What the Bible says about
(From Forerunner Commentary)
Song of Solomon 1:1
Though the scenes of the book take place in an atmosphere of romantic and even sexual encounters, this is only the first and most obvious level of understanding. On other levels, Jewish rabbis allegorize God and Israel from its poetry, and Christians see Christ and His Bride, the church. As an instruction manual regarding the intimacy of the relationship between God and the Christian, the Song of Songs is without peer.
Any understanding of the Song of Songs, however, must begin with the book's characters. A young woman, a shepherdess, called the Shulamite in some Bible versions, has fallen in love with a man, whom she calls "my beloved." Some think this man is Solomon, a king; others say he is a shepherd. Some go so far as to say there are two men vying for the Shulamite's affections. In addition, the daughters of Jerusalem act as a chorus, commenting on and reacting to the words of the Shulamite. Her brothers may also have a few lines (Song 2:15; 8:8-9).
In Christian circles, the Shulamite and the Beloved are easily identified as types of the church and Christ. The daughters of Jerusalem and the Shulamite's brothers are harder to pinpoint as specific groups of people, but we can deduce a general identification from Song of Songs 2:2-3:
Like a lily among thorns,
So is my love among the
Like an apple tree among the
trees of the woods,
So is my beloved among the
In contrast to the Shulamite, the "daughters" are compared to "thorns." The Beloved is similarly contrasted with the "sons" (see Song 1:6), who are like "the trees of the woods." Thorns are obviously negative symbols (see Matthew 13:7, 22), but "the trees of the woods" does not seem to be. A better translation would be "the wild wood," and thus, it becomes another negative type.
Thus, the daughters and the sons are opposites to the main characters. If the Shulamite is a type of the true church, the daughters are false "Christian" churches that Christ will not even consider as suitable brides (see Song 6:8-9; Ezekiel 16:44-46; Revelation 17:5). Some think they are simply the unconverted.
If the Beloved is a type of Christ, the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-16), the sons are false shepherds or hirelings, who abuse the church (see Song 1:6; Ezekiel 34; Acts 20:28-31). Some believe they stand for the leaders or governments of men. Remember, though, these are general interpretations, so we should check the context of each section to refine the meaning.
It is not necessary to assign a particular identity to every character, image, or symbol in the book. Because of our unfamiliarity with the language and setting of the Song of Songs, this would be highly speculative and tedious. Generally, if we grasp the sense of a section, the symbolism falls into place on its own, or other scriptures explain it more plainly.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song
Song of Solomon 1:1
We do not know for sure if the book is arranged chronologically or just in short, timeless vignettes. Some say that certain sections are dreams or flashbacks to previous scenes. However, a basic story can be seen in the flow of the text.
Song of Songs opens with the Shulamite in the blush of first love; it is so new to her that she must ask where her Beloved works (Song 1:7). The couple is separated, and each yearns to be reunited. The Beloved asks her to come away with him (Song 2:10), and the Shulamite seeks and finds him in the city (Song 3:2-4). Later, again separated, she looks for him again, only to be beaten by the city watchmen (Song 5:6-7). In the end, after praising each other's beauty and constancy, they are together again, and the Shulamite proclaims that "love is as strong as death" (Song 8:6).
However we arrange the various parts, the main story concerns the courtship of the Shulamite and the Beloved. In most of the book's verses, they vividly praise the other's excellence and express their deepest feelings. This human sexual imagery, rather than being erotic, simply pictures the depth of love and pleasure in a Christian's relationship with God. In a sense, the sexual union of man and wife is the closest human parallel to God's relationship with us.
Jesus Himself endorses this concept in John 17:3, "And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent." This knowledge of God is intimate, similar to the relationship between a man and his wife (see Genesis 4:1; Luke 1:34). The apostle Paul calls the church's relationship with Christ, likened to a marriage partnership, "a great mystery" (Ephesians 5:32). Later, John is shown that the church is indeed the Bride of Christ (Revelation 19:7-9).
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
Prophecy in Song
Abraham actually had more sons through Keturah, but for the purposes of Paul's allegory, he focuses on Ishmael, the son through Hagar, and Isaac, the son of promise through Sarah.
Given that the false teachers were trying to convince the Galatians to turn to a Gnostic form of Judaism, Abraham would have been a character who would have been highly respected in their eyes (the Jews in Jesus' time trusted in descent from Abraham for salvation). Paul uses the example of Abraham throughout this epistle because he (Abraham) simultaneously served as someone that they would have looked up to, as well as a testament that they (the Galatians) were approaching this the wrong way—different from the way Abraham did.
Physical descent does not matter as far as the spiritual promises are concerned; Christ castigated the Jews for thinking that they could rely on being physical descendants of Abraham as a means of gaining favor with God. Christ showed that where it really counted was in behaving like Abraham—which the Jews did not.
Paul, in an attempt to help the Galatians to understand the covenants, is likening the Old Covenant to being born to a "bondmaid" (a female slave or servant) while the New Covenant is compared to being born of a "freewoman" (someone who is a citizen; unrestrained; not a slave; exempt from liability; at liberty). The carnal mind, as described by Romans 8:7, leaps to the conclusion that the New Covenant gives freedom from the confines of law, while the Old Covenant keeps one in bondage to a set of archaic rules. Nothing could be further from the truth.
The apostle James twice refers to the law as the "law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12). He could do this because when God was giving the Ten Commandments to Israel, He prefaced them with the declaration, "I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2). This—bringing Israel out of bondage—set the context, the foundation, for the giving of the law. Clearly, it is not God's definition of right and wrong that keeps us in bondage; the law was given as a guide to the right way to live. The "bondage" that we are subject to derives from Satan (Ephesians 2:1-3; 6:12; II Corinthians 4:4; Revelation 12:9), this world (Exodus 6:5-8; Deuteronomy 5:6), sin (John 8:33-36), and our own human nature—our carnal mind and heart. Our bondage is to sin (John 8:33-34)—not to God's definition of it.
The Old Covenant did not provide a way to overcome these things. Even though the Old Covenant included God's royal law of liberty, it had no provision for ever truly escaping the clutches of sin. God's law, which is also a part of the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:7-12; Jeremiah 31:31-34), merely defines what sin is, so that one may avoid it (Romans 3:20; 4:14-15; 5:13; 7:7, 12, 14). It neither enslaves, nor frees. The Old Covenant—the agreement, rather than the law that was its core—provided no means for overcoming the evil heart of unbelief (Hebrews 3:12, 19; 8:7-8), and so Paul compares it to a bondwoman. In verse 24 he says that it "engenders"—gives birth to—bondage. He does not mean that the agreement between God and Israel was bondage, nor that God's definition of right and wrong keeps people in slavery, but rather that the temporary covenant made no provision for true spiritual freedom. It "gave birth to" bondage because, without addressing the incurable sickness of the heart, the only possible outcome was human degeneration back into the bondage from which they had been freed.
The New Covenant addresses these problems:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them [the weakness was with the people, not the agreement or the law], He says: "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the LORD. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. None of them shall teach his neighbor, and none his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their lawless deeds I will remember no more." (Hebrews 8:7-12; see Jeremiah 31:31-34)
The New Covenant allows God's way of life (law) to be internalized (put into the mind and heart). It allows for a personal relationship with God, rather than going through an intermediary. It allows for complete forgiveness of sins through repentance and accepting the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
In another place, God promises,
Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My judgments and do them; and they shall be My people, and I will be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
Through the justification and forgiveness of sins available under the New Covenant, it is possible for the heart to be changed, and for human nature, which drives us to sin, to be overcome. Thus, true spiritual freedom is offered under the New Covenant, while absent under the Old.
David C. Grabbe
Webster's Dictionary defines allegory as "to speak figuratively, a symbolic representation." Unger's Bible Dictionary defines it as expressing or explaining one thing under the image of another and showing a second and deeper meaning than would seem apparent. Again, it is similar to a parable.
Paul—addressing the New Testament church, which he calls "the Israel of God" (Galatians 6:16)—shows that the Old Covenant points to and helps explain the New. He writes that Jerusalem is a figure, forerunner, type, and present-day symbol of the New Covenant and church today (see also Hebrews 12:22-23, Romans 9:1-8; I Peter 2:9). We can then read both the history and prophecy regarding Jerusalem, the physical capital of Israel, and apply much of it to the church, the spiritual "Jerusalem, . . . mother of us all."
Find more Bible verses about Allegory:
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