INTRODUCTION AND ANALYSIS
The Hebrew title of this Scriptural book is SONG OF SONGS, a title that employs a common figure of speech in the Hebrew language, known as Polyptoton, the reduplication of a word to emphasise its meaning, to intensify its significance, and to raise its status above other songs. The Song is mighty hard to understand in the A.V., and amongst modern translations there is still much room for improvement in style. The author of the story described events in the format of a play, and even without the naming of characters the reader would understand who was speaking, because Hebrew, like other languages of the time, retained gender classification in its pronouns. Contrariwise, English words such as we you my your have no such signification, and require clear contexts to ensure their intended connections.
The Song is about faithfulness and true love, the love of a maiden for her shepherd friend. But the title of the book has in itself produced some confusion over the years. THE SONG OF SONGS, CONCERNING SOLOMON. As a result many have imagined Solomon to be her suitor. But a careful reading of the text shows this not to be so, and upon reflection, it would in any case be open to question, knowing the history of Solomon’s reign. Starting well, and seeking God’s wisdom, he built the Temple and a fine house for himself. He became the most magnificent of all human kings. But the love of women led him into idolatry in later years, bringing the judgment of God upon him. When he grew old his wives turned his heart to follow other gods, and he did not remain wholly loyal to the Lord his God like his father David. And the Lord said, Because you have done this, I will tear the kingdom from you and give it to your servant.(1 Kings 11:3-13)
The powers of darkness have manifestly sought to hide the true nature of this book behind the shroud of language difficulties. The reason is not too hard to find. Here we have the Bride of Christ, loved by her True Shepherd, and remaining faithful to Him against the almost insuperable odds of Solomon’s charm, dignity, position, and wealth. How many young girls would ditch their “country lad” for the sparkle and grandeur of the royal court? How many indeed would be able to stand against the ultimate flattery of the great King Solomon himself? But this is exactly what happened! And it is so demonstrative a love that even Solomon himself is unable to do other than release her, and let her return to her native land of vineyards and pasture.
I have tried to rewrite this book as a play. It has not been easy. To help, I have intertwined the text with many notes in an attempt to supply all the necessary background material. What emerges is a story that stands in its own right, a veritable jewel of ancient inspired poetry. The sentiments of lovers have always been presented in literature over the centuries; we shall only find a difference in the similes and figures of speech; the message is timeless.
SYNOPSIS OF THE BOOK AS A WHOLE
A young shepherd girl of perhaps eighteen years lives with her widowed mother and her brothers, in one of the towns of Shunem, a small settlement in Israel some 20 miles S.W. of the Sea of Galilee. To the south of Shunem is the fertile Vale of Jezreel, an area noted for its vineyards. The family maintains itself by husbandry and the rearing of sheep. It is springtime when the story opens, and the brothers are actively engaged tending the vines. Their sister watches over the sheep on nearby hillsides.
One day she meets a shepherd boy from an unrelated family. They sit and talk together, sheltering from the noontide heat beneath the trees of the field. Friendship soon turns to love, and their love is so deep that they pledge themselves to each other for life. In days to come they hope to marry, but for now they are content to enjoy each other’s company in the freedom of the hills and valleys of Israel, watered by the rain of heaven, and watched over by none other than the God of peace.
It is impossible for things to remain quite so idyllic. In the process of time the brothers espy her with her friend, and as is the wont of older brothers, they make arrangements to ensure the chastity of their young sister. They take her from the sheep and set her to work in the vineyards where a watchful eye may be kept on her. Grief struck the hearts of the young couple when this occurred. Apart from stolen moments early in the morning there was no other opportunity for them to meet.
One day she wanders from the vineyard into an enclosed garden of nut trees, (an integral part of the family estate) and to her great surprise comes upon a great concourse of people, elegant and finely dressed. Before the sight has had time to sink in, she is face to face with the King of Israel, the great Solomon himself. He has been touring the realm, and has decided to stop for a while to rest. The King espies her, and asks who she is. He is captivated by her simple beauty, and invites her to join him on the royal palanquin. Non-plussed and highly embarrassed, she shows a reticence that the King construes as a natural grace. He knows nothing of her attachment. And unknown to her, the Shepherd Boy has seen it all, hiding between the trees of the garden. There is absolutely nothing he can do about it. To resist the overtures of a King would be to invite instant disgrace, even to endanger life. Solomon has eyes for female beauty, and the women of Israel know it. Why, already (we are told) he has sixty queens and eighty concubines! Often he would see the eyes of allurement amongst his female subjects, but seldom has he witnessed the natural shyness of a country lass.
The experience overcomes him, and he seeks to release her from her family obligations. Her mother is approached, and permission granted. What mother in Israel would refuse such honour? But in doing so, she is wholly unaware of her daughter’s heart, and the secret pledge the young lovers have made. The King is a wise and considerate man. He sends assurances to the mother for the well-being of her daughter, and in return she receives gifts of royal bounty, and knows that she will continue to do so for as long as her daughter remains in the King’s household.
And so, within the hour so to speak, this simple girl finds herself swept off her feet into a foreign world, where simplicity is exchanged for all the gaudy trappings of the royal court, where the silence of the hills is exchanged for the continual chatter of the multitudes who surround the King. What dread fate had caused these things to transpire? First of all she had been parted from the Shepherd Boy by her well-meaning brothers, and now she had been whisked away from her home, her work, and her brief opportunities for meeting her lover, to be taken into the world of another man, and although everyone admired their King, it was quite another thing altogether to love him!
She sits in one of the royal caravans, attended by court ladies, professional court ladies, ladies who are well-versed in the art of beauty and elegance, but who are also well-versed in the dubious art of intrigue and jealousy. Her eyes are seldom dry, and her emotions are cloyed up. She feels imprisoned and could wish herself dead. But the court ladies have seen it all before, and they are full of advice though less full of sympathy – after all they had not been chosen by the King!
A large company of people now leave the area, bound for the Capital. There are many caravans, surrounded by the King’s own household cavalry, a specially chosen bodyguard of sixty soldiers. Central to all is the royal palanquin, vivid in its colours, lavish in its splendour, decked out with priceless objets d’art and graced with exquisitely embroidered curtains. Solomon’s kingdom is the greatest in all the world. Solomon himself is internationally respected for his great wisdom, riches, and government. Peace pervades his empire, as peace is the meaning of his name. God Himself has granted him all these things, and Solomon has richly enjoyed them for many years. He has built the greatTemple in Jerusalem, which his father David began; he has built himself a magnificent residence, together with the building known as the House of the Forest of Lebanon. Potentates from afar had been to the Capital of Israel to witness the splendour of Solomon’s reign, with its architectural masterpieces. The Queen of Sheba gasped, and confessed she had not been told the half.
These are the contrasts between these two, the King and the Shepherd Girl. Each finds a sudden stress, but for wholly different reasons. The King is infatuated by the sun-tanned maiden and she is at the centre of his thoughts. The girl is full of fear, not knowing what the days ahead may bring. And so for several weeks to come, the lives of these two become entangled.
The caravan is now out of sight of her family home, as it wends its way along the rough dirt tracks through beautiful countryside. Along the way they stop at Tirzah, later to become the royal residence for the kings of Israel, a place renowned for its natural beauty. Suddenly she is aware of a young man following the royal procession at a distance. It is her shepherd lover! Why, he has seen it happen after all! His presence gives her a ray of hope, though she knows not how or why. Discretely he had kept an eye on all that transpired. Yes, she is sure of this now! He is keeping his distance, to arouse no curiosity. Now their eyes have met, and they have waved, though no one else realised what that simple exchange involved.
And so, at long last Jerusalem is now in sight. Long lines of people are standing along the royal route. They wave and cheer their King, and Solomon responds. He enjoys the adulation of his people; one could say that he thrives on it. They now enter the city via the Golden Gate after the long climb from the Kidron Valley. The Shunemite girl gasps at the magnificence of the buildings, but they take second place in her thinking as she is shown to her rooms in the palace. She is no prisoner; she is free to go where she wills; but she is under emotional duress, and knows that to walk out of the palace and go back home would be fatal. The strength she has received from the sight of her lover now galvanises her as she adjusts her mind to the new situation. Instead of wishing for death, she begins to believe that God will find a way for her to return home unharmed and chaste. And so we now allow the story to speak for itself as we see the way in which the love of these young people is vindicated in the sight of God.