Song of Solomon ~ An Erotic Poem,
Not Just an Allegory
Throughout the entire history of the church good men and women wiser and more devote than me have written on the meaning of the Song of Solomon. They have drawn wonderful comparison between the love of Solomon for the Shulammite with the love of Christ for the church.
Mike Bickle of the 24/7 hour International House of Prayer in Kansas City lives in this Old Testament poem and can wax eloquent for hours on how it describes our Passion for Christ and His Love for us. You can go online now and be challenged and convicted and compelled by his free material. It is all very good stuff. Here is a link to his 24-session, comprehensive, verse-by-verse teaching series It is presented in both audio and text. You will find such teachings as Her Journey Begins with Spiritual Crisis (Song 1:5-11), Challenging the Comfort Zone (Song 2:8-17), and Revelation of Jesus' Safe Leadership (Song 3:6-11). Talking about passionate erotic kissing, splendid oral stimulation, and the ecstasy of intercourse is not his strength, nor his calling.
Since the early days of the church Catholic and other mystics have described the same spiritual parallel. This all began when one of the early Church Fathers, the third-century Christian scholar Origen (185 – 254) wrote commentaries on the Song of Songs and applied allegorical interpretation, seeing the entire poem as an expression of the love of God for the church. Gregory of Nyssa (d. 394), argued that the goal of the Song of Songs is the union of the soul with God. Richard of St. Victor (d. 1173) treats it as a description of the path of the soul seeking God, up to the very vision of paradise. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090 – 1153), the English mystic Richard Rolle (d. 1349), and St. John of the Cross (1542 – 1591) with his The Spiritual Canticle, also wrote like this, and there were many others. Sometimes their reason for their allegorical approach was their personal ecstatic experience with God. And the New Testament does call the church the Bride of Christ.
Shocked and Appalled
But other times it was simply because no one could imagine the Bible containing something so openly and unashamedly sexual. Some ancient writers were quite shocked at the very idea. And for centuries the allegorical view held full sway, with those of a literal view regarded as licentious, if not depraved. Origen was among those who believed that the things of the flesh are bad and only the things of the spirit are good. Like many others he felt he needed to issue his warnings. He rejected the very thing the Song of Songs celebrates; the goodness of marital sex.
"I advise and counsel everyone who is not yet rid of the vexations of flesh and blood and has not ceased to feel the passion of his bodily nature, to refrain completely from reading this .little book and the things that will be said about it." Origen
"We earnestly beg the hearers of these things to mortify their carnal senses. They must not take anything of what has been said with reference to bodily functions but rather employ them for grasping those divine senses of the inner man." Origen
But the truth of the matter remains the same. This is first and foremost a highly sexual, extremely explicit, very graphic erotic poem. Because it uses figurative language for some body parts and the intimate details of lovemaking the original meaning can be missed. But once the language and images are understood it is clear to see that the poetic symbolism is a very powerful way of drawing accurate and very beautiful word pictures, pictures that are discrete to the casual reader but very explicit leaving nothing to the imagination for the informed person. The people for whom this poem was originally written did not read it because it talked about elevated spiritual matters. They read it because it was all about sex.
It’s All About Sex!
Don’t believe me? Adam Clarke (1760 or 1762–1832) was a British Methodist theologian and biblical scholar. This highly esteemed and very conservative Christian commentator wrote:
“There are many passages in it which should not be explained. ... the references being too delicate; and Eastern phraseology on such subjects is too vivid.... Let any sensible and pious medical man read over this book, and, if at all acquainted with Asiatic phraseology, say whether it would be proper, even in medical language, to explain all the descriptions and allusions in this poem.”
He saw the truth of the physicality in the Song, but his cultural inhibitions brought him to the conclusion that such explicit sexuality is best left unexplained. After all, if you read it and understand exactly what it says, you will not only read about sexual stimulation, you just might become aroused yourself! And he was right. It is hard for a man to read and understand this book without getting a hard-on. But our becoming sexually stimulated by the mental images this book paints does not take God by surprise.
While the Rev. Clarke’s approach was indicative of his times, do we really believe that God would put a book in the canon of Scripture and not want anyone to understand the full meaning? That just does not make sense. Obviously it was God’s desire to communicate a message. It is part of his original purpose for the book that we examine, explore, and discover the truth of what it says, even though the truth it contains is explicit and sexually stimulating.
Not About Sex? What Nonsense!
Understood erotically, expressions
about various fruits and
spices, gardens and fields,
flow with rich meaning,
providing beautiful and vivid
descriptions of love's
sweet and sensual pleasures
Even in our day the battle rages. There are those who see sex in the Song. There are other writers who not only insist it is all spiritual, they protest mightily against the sexual interpretation as defilement of the Word of God. They are profoundly uncomfortable with the Holy Bible talking in explicit terms about sexual things like breasts, penises, vaginas, and so on, and insist that the book is merely allegorical. No way can the veiled references to sexual things be, in fact, talking about sex. For them the book is merely about a man who, as one writer said, “went into his garden and picked flowers. He climbed a palm tree. He plowed his field. He drank water from a fountain. He received great delight in eating grapes from his vineyard. His female friend enjoyed sitting under his apple tree and ate apples. She served him pomegranate juice. He hiked on hills where spices grow and enjoyed the fragrance. Taken literally, none of these activities would be too significant. But understood erotically, expressions about various fruits and spices, gardens and fields, flow with rich meaning, providing beautiful and vivid descriptions of love's sweet and sensual pleasures.”
Not about sex? What nonsense! I chose to believe that this book is speaking in the pictorial language of the time and the well understood culture of the day about the greatest of all physical pleasures. I even believe that God knew such descriptions would excite the readers and they just might take advantage of the excitement to enjoy some self pleasure, and He is ok with that. Imagine, God included a book in His Word, a book of clearly erotic literature that is meant to stimulate sexual desire, purposed to explain the beauty of spousal sex, and intended to promote the enjoyment of solitary sexual pleasure and release! Erotica is and has always been written for as an aid to masturbation. This book is no different.
The Mark Driscoll Controversy
The Rev. Mark Driscoll is not afraid of controversy. Nor is he shy about speaking his mind on sexual matters and that from the pulpit. When visiting Edinburgh, Scotland on November 18, 2007 he preached a sermon called “Sex, a Study of the Good Bits from Song of Solomon”. While in the pulpit he said
“Chapter 2:3, ―Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, she says, ―is my lover among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to my taste.” What is she talking about? Oral sex on her husband. That as he stands, she likes to be beneath him and his taste is sweet. It is a euphemism for oral sex, in your Bible. The Jews wouldn‘t even let men read this until they were married or thirty. Now you know why. You‘ve got Jewish boys under the blankets at night with a candle. Men, I am glad to report to you that oral sex is biblical. Amen? The wife performing oral sex on the husband is biblical. God‘s men said, Amen. Ladies, your husbands appreciate oral sex. They do. So, serve them, love them well. It‘s biblical. Right here. We have a verse. The fruit of her husband is sweet to her taste and she delights to be beneath him.”
Song of Solomon 2:6 "Let his left hand be under my head And his right hand embrace me." She‘s asking here, in the Hebrew, for manual stimulation of her, probably of her clitoris. It‘s a part of the woman‘s anatomy that has one function, and that is orgasm. It has no other purpose, and it‘s a wonderful gift that God gives a woman. If you‘re a man and your married, you don‘t know where that is, repent and find it. Very important for you to do. But that‘s what she‘s asking, that he would hold her, and that he would caress her, and that he would manually stimulate her, that he would masturbate her. She‘s asking for that. Women, it is okay to ask for such things. Isn‘t this a great book.”
While I think I would be uncomfortable speaking so directly about such intimate things, especially in a mixed audience, what he described is totally Biblical.
The Rev. John MacArthur heard about Mark Driscoll’s preaching on sexual topics from the Song of Songs he was in great shock. During a debate on the matter he was asked, “Song of Solomon is a very explicit erotic book. How can you possibly argue that this book of the Bible, which is God's Holy Word, is anything but "fully explicit"? Isn't it a denial of the obvious to claim that the Song of Solomon is not a pretty graphic description of sex?” He responded with
“Since there is not one explicit mention of a reproductive body part or sexual act in Song of Solomon, no credible commentator on the Song would ever make such a claim about that book. Furthermore (and this is the key point of the whole discussion) Song of Solomon is not "erotic" literature in any sense—i.e., it is not intended to arouse readers sexually. Clearly it should never be preached in a way that has that effect. That is so obvious a point that only an exploiter of the book would ignore it for prurient interests.” No one is as blind as he who will not see.
But not everyone was captivated by their own prudishness. The British Baptist Old Testament scholar H. H. Rowley (1890-1969) concluded,
"The view I adopt finds in it nothing but what it appears to be, lovers' songs, expressing their delight in one another and the warm emotions of their hearts. All of the other views find in the Song what they bring to it."
Sexuality and Spiritual Allegory
This poem is a spiritual allegory
simply because it first
is an erotic poem.
The strong sexuality
does not distract
from the spiritual application,
but inspires and amplifies it.
Is this poem a spiritual allegory? Yes, most certainly. Just like Mike Bickle, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Richard of St. Victor, Bernard of Clairvaux, Richard Rolle, St. John of the Cross, and John MacArthur have all maintained. But this poem is a spiritual allegory simply because it first is an erotic poem. The strong sexuality does not distract from the spiritual application, but inspires and amplifies it. The man is enjoying his beloved’s two beautiful breasts, seeing, touching, kissing. She becomes moist while he becomes hard. These actions speak directly to spiritual truths. The general truth is about Christ and His Bride. But if the lovemaking in general speaks to spiritual truth, the lovemaking in specific does as well. By this I mean that the oral stimulation, fondling, orgasm and ejaculation must all have spiritual parallels. If there is an allegorical truth described in this poem, each of these must speak to some aspect of our walk with God. I am not saying I understand the spiritual parallels in detail or even in part, but there must be parallels to see.
For example, one writer said that the Bride’s two breasts were the Old and New Testament. Perhaps this is so, since both Testaments equally beautiful. Since in the natural breasts stimulate our sexual life, so both Testaments stimulate our spiritual life. And the Bible does say we are to desire the “sincere milk of the word.”
But sex is not justified by the spiritual allegory it provides, nor is it justified by the potential for pregnancy and production of children. This poem glorifies the erotic and never even mentions the possibility of pregnancy, never mind celebrating it. Sex is justified and given meaning and value simply because of its astounding beauty and ecstatic pleasure. This is lovemaking solely for the sake of expressing love and enjoying exquisite sensations.
“For in all the world there is nothing to equal the day on which the Song of Songs was given to Israel, for all the writings are Holy, but the Song of Songs is the Holy of Holies.” Rabbi Aqiba at the Council of Jamnia (ca. 90 A.D.).
It is now time to take a more detailed look at the book itself.
Feedback welcomed and appreciated.
Christians, Nudity and Erotica
And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.