Explain the essence of the parallels in the structure of the Song of Songs and how they are critical to interpreting the book. What is the message of the book of Song of Songs?
The Song of Songs (also called Songs of Solomon), presents various literal approaches critical to interpreting the book. First, there is the anthology of separate love songs merged into one collection that the narrative lays out aids in unlocking the plot of the story (Tanner, 15.1). The vineyard motif in the opening scene in chapter 1 dovetails with the conclusion in chapter 8 with the role of the brothers of the Shulammite lady. The other symbolism in the vineyard motif is of sexual depiction in which a garden is used as a figure for the bride’s intimate sexual love. King Solomon exalts the bride’s virginity and her faithfulness in keeping herself solely for him (Song 4:12-15). In the third play on the garden motif (Song 5:1), King Solomon physically consummates his marriage and sexual affection with the Shulammite lady and utters his contentment, “I went to my garden, dear friend, best lover! breathed the sweet fragrance. I ate the fruit and honey, I drank the nectar and wine. Celebrate with me, friends! Raise your glasses—“To life! To love!” (Song 5:1, MSG).
Another symbolism in the vineyard motif is the introduction of dreams of foxes, which causes fears and insecurities for the bride. Just as foxes destroy crop fields, so something was troubling the love relationship. Tanner suggests that these relationship killing foxes comprises of Solomon’s personal harem because he had “700 wives and 300 three hundred concubines (1 Kings 11:3), which posed a threat and anxiety to the Shulammite bride who wanted the king only to herself (Tanner 15:5). Song of songs focuses much attention on sexual intimacy; however, in the end, the bride's expectation goes beyond physical intimacy. She delivers this homily which represents the great moral lesson of the book “Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it; if a man were to give all the riches of his house for love, it would be utterly despised” (Song 8:7) (Tanner, 5:14).
Tanner’s view concerning marriage exclusivity pivots on the contrasting marriage worldviews of King Solomon and his bride. Solomon was a polygamist, following after the tradition of his father David, whereas she had been kept a virgin under the scrutiny of her brothers. Solomon, a wealthy man, could offer her material possessions, but she could teach him about the godly, monogamous, committed love, that needed to be mutually exclusive to experience its highest attainment. Such love required more resources than even Solomon was capable of paying.
The bridegroom is the heroine of the book, and she, rather than Solomon, boils down the moral truth in the book’s conclusion (Song 8:5-8). Song of songs ties back God’s original, monogamous, one man and one woman, mutually exclusive marriage relationship design.
There are lessons to be learned from this love story beyond the love affair between King Solomon and his bride. One of them is, there is a level of love far beyond sexual satisfaction, a love that is exclusive and possessive, having no room for intruders. Only two may ascend alone, but in so doing they will find that “its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord” (Song 8:6) (Tanner, 15:15). Tanner notes that she was prepared to be exclusively his. However, Solomon had a significant obstacle to overcome. He needed to recognize the detrimental effect his polygamist lifestyle imposed on the development of their relationship.
This perfect love exhibited by the unknown bride is undoubtedly the love between Christ and believers. The imagery and symbolism of marriage are applied to Christ and the body of believers known as the church. Christ, the Bridegroom, has sacrificially and lovingly chosen the church to be His bride (Eph 5:25–27). Just as there was a betrothal period in biblical times during which the bride and groom were separated until the wedding, so is the bride of Christ is separate from her Bridegroom during the church age. Our responsibility during the betrothal period is to be faithful to Christ as he is faithful to us (2 Cor 11:2; Eph 5:24). At the rapture, believers will be united with the Bridegroom, and the official “wedding ceremony” will take place, and, with it, the eternal union of Christ and His bride will be effectuated (Rev 19:7–9; 21:1-2).
Tanner, J. Paul. "The Message of the Song of Songs." Bibliotheca Sacra 154:614 (Apr–Jun 1997) 154:142-161.