Many Christians have a complicated relationship with the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also called. They skip it when reading through the whole Bible, ignore it in study, and struggle to explain what it’s doing in scripture. Even the idea that the Song is an allegory for the love between God and His people and/or Christ and the church (the dominant interpretation for thousands of years) has been largely abandoned by modern Bible scholars.
In Jewish tradition, the Song is associated with Passover (Pesach) and is read at this time of year. Some say this is just because the song references the spring season. But other rabbis describe this book as the “holy of holies” in the canon of scripture. They accept as a matter of fact that “Israel, in it’s covenant with God made on Mt. Sinai, was married to God” and the people owed Him their “absolute fidelity” (quotes from “Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?” by Benjamin Edidin Scolnic).
This assumption explains why the prophets speak so often of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God as marital infidelity. In reference to Hosea, Gerson Cohen said this was “because his Israelite mind had been taught from childhood to think of the relationship between God and Israel in terms of marital fidelity, in terms of love” (quote from “The Song of Songs and the Jewish Religious Mentality”). The Song of Songs might be the most explicitly romantic book in the Bible, but it’s certainly not the only time romantic imagery is used to teach us something about the relationship between God and His people. The Apostle Paul (also a Jewish rabbi) even said after giving instruction to human husbands and wives that “this mystery is great, but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:32, LEB).
Covenants and Romance
So what does all this have to do with Passover? For some writers, the Song actually functions as a midrash on Exodus — a commentary in the form of a poetic, figurative retelling of the Exodus story. With this interpretation, “the Song of Songs, according to the rabbis, is a text which describes the very events that Pesah celebrates and commemorates.” You can read more about this viewpoint in Scolnic’s paper (click here).
Even without turning to Jewish midrash, though, we can find connections between God’s romance of Israel and the Exodus story. Take, for example, one of my favorite passages from Hosea:
“Therefore behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak tenderly to her. I will give her vineyards from there, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope; and she will respond there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came up out of the land of Egypt. It will be in that day,” says Yahweh, “that you will call me ‘my husband,’ and no longer call me ‘my master.’ For I will take away the names of the Baals out of her mouth, and they will no longer be mentioned by name.” (Hos. 2:14-17, WEB)
God speaks of His future covenant with Israel as being similar to the one He made with them In Egypt, back when they responded eagerly to Him. He’s hearkening back to Passover and the Exodus as part of His holy “romance” with His people.
Sealing A Marriage Agreement
The first covenant, made not long after bringing the Israelites out of Egypt at Passover, was a marriage covenant. Ancient Israel broke this covenant, which is why the prophets speak of Israel as an unfaithful wife. That’s also why a new covenant was needed.
Behold, the days come, says Yahweh, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they broke, although I was a husband to them, says Yahweh. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says Yahweh: I will put my law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people (Jer. 31:31-33, WEB)
It’s this new covenant that Jesus instituted at His last Passover when “He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, ‘All of you drink it, for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins'” (Matt. 26:27-28, WEB). Covenants were typically confirmed with blood, and Jewish marriage agreements were sealed by sharing a cup of wine. Christ did both at Passover.
Completion of the Metaphor
This brings us back to the Song of Songs. This book speaks of a flourishing romance, not the broken marriage covenant between Israel and God.
The Song of Songs, to the rabbis, was the completion of the metaphor. The prophets may have denounced infidelity but the Song of Songs spoke of reunion and love, the kind of love that the believing rabbinic Jew felt for God. Even the Psalms do not talk about God as the lover or bridegroom of Israel. The Song of Songs is seen as a dialogue between God and Israel, and this provides the book with a unique religious intensity. (“Why Do We Sing the Song of Songs on Passover?”)
I think the Song functions on two levels: a celebration of romantic human love within marriage, and a poetic allegory of God’s love for His people. On the allegorical level, the Song is filled with religious imagery. The Beloved knocking on his lover’s door puts us in mind of Jesus Christ knocking for entrance to each believer’s heart (Song 5:2-5; Rev. 3:20). The phrase “I am my beloved’s, and my beloved is mine” connects with God’s words proclaiming, “they will be my people, and I will be their God” as well as “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Song 6:3; Jer. 24:7; 31:3).
Rise Up, My Love
My beloved spoke, and said to me, “Rise up, my love, my beautiful one, and come away. For, behold, the winter is past. The rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth. The time of the singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land. The fig tree ripens her green figs. The vines are in blossom. They give out their fragrance. Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away.” (Song 2:10-13, WEB)
Isn’t it incredible to think of God saying this to you? He calls His beloved — that’s us — beautiful and longs to draw us into a relationship with Him that leaves behind times of winter and rain. And that’s exactly what He did in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt and into the promised land.
Yahweh said, “I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters, for I know their sorrows. I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and large land, to a land flowing with milk and honey (Ex. 3:7-8, WEB)
This is also very much what happened when Jesus arrived as the ultimate expression of God coming down to deliver us, which culminated with Christ’s Passover sacrifice and establishment of the new covenant. Like the first covenant, this covenant is founded in love. Just in John chapters 13 through 17 (which we often call the words of the new covenant) Jesus mentions the love between us 33 times, including expressions such as “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me” and “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends, if you do whatever I command you.”
Passover is a solemn observance, by which we proclaim the Lord’s death until He returns (1 Cor. 11:23-26). It’s also a reminder of the covenant we made at baptism and of our commitment to follow our Lord for as long as our lives last. And woven through all that is God’s incredible love for us.
Featured image credit: Aline Ponce via Pixabay