First, there's much to be said for the sanctity and beauty of romantic and sexual union between husband and wife. It's something worth celebrating. Married couples who are struggling with intimacy issues should read this poem together with fresh eyes and ears that are open to hear God's will for their ongoing romance.
Next, many scholars believe this poem to be analogous to God's love for His people. Jewish theologians (eg. The Targum) have said it represents the relationship between God and Israel, while Christian teachers (Origen and Bernard of Clairvaux, for example) draw a parallel between Christ and the church. Either way, the language of love becomes symbolic rather than literal. Yet even interpreting this poem symbolically, the reader does not lose the sense of exhilaration to be found in the presence of the Almighty. The romance between the Lover and the Beloved goes on in our hearts.
|Bernard of Clairvaux|
Bernard goes on to say that the mysteries to be found hidden within the pages of the Song of Songs are not to be found easily or by the immature. In point twelve of his first sermon, he says, "The novices, the immature, those but recently converted from a worldly life, do not normally sing this song or hear it sung. Only the mind disciplined by persevering study, only the man whose efforts have borne fruit under God's inspiration, the man whose years, as it were, make him ripe for marriage years measured out not in time but in merits - only he is truly prepared for nuptial union with the divine partner."
In this first sermon, Bernard says that this canticle can truly be called the Song of Songs, because it surpasses all the other psalms in the Bible. The Psalms of Ascent, he says, may be an excellent way to sing your way up to the inner chamber of God's presence. But the Song of Songs represents ascending the couch of the Lover Himself.
So, which is it--simply a love poem that was included in the Canon as an example of righteous marital intimacy? Or an allegory about God and His people? My answer is--yes! As you read the Song of Solomon, I hope you'll open your heart to understanding it both ways.