The Song of Songs was a disputed book among the Hebrews. It appeared to gain acceptance after “Rabbi Akiba upheld its divine inspiration using allegorical interpretation as a means to justify its spiritual value.” Christians appeared to have always accepted it as it was in the LXX, Old Latin, Vulgate, and all later Bible translations. The Song of Solomon has been preserved by His Church because it is so rich in allegory, an incredibly Christ-centered witness by a Jewish prophet of God.
Note: This article was written before the author’s conversion to Orthodoxy.
The following is my crack at explaining the allegory as best I can. When possible, I will connect my allegorizing with the historical allegorizing of the Church.
1:1 The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.
Is he the author? Does the book belong to such a man such as he? Surely, it does for he is an infamous sinner, as I am an obscure one. On that note, let’s begin our journey through the song about a sinful bride loved by God.
Colloquy of Bride and Friends
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
3 your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
therefore the maidens love you.
4 Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love you.
5 I am black and beautiful,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
like the curtains of Solomon.
We are indeed black, ugly, the despised of the world. We are sinners, with no righteousness of our own. We are “black through frality of its human condition,” but we are also beautiful, “comely through the sacrament of faith” (Ambrose). Our beauty is not our own, it is His, but our blackness does belong to us.
6 Do not gaze at me because I am dark,
because the sun has gazed on me.
The sun darkens our skin and indeed, men hate the light. However, it is not because it merely makes us look like lowly servants, no, but because it reveals how lowly we really are. “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed” (John 3:20). Indeed, “the closer we draw to Him the more we know ourselves to be sinners” (Gregory the Great).
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
they made me keeper of the vineyards,
but my own vineyard I have not kept!
Our mother’s sons, born from Eve like us, are wicked and abusive. They pull the beard, we turn the cheek, they ask us to go a mile, we bless them. In this way we pay mind to their vineyard, but not our own!
7 Tell me, you whom my soul loves,
where you pasture your flock,
There are none who seek for God (Rom 3:11), but I hear the word of Christ! His light burden, His forgiving heart, His sacrificial love. Tell me where I can find my Shepherd, the one Whom my soul loves! What? I look for His flock! Indeed, where two or three meet in His name He is there with His Church, as He will be until the end of the age.
where you make it lie down at noon;
I hear His call! “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28). Indeed, His flock has entered His rest (Heb 4).
for why should I be like one who is veiled
Why should we be veiled like Tamar (Gen 38:14)?
beside the flocks of your companions?
That is, outside the gates of New Jerusalem where those who walk after Tamar show their cowardice, faithlessness, fornication, and sorceries. Lord, have it not be so that we are merely beside the flocks, but among them!
8 If you do not know,
O fairest among women,
follow the tracks of the flock,
and pasture your kids
beside the shepherds’ tents.
What great advice! Follow the tracks of the flock–if you do not know how to find God, look at those who did and emulate them. “Follow in the steps of simple believers,” the most humble and God -fearing ones, “such as Abel, Seth, Enoch, Noah, and the like” (Nicholas of Lyra).
Colloquy of Bridegroom, Friends, and Bride
9 I compare you, my love,
to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are comely with ornaments,
your neck with strings of jewels.
11 We will make you ornaments of gold,
studded with silver.
God speaks to us…and of us! We are dark, but He sees us as beautiful in Christ! We are adorned with jewels, like a bride, like the New Jerusalem because she is the Church and we are her citizens.
12 While the king was on his couch,
my nard gave forth its fragrance.
While the King looks on He knows our fruits, our fine linen, our fragrance which all are “the righteous deeds of the saints” (Rev 19:8). Those works he has prepared for us beforehand to do (Eph 2:10) are indeed as nard, “a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God” (Phil 4:18).
13 My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh
that lies between my breasts.
14 My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
in the vineyards of En-gedi.
Christ is beautiful to us, for while our works please God, it is not apart from faith without which it is impossible to please Him (Heb 11:6).
15 Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
ah, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
The eyes are the lamps of the body (Matt 6:22), windows into the soul. There is no hiding from God for He sees the heart, and hallelujah He no longer sees a heart of stone but rather a new, beautiful creation.
16 Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
Our couch is green;
17 the beams of our house are cedar,
our rafters are pine.
Where is this couch? It is in the house of cedar, which is the Temple of the Lord (1 Kings 6) with its cedar floors, and rafters, and beams, and altar. God calls it “our” for we are His bride as we are one flesh with Christ (Eph 5:31). Therefore, His couch is our couch, His house is our house. We reside in this house, this temple, that is His footstool where He sets foot. And we too are His footstool as our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, and is is done in the Temple, there is worship and our hearts delight in Him, His love and truth.