Solomon had the reputation of being one of Israel’s greatest wisdom teachers and song writers (1 Kings 4:29-34).
He was also one of its most famous lovers (1 Kings 11:1-4). It is not surprising, therefore, that he has been traditionally regarded as the author of the biblical book that contains one of the world’s best known collections of love songs, the Song of Songs. The book contains a number of references to the splendour of Solomon and his court, and is sometimes called the Song of Solomon (Song of Songs 1:1,5; 3:7-11; 8:11-12).
Although the book declares that it was written by Solomon, it is not necessarily about Solomon personally. A poet can write a poem about anybody. The reader has difficulty working out the identity of the people mentioned in the Song of Songs, because the poems can be understood in different ways. In some poems the words may all be from one speaker; in others, from several speakers. Some poems are the private reflections of individuals, others are dialogues; some describe actual circumstances or events, others recount dreams; some recall the past, others look to the future. Since the reader has to work out for himself who is speaking in the various poems, a number of interpretations have been suggested. In some of the more recent versions of the Bible, the translators have tried to help the reader by inserting subheadings.
The variations in these subheadings reflect the variations in interpretation. Among those who regard the book as a drama involving Solomon himself, there are two main interpretations. The first sees two main characters, Solomon and a Shulammite girl who fall in love and marry. The second sees three main characters – a young shepherd, his Shulammite lover, and King Solomon, who takes the girl from the shepherd and unsuccessfully tries to win her love. Perhaps the book is best understood not as a drama, but as a collection of poems that recount the exchanges of love between an unnamed shepherd and an unnamed country girl. Yet there is a unity to the book. Certain features recur throughout, and there is a development in the love relationship. The inclusion of such a book in the Bible is an indication of God’s approval of sexual love. Always, however, the love is in the context of a relationship where a man and a woman commit themselves to each other in marriage, to the exclusion of all others (Song of Songs 2:16; 6:3; 7:10).
In the opening poem the girl longs for her distant lover (1:1-7), after which each speaks in praise of the other (1:8-2:7). Then comes a group of three poems recounting memories and dreams. First the girl imagines her shepherd-lover coming to visit her at her home (2:8-17), then she recalls a dream she had about him (3:1-5), and finally she imagines her wedding day, when he comes and praises her beauty (3:6- 5:1). Another dream indicates the frustration the girl feels at being separated from her lover (5:2-6:3). Further poems express the intensely strong desires that the two have for each other (6:4-7:13), though they know how to restrain their physical expressions of love (8:1-4). The final poem, which pictures the homecoming of the two lovers, speaks of the power of love and the reward it brings (8:5-14).