We who preach the gospel must not think of ourselves as public relations agents sent to establish good will between Christ and the world. We must not imagine ourselves commissioned to make Christ acceptable to big business, the press, the world of sports or modern education. We are not diplomats but prophets, and our message is not a compromise but an ultimatum. A.W. Tozer
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. --Basil of Caesarea
Once you learn to discern, there's no going back. You will begin to spot the lie everywhere it appears.

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service. 1 Timothy 1:12

Friday, July 24, 2015

“Song of Songs” Commentary

A couple months ago one of the blogs I follow (can’t remember which) touted a new commentary on the “Song of Songs.”  It was claimed to be a wonderful cross between allegory and reading as intended.  After all, Origen and Philo had gone too far with allegory and we need to get back on an even keel.  

Titled, “Song of Songs: A Biblical-Theological, Allegorical, Christological Interpretation,” by James M. Hamilton, I finally finished reading it this week.  And was very disappointed with it.

I understand previous allegories virtually limited the text to be about either God and Israel or Christ and the Church.  As a new believer over 40 years ago I could never make sense of it other than as poetry about lovers—real people (I’ve always been a fan of poetry).  I found it to be totally nonsensical if taken as an allegory as claimed.

Anyway, in this commentary all stops have been pulled out.  Not only does it allegorize to God and Israel and Christ and the Church (as well as keeping the story about lovers), this author found some sort of allusion or allegory in almost every line of the Song!  I think Hamilton has a very, very over-active imagination, struggling too much to make his allegories and allusions!  

Just one example:  Chapter 7:7-8 talks about her stature being like a palm tree that he’s going to climb for its fruit; try to follow if you can: 

The poetic allusion in view here stems from the fact that the word rendered ‘palm tree’ in Song 7:7-8 is made of the same consonants and vowels as the name Tamar, a name familiar from Genesis 38 and 2 Samuel 13.  In Genesis 38 Judah used his daughter-in-law Tamar as a prostitute, a gross perversion of God’s intention for marital intimacy.  In 2 Samuel 13 Amnon seized Tamar, his sister, and raped her (cf.2 Sam. 13:11,14), another twisted corruption of God’s good gift.  Neither prostitution nor rape should feature in the history of the people of God.  These horrors would be associated with the name Tamar, and these wrongs will be set righting the Song.  Here in Song 7:7-8, the King approaches a ‘Tamar,’ a palm tree, and he says that he is going to ‘lay hold of its fruit (Song 7:8).  In this context, a context celebrating renewed intimacy in marriage, the King taking the fruit of his tree accomplishes the overwriting of a bad file.  The King has conducted himself in horn and righteousness where Judah and Amnon were shameful and unrighteous.

“In Song 7:7-8, the King also once again draws on terms and imagery used for the land of promise to describe the Bride [all the way through SoS he does this - every description for the Bride is imagery from the promised land or the Garden of Eden].  The ‘clusters of the vine’ are reminiscent of the famous ‘cluster of grapes’ that the spies of the land brought back in Numbers 13:23.  The King will enjoy the fruit the Israelites were too timid to take.  Not only is the King approaching his ‘Tamar’—the palm tree—in righteousness where Judah and Amnon used their Tamars in unrighteousness, the King’s palm-tree-Bride willingly gives herself in 7:10-13, saying that she wishes he were ‘like a brother’ in 8:1.  The Bride wishing the King were a beloved brother again engages the distorted brother-sister relations between Amnon and Tamar, overlaying negative connotations with positive.

This was the type of “allusion” or “imagery” used for almost every passage.  It was enough to make me want to pull my hair out!  This was the most convoluted commentary I have ever read!

What can I recommend for a good commentary on SoS?  I have three I like, all of which stick to the idea of this being a poem about lovers only—no allegory!

Biblical Lovemaking: A Study of the Song of Solomon, by Arnold Fruchtenbaum

The Book of Romance: What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy, by Tommy Nelson.  I did write a comment in the front of this book: “There are a lot of assumptions about what is going on and why, beyond what Scripture says.  It doesn’t change anything, though.  It would be better if the author said, ‘This is probably what he’s thinking’ or ‘probably what’s happening is, rather than dogmatically declare it.”

The Song of Songs: A New Translation, by Ariel Bloch and Chana Bloch.  This one is done by non-believing scholars, who do not accept the Bible as the Word of God.  They often talk of “myth,” “legend,” etc and “non-literal translation.”  There are also some confusing areas where they mix the narrative, but that’s easily sorted.  They also don’t consider it about a bride, but just a lover.  Most of the liberal theological garbage you have to wade through is the first chapter, which is sort of an introduction to what the story is about and different ideas, yada yada.   Then you have their translation, followed by their commentary.  The primary problem is they think this is not a marital situation, but overall they have some very interesting reading to be had in their commentary.

So there you have it: of four specific commentaries I’ve read, I cannot recommend the latest.  It will make you dizzy trying to follow all the allusions and allegories!


Jack Morrow said...

You deserve a medal for actually finishing reading that. I like the old rule of hermeneutics that says that if the plain sense makes sense, look for no other sense, or you'll end up in nonsense.

The same vowels and consonants that make up the English word "live" can also be used to make "evil," "veil," or "vile."

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

My thoughts about the "same vowels and consonants" story ran along the same lines as yours!

Pamela Couvrette said...

Thank you for writing this and for the recommendations! There is so much nonsense out there with Song of Songs.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


I think the big problem with SoS and the Church is the same as it was with Origen and Philo. It is too sensual, and we just know God wouldn't want all that sensuality, don't we? HAH. I think the purpose of it being in canon is just to point out that marital relations are indeed sanctioned and should be enjoyed.

Well, there is another problem with people like Mark Driscoll, who also accept it for what it is, but get crude, lewd, and juvenile.

Anonymous said...

I thought for sure after Driscoll's shameful handling of SOS (which I only heard about, didn't subject myself to it personally), that believers would see clearly enough to reject him as a pastor. Nope. I was wrong. Some still think he's a qualified leader... unreal.

Pam is right about SOS.


Joe said...

Glenn: I respect your point of view on this. I really do.

When I was a bottom edge maturing Christian, I had never heard a sermon on or read a book about SOS. I was as well versed in the New Testament as one could expect for someone who had been a Christian for about eight years. Not so much the Old Testament except for the stories everybody knew: David & Goliath, Daniel in the Lion's Den, etc., none of which are just random morality stories, but are illustrative of God's reaction to sin and His movement toward the establishment of Messiah.

One day I decided to read SOS. I was struck by the picture it portrayed. I immediately thought of Jesus and the church. It just sounded like it to me. I did not for a moment think it was about a sexual relationship between Christ and the church. The Shulamite was just one of his 1,000 wives (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). How could this be a picture of a godly earthly marriage? It was not until much later that I discovered the amount of controversy about SOS.

The Bible is one cohesive story of God's character, His creation and love for it, mankind's (specifically Israel) constant vacillation between wanting God's way and wanting his own way, leading to his eventual understanding that he needed a Messiah to save him from his predicament, that Messiah finding its person in Christ.

I find references to and pictures of Christ in every one of the other books of the Bible. If He is not represented in SOS, I can find no reason for it to have been included in God's Word, let alone to have been canonized. It would seem like a random tale stuck in Scripture with no relationship to God's movement in history.

That's a hard theological pill for me to swallow.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...


The SoS was in the Jewish canon and therefore would not mean a thing about Jesus to them and that is why it is in the canon as an example of godly courtship and marital relationship. You can make an analogy about Jesus from it, but it is NOT about Jesus and the Church. I don't know how anyone can see Christ and the Church in it because there is too much sensuality, too much which has to be pretzeled to even hint at an analogy.

I read it before ever finding or hearing a commentary on SoS and never in my wildest dreams would I have seen Christ and the Church in it. Neither did the early church -- it took Origen 200 years after the Church began to come up with his spiritualization. (Origen was responsible for the idea the Isaiah 14 is about Satan; if something could be spiritualized, Origen did it.)

There is a teaching which came out of Calvinism that says you can find Christ in every book of the Bible. Saying that doesn't make it so. Where do you find Christ in Job?

If you want to believe a spiritualized meaning for SoS, feel free to do so. But I will never see it.

Joe said...

Glenn: "You can make an analogy ..." Maybe that's the best way to express it.

Glenn E. Chatfield said...

Just be careful how far you take the analogy.