Song of Songs Lesson 1 Lesson Plan
A. Related to sacred sexual rites of ancient Near Eastern fertility cults wherein issues of life and death were major concerns.
B. Akiba: “…the song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” This is explained in a midrash: “wherever you find a barrier against immorality and lust, there you find holiness.” Here we see a great lover exalting love of God. Also, it contains reciprocal praises between God and Israel (Midrash).
C. When written, and by whom - Solomon? Hezekiah? Isaiah? Post exilic? 3rd century BCE? Undatable? Traditionally, it’s believed the Song was written by Solomon, upon completion of Temple. Akiba say the Temple was completed on the day the Song was written! Note in beginning it’s of Solomon, which may also mean, dedicated to God, the King to whom peace belongs. (Shehashalom)
D. About pining of the people, Israel, or perhaps of the human soul, for God. Simile of need of man for God in erotic longing of the maiden. Similar to Psalms 42:2-4.
E. Relationship between relation of God and Israel as His bride. Perhaps union of active and passive sides of the intellect.
F. For Christians, mutual love of Christ and the Church as bride, or Christ and the individual believer.
G. Five movements - all prior to the Temple, Building and dedicating the Temple, sin and loss and exile, prayer and reconciliation and rebuilding, exile after Rome and entreaty to God for access through prayer.
H. Rashi - exile after exile, the people would vow to return “to first husband.” Lover saddened by her sorrow and remembers the loyalty of youth, beauty, and good work, accepts her back.
I. Ibn Ezra - union of the divine soul with the earthly body.
J. Ibn Caspi - highest order of human intellect (the fairest of women) and the active intellect (the handsome lover). Active intellect stirs up or brings the receptive intellect from rest to action.
K. Immanuel - three stages of man: first in Eden before sin, in youth when mind is young, fears God; second in seeing woman and potential and reaching for apple and union with woman; third is sin with woman.
It’s as if it’s about a shepherd and shepherdess with Solomon as a separate character.
L. Abrabanel - Solomon and wisdom are the two characters.
M. Mendelssohn - enlightenment. Victory of true and virtuous love in humble life over temptations of royalty.
N. Early Christian - rising above fleshly desire to pure platonic love of the virgin soul for God.
O. Some later Christian (Theodore, Bishop of Mopsuestia in 4th century) saw it as an erotic song. This view was condemned at Council of Constantinople in 550.
P. By the 17th century, the traditional view had more fully formed: the book celebrates the marriage between Christ and his Church, the great love between bridegroom and spouse, howsoever she may fall away.
Q. More modern: imaginary dreams; pagan fertility worship; mystical; perhaps an idea of male and female elements in God; God and the Shekinah; God and Lady Wisdom; God and Lady Sabbath; historical allegory about the return of exiles; union of the soul with God in a sort of mystical marriage; rationalism in the form of purely natural love with reciprocal affection and admiration, offending sometimes; human love poetry; love’s yearnings; inspired treatment of married love; sacred and sexual; love conquers death; and even some women’s lib explanations)
R. Guardianship of God over His people and the enduring loyalty of the people over time, though having been taken away often from her homeland often with a variety of sirens songs. But this doesn’t quench love for ancestral faith in God.
I. A. Note shir, while denoting song, is usually about glad song. Used in psalms and Levitical choirs. Superlative here - song of all the songs; the Targum says there are 10 (p. 296).
Song is the recognition of the symphony of creation.
The song is sung by all of creation, but it doesn’t attain fulfillment unless man hears, proclaims the truth of, and lives in tune with the purpose of the song. Then, people who believe are able to sing.
B. Love of God is key. It leads to service of God. The highest love: Israel is God’s, and He is its. They are bound to each other in selfless devotion. This Song is an allegory, yet we know its meaning stretches beyond human understanding. We’re to read and understand with the ecstasy of love between God and Israel.
B. Kissing is erotic and human, but the Targum likens it to God speaking to us face to face in love in giving Torah…
Is this the desire of the exiled Israel for God?
Different translations! 1) Your friendship is better than wine. Like the scents of goodly oils is the spreading fame of your great deeds OR 2) This love is greater than wine and precious oil. It matters!
What do we make of the oils? (All earthly pleasures? Torah? Our previous and empiric knowledge? The oils used in anointing. (Perhaps love of God is greater than the ritual in the Temple?)
Your name is Flowing Oil, suggesting something deeper, more pervasive, diffused broadly.
C. ”Therefore do young maidens love you.” (The nations of the world or scholars or even people who are dying, including martyrs)
D. God draws me; we follow, we run after You (perhaps even from exile)
E. The king brings me in his chambers; we will be glad and rejoice in You through Torah. Your love is better than wine (earthly delights) or celebrated with wine.
F….though I have sinned, not guarded my own vineyard, (thus darkened), I seek in virtue to return and to be clean again. My soul seeks You. Where do I go? Teach me so I may return.
G. God speaks in 8 (or is it Jerusalem or harem ladies, or a companion of the shepherd?). Follow your forebears who followed path of Torah. Graze children and spiritually immature there.
H. 9-10. Compared to a mare in Pharaoh’s cavalry that is beloved (once under his control or the best in his horses or simply from whom God freed Israel), with gifts (blessings), including rescue at the sea. Traditionally, riches/resources (bangles, beads, spangles) to ornament body with beauty are akin allegorically to our use of our resources in prayer, study, and worship. Or…
I. 12. Do we turn them into a golden calf while the King is at his table on his couch in Sinai (with Moses)? Or an evil scent (nard) while God is in the Tabernacle or at Sinai? OR is it positive that the lovers are attracting each to the other? (Judah in opposition to Meir)
King is seen as Jesus in Heaven, with allegories with scent of repentance or fragrances inspired by fires of Pentecost, etc.
J. 13. Beloved gives bundle of myrrh. Gift of tabernacle as a finer fragrance for me. Gold used now in holy space.
Lodged between breasts. The Shekinah between staves of the ark? The bosom is a place of attraction and nourishment.
Myrrh – Jesus’ passion? Came in human form, suffering in death. Breasts – both the old and new testaments.
K. 14. Cluster of cypress or Henna from Ein Gaddi. Expiations and pardons from God? Divine spirituality that infuses into human life? Fragrance is so strong it can cover great distance, as if from the wilderness. Wine in offerings came from vineyards in Ein Gedi. God’s many favors?
L. 15. Is this now the bride? Fair, eyes like doves. Perhaps glistening color and quick movement? Suggestive of sacrificial nature that is praiseworthy? Innocent and graceful? Loyal? Distinctive? Sticks out neck? Knows its place? Flocks to the cote, as in home, ways?
Eyes are crucial organs, guiding.
Does God now forgive the one who has returned lovely in deed and resolve, loyal as a dove, righteous?
Suggestive of Holy Ghost?
M. 16. Bride now reciprocates. Perhaps Israel expresses gratitude for the Temple, for dwelling with God, nearness, and for repentance. Luxuriant with increase and plenty and blessing.
Cloisters. Convents. Pastures of heaven.
N. 17. Houses’ beams are cedars – clean, sturdy, outdoorsy, flourishing, pleasant. Rafters, cypresses. Akin to Temple of today and the future, even messianic. Beams may be like righteous men and women, prophets, sages, etc.
II. A. 1-2. I am like a rose (or crocus) in the valley. (modest, vulnerable OR attempting to arouse God’s love as a hardy rose (or lotus) that maintains (and is fertile) as would a virtuous, good deed doer).
God (the groom) then sees it as a rose among thorns, maintaining faith despite torments, and seeing it as better than modestly self-portrayed. Beautiful and lifted itself up. Went for the golden calf but bruised kept its beauty. Vulnerable but will be protected.
Another: will be protected by thorns.
B. 3-4. God (the beloved) is as if a fruitful tree among barren trees in the forest, adored. Delighted to sit in his shade (with little shadow) and taste of his sweet fruit (Torah) and garner his protection. He brought Israel to the chamber of Torah delights (the Temple?) and then to the house of wine (Sinai? The Promised Land? The Temple?), with banners of love (as in banners in the camp? Brought together in banquet house w/ Shechinah dwelling amongst us and declaring your love? The study hall?)
This suggests a progression from being in his shade to being brought into chamber.
Did Jesus take on this image of a tree when on earth as a man? The wine house – the church? The banner – Christ’s love?
C. 5. Sustain me while in exile (or while apart) and in need of revival or aroused passion, though loving and desirous of redemption and return, with nourishment and medicine (Cakes, grapes, and apples? Torah? Agaddah (sweet as apples)?).
Others see sexual connotations in the foods, the scents, and the bracing.
Does this suggest the Virgin? Ointments that pour forth from Jesus, graces of the Holy Spirit, apples that hung on the tree, the cross?
D. 6-7. Memories of love in the desert (tenderness, manna), left hand under her head (justice), right embraces her (mercy) (clouds of glory) (tablets of the law) (Shema and Amidah) all while Israel is otherwise deserving of punishment (or just alone, as in wilderness). She is lovesick even while afflicted (or alone) because he supports her then and is ready to embrace in forgiveness (or simply about support and adherence or embrace).
Those around (foreign powers? People of the community?) by the powers that be should not incite or excite love until it’s eager (attract to idolatry? Teach falsely? Try to bring back together ahead of time, as if from exile, or without a free return with sincere repentance, etc.? Artificially, as opposed to gently or truly?
E. 8-9. Lover is coming, leaping, bounding over mountains and hills (through the patriarchs and matriarchs? Over long periods of time or seeming big obstacles but quickly overcome-able by God in the redemption, or their previous transgressions, both big and small).
God (or the lover) is swift and nimble in coming (like a gazelle or hart) to rescue, after, though hidden and behind walls or windows, having seen her predicament. He stands ready to jump to our aid. Or simply come to us in love.
Gregory the Great saw it as Jesus when working miracles, though insulted and sometimes hiding, ready to share and pity and feed.
F.10-11. God calls for people to leave Egypt. Could it be to return after exile? The rain and winter are over (servitude? Exile?)
For Christians, the call to follow Jesus out from the conventional, material world.
G. 12-13. Blossoms have appeared (Moses and Aaron? The prophets? The Messiah?), creating time for song (or pruning) (Praise of God? Joy? Based on deliverance?) (in the spring), and the voice of the dove is in the land (Cyrus’ call to return? Guides like Moses and Joshua?).
Fig tree has formed her small figs (for ascent to Temple) (for entry to the Promised Land for first fruits). Are unripe figs to be contrasted with blossoming vines (the wicked who fall by the way versus those who are righteous or have repented and whose fragrance shows they’re ready)? Or a female (or a faith group) who is not yet ready but one who is ripening?) Or just youth?
Now arise and go forth.
H.14-15. Dove (symbol of love and peace? Israel?) in the crannies (cliff side clefts) of the rock (when the people were trapped at the sea, were they like a dove fleeing a hawk? Perhaps in later exiles?) was asked by God to show Him its countenance and hear supplication (deeds, especially goodness in private? Prayers? Nearness? Offerings?), and they cried in a sweet voice to God. (song of sea? Song in Temple in worship?) Moses refers back to this in his speech.
The foxes have seized us or threaten us and our blooming vineyards (the Egyptians? Others who attack and besiege? Dissidents from within? Those who go astray?). Catch them (vineyard spoilers).
In love story, man sees that woman is gone or in danger and she beckons him to save her from threatening forces.
Christian – doves’ refuge in the Rock (Jesus), several fox reference.
I.16-17.I love God; he loves me. God (man) loves Israel (beautiful girl) whose charms are symbolized by the flowers/lotus. This could be that either browses the lotus. God grazes His sheep amid scenes of tranquil beauty. Or among the righteous.
Lotus symbolizes sexual/fertility.
Lilies associated with Jesus’ truth/meekness/righteousness. St Bernard
This love is maintained until “my sin blows away His friendship” and “His protection departs” or “the day breathes and the shadows depart” or a separation occurs. Midrash: Israel hopes God will be merciful and less strict as to justice.
A sense that the shechinah may depart here and be lovingly sought in coming verses (Rashi)
Israel hopes that God will be like a gazelle on distant mountains jumping over transgressions and return and be its love. This could be after an exile or bondage in Israel, when the hope of the remnant is that God will remember the covenant. Mountains could include Moriah.
The hills could be read sexually.
The day could be the resurrection. Turning could involve conversion of the heathen.
III. A. 1-3. She lay on her bed at night (during 38 years after the spies’ fiasco? Egyptian/Babylonian exile?) (in anguish), she seeks the one she loves, though he (God) remains aloof (seeking cloud and crown after golden calf).
She arises to seek the one she loves and roams the city. (Prayers? Calls to God?) (State of post-exilic mind.
The watchmen found her (Moses and Aaron? Levites? Ezra and Nehemiah? Torah scholars?
Pre-marital bed? Man did not return? Searching but not finding?
Object of quest is Christ, though hard to find from this position.
B. 4-5. She finds him and grasps him. (when God returns to help Joshua and the people enter the land? With Isaiah and others as exiles return to the land?) She’s determined not to let him go and declares such to daughters of Jerusalem or nations, by gazelles, etc., (through the building/re-building of the Temple? Restored relationship through repentance? Re-commitment to living in God’s ways?) (as if to say that others should not step in the way or alter it happening at the right time and in right way, until “love is eager.”).
Some say this has feel of return of ark from the Philistines.
Some say loved one is Daniel.
Moses may be adjuring the Israelites to not try to go to the land ahead of the time specified to be in the wilderness.
C. 6-7. Israel remembers the cloud/fire that led it in the wilderness (by God) and perhaps likens it to smoke of incense in the Temple or offerings. (Or return of exiles?)
Bride coming from her quarters (like aromatic smoke or with sweet smell).
Torah and all it contained come up from wilderness.
God’s presence in all cases.
Solomon’s bed. Peace. Bride. Temple? Ark? That which comes along with Solomon? Or is this a reference to the Messiah? The hope of redemption or return? Desire for peace? Or marriage?
Sixty mighty men might refer to priestly blessing (same number of letters), w/ strength of God’s Name. Those who carried the ark? Heroes/valiants. Divisions of priests and Levites (24 each) plus 12 tribes of Israel?
Christian – bed represents Church or cross or womb of Virgin Mary? 60 – Doctors who defend Church?
III. 8-9. They handle the sword/weapons with skill, war-skilled and battle-taught (Keen in advocacy and knowledge of Torah? Skilled in Divine Service?) against night terror (life w/o God or life’s emptiness or the dangers that threaten the marriage or place before sin?).
This is Israel at its best, most appealing to God, or the bride at her most beautiful and most loyal to the groom, protecting “Solomon’s bed,” among other things.
A throne or throne room or palace or tabernacle or the Temple or the ark or Divine Presence Solomon made of wood of Lebanon or a sedan-chair that carried the virgin bride? Love couch?
III. 10-11. Its pillars were made with silver; coverings, gold; seat, purple (royalty, divinity); and inner side, decked with love (love between God and Israel, even burning love, perhaps Shechinah, Torah) by Israel.
Go forth, Zion’s girls (Israel,bride) and gaze upon King Solomon (that which is established by God on earth or God) adorned with crown (God’s authority) his mother (the nation) gave him on his wedding day (day of covenant, giving of Torah, beginning of his reign) and day of heart’s bliss (building of Temple).
Thanks be to God for salvation – these days and the future day of the Messiah.
For Christians, gifts of the Holy Spirit, purple as the Passion, inside paved with love His love-filled heart, golden slope of litter was ardent love that prepared Mary for her role.