SONG OF SOLOMON
I want to share with you the Song of Solomon, but there are a few things we need to understand before we actually get to the Song, itself. So, I am going to provide you with a Prologue, Preface, as well as an Introduction. Just hang with me for the foundation and see what you can discover.
You see, as we study and read the Bible, we need to understand that it is full of history, theological advice, and vision for the future. We will also find poetry, allegories and parables. Not only that, you cannot miss the fact that interlaced with very literal language, is highly symbolic imagery.
The Psalms and the Prophets use symbolic language, while some entire books are symbolic, such as the Song of Solomon and Revelation. In fact, you will never understand either of those books without first deciphering their symbolic meaning. Of course, you there is no way to bring up the topic of symbolic language, without also bringing up the old debate about literal versus symbolic interpretations.
The truth is, all Bible interpreters, by necessity, are on some points literalists and on other points symbolists. Let me explain that. Look at Revelations 13:1. It refers to a beast “having ten horns and seven heads, and on his horns were ten diadems, and on his heads were blasphemous names.” Wow! As interesting as that might sound, there is no way we can take it as literally. We also can’t take literally Revelations 17:4-6, where we see a woman clothed in purple and scarlet actually drinking the blood of the saints. It also says she has a name inscribed on her head (Ouch!), “a mystery, Babylon the Great, the Mother of Harlots and of the Abominations of the Earth. What about the “woman clothed with the sun and the moon under her feet” with a dragon wanting to destroy her child as soon as it is born (Revelations 12:1-4). Are we supposed to take this literally? Think of it, who actually expects to see a woman wearing the Sun without burning completely up?
There is no way to understand these passages without first assigning some literal meaning to each symbolic figure. Jesus promised to make the Overcomer a “pillar in the temple of God” (Revelations 3:12). I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to be a literal pillar of stone for eternity in some ethereal church building in the sky? Jesus also said he is standing and knocking at a door, seeking admittance. Are we supposed to search for a literal door to open to allow Jesus to enter our life? In the 23rd Psalm, it says the Lord will lead us into green pastures. I don‘t know about you, but I am not looking forward to eating grass like a sheep. The Psalmist wrote, “My tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (Psalm 45:1). Am I to expect my tongue to become a literal pen? Consider the gates in Psalm 24:9 that have heads on them, or the mourning of David when he exclaims concerning the Lord‘s dealings with him “Thine arrows have sunk deep into me” (Psalm 38:2). Are we supposed to believe that sometime in our Christian life we can expect to become a human pincushion while our God shoots literal arrows into our hearts? What about the four living creatures that Ezekiel saw in his vision that were full of eyes having the face of a lion, bull, man, and eagle with lightning flashing in their midst (Ezekiel 1:4-24). Are we supposed to interpret these literally or view these symbols as illustrations of a spiritual lesson?
Now, consider the passages from the Song of Solomon giving Solomon‘s description of his bride: Solomon says, “your neck is like the tower of David built with rows of stones, on which are hung a thousand shields, all the round shields of the mighty men” (Song 4:4). Are we actually going to believe that our Father wants us to think that a woman with a neck like this is beautiful? Or, could it be that this is merely figurative language meant to communicate some great truth to our heart? Of course, it is the latter.
If the writers use symbolic and figurative language in order to teach a spiritual lesson, then there must be a way for us to understand them. Rather than speculate and bestow arbitrary meanings to these symbolic figures, we should go to the Bible itself to discover what these figures represent.
Once you begin a quest to understand the rich heritage of biblical images, you will notice that the Bible is truly a dictionary defining and interpreting itself. In his book, Paradise Restored, David Chilton wrote,
The Bible is not structured in a flat, this-means-that style. Instead, it is meant to be read visually. We are to see the images rise before us in succession, layer upon layer, allowing them to evoke a response in our minds and hearts. The prophets, for example, did not write in order to create stimulating intellectual exercise. They wrote to teach. They wrote in visual, dramatic symbols; and if we would fully understand their message, we must appreciate their vocabulary. We must read the Bible visually. The visual symbols themselves, and what the Bible says about them, are important aspects of what God wants us to learn; otherwise he wouldn’t have spoken that way.”
When we are reading the Bible and find a symbolic or figurative expression, we will see that symbol. At the same time, we should think of the biblical associations for that symbol.
Let me give you an example: take the passage from the Song of Solomon that I quoted above that compares his bride‘s neck to the “tower of David built with rows of stones, on which are hung a thousand shields . . . of the mighty men.”
This passage is rich with biblical imagery and evokes many biblical associations. Look at the Bible‘s own structure, and then find what arises from the text itself. Before we begin, there are a few things we need to consider. For instance, why do Scriptures give space to describing someone’s neck? Then, why is the neck described as it it? What is the significance of the word neck in Scripture to actually merit such a description? Finally, what are some of the biblical associations with the word neck that come up as we think of the teaching of the entire biblical revelation? Okay, first it would be helpful to use a Bible concordance to find the passages that mention the neck. Here are a few:
- God continually spoke of Israel as a rebellious stiff-necked people who were continually provoking him in the wilderness journey. They doubted his power and his love and resisted the leadership of his Spirit. They resisted him for the entire journey — even after they entered the Promised Land. Because of their stubbornness, they were sent into captivity. Even then, their resistance continued.In the book of Acts, Stephen, while relating Israel’s history, told the Jews that they were stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears always resisting the Holy Spirit” (Look at these scriptures: Exodus 32:9; 33:3,5; 34:9; Deuteronomy 9:6,13; 31:27; II Kings 17:14; Jeremiah 7:26; Acts 7:51).
- Throughout the entire biblical revelation from Exodus to the book of Acts, the word neck is used in relationship to man‘s free will. In these passages, you find neck used with the word stiff and indicates man setting his will against God‘s will.
- Proverbs exhorts us to “bind God’s commandments around or neck.” “If we hear our father’s instruction and do not forsake our mother’s teaching” it is to be an ornament about our neck.” We are to bind kindness and truth around our neck. These verses all refer to a teachable spirit and a submissive will. (Look at these scriptures: Proverbs 1:9; 3:3, 22; 6:21).
- Finally, God said there would be punishment for any nation who would not “put its neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Again, the reference is to the submission of the will (Jeremiah 27:8).
As we read these passages, as well as others, a pattern begins to arise. The neck seems to have something to do with the will. The imagery and word pictures should begin to bring an understanding in our minds.
The word neck is a type of what David Chilton calls a buzzword and is supposed to cause all of the biblical examples to come rushing into our mind. Chilton explains,
The Bible uses many of these “buzz-words,” and increases the number of them as it goes on; until, by the time we get to Revelation (the capstone of biblical prophecy), they all come rushing toward us at once, in a blizzard of associative references, some of which are obvious, some obscure.
Regarding the neck of the bride that Solomon is describing, it appears he is praising his bride for her beauty. The bride, referring to the Bride of Christ in its symbolic context, is not being rebuked for having a stiff and rebellious neck, but rather praised for her beautiful neck. In other words, she has a teachable, submissive, and obedient nature and that her will is totally yielded to the Lordship of Jesus.
The imagery continues comparing the neck to the “tower of David built with rows of stones.” Just the mere mention of David in a passage that speaks of love and praise, should immediately bring to our minds what God said about David: “I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My heart, who will do all My will” (I Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22).
Here are a few biblical associations with the word tower:
- The first tower mentioned in the Bible was the tower of Babel, which the sons of Noah built in rebellion against God‘s command to go forth and fill the earth. They wanted to stay in one place, so the children of Noah began to build a tower of refuge that would reach up into heaven. God did not approve of their actions, so he confused their languages and scattered them. (Genesis 11:1-9)
- In other texts, King Asa built towers to fortify Judah and King Uzziah built towers in Jerusalem at various gates in the wall to fortify Israel against enemy attack. It was the custom of the watchmen to stand in these towers to listen and watch for enemy and to guard the city. These towers were built when both men were walking in fear and obedience to the Lord, and he prospered their undertakings. (I Kings 15:23; II Chronicles 26:9, 10, 15; II Kings 9:17).
- David spoke of the Lord as being a refuge and a “tower of strength against the enemy” (Psalm 61:3). Solomon proclaimed “He is a tower of deliverance to His king” (II Samuel 22:51).
- The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous runs into it and is safe (Proverbs 18:10).
- When Israel was about to go into Babylonian captivity, Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied the destruction of Israel, and specifically the towers of the cities (Jeremiah 31:38; Ezekiel 26:4). Besides signifying the literal destruction of the fortifications of God‘s people, it also showed that God would no longer be the strength, refuge and protection of a rebellious people.
- When Nehemiah and the Jews returned from Babylonian exile, the first thing they did, under the direction of God‘s Spirit, was to rebuild the walls and towers. Then the protection and care of the Lord to his exiled people returned (Nehemiah 3:1, 25-27).
- The records of the prophets end with this promise: “And as for you, tower of the flock, hill of the daughter of Zion, to you will come — even the former dominion will come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem” (Micah 4:8). This scripture is a capstone in understanding what the meaning is concerning the bride‘s neck
The tower represents the strength, protection and refuge of God. Just from this imagery, we learn that when we are totally yielded to God, we will know his strength, protection and refuge. The promise extended to one who is “as the tower of the flock” is a promise of dominion. Only those whose will is totally surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, have the supernatural strength it takes to rise up, fulfill the dominion mandate, and help bring God‘s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. It is to those totally yielded and obedient to God that dominion will come.
The specific tower in our Song of Solomon passage is said to be a storehouse for shields, the defensive weapons of David‘s mighty men. Here are a few of the biblical associations to the word shield and David‟s mighty men: (It would take forever to list all the references, so I will only list those verses that are essential to understand the meaning as it relates to this passage).
- One of the first associations that should rush into the minds of the Christian when the word shield is used is the passage from Ephesians concerning the weapons of our spiritual warfare. The shield specifically is said to be the “shield of faith with which we are able to extinguish all the flaming missiles of the evil one” (Ephesians 6:16).
- The mighty men of David are described as “mighty men of valor, men trained for war, who could handle shield and spear, and whose faces were like the faces of lions, and they were as swift as the gazelles on the mountains . . . he who was least was equal to a hundred and the greatest to a thousand”> (I Chronicles 12:8, 14)
- A description of the feats of the mighty men of God is given by Paul as those who “by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty men in war, put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:33-34).
Everything about these biblical associations points to conquering, aggressive faith. Those whose hearts are completely His; God is able to make them more than conquerors.
The tower in this passage is described as being set with rows of stones. Here are a few biblical associations to stones:
- Speaking of the fallen Adam, Ezekiel records, “You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone was your covering . . .” (Ezekiel 28:13). It was in Eden where God first communed with man that these precious stones first appear. The abundance of these stones speaks of God‘s blessing.
- When God instituted the priesthood of ancient Israel, he ordered the High Priest to wear a breastplate with twelve stones set in rows on which were to be engraved the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The High Priest, being a symbol of a man fully restored to fellowship with God, was to wear this breastplate as he ministered to the Lord. They called these the Stones of Memorial. The High Priest wore these stones, with the name of each tribe engraved on it, as a remembrance of their restoration to a place of fellowship with God (Exodus 25:7; 28:9-12, 15-21, 29).
- In the prophecies concerning the coming of the Messiah and his blessings of salvation, the prophets used the image of stones: “Behold, I will set your stones in antimony, and your foundations I will lay in sapphires. Moreover, I will make your battlements of rubies, and your gates of crystal, and your entire wall of precious stones” (Isaiah 54:11-12).
- The city of God, which is said to be the “New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband,” is described as a dazzling, brilliant display of precious stones (Revelation 21). There is no light apart from the light of God, showing that those of the Bride Company are completely illuminated and led by the Spirit of God. “Nothing unclean and no one who practices lying or abominations shall be there . . . [thus signifying that] without holiness no man shall see the Lord” (Revelation 21).
The biblical associations to these rows of precious stones refers to men who are restored to the fellowship and beauty that was lost in the fall of Adam, the gift and workmanship of Jesus, the second Adam. We should begin to see the spiritual lessons we can discover within the imagery of the Bible. Paul taught,
We speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom, which God predestined before the ages to our glory . . . Things which eye has not seen and ear has not heard, and which have not entered the heart of man, all that God has prepared for those who love Him. For to us God revealed them through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God . . . Even so the thoughts of God no one knows except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words‖ (I Corinthians 2:7,9-13)
As we study the Song of Solomon, and compare spiritual thoughts with spiritual words as we try to find the patterns, associations and symbols presented in this great allegory, we should pray for enlightenment from the Spirit of God.
As we delve into the biblical images presented in this Song, we should keep in mind three principles for understanding biblical imagery recommended by David Chilton:
Read visually: try to picture what the Bible is saying.
Read Biblically: do not speculate or become abstract, but pay close attention to what the Bible itself says about its own symbols.
Read the Story: try to think how each element in the Bible contributes to its message of salvation as a whole.
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