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13th June

Song of Solomon 1-4; Psalm 9

Bible in a Year
7 minutes
In this article
13th June

Song of Solomon 1-4; Psalm 9

Bible in a Year
7 minutes

Song of Songs Overview

Today we start the Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon. This is another book attributed to Solomon, just like Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. While these two other books wrestle with wisdom and how it relates to the meaning of life, the Song of Songs narrows in. It is focused on wisdom concerning romantic love. What is the correct place for romantic (and sexual) love?

Because of this, the book often makes a lot of people uncomfortable. It reads like the private poems of a young couple about to get married, which means the messages are very personal and sometimes get heated. To make it easier to read, a lot of people will choose to see it as an image of how God sees his people. He loves them deeply. This, however, ignores the deeply romantic, and sometimes sexual, nature of the book. Love and sex make up big parts of the human experience. The Bible should be able to talk about these things honestly. And so it does.

Because this book is attributed to Solomon, some people, including some Bible translations, assume that Solomon is the man in these poems. You may even have some headings in your Bible that mention Solomon with his bride. These weren't originally in the Bible, they were added by the translators to help you better understand. The problem is, it doesn't look like Solomon is the man.

First, the man is a shepherd, and second, Solomon wasn't a particularly doting lover. He had 700 wives and 300 concubines, so he's not a great example of intimate love. The book is attributed to Solomon to put it in the same category as these other wisdom books we read. This is further confused by the fact that the woman sometimes calls her lover 'the king'. As weird as it may sound, this is likely just her pet name for him. So as you read through this, don't imagine a king and a maiden. Imagine two young, likely poor, lovers excited to be married.

Song of Songs 1:2-7 - Introduction

Song of Songs 1:8-8:5 - A series of poems

Song of Songs 8:6-14 - Conclusion

A key theme of this book is the intense desire this young couple feels for one another. They are passionately in love with one another, and the author plays this out in the imagery of seeking and finding. Throughout the book, the couple are often looking for one another. The sense of desperation builds until they find one another, unite in passion, and then the scene changes. This is likely to emulate that young, unmarried love that can’t wait to be in one another’s presence but then have to separate before their passion builds to high while they wait for marriage.

This brings in another key theme that this couple takes pleasure in one another. There are detailed descriptions of how attractive their bodies are . They don’t shy away from this. This may feel at odds for some who grew up in more conservative circles, where all passion and attraction was to be suppressed before marriage, so it doesn’t overtake you. For this young couple, there is no suppression. They seek to tame their passion in other ways.

Finally, there is a lot of garden imagery which is meant to be a call back to the garden of Eden. In short, this book is exploring what to intimate, sexual love looks like in God’s perfect creation, particularly for a young couple who are not yet married.

Song of Songs 1-4

The book sets the tone straight away. The woman longs for her man to kiss her. To run away with her and take into his bedchamber. If you're expecting this to be PG13, you may be disappointed. She admits that though she is poor and has worked hard with her hands out in the field. But that's not going to keep her from her lover. The man cuts in to tell his bride how beautiful she is.

She thinks of times when she has watched him relaxing. Her body gives of intoxicating emotions that seem to fill the room as she watches him. We started with a woman hungry for her lover to kiss her, and we're now with the two of them in the same room, perhaps on the same couch, intoxicated by their passion for one another. It's time to take a step back and cool off.

The woman describes herself as a flower in the shade of a valley, unseen and unnoticed. Her lover picks up on this and describes her as like a beautiful flower among thorns compared to the women around her. The woman describes her lover as a fruit tree that nourishes her and protects her in its shade. He feeds her from his hand and holds her in his arms.

We then get the first hint at the message of this book. The woman turns to her friends, the other women in Jerusalem, and encourages them to "not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" (Song of Songs 2:7). Why? Because love and passion are powerful and dangerous. They are to be enjoyed, but in the wrong context, they can consume you.

The woman then reflects on the words of her lover; words of affection and love and care. Content in the memory of the words he's spoken over her, she declares confidently, "My beloved is mine, and I am his" (Song of Songs 2:16). There is security and comfort in his love.

Next comes that repeating theme in this book, the image of the woman desperately looking for her lover and then once finding him, not letting him go, but taking him to their marriage bed to consummate their love. This was often the same bed that the woman or the man had been conceived in. Seems weird to us, but hey, that's how they liked it back then.

In this example, this was a dream the woman had. Upon waking and thinking about the dream, she once again encourages her friend to not stir or awaken love until it pleases. In contrast to the woman's very personal experience, dreaming about her husband, we then see the very public procession of Solomon to his wedding day. This is the ideal. These personal experiences of wrestling alone at night with how much she loves her man will one day be put aside when you can publicly celebrate the union of their marriage.

Then comes a very long poem from the man, enjoying the physical attraction he feels towards his bride. In Christian circles, we can often feel like before marriage the physical attraction is a bad thing that needs to be controlled and minimised to acceptable levels. Yes, it does need to be controlled, but it's not bad. It's an essential part of the relationship and should be enjoyed.

He is detailed in describing how much he loves the different parts of her body, and while the metaphors may not make much sense to us, we can still tell that this is a man deeply attracted to his bride. He speaks of how beautiful she is and how his heart is captivated by her. He describes as intoxicating life a good wine or perfume. She is likened to a garden full of incredible fruit that, for now, is locked away.

Her response to him? "Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits" (Song of Songs 4:16). The force of the passion between these two is powerful. They deeply desire one another. And yet through this desire they recognise the boundaries and long for the day when they can step beyond those boundaries and enjoy one another.

Psalm 9

This psalm is attributed to king David, and fits into the category of lament psalms, though you may not notice it straight away. This is because, unlike most lament psalms that begin with the complaint and end with a declaration of trust in God, this psalm does it the other way round.

The first half of the psalm is dedicated to praise, and so to begin with, it would be easy to mistake this as a praise psalm. But following a chiastic pattern (a structure that mirrors itself) as the psalm reaches its turning point, the psalmist begins to raise their complaint before God.

A) Psalm 9:1-2 - Praise

B) Psalm 9:3-6 - God has judged the enemy

C) Psalm 9:7-10 - Testimony that God saves the righteous

D) Psalm 9:11 - Praise

C) Psalm 9:12-14 - Prayer that God will save the psalmist

B) Psalm 9:15-18 - God continues to judge the wicked

A) Psalm 9:19-20 - Prayer for God to intercede

Perhaps the biggest immediate take away from this psalm is the evidence that there is no one way you have to pray. In some situations, all you can do is bring your complaint. You’re hurting and broken, and it’s only after airing all that pain before God that you can bring yourself to declare that God is good.

But other times, you might decide before you bring up your complaints, you need to remind yourself of the goodness of God to put your complaints in their rightful place. It all depends on the situation and where you are at when you come to pray.

What’s so clever about this psalm is there is a secondary structure that we don’t see in the English. This psalm is an acrostic, where each section (roughly every two verses) starts with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.

א) Psalm 9:1-2 - Praise to God

ב) Psalm 9:3-4 - God is the one that has protected and sustained the psalmist

ג) Psalm 9:5-6 - God judges the wicked

ה) Psalm 9:7-8 - God reigns, enthroned over the world

ו) Psalm 9:9-10 - God protects the oppressed

ז) Psalm 9:11-12 - Praise to God

ח) Psalm 9:13-14 - A request for God to protect the oppressed

ט) Psalm 9:15-16 - God’s judgement on the wicked

י) Psalm 9:17 - The wicked shall go to the place of death for forgetting God

כ) Psalm 9:18-20 - The poor will not be forgotten by God

Interestingly, Psalm 10 continues this acrostic on with the next Hebrew letter ל.

Anything you think I've missed? Maybe you've got a question that still needs answering. Send me a message over on my Instagram (@brynjoslin). I'd love to talk it through with you some more.

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