways to overcome the obstacles of circumstance or in negative ways as it breaks through barriers of propriety. Love has this power whether applied to young unmarried sweethearts, those who are betrothed, newlyweds, or those married for decades. Its power is not only evident when the flames are burning but when the flames are dying.
This power love is addressed directly in Song of Songs 8:6-7: “Love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame. Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.”
(Portions of the material above found in: Dennis F. Kinlaw, “Song of Songs” in The Expositors Bible Commentary Vol. 5; Walton, Matthews, Chavalas, The IVP Bible Background Commentary- Old Testament; Walton, Strauss, Cooper, The Essential Bible Companion)