• Creation, love, sexuality, and God. Although the Song of Solomon nowhere speaks directly of God, its inclusion as part of the Bible's Wisdom literature makes clear that it understands human love and sexuality as gifts of the Creator to be enjoyed by God's human creatures. Twentieth-century theologian Karl Barth describes vividly the Bible's surprising delight in "the eros for which there is no…shame," both in Genesis 2 and in the Song:
"The Song of Songs is one long description of the rapture, the unquenchable yearning and the restless willingness and readiness, with which both partners in this covenant [their relationship with God the Creator] hasten towards an encounter….God the Lord and sexual eros…are brought into close relationship….The authors of Gen. 2 and the Song of Songs speak of man and woman as they do because they know that the broken covenant is still for God the unbroken covenant, intact and fulfilled on both sides" (Church Dogmatics III/1, pages 313-315).
In other words, in its daring and provocative praise of love and sexuality, the Song of Solomon celebrates the relationship between man and woman under God as God intends it and as God still sees it: as pure and innocent, even in all its full physical sensuality--a sense that, despite all difficulties, human lovers can still sometimes experience and enjoy.
• Garden. The Song's frequent use of images from nature, including several explicit references to a "garden," is bound to remind readers of the Genesis story of the garden of Eden. The poet wants to transport the audience back to a time of innocence: a world of harmony among man and woman and God, a time of sexuality without shame.
• Love and death. According to the Song, "love is strong as death" (8:6). That is, love, like death, is an elemental force beyond human control, a power that humans cannot escape. Human language gets something right when it speaks of "falling" in love. That does not mean, of course, that love and death are outside the realm of divine concern or of human ethics; but it does give readers pause in any attempt to trivialize or to "master" too easily the human experience of love and sexuality.
• Marriage, human and divine. The Bible uses marriage frequently and vividly as a metaphor to describe the divine-human relationship (Isaiah 54:5; 62:5; Romans 7:4; Ephesians 5:22-23; Revelation 19:7-9; etc.). The themes of delight and celebration of love that course through the Song of Solomon do not require allegory to be read as reflecting the love of God for God's people.
• Sexuality and intimacy. In recent years, similarities or parallels have been noted between the harmony between man and woman in Eden (Genesis 2) and in the Song of Songs. The closely related themes of intimacy and exclusivity also come into play in this book--intimacy between human lovers and in the tenderness of God's love towards humanity; exclusivity as possessiveness, anger, and jealousy when vows or promises are broken.
AUTHOR: Fred Gaiser, Professor of Old Testament, David Stewart, Director of Library Services