Does Song of Solomon offer Christian women Scriptural substantiation for regarding the Lord Jesus Christ as a Boyfriend/Lover/Husband? Should we understand it as a literal narration of Solomon’s courtship and marriage, or does it have an allegorical meaning? After consulting a variety of commentaries on the admittedly perplexing book today, I learned that even the most reputable commentators disagree on the interpretation.
Some commentators, like Albert Barnes, favor reading Song of Solomon at face value and then understanding it as a celebration of marriage between Solomon and the Shulamite. He doesn’t consider the possibility of allegory at all, but writes straightforwardly:
The interpretation of the Song of Songs followed in this commentary proceeds on the assumption that the primary subject and occasion of the poem was a real historical event, of which we have here the only record, the marriage union of Solomon with a shepherd-maiden of northern Palestine, by whose beauty and nobility of soul the great king had been captivated. Starting from this historical basis, the Song of Songs is in its essential character an ideal representation of human love in the relation of marriage Sol 8:6-7.
Adam Clarke and John MacArthur share this point of view. And I agree with that approach to understanding Scripture. Generally, the context of a book or passage will offer clear indication when it presents allegory, metaphor or parable, but Solomon makes no such introduction before launching into his poem. His lack of qualification leads me to read the poem simply as an ode to romantic love that he wrote on the occasion of his marriage to one specific girl.
The Old Testament commentators Keil and Delitzch, however, view Song of Solomon in terms of God leading Israel out of Egypt, with commentators Jamieson, Fausett and Brown joining Matthew Henry in extending the metaphor not only to Christ and the Church, but also to Christ and individual believers. Intellectual honesty demands that I acknowledge the fact that some sound Biblical scholars find reason to regard this book as an allegory. I may disagree with their position, but I can’t pretend that said position doesn’t exist among men that hold good theological credentials.
I will, however, remember a basic rule of literary criticism that I learned in college: At some point, every allegory unravels. If we align ourselves with Matthew Henry in stating that Song of Solomon illustrates the love between Christ and a believer, therefore, we need to stop short of perverting that illustration into romantic or erotic fantasy about our relationship with Him.
Taking Song of Solomon too far as an allegory causes us to see the Lord in only that one dimension, creating a familiarity with Him that downplays His holiness. Yes, He invites us to enjoy fellowship with Him (Revelation 3:20), but He also calls us to regard ourselves as His slaves (Romans 6:22). Will we embrace the romantic allegory but reject the slave allegory?
Remember that Biblical commentators disagree on whether or not we can legitimately consider Song of Solomon to be allegorical. That being the case, we might want to avoid using it as a proof-text for conducting a romantic relationship with the Lord. We can love Him and receive His love without reducing the relationship to something out of a romance novel. And actually, we probably should!