The Song of Solomon

coverpic_mj10_smA Eternal Love Song

Arise, come away my darling; my beautiful one, come away with me!—Song of Solomon 2:13, Net Bible

Tom Ruggirello

The Song of Solomon appears to be a love song between King Solomon and a young woman. The young woman is most likely Abishag, a lovely young girl brought in to nurse and comfort King David in his old age (see 1 Kings 1:1-4). Solomon’s love and desire to marry Abishag likely grew as he observed her gentle, loving ways towards David. He may have written this beautiful and complex song to express his feelings for Abishag, and hers for him.

One interesting observation is ascribed to a seventeenth century French theologian, Jacques Bossuet. According to McClintock and Strong’s Cyclopedia: “Bossuet’s idea of this poem was that it is a regular drama … consisting of seven acts, each act filling a day, concluding with the Sabbath, inasmuch as the bridegroom on this day does not, as usual, go forth to his rural employments, but proceeds from the marriage chamber into public with his bride.”

Bossuet’s idea is full of meaning. In the Song of Solomon we have a drama of seven acts followed by the public appearance of a bride and groom on the Sabbath. This suggests that the book may be a recounting of the events of the Gospel age divided into seven acts, or stages. During the last stage of this Gospel-age drama the wedding of Jesus and the Church takes place. This extraordinary marriage also transpires on the Sabbath, the seventh thousand-year day, the great Sabbath of rest, the Millennium. Following the marriage, the divine couple will be revealed to mankind as they take their rightful place over the earth and establish their benevolent kingdom. Because of the tremendous blessings brought to the world through this wonderful union, it will be a time of great rejoicing. As expressed by the revelator: “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).

The division of the Song of Solomon into seven parts, corresponding to the seven stages of the church, finds a parallel in the book of Revelation.

Stage 1 – (Song of Solomon 1:1 to 2:13)
Church at the First Advent—
Church of Ephesus
(Revelation 2:1-7)

The book opens with the voice of the bride: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For better are thy caresses than wine: like the fragrance of thy precious oils. Oil poured out is thy name. For this cause virgins love thee.” (vss. 2,3, Rotherham)

Unlike the harsh criticisms leveled at the Pharisees, when Jesus spoke to the disciples he often spoke with tenderness and intimacy. To them, his words were like kisses, expressions of love.

The bride describes his caresses as better than wine. These are the sentiments of the early church which was mostly drawn from the Jewish nation. Because wine is a symbol of doctrine, Jesus’ words were better than the wine of Judaistic doctrine. Jesus described the teachings of the Pharisees as too “grievous to be borne” (Matthew 23:4). But since Jesus caressed the bride with grace, his promises were better than the legalistic doctrines of the law.

The bride also says that, “Oil poured out is thy name.” By accepting the blood of Christ the bride came under the direct influence of the heavenly Father and is begotten by the holy spirit to a new nature. In ancient times oil was also used for medicinal purposes. And so we see that the Lord also possesses extraordinary healing qualities. We have all been damaged by sin. Some are more injured by selfishness, others by pride, while still others deal with depression. When these inherited sicknesses can be healed through coming in contact with Jesus, we are experiencing how he is like “oil poured forth.”

In verse 4 the bride makes a simple request: “Draw me.” Her request depicts the opening of the high calling to a new and living way. She continues: “The king hath brought me into his chambers.” In ancient times, only the closest, most intimate friends were allowed into the king’s private chambers. This brings to mind the antitypical Holy of the tabernacle, a condition that would bring the bride special privileges of enlightenment, nourishment, and prayer in the Lord’s private chamber.

In verse 5 the bride makes an unusual statement about herself: “Swarthy I am, but comely” (Rotherham). Swarthy means sun-baked. It was the mark of a common field worker. And so, antitypically, the call to be part of the bride class has primarily gone out to common people. The recognition of the bride to her sun-baked condition also shows that the gospel message reveals her own unworthiness.

In verse 6 the bride says, “My mother’s sons were angry with me. They set me to keep the vineyards, mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Rotherham). At the first advent the “mother’s sons” would be fellow Jews. They were angry and persecuted the early disciples, tried to make them “keep the vineyards.” In other words, the Jewish leadership made every attempt to confine the early disciples within the walls of Judaism.

After seeing that the Jewish vineyard had received such poor stewardship, the bride comes to a personal realization: “My own vineyard I have neglected” (NIV). Her own personal growth has not received the appropriate attention. As a result of her new found love of the Lord and the recognition of her neglected vineyard, the bride expresses her desire to join his flock in verse 7: “Tell me, thou loved of my soul! Where wilt thou pasture thy flock? Where wilt thou let them recline at noon?” (Rotherham) The bride had to leave the flock of her natural Jewish heritage and follow a new shepherd to a different flock, one which would soon include Gentiles.

The bride continues: “He hath brought me into the house of wine, and his banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4, Rotherham). This describes the transfer the Jewish brethren experienced from the “house of servants” to the “house of sons” (see Hebrews 3:5,6). The house of sons was a house of “new wine” (Matthew 9:17). Because the Mosaic system had a banner of works, it could not contain the new truths of the gospel. The new system had a banner of love and grace.

Beginning in verse 5 there is a sudden change in the demeanor of the bride. She is greatly disheartened: “Sustain me with raisin-cakes, refresh me with apples, for sick with love I am. His left hand under my head, then his right hand embraced me.” (Rotherham). This description suggests that the bride was lying down. Why was she lying down? Why was she sick with love?

What appears to have happened is that the Lord had been taken away. This is because what rejuvenates the bride is seeing him again and hearing his voice (verse 8). This first great heart sickness of the bride was the crucifixion of Jesus, as well as the unexpected and evil manner in which he was taken. It is difficult for us to understand how the suffering and death of Jesus distressed the early church. She laid down, as it were, too sick to go on.

But shortly she is restored: “The voice of my beloved! Lo! here he cometh,—leaping over the mountains, skipping over the hills. Resembleth, my beloved, a gazelle, or a young stag” (vss. 8,9, Rotherham). Thankfully, the bride’s heart-sickness lasted only a few short days. Through his resurrection the Lord had triumphed (leaped) over the kingdoms of this world. He came to his prospective bride and gave her a gentle embrace.

She continues: “Lo! here he is standing behind our wall, looking in at the windows, peeping in at the lattice” (Rotherham). This probably refers to Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, when he came and went suddenly and secretly. He was now a spirit being, standing figuratively behind a wall. As time passed he would be seen only through the lattice work of the written word.

Then in verses 10-13 the bridegroom speaks to the bride: “Rise up! my fair—my beautiful—one, and come away. For lo the winter is past, the rain is over [and] gone; the flowers have appeared in the earth, the time of the spring song hath come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; the fig tree hath spiced her green figs, and [the vines—all blossom] yield fragrance—Rise up! my fair—my beautiful—one, and come away!” (Rotherham)

This marks the end of the first stage of the church. The winter of the Jewish harvest was over. The fig tree, Israel, had been harvested, and the vine was blossoming. The Lord loved these faithful members with all his heart. He loved their sincerity and desire to be part of his new Christian flock. He appreciated their willingness to bear hatred from their Jewish brethren. And they saw the privilege of dwelling in his secret chamber.

Stage 2 – (Song of Solomon 2:14-17)
Church after the Jewish Harvest—
Church of Smyrna
(Revelation 2:8-11)

Chapter 2 verse 14 begins the next stage of the Gospel-age church: “O my dove! In the retreats of the crag, in the hiding place of the terrace let me see thy form, let me hear thy voice, for thy voice is sweet and thy form comely” (Rotherham).

In Revelation this church is named Smyrna, meaning bitter herbs. It is an appropriate name because during this time some bitter persecution of the church took place. FromA.D. 64 to A.D. 313 Christians were extinguished as though they were candles. During this extreme treatment by the Roman Empire what choice did the bride have but to hide in the retreats of the crags and the hiding places of the terraces? Among her hiding places were the catacombs of Rome where thousands of Christians took refuge.

In verse 15 the bride and her companions make an interesting statement: “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, while our vineyards are in blossom” (NAS). Because the power of Rome was being directed against the bride, she asks the Lord to catch the foxes, to stop the persecuting power of Rome: It is destroying the vine. The word “foxes” is similar to Jesus’ words when he called Herod, “that fox” (Luke 13:32). Herod was a cunning and ruthless king. But in reality he was subservient to the more powerful fox, Satan himself. During the second stage of the Church the vine would be threatened by other “little foxes,” men like Nero and Diocletian.

Stage 3 – (Song of Solomon 3:1-5)
Church during the rise of Papacy
Church of Pergamos (Revelation 2:8-11)

As chapter 3 opens the bride says: “On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves; I sought him but did not find him. I must arise now and go about the city; in the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves. I sought him but did not find him. The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me, and I said, have you seen him whom my soul loves? Scarcely had I left them when I found him whom my soul loves; I held on to him and would not let him go, until that I had brought him to my mother’s house, and into the room of her who conceived me.” (NAS).

A bed represents a creed, a place where one should find rest and comfort. In this scene however, it is not comfortable (cf., Isaiah 28:20). The bride cannot find the Lord in her bed. It was during this period when the “Dark Ages” and the start of the 1,260 years began. The bride sees that the spirit of the Lord is not being conveyed by the predominant creed, so she goes about the city looking for her beloved. In her search she encounters the watchmen of the city and asks if they had seen her beloved. These were the religious leaders of Christendom, but they had no answer for the bride. And so she continued her search for her beloved.

In verse 4 the bride says that after finding him, “I held onto him and would not let him go, until I brought him to my mother’s house, and into the room of her who conceived me” (NAS). In Galatians 4:26 we are told that the spiritual mother of the Church is the Sarah feature of the Abrahamic Covenant. Bringing the bridegroom into her mother’s house shows that at this point in history she re-learned that her relationship with God was through Christ and through her covenant of sacrifice. These principles had been lost through the hierarchy of the church. It took common people like the thirteenth century Waldensians to re-establish sacrifice and labor in the Lord’s service as a common way of life for a consecrated Christian.

Stage 4 – (Song of Solomon 3:6 to 6:9)
Church during the Papal reign—
Church of Thyatira
(Revelation 2:8-19)

In chapter 4 the bridegroom describes the bride in great detail. He calls her a mountain of myrrh, a hill of frankincense (verse 6), a garden full of spices and oils. He says milk and honey are under her tongue, and the fragrance of her garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon (verses 10 and 11). This description is an appropriate connection to the church of Revelation named Thyatira, sweet perfume of sacrifice. Papal power reached its height, and the bride’s sacrifices were as a sweet fragrance to the Lord; the fruitage of her character development continued to grow.

But it changes in verse 12: “A garden barred is my sister bride, a spring barred, a fountain sealed” (Rotherham). The beautiful character fruitage pictured in the garden all seems in vain. What good is such a garden when it is barred from use? Of what benefit is a fountain of water when it is sealed? This is a concept only an understanding of the Divine Plan can reconcile. Understanding the different ages and dispensations tells us that the Gospel age is not the time for the Church to bring healing and blessings to mankind. That work is reserved for the next age. The heart’s desire of the bride is to help those in need (see James 1:27). She sees poverty and disease and wants to change it, but she cannot because she is like a garden barred. She sees death and wants to rid the world of it forever, but it is impossible because the fountain is sealed up.

But there is something she can do in preparation for that great work to come. She can make sure that the fruits of the spirit are growing in her heart. As she learns true patience, that quality will be a garden of blessing for some struggling soul in the kingdom. As she learns mercy, she will be able to apply a merciful touch to a downtrodden heart. As she learns to love from the depth of her innermost being, she will become part of the garden of spices and fruits that will be used to bring mankind, not only back to life, but back to fellowship with God himself.

After hearing the bridegroom’s description of the garden, the bride responds: “Awake, O north wind, and come in, thou south, fan my garden, its balsams will flow out, let my beloved enter his garden, and eat his precious fruits” (Song of Solomon 4:16,Rotherham). How wonderfully she accepts the north wind, representing persecution, because she wants to become a garden fountain. She wants to bear the fruitage pleasing to the Lord and some day give living waters to those who thirst (Revelation 22:1,17). In accepting the north wind she is a demonstrating deep spiritual wisdom that sees the good that will come from her trials.

Stage 5 – (Song of Solomon 6:10 to 7:9)
Church during the pre-reformation
Church of Sardis (Revelation 3:1-6)

In chapter 6 the bride is again described: “Who is this that grows like the dawn, as beautiful as the full moon, as pure as the sun, as awesome as an army with banners?” (verse 10, NAS).This describes the time of John Wycliffe and John Huss. Wycliffe started a movement in Europe that laid the foundation for the Reformation. The dark night of Papal rule was starting to see glimmers of dawn through the enlightened teachings of these wonderful brethren who carried a banner of truth like a mighty army. To the Lord these brethren were as pure as the sun. Their desire to have the Bible in the common languages of the people would begin to bring the sunlight of Gospel truth to those seeking God.

There is an interesting bridge between this stage and the next one. In verse eleven the Lord says: “To the garden of nuts I went down, to look at the fresh shoots of the ravine, to see whether had burst forth the vine, had blossomed the pomegranate” (Rotherham). The Lord went to inspect the vine to see whether it had blossomed or not. However, the vine and pomegranate do not actually bloom until chapter 7, verse 12, which is the next stage. This bridge between churches five and six depicts how the pre-reformers laid the groundwork for the blossoming of the true church that would follow during the coming Reformation. Wycliffe, in fact, is called “The Morning Star of the Reformation.”

Stage 6 – (Song of Solomon 7:11 to 8:7)
Church during the Reformation
Church of Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-13)

“Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the country, let us stay the night in the villages: let us get up early to the vineyards, let us see whether the vine has burst forth, the blossom hath opened, the pomegranates have bloomed, there will I give my caresses to thee. The love apples have given fragrance, and at our openings are all precious things, new and yet old. O my beloved! I have treasured them up for thee.” (Song of Solomon 7:11-13, Rotherham).

This describes Luther’s day and what followed. It was a time when the true vine was again blossoming as a result of the truths that were spreading across the Christian world. The doctrines were spreading into the country and villages; the common man was learning truth.

What was “new and yet old” for this stage of the church? Undoubtedly, it was the doctrine of justification by faith. These verses call it “love apples.” As the reformers opened these old truths they gave off the sweet fragrance of God’s love.

In chapter 8 verse 5 the end of the Philadelphia church is described: “Who is this coming up out of the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” (Rotherham). The wilderness is a familiar symbol. In Revelation we see the true church fleeing into the wilderness during the 1,260 years of Papal reign (Revelation 12:6). Now it is pictured as coming to an end. Only by leaning on her beloved was the Church able to survive.

Verse 7 refers to Satan’s attempt to destroy the true church by sending the flood of the French Revolution: “Many waters cannot quench love, nor shall floods overwhelm it” (Rotherham). This directly corresponds to the time of the French Revolution: “The serpent cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood” (Revelation 12:15). But the love of the bride could not be quenched by this flood. Satan’s attempt failed.

Stage 7 – (Song of Solomon 8:8-14)
Church during the harvest

Church of Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-22)

Verse 8: “A sister have we, a little one, and breasts hath she none. What shall we do for our sister, in the day when she may be spoken for?” (Rotherham).

The bride and her companions are speaking, so it is a message of the Church and Great Company. This little sister may refer to the nation of Israel. We are told she has “no breasts.” At this point Israel has not yet cultivated qualities that could support others. Her unbelief and Diaspora have retarded her spiritual growth. In contrast the Church is described in verse 10 as having “breasts like towers.” The bride has fully developed the nurturing qualities of a mother. She is ready to become the caregiver of mankind.

Verses 11 and 13 speak of a harvest of the Lord’s vineyard: “Every man was to bring in for the fruit thereof a thousand silverings … The companions are giving heed to thy voice” (Rotherham). This is the harvest message going out to all the members of the bride class. These give heed and come out of Babylon.

Finally, in verse 14, the bride expresses her desire for the speedy establishment of the kingdom, the time when Jesus will again display his ability to leap over the kingdoms of this world: “Come quickly, my beloved, and resemble thou a gazelle or a young stag, upon the mountains of balsam trees” (Rotherham).

Her desire for the bridegroom to come is answered in the closing words of Revelation, when Jesus himself says: “Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22:20).

And so marks the end of this eternal love song. It is an inspiring love story, telling of a relationship that has been developing for over two thousand years. It is a story abounding with precious memories, specially treasured by those who lived them. One day soon the union of ones so equally yoked will bring great rejoicing in both heaven and earth.

“Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready”( Revelation 19:7).