It’s no wonder that ancient writers tended to interpret this whole book as symbolic of the love of the soul for Christ. To read it that way may give some wonderful insights, but I think it’s mainly just that it’s embarrassingly physical and sensual – not something that belongs in the Bible as most people think it should be.
There’s no real indication in the text, though, that this is anything other than an outpouring of sensual, romantic love. We have to read anything else into the text, because it’s not there to start with.
The poem is linked to Solomon, who with his countless wives and mistresses may not be the ideal of the romantic hero we’d like to see celebrated in the Bible’s great love poem. But as always, we have the Bible we have, not the one we’d like to have been given – and the flaws of its human authors don’t take away from the truth and beauty of what’s written with God’s help and inspiration.
Perhaps if Solomon hadn’t been so focussed on the physical beauty of his beloved, he might have been stronger in resisting temptation and been a more faithful husband – we’ll never know!
But what we do know is that by including this among the ‘wisdom’ writings of the Bible we’re being shown that there is wisdom simply in the enjoyment and celebration of beauty and attraction, even infatuation. And that wisdom leads to love being expressed to the beloved, clearly and forcefully. This is no secret crush, but a full-blown and outspoken romance.
Do we tell those we love how much we love them, and what we love about them? Do we tell them it often enough and fully enough?
Probably not. Solomon points us to something about loving communication – that we should make sure that it happens.