Song of Songs is the sad story about Solomon's first wife (the wife of his youth) who he loves but neglects because of his duties as king (and because of his harem).
Over the years I have heard so many interpretations of this book but none of them rang true until my wife one day figured it out. This article describes this view which I accept as the correct view.
Song of Songs is the true story of Solomon's love affair and marriage to his first wife, a Shulamite from Lebanon. She is the only daughter in a family of boys and is exploited by them. She is a shepherdess and performs many other menial tasks such as tending the vineyards. Probably her vineyard is owned by King David and her family are the caretakers.
During the time period when King David is collecting supplies for building the temple and his own palace, his son Solomon regularly travels to Lebanon to check up on these arrangements and on their properties. Being a mischievous, curious, energetic, and naughty boy, Solomon dresses up as a shepherd and mingles with the local people. He encounters the Shulamite girl who he instantly falls in love with. He visits her regularly and she falls in love with him.
Soon after becoming king, Solomon travels again to Lebanon to bring her back home to marry her. He probably visits Hiram of Tyre on the same trip.
They are happily married at first but Solomon soon begins to neglect her and his harem grows and grows. Finally she goes back to her homeland and is given the vineyard of her family to tend.
Here are the phases of this story which I will refer to in the commentary.
There is a key phrase which is repeated three times: "stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please." This means that men and women should be true to one another (lifelong, loving relationship; no divorce; only one spouse, not a harem). Certainly Solomon neglected to practice this and this was his great weakness leading to his spiritual downfall. His wife suffered tremendously as a result.
The love of the Shulamite woman for Solomon is amazing. No matter how badly he neglects her, she still loves him and wants to be with him.
There are subtle references to conjugal relations between man and wife in the Song of Songs but I do not wish to call attention to these in my article; it is not necessary in understanding the flow of the story.
(1:1) The song of songs, which is Solomon's.
Presumably Solomon wrote many stories in the form of songs. This was his favorite because it concerned the most important topic — his relationship with the wife of his youth. In the book of Ecclesiastes we learn that Solomon was well aware of his spiritual and moral failures.
(Ecclesiastes 9:9) Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of the life of thy vanity, which he hath given thee under the sun, all the days of thy vanity: for that is thy portion in this life, and in thy labour which thou takest under the sun.
(1:2) Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
Intro. She expresses her love for Solomon. Her relationship with him starts out good but sours as he becomes absorbed in other matters and in his harem.
(1:3) Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.
(Phase 4) She is speaking of the virgins in his harem. The word "virgin" is the same word as in Isaiah 7:14 — in that passage it refers to an unmarried woman who will soon get married. I think these are the virgins who are undergoing the lengthy preparation in hopes of becoming concubines of Solomon (see Esther 2:3 for an example of this).
(Isaiah 7:14) Therefore the Lord himself shall give you a sign; Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
(Esther 2:3) And let the king appoint officers in all the provinces of his kingdom, that they may gather together all the fair young virgins unto Shushan the palace, to the house of the women, unto the custody of Hege the king's chamberlain, keeper of the women; and let their things for purification be given them.
(1:4) Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
(Phase 4) She is merely one member of Solomon's harem. He still chooses to spend time with her and she still loves him.
The chronological flow of the story begins. These are the happy days, but there is the dark foreboding that things will soon sour.
(1:5) I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
(Phase 1) She worked outside as a shepherdess and farmer.
(1:6) Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
(Phase 1) She worked in the vineyards. She had exploitive brothers. She worked very hard.
(1:7) Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
(Phase 1) She assumed that Solomon was a shepherd. He must have went to a lot of trouble to be able to fool her.
(1:8) If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.
(Phase 1) She is a shepherdess. She follows Solomon to try to find out where he lives. She asks the other shepherds about him.
(1:9) I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
(1:10) Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
(1:11) We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
(1:12) While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
(1:13) A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
(1:14) My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.
(1:15) Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.
(Phase 3) They are newlyweds and happily married for a while.
(1:16) Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.
(Phase 3) The bed he is referring to is a lawn or meadow.
(1:17) The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.
(Phase 3) Their house (palace).
(2:1) I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.
(Phase 3) She thinks of herself as unique in his eyes. But . . .
(2:2) As the lily among thorns, so is my love among the daughters.
(Phase 3) He compares her to the other women because he has an interest in the other women. His interest in other women causes him to neglect her.
(2:3) As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons. I sat down under his shadow with great delight, and his fruit was sweet to my taste.
(Phase 3) She compares him to other men because he compares her to other women. She hasn't yet caught on to what is really happening behind the scenes; that he is planning on getting a harem.
(2:4) He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.
(2:5) Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples: for I am sick of love.
(2:6) His left hand is under my head, and his right hand doth embrace me.
(Phase 3) They are happily married.
(2:7) I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
(Phase 3) During the end of her happy period of her marriage with Solomon she tells the audience about how love and marriage should turn out, about how glorious it should be. There is the foreboding that it will not turn out so well for her.
(2:8) The voice of my beloved! behold, he cometh leaping upon the mountains, skipping upon the hills.
(2:9) My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, showing himself through the lattice.
(Phase 1) Back in time to the days of their courtship, he visits her at her house secretly.
(2:10) My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away.
(2:11) For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone;
(2:12) The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land;
(2:13) The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
(Phase 1) They sneak away to spend time together.
(2:14) O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
(Phase 1) They spend time in the hills.
(2:15) Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
(Phase 1) She takes Solomon to her vineyard and they catch foxes for sport (and because it has some benefit to the vineyard).
(2:16) My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.
(2:17) Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether.
(Phase 1) They meet at night secretly.
The story now flashforwards to the present time in which Solomon neglects her and only rarely visits her.
(3:1) By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
(Phase 4) She is now neglected by Solomon.
(3:2) I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.
(Phase 4) She wandered around Jerusalem at night looking for him.
(3:3) The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?
(3:4) It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.
(Phase 4) She found him, and they went to her home.
(3:5) I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.
(Phase 4) Their marriage has soured because Solomon now neglects her. She reminds the audience about what marriage should be like. It is a sad thing that her marriage does not achieve this glorious ideal. After this we flashback to the time when Solomon came to take her as his wife; it was so glorious back then.
(3:6) Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?
(3:7) Behold his bed, which is Solomon's; threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel.
(3:8) They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.
(Phase 2) A flashback to the time Solomon came to take her for his wife. Descriptions of his retinue.
(3:9) King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon.
(Phase 2) He had already been involved with collecting wood for the construction of the temple and for his father David's palace. He now returns to Lebanon to take her for his wife.
(3:10) He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem.
(Phase 2) Continuing with the description of verse 8.
(3:11) Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.
(Phase 2) Wearing a wedding crown.
(4:1) Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks [behind thy veil]: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.
(Phase 2) Wearing a wedding veil.
(4:2) Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.
(4:3) Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
(4:4) Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
(4:5) Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.
(Phase 2) Perhaps these are descriptions of them admiring each other during the wedding ceremony and ponder what will come after.
(4:6) Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.
(Phase 2) All night (their wedding night?)
(4:7) Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.
(Phase 2) True love; but his treatment of her deteriorates over time.
(4:8) Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.
(Phase 2) He took her to Jerusalem to be his wife. Now he asks her to stay in Jerusalem with him (which she does for a while).
(4:9) Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.
(4:10) How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!
(Phase 2) Solomon loved her.
(4:11) Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.
(Phase 2) She is from Lebanon and he remembers the beautiful smell of the trees and her smell.
(4:12) A garden enclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.
(4:13) Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,
(4:14) Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:
(4:15) A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.
(Phase 2) Before they are married.
(4:16) Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.
(5:1) I am come into my garden, my sister, my spouse: I have gathered my myrrh with my spice; I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey; I have drunk my wine with my milk: eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.
(Phase 2) Their wedding night.
(5:2) I sleep, but my heart waketh: it is the voice of my beloved that knocketh, saying, Open to me, my sister, my love, my dove, my undefiled: for my head is filled with dew, and my locks with the drops of the night.
(Phase 5) Flash forward in time: Solomon visits her in Lebanon; they don't live together anymore. He travels in the rain.
(5:3) I have put off my coat; how shall I put it on? I have washed my feet; how shall I defile them?
(5:4) My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door, and my bowels were moved for him.
(Phase 5) It is nighttime when he arrives.
(5:5) I rose up to open to my beloved; and my hands dropped with myrrh, and my fingers with sweet smelling myrrh, upon the handles of the lock.
(Phase 5) Sometimes she wakes up in the middle of the night and thinks he has arrived like he did that time — but it is just a dream.
(5:6) I opened to my beloved; but my beloved had withdrawn himself, and was gone: my soul failed when he spake: I sought him, but I could not find him; I called him, but he gave me no answer.
(Phase 5) He visits he so infrequently it is as if it is a dream. She dreams about him visiting and pines away waiting for him to visit her again.
(5:7) The watchmen that went about the city found me, they smote me, they wounded me; the keepers of the walls took away my veil from me.
(Phase 5) She goes to Jerusalem and again wanders around the city looking for him, but this time the watchmen don't know her and they beat her. She doesn't find him.
(5:8) I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, if ye find my beloved, that ye tell him, that I am sick of love.
(Phase 5) She is obsessed in her love for him. At this point in the story we are starting to wonder why. And in the next verse her friends express the same doubts.
(5:9) What is thy beloved more than another beloved, O thou fairest among women? what is thy beloved more than another beloved, that thou dost so charge us?
(Phase 5) Her friends this time wonder what is so special about him.
(5:10) My beloved is white and ruddy, the chiefest among ten thousand.
(5:11) His head is as the most fine gold, his locks are bushy, and black as a raven.
(5:12) His eyes are as the eyes of doves by the rivers of waters, washed with milk, and fitly set.
(5:13) His cheeks are as a bed of spices, as sweet flowers: his lips like lilies, dropping sweet smelling myrrh.
(5:14) His hands are as gold rings set with the beryl: his belly is as bright ivory overlaid with sapphires.
(5:15) His legs are as pillars of marble, set upon sockets of fine gold: his countenance is as Lebanon, excellent as the cedars.
(5:16) His mouth is most sweet: yea, he is altogether lovely. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.
(Phase 5) She thinks about him and pines for him.
(6:1) Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.
(Phase 5) Her friends want to help her find him.
(6:2) My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
(6:3) I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.
(Phase 5) They meet in his garden. He sent for her to come to Jerusalem for a visit.
(6:4) Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.
(6:5) Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.
(6:6) Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them.
(6:7) As a piece of a pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks.
(Phase 5) He loves her when he is with her (a rare occurrence).
(6:8) There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.
(Phase 5) 60 queens, 80 concubines, many virgins — he has quite a harem already.
(6:9) My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
(Phase 1) She was the only girl in her family. Her mother loved her the most (but her brothers exploited her).
(Phase 5) He loves her the most of all the women in his harem.
(6:10) Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?
(Phase 5) Continues from verse 4.
(6:11) I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded.
(Phase 1) Back in time, Solomon before he was king is checking on the royal vineyards and orchards.
(6:12) Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.
(Phase 2) After he became king he took a royal chariot to go to her.
(6:13) Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.
(Phase 2) When Solomon comes to take her to be his wife she must leave her friends.
(7:1) How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.
(7:2) Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.
(7:3) Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.
(7:4) Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.
(7:5) Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.
(7:6) How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!
(7:7) This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.
(7:8) I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;
(7:9) And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.
(Phase 1) Solomon loved her and plans to marry her.
(7:10) I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.
(Phase 1) She loves Solomon and thinks he loves her, which he does (but he began to neglect her after they were married).
(7:11) Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.
(7:12) Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.
(7:13) The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.
(Phase 1) They spend intimate moments together. Sometimes they go off for several days at a time.
(8:1) O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.
(Phase 1) Before they were married Solomon had to hide his relationship with her because he was royalty and she was a commoner.
(8:2) I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.
(Phase 1) She imagines the day when they are publicly engaged and she can introduce him to her mother. But this day can't happen because he is royalty. Everyone meets him for the first time when he comes to Lebanon with his retinue to take her with him to Jerusalem.
(8:3) His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.
(Phase 1) She dreams of this future intimate moment after they get married.
(8:4) I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.
After reminiscing about the past, she reminds the audience of what love and marriage should be like.
(8:5) Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.
(Phase 5) Occasionally he comes to her house.
(8:6) Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
(8:7) Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
(Phase 5) No matter how badly he neglects her, she still loves him obsessively.
(8:8) We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?
(8:9) If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will enclose her with boards of cedar.
(Phase 1) Her friends speak of her when she was young. They always wanted the best for her.
(8:10) I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.
(Phase 1) She remembers how he used to shower her with love.
(8:11) Solomon had a vineyard at Baalhamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.
(Phase 1) The backstory — the reason Solomon visited her part of Lebanon in the first place was because he had a vineyard which he rented and visited from time to time. Her family was the one that rented his vineyard.
(8:12) My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.
(Phase 5) Solomon gave that vineyard to her. She pays workers and pays Solomon. Tending the vineyard keeps her occupied and helps her not to think about Solomon so much (since he rarely visits her or calls for her to come visit him).
(8:13) Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.
(Phase 5) Her friends still love her as they did before she ever met Solomon. Solomon wishes he could still have this youthful love, but it is long gone. A deep moment of reflection for Solomon.
(8:14) Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.
(Phase 5) She wishes for Solomon to spontaneously visit her and that they could have the love they once had.