8 Reasons to Rethink the Song of Songs

The Song of Songs is the most lukewarmly debated book in the Bible. There's some engagement, but not enough. While the arguments and interpretations of Revelation run red-hot, Song of Songs tends to be entrenched in assumptions. I want you to rethink what you might think about the Song of Songs.

Since I’m doing my Ph.D. work on C.H. Spurgeon and the spiritual sense of the Song, I frequently find myself talking to friends and anyone with ears about the Song of Songs, and I preach from the Song whenever I get the chance. I’m not surprised that most of the people I talk to think the Song is only about romance in marriage—some even believe there is no way the book has anything to say about Christ and the Church or Christ and the Christian.

When I tell people that Spurgeon did nearly 70 sermons from the Song of Songs and that they are all about Christ and the Church, they are baffled. In one sermon, Spurgeon gives seven ways Jesus is like a “bundle of myrrh.” He also gave eight sermons on “I am my beloved’s, and he is mine” (Song 2:16). Spurgeon said about the Song:

“That Song of Solomon is the central Book of the Bible; it is the innermost shrine of divine revelation, the holy of holies of Scripture; and if you are living in communion with God, you will love that Book, you will catch its spirit, and you will be inclined to cry with the spouse, ‘Make haste, my beloved.’”

So how can we catch the spirit of this book? Most of us have probably heard that the Song is only about romance, and for years, that’s what I believed too.

Here are eight reasons we should also embrace the spiritual, Christ-centered interpretation of the Song of Songs.

1.Jesus’s View of the Old Testament. Jesus said the whole Bible is about him (John 5:39, Luke 24:27). Our belief that the entire canon bears witness to the Messiah, to Jesus of Nazareth, must include the Song of Songs—if not, then we don’t have a thoroughly Christian reading of the Old Testament.

2.Illumination of the Spirit. If there is no spiritual interpretation, spiritual significance, or Christological meaning in the book, then the Song of Songs is the only book of the Bible that you don’t need the Holy Spirit’s illuminating power; all you need is an understanding of ancient near-eastern poetry. If the surface meaning of romance is the only meaning of this book, then an unbeliever can understand and live this book just as much as a believer.

3.Church History. For the first 1800 years of church history, the spiritual interpretation of the Song was the interpretation. Notable names who taught the Song as instructive about Christ and believers: Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Bernard of Clairvaux, Theodore Beza, Martin Luther, John Owen, Richard Sibbes, Isaac Watts, Anne Dutton, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Gill, Robert Murray M’Cheyne, and many, many more. How comfortable are you to be on the other side of these names and centuries?

4.The Name of the Book. “The Song of Songs,” derived from Song 1:1, is the same superlative paradigm as King of kings, Lord of lords, and Holy of holies. The Bible is saying this is the greatest song in the Bible. As Jesus Christ is the King of kings, this song is the Song of Songs, not because it’s only about the marriage bed. This is the greatest song because it’s about the great love of God for us sinners. Greater love has no one this!

AI-Generated Image of "a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi" (Song 1:14)

5.Solomonic Themes. In the first chapter of the Song, we learn this song is King Solomon’s and that he is also a shepherd. There is a bounty of biblical theology in Solomon. Who else do we know that is a Son of David, who is a King and a Shepherd? Solomon is a shadow of the one who says he is greater than Solomon—a greater king, a greater sage, and a greater lover of his people.

6.Geographic Themes. Throughout the Song, you’ll notice three significant places of geography. The Song sings of a garden, Jerusalem, and the ability to enjoy milk and honey (Song 1:5, 5:1). Aren’t God’s people longing to go to the Garden, to the New Jerusalem, to the promised land that is flowing with milk and honey? The Song foreshadows the blessings to come from the reign and rule of the Messiah, the Bridegroom of God’s people, Christ the Lord.

7.Redemptive Themes. The Bride asks in chapter three, “What is that coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant?” (Song 3:6). She is making allusions to the Exodus narrative with “wilderness,” “columns of smoke,” and the unmistakeable aromas of the sacrificial system. Lastly, the Song sings of the reversing of the effects of the fall on men and women from Genesis 3. Their desires are no longer in conflict (Gen 3:16), there is now reciprocated, mutual, and experiential marital harmony, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me” (Song 7:10).

8.Marriage is a Mega-theme. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5 that marriage was created with the encoded mystery of Christ and the Church. The mystery is now revealed, and we cannot hide it in the Song of Songs. Jesus calls himself the Bridegroom (Mark 2), John the Baptist calls Jesus the Bridegroom (John 3), Revelation ends with the marriage supper of the lamb (Rev 19), and the Church is the Bride of Christ (Eph 5). The placement of the Song in the canon continues the picture of Yahweh’s relationship with his people as a loving groom toward a struggling bride (Isa 62).

If these themes of biblical theology were sprinkled about in another book of the Bible, we would gladly say, “Wow, look at all of these pointers to Christ and the gospel.” So let’s not hesitate with the Song of Songs, the soundtrack of Christ and his bride. Our Messiah loves to use metaphors, and the Song is one we must learn to sing along with.

“In the Book of Canticles communion with Christ is set forth by banquets and marriages, and spiritual things are shadowed out by corporal fairness and sweetness.” — Thomas Manton
Sermon: Christ’s Banner
Christs banner0:00/45:321× Text: Song 1:1, 1:7, 2:4 Preached at Risen Church in Cypress, TX