In revising Dr. Ironside’s Addresses on the Song of Solomon we have divided the text into chapters corresponding to those found in this book of the Old Testament. We hope this division will make it more compatible with methods used by today’s Bible student. No material was omitted, although it may seem to the reader that such is the case, especially in regard to the brevity of chapters 6 and 7. As Dr. Ironside wrote in the preface to the 1933 edition:
The little volume now before the reader consists of revised notes, considerably abbreviated, of addresses delivered in the Moody Memorial Church, Chicago…The attentive reader will realize at once that there has been no attempt to fully expound the Song, but rather to stress in each address some one or more of the outstanding features of the particular portion discussed… If God be pleased to own this attempt to create a greater yearning for fellowship with Himself and to lead the way into a deeper knowledge of the love of Christ, the labor expended will be well worth while.
The Song of Solomon is a little book that has held a peculiar attraction for many of the people of God all through the centuries. Yet others have had great difficulty in understanding just why such a book should have a place in the canon of Holy Scripture at all. Frequently I have heard those who should have known better say that they could see nothing of spiritual value in this little book; they questioned very much whether it was really entitled to be considered as part of the inspired Word of God. As far as that is concerned, it is not left to the church in our day to decide which books should belong to the canon of Scripture and which should be omitted. Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ has settled that for us, at least as far as the Old Testament is concerned. When He was here on earth He had exactly the same Old Testament that we have. It consisted of the same books, no more and no less.
Those that are sometimes called the Apocryphal books did not belong to the Hebrew Old Testament, which Christ valued, fed on, and commended to His disciples. He placed His divine imprimatur on the Scriptures when He referred to the entire volume and said, “the scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35). Therefore we do not have to raise any question as to the inspiration of the Canticles. He declared the Hebrew Bible to be the Word of the living God.
There are many figures from this little book in various parts of the New Testament, for instance, the well of living water (John 4); the veiled woman (1 Corinthians 11); the precious fruit (James 5:7); the spotless bride (Ephesians 5:27); unquenchable love (1 Corinthians 13:8); love strong as death (John 15:13); ointment poured forth (John 12:3); draw me (John 6:44); the Shepherd leading His flock (John 10:4, 5, 27); and the fruits of righteousness (Philippians 1:11). Who can fail to see allusions to the Song of Solomon in all these figures?
If we grant that it is inspired, what then are its lessons? Why do we have it in Holy Scripture? Many of the Jewish teachers thought of it simply as designed by God to give a right understanding of conjugal love. They thought of it as the glorification of the bliss of wedded life. If we conceived of it from no higher standpoint than this, it would mean that it had a right to a place in the canon. Wedded life in Israel represented the very highest, fullest, and deepest affection at a time when, in the nations surrounding Israel, woman was looked on as mere chattel. She was considered a slave or the object of man’s pleasure to be discarded when and as he pleased. But it was otherwise in Israel. The Jewish home was a place where love and tenderness reigned; no doubt this little book had a great deal to do with lifting it to that glorious height.
But down through the centuries, the more spiritually minded in Israel saw a deeper meaning in this Song of Solomon; they recognized the design of God to illustrate the mutual love subsisting between Jehovah and Israel. Again and again in other Scriptures, Jehovah is likened to a bridegroom and Israel to His chosen bride; so the spiritually minded Israelites in the years before Christ, came to look at the Song in this way. They called it “the Book of Communion.” It is the book that sets forth Jehovah and His people in blessed and happy communion.
All through the Christian centuries those who have had an insight into spiritual truth have thought of it from two standpoints. First, as typifying the wondrous relationship that subsists between Christ and the church. It is the glowing heart, the enraptured spirit of our blessed Lord revealing Himself to His redeemed people as her Bridegroom and her Head, and the church’s glad response. And second, from a moral standpoint, it illustrates the relationship between an individual soul and Christ. How many a devoted saint has exclaimed with gladness, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me” (7:10).
Rutherford’s meditations were evidently based on this little book when he exclaimed:
Oh, I am my Beloved’s,
And my Beloved’s mine;
He brings a poor vile sinner
Into His house of wine;
I stand upon His merit,
I know no safer stand,
Not e’en where glory dwelleth
In Immanuel’s land.
Therefore we may think of the book from four standpoints. Looking at it literally, we see the glorification of wedded love. Looking at it from a dispensational standpoint, we see the relationship between Jehovah and Israel. Redemptively, we find the wonderful relationship between Christ and the church. And studying it from the moral or spiritual standpoint, we see it as the book of communion between an individual soul and the blessed, glorified, risen Lord.
It is a bit difficult to get the exact connection of the different portions of the book. It is not a drama, as the book of Job is; it does not present to our consideration any continuous story. It consists rather of a series of love lyrics, each one complete in itself. It is the lover with enraptured heart setting to music the thrill of the soul. Thus you have this cluster of song-flowers, each one setting forth some different phase of communion between the beloved and the one so loved. And yet, behind it all, there must be some kind of story. What is this background?
Around a hundred years ago, Ewald, the great German critic who has been called the father of higher criticism, suggested that the story was something like this. In the hill country north of Jerusalem there was a family in charge of a vineyard belonging to King Solomon. The young daughter of the family, a shepherdess, had been won by a shepherd who had drawn her heart to himself, and their troth had been pledged. But as King Solomon rode along the lane one day he saw this young shepherdess in the vineyard, and his heart went out to her. He determined to win her for himself and so tried by blandishment to stir up her affections. But she was true to her sylvan admirer. Eventually the king actually had her kidnapped and taken to his palace to the royal harem. There again and again he pressed his suit and tried to alienate her from her shepherd lover in the hills. Sometimes she was almost tempted to yield, for her case seemed a hopeless one; but then she would remember her former lover, and she would say, “No, I cannot turn from him. I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.” Finally King Solomon set her free and she went back to the one she loved.
That background story of the Song of Solomon has been accepted by a great many Bible students. I have been a little surprised at times to hear some of my fundamental brethren advocating this viewpoint apparently without realizing its source. Personally, I reject it. I do not think it at all likely that a man like Ewald, who had no real spiritual insight, ever understood this little book of communion. This man started the present modern trend of refusing to recognize the true inspiration of the Bible. It does not seem to me that the Spirit of God would use such a man to open up this little book to us.
There are several other reasons why I refuse this view. First and foremost, it makes King Solomon the villain of the story. When we turn to the Word of God, we find that Solomon is viewed by the Holy Spirit of God as a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. In the Psalms Solomon is portrayed as the prince of peace succeeding David after years of warfare and picturing Christ’s coming again to reign as Prince of peace. In the New Testament we read the words of the Lord Jesus, “The queen of the south shall rise up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for she came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and, behold, a greater than Solomon is here” (Matthew 12:42). When I say that Solomon is a type of Christ, I do not mean Solomon personally represented Christ. Whenever any man is spoken of as a type of Christ, you are not to think of what the man is in himself, but what he is officially. David officially was a type of Christ; David personally was guilty of very grievous sin, but the Lord is the sinless One. Solomon was guilty of very serious departure from God during certain periods of his life, but officially he represented our Lord Jesus Christ as the Prince of peace. It is not the way of the Spirit of God to present a character or object as a type of Christ in one place and a type of that which is wicked and unholy in another. And if we were to take Ewald’s suggestion as the real story behind this book, we would have to think of Solomon as the type of the world, the flesh, and the devil, trying to win the heart of this young woman away from the shepherd who represents the Lord Jesus Christ.
Another reason why I reject Ewald’s view is that it would mean that we would have to understand some of the most lovely and tender passages of this little book in which the king addressed himself to the shepherdess, as mere blandishment instead of a sincere and holy love. These very passages have thrilled the heart of God’s people all down through the centuries. They have reveled in them, delighted in them, and fed their souls on them. It is not likely that they have been misled or that the Holy Spirit who came to guide into all truth has thus deceived, or allowed to be deceived, so many of God’s most spiritual people throughout the centuries. Therefore, I refuse to take the story that I have given you from Ewald as the explanation of the Song of Solomon.
Let me give you another story, the one that came to me one day when I was alone on my knees. I had to teach this little book and was a bit perplexed about it. I did not like the story of Ewald, and so I went to the One who wrote the book and asked Him to tell me what was behind it. “Oh,” you say, “did you know the Author of the book?” Yes, I have known Him for a long time. At that time I had known Him about thirty years. “Well,” you say, “the book is rather a recent thing if you know the author.” No, not at all, it is a very old book, but the Author is the Ancient of Days and I have known Him ever since in grace He saved my soul. And so I took Him at His word and reminded Him of His promise that when the Holy Spirit came, He would take of the things of Christ and make them clear to us. I said, “Blessed Lord, I am all perplexed about this little book; by Thy Spirit show it to me so that I will really understand its meaning.” I am going to give you the story that it seemed He gave to me.
This is what I thought I could see behind the Song of Solomon. Up there in the north country, in the mountain district of Ephraim, King Solomon had a vineyard (8:11); he let it out to keepers, to an Ephraimite family. Apparently the husband and father was dead, but there was a mother and at least two sons. We read in the King James version, “My mother’s children were angry with me” (1:6). In Hebrew it is, “My mother’s sons.” There may have been more sons, but there were at least two. And then there were two daughters—a little one spoken of in chapter 8, “We have a little sister,” and an older daughter, the Shulamite. It would seem as though this latter one was the “ugly duckling” or the “Cinderella” of the family. Her brothers did not appreciate her and foisted hard tasks on her, denying her the privileges that a growing girl might have expected in a Hebrew home. “My mother’s sons were angry with me.” That makes me wonder whether they were not her half brothers; if this were not a divided family.
“My mother’s [sons] were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (1:6). They said to her, “No; you can’t loll around the house; you get out and get to work. Look after the vineyard.” She was responsible to prune the vines and to set the traps for the little foxes that spoiled the vines. They also committed to her care the lambs and the kids of the flock. It was her responsibility to protect and find suitable pasture for them. She worked hard and was in the sun from early until late. “Mine own vineyard have I not kept.” She meant, “While working so hard in the field, I have no opportunity to look after myself.” What girl is there that does not value a few hours in front of the mirror, the opportunity to fix her hair and to make herself attractive? She had no opportunity to care for her own person. I do not suppose she ever knew the use of cosmetics of any kind, yet as she looked out on the road she would see the beautiful ladies of the court riding on their palfreys and in their palanquins. As she got a glimpse of them, or as she bent over a woodland spring and saw her own reflection, she would say, “I am sunburned but comely, and if I only had the opportunity, I could be as beautiful as the rest of them.” That is all involved in that expression, “Mine own vineyard have I not kept”
One day as she was caring for her flock she looked up, and to her embarrassment there stood a tall and handsome shepherd she had never seen before, gazing intently on her. She exclaimed, “Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me.” And then she gives the explanation, “My mother’s children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” But he answers quietly without any offensive forwardness, “I was not thinking of you as swarthy and sunburned and unpleasant to look upon. To my mind you are altogether lovely; behold, thou art fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.” Of course that went a long way toward a friendship.
Little by little that friendship ripened into affection, and affection into love, and finally this shepherd had won the heart of the shepherdess. Then he went away, but before he went he said, “Some day I am coming back for you, and I am going to make you my bride.” And she believed him. Probably no one else did. Her brothers did not believe him, and the people in the mountain country felt she was a poor simple country maiden who had been deceived by this strange man. She had inquired of him where he fed his flock, but he put her off with an evasive answer; yet she trusted him. He was gone a long time. Sometimes she dreamed of him and would exclaim, “The voice of my beloved,” only to find that all was quiet and dark about her. But still she trusted him.
One day there was a great cloud of dust on the road and the country people ran to see what it meant. They saw a glorious cavalcade with the king’s bodyguard and the king himself, and they stopped just opposite the vineyard. To the amazement of the shepherdess, the royal outriders came to her with the announcement, ‘The king has sent us for you.” “For me?” she asked. “Yes, come.” In obedience she went and when she looked into the face of the king, behold he was the shepherd who had won her heart. She said, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is toward me.”
One great reason why I think this is the story of the Canticles is because all the way through the Holy Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation, we have the story of the Shepherd who came from Heaven’s highest glory down into this dark world that He might woo and win a bride for Himself. Then He went away, but He declared, “I will come again, and receive you unto myself.” And so His church has waited long for Him to come back, but some day He is coming to fulfill His Word.
When He comes, our glorious King,
All His ransomed home to bring,
Then anew this song we’ll sing:
Hallelujah, what a Savior!
Philip P. Bliss
This I believe is the background of the expression of loving communion in this little book, the Song of Songs. That very title reminds you of the holy of holies; it is the transcendent song. The Jews did not allow a young man to read the book until he was thirty years of age, lest he might read into it mere sensual gratification and misuse its beautiful phrases. So we may say it is only as we grow in grace and in the knowledge of Christ that we can read this book understandingly and see in it the secret of the Lord.