Chapter 1.
A Glorious Theme

1:1. Title and Introduction

The song of songs, which is Solomon's. These words with which this book of Scripture opens are the expression of a Hebrew superlative. 'The song of songs' means the most excellent song, the outstanding song, the pre-eminent song. It carries the sense of the all-surpassing song, the most highly treasured and praiseworthy song, the unrivalled song. There is no song like it, none to compare with it, either among divinely inspired songs or songs of merely human composition. No other song comes near it. It stands alone. Let any who would despise, ignore or neglect this song take note!

With 'the song of songs', compare 'the holy of holies' (the literal rendering of Heb. 9:3, translated 'the Holiest of all', NKJV; 'the Most Holy Place', NIV); 'the heaven of heavens' (1 Kgs. 8:27); and 'King of kings and Lord of lords' (Rev. 19:16). Notice also 'a servant of servants' (Gen. 9:25). In each case the point of the superlative is the same. With regard to 'the song of songs', everything about it (its language, its poetry, its subject, its effect) surpasses every other song, and particularly every other love song, that has ever been written. The Jews called other songs 'holy', but 'the song of songs' they called 'the holy of holies'. They likened Proverbs to the outer court of the temple, Ecclesiastes to the holy place, and the Song of songs (or Song of Solomon) to the Most Holy Place.

It 'is Solomon's'. That is to be taken as a statement of authorship. Solomon wrote it. In this respect he was one of the 'holy men of God' who 'spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit' (2 Pet. 1:21). Solomon was the son of King David and his wife Bathsheba. He ruled Israel from 970-931 bc. A summary of his remarkable accomplishments is given in 1 Kings. 4:20ff, of which particular interest in the present context attaches to verse 32: 'He spoke three thousand proverbs, and his songs were one thousand and five.' In the providence of God all of those songs have been lost, except for this excelling one which has been divinely preserved (along with Psalms 72 and 127, unless they were written by David of Solomon). Maybe these ones alone were inspired by the Spirit of God; or, even if they all were, the others were not designed by God to be of edification to the church or to bring glory to his name as this one was. It is worth observing, in the face of those who deny Solomonic authorship, that there has been a general consent to it from both Jewish and Christian writers throughout the history of its interpretation. Moreover, the book exudes an acquaintance with various parts of the land of Israel, along with several other links and expressions which fit with Solomon's time.

We cannot affirm precisely when Solomon wrote the Song. It may have been in the earlier years of his reign, in the days of his close walking with God. Of that time 1 Kings 3:3 records, 'And Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David' (though even then adds the caveat, 'except that he sacrificed and burned incense at the high places'). Or it may not have been until later on, after God's gracious recovering of him from his backslidings and his strayings, not least those caused by his many foreign wives.

It has been described in terms of being a song which only grace can teach and only experience can learn. Why? Chiefly because of its subject. This is no ordinary love song, of the sort which are two a penny. This Scripture song sets forth the mutual love, communion, fellowship and delight between the Lord Jesus Christ and the church—or, on the more personal level, the individual Christian believer. And it does so in terms of a marriage relationship. This is not itself unusual in the Bible (compare, for example, Psalm 45, Isaiah 54, Ephesians 5 and Revelation 19). The relationship between God and his covenant people, between the Messiah and his church, is often exhibited in Scripture under the figure of a marriage, with God/Christ being called the husband or bridegroom, and the believer/church being called the wife or bride. Here is displayed 'what is the width and length and depth and height' of the love of Christ, and what it means 'to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge', in order that we 'may be filled with all the fullness of God' (Eph. 3:18-19). Here we meet the one who 'loved the church and gave himself for it' (Eph. 5:25). Here we behold 'the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me' (Gal. 2:20).

The 'is' (the word is understood) in 'which is Solomon's' may also be taken in the sense of 'about' or 'concerning'. However, that does not make the song an exercise in self-praise by the king of Israel. The name Solomon means 'peace'. His name was also Jedidiah (2 Sam. 12:25), the name given to him by the prophet Nathan through the word of the Lord, and which means 'loved by the Lord'. Both names are 'typical' of the Lord Jesus Christ, and express the fact that 'a greater than Solomon is here' (Matt. 12:42). At point after point King Solomon is a type of Christ, though at every one of those points the antitype (Christ) exceeds the type (Solomon)—think, for example, of areas like wealth, wisdom, kingdom, authority, glory, prince of peace, and so on. We may put it this way: under the infallible and inerrant inspiration of the Holy Spirit, this Old Testament book was written by the earthly Solomon concerning the heavenly Solomon. It has been observed that, next to the Gospels, 'the song of songs' is the fullest of Christ and the sweetest to the Christian. Its 'motto' may be said to be 2:16a: 'My beloved is mine, and I am his'.

The construction of the book is along clear lines. The two chief characters (Solomon and the Shulamite, the bridegroom and the bride) take it in turns to speak to and of one another in the language of utter devotion. They are completely taken up with one another. They see everything they could ever desire in each other. Notice that Shulamite (the name given to the female character in 6:13) is the feminine form of Solomon, and so a suitable name here for the Christian, and for the church as the bride of Christ. Which one is speaking at any given moment has to be established (in the words of the NKJV footnotes) 'according to the number, gender, and person of the Hebrew words'. That same footnote adds, 'Occasionally the identity is not certain'. The book proceeds with a combination of monologues and dialogues, and while there are different Hebrew words for' song', that employed here is a general word for a joyful and celebratory song.

1:2-4. Desiring Christ

The bride is the first to speak, and in these three verses starts as she means to go on, addressing herself to her beloved in the language of passionate desire, and longing for that desire to be fulfilled. Here the believer's fellowship with Christ is set forth under three rich and poetic pictures:

v. 2: The kisses of his mouth: the enjoyment of Christ's love

v. 3: The fragrance of his perfumes: the excellence of Christ's name

v. 4: The privacy of his chambers: the intimacy of Christ's company.

These verses are something of a crystallisation of the whole book. It is striking that no names are mentioned—but then when two people are deeply in love, no names need to be mentioned. There can only be one 'him' and one 'her'! There is no one to compare with Christ, so far as the believer is concerned, no one who can match him or even hold a candle to him.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth (1:2). These are the words of one who knows already what it is to be loved by Christ, his love being the love which loves first and which then draws out our love after him. They express the desire for fresh tokens of Christ's love, and proceed with an acknowledgment that his love is the best love of all. A kiss can signify a number of things. It may express affection. It may be a pledge of peace in some societies or a token of reconciliation after difficulties or quarrelling ('kiss and make up'). It might be an expression of honour (kissing a monarch's hand). Most of all, however, it is an expression of genuine love. You do not kiss everyone you meet; and you certainly do not kiss everyone you do kiss upon the mouth (lips), for such kisses are to be for those for whom you entertain very special love—supremely in the marriage bond, between husband and wife. It is testified of Christ in 5:16, 'His mouth is most sweet', to which may be added, 'grace is poured upon your lips' (Ps. 45:2). The spiritual reference here is to those manifestations of Christ's love which only his dearest friends can receive or have any reason to expect (compare John 15:15 and 14:21). These kisses have been called pardons, promises and seals of everlasting love. They must be, for they are the kisses of him (the lovely and glorious one) to me (the poor and sinful one).

The root of the word is 'to join to each and to join together, particularly mouth to mouth'. This appeal to Christ and for Christ is the desire of the Christian church in all ages: for Christ to manifest himself to our souls, 'that I may know him' (Phil. 3:10). It is a constant desire for more of him, and an inability to be content or satisfied without him. If ever he appears to have withdrawn or departed, everything is gone. Where Christ is truly loved, he will be truly longed for. The heart of all gospel duty and obligation, as set out in Psalm 2:12, is to 'kiss the Son'; the heart of all gospel grace and comfort is the Son kissing us. ' Smother me with kisses' is one suggested translation, attempting to reflect the intensity of the language.

It may be that such language as this was the continual prayer of the Old Testament saints as they watched and waited for the promised coming of the Messiah in his incarnation, he who is 'the consolation of Israel' (Luke 2:25). The words of the Lord Jesus Christ to his own, recorded in the four Gospels, are very much 'the kisses of his mouth', as they are applied personally by himself to our hearts through his Holy Spirit. In this connection, notice the highly personal 'me' in 'let him kiss me'. Christ's kisses are for his church as a whole, but are also for each true member of his church, by name.

With her next breath, the Shulamite changes from 'him' to 'your': for your love is better than wine. For NKJV 'better', NIV has 'more delightful'. Just as 'kisses' is in the plural in the first part of verse 2, so now is 'loves', though the English translations fail to show this. The plural suggests the incomparableness, superabundance, immensities, ocean depths and overwhehning discoveries that already the Christian knows of Christ's love yet also has still to make. The love of Christ is to the believer the most desirable and enjoyable love of all. It is the 'love of every love the best'.

That is brought out in the comparison 'better than wine'. Wine is put here for all earthly pleasures, tastes, exhilarations and refreshments. When Queen Esther invited the king and Haman to the banquet, it was called 'the banquet of wine' (Esth. 5:6). There are several Old Testament references to wine, especially notable being, 'You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased' (Ps. 4:7). There are six references to wine in the Song (1:2, 4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:9; 8:2).

Why is Christ's love better than wine? Fundamentally, because it is Christ's own love. Arising from that, here are three further reasons.

First, it can be enjoyed without fear. Great dangers can attach to the drinking of wine: over-indulging, coming under its grip to your own and others' misery, even being killed by it. Christ's love, in contrast, brings only good and not harm, only blessing and not cursing, only joy and not sorrow, only pleasure and not regret.

Second, it brings lasting delight. Wine may stimulate and satisfy for a season, but its effect wears off and may leave a person in a worse state than he began. But the Lord Jesus Christ never fails to delight the souls of those he loves and who love him.

Third, it is absolutely pure. Wine might be good or bad, clear or full of dregs. Christ's love, however, is pure as can be. The plural 'loves' here amplifies this: there is Christ's covenant love, electing love, redeeming love, adopting love, preserving love, sanctifying love, glorifying love; the love that forgives, guides, provides and instructs; the love that disciplines and chastises for our good. And his 'loves' endure for ever. This the Christian enjoys!

It follows, of necessity, that it is only those to whom Christ's love is better than wine (who prefer his love to all the delights that life can offer, and who count spiritual joys to be the highest and most delightful of all) who may expect or will enjoy the kisses of his mouth.

Because of the fragrance of your good ointments, your name is ointment poured forth (1:3). NIV translates the first phrase, 'Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes'. A literal translation would be, 'for your ointments (have) a good (or, lovely) fragrance'. In oriental lands, perfumes, ointments and spices were and are used very widely. Because of the climate (so often hot, sticky and dusty) people wash several times a day, and after each wash pour upon themselves and rub into themselves all sorts of fragrant oils and such like. The richer or more royal the people, the more costly, fragrant and rare the perfumes. That gives the background to verse 3, which draws attention to the fragrance of Christ's ointments.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the Lord's Anointed One, the Messiah, of whom the psalmist declares, 'All your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia' (Ps. 45:8). On a number of significant occasions in the Gospels, fragrances are mentioned in connection with him. After his birth in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:11) he was brought the highly suggestive gifts of gold (for royalty: gold is associated consistently with kingship, and the Lord Jesus is King of kings), frankincense (for deity: frankincense appears regularly in Scripture in connection with the worship and service of God, and Jesus is God incarnate), and myrrh (for death: a classic use of myrrh was in preparing a body for burial, and the link between the birth at Bethlehem and the cross at Calvary is fundamental to the person and work of Christ as the Saviour of sinners). On a visit to Bethany, Mary, the sister of Lazarus whom Jesus raised from the dead, 'took a pound of very costly oil of spikenard, anointed the feet of Jesus, and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the oil' (John 12:3). After Jesus' death and burial, 'the women who had come with him from Galilee... observed the tomb and how his body was laid. Then they returned and prepared spices and fragrant oils' (Luke 23:55f). These they then brought to the tomb, having rested on the Sabbath.

The suitability of the reference to Christ's fragrance becomes clearer in the second line of verse 3: 'your name is ointment poured forth.' It recalls Ecclesiastes. 7:1: 'A good name is better than precious ointment.' This is the only occurrence in the Song of 'name', and, as so often in Scripture, it speaks of the true nature and being of the person in question—in this case, Jesus. Of course, he has many names. Immanuel, Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace, Commander of the army of the Lord, Friend, Teacher, Lord, Lamb of God, Sun of Righteousness, the Bright and Morning Star, Prophet, Priest and King are just some of them. Yet the point of the use of the singular 'name' here is to emphasize the fragrance, the preciousness, the exquisiteness of the whole of Christ—all that he is in his person, work, offices and so on. In other words: the 'sum' of him, 'Christ... all and in all' (Col. 3:11).

The name of Christ is not now like ointment sealed up, but ointment poured forth, which denotes both the freeness and the fullness of the communications of his grace and his Spirit. To him is given the Spirit without measure (John 3:34). He is anointed with the oil of gladness more than his companions (Ps. 45:7, quoted of Christ in Heb. 1:9). All of this is that out of his fullness we might all receive grace and more grace (John 1:16). To every true believer, Christ's name is 'the name high over all', the sweetest of all to a believer's ear, the most thrilling of all to the believer's heart.

In no way does the manner of expression in this verse suggest that the Christian's love to Christ is fanatical or unstable. It springs from a sensible and well-grounded appreciation of the excellency of his whole person and being. His 'fragrance' excels every other fragrance known to man, just as the holy anointing oil of the sanctuary was superior to all other perfume. Indeed verse 3b alludes to that very thing. The special anointing oil of Exodus 30:22ff, which the Lord commanded to be made for the anointing of the tabernacle, the ark and various other furniture and utensils appointed for the tabernacle, and the high priest and his sons, was typical of the richness, fullness and preciousness of the name of Christ, and the fragrance with which it ascended up to God.

There then follows, on the face of it, a puzzling statement: therefore the virgins love you. Who are these 'virgins' (NIV, maidens)? Where have they suddenly sprung from? They have been defined in various ways: unmarried young women of marriageable age, those who are chaste and faithful in their adherence to the bridegroom, young converts, believers in general, the pure in heart, or even angels who have never sinned, and so the list extends. A cross-reference to Revelation 14 may be appropriate and helpful, where there is also a mention of 'virgins'. 'These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever he goes. These were redeemed from among men, being first-fruits to God and to the Lamb' (Rev. 14:4). In other words, like-minded believers, those who are of the same view as the Shulamite with respect to Christ. They are 'the pure in heart' (Matt. 5:8). They are marked by their chaste and devoted adherence to the bridegroom, the undividedness of their love and affection towards him, and the purity and holiness of their lives. The 'therefore' (NIV, 'no wonder') is very natural. How could his true church take any other view of Christ? Those to whom he remains 'despised and rejected' (Isa. 53:3) will not agree. But spiritual souls are in no doubt.

The NKJV of verse 4 divides things up into five parts: the Shulamite continues speaking, then the daughters of Jerusalem, then the Shulamite once more, followed by more from the daughters of Jerusalem, and then the return of the Shulamite in the closing words. There is no compelling reason, however, for ascribing the whole verse to anyone but the Shulamite, who then speaks the whole section from verses 2-7.

Lead me away! (1:4). These words (better translated 'draw me!') erupt after all that has just been said in the previous two verses. Verse 2 focussed upon the enjoyment of the love of Christ in all its effects upon the believer's heart. Verse 3 exhibited the richness of that love, not least as it is displayed in the excellence of Christ's name. Now what is the effect? The answer is, the language of 'let us get away together, the two of us, just on our own'. The Shulamite's desire is to be as close to her beloved as possible, and to have him completely to herself. She desires not only his kisses, but himself, and this is a desire never expressed in vain. Every glimpse the Christian gets of Christ's beauty, and every taste that is received of his love, increases spiritual affection, spiritual ardour and spiritual desire for more of him.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the magnet of redeemed souls. We love him who first loved us, and the soul who has been brought to know him and to regard him as the pre-eminent and (in the language later on of 5:16) the 'altogether lovely' one, cannot get enough of him. The same verb (draw) is also used in Jeremiah 31:3 and Hosea 11:4 to describe the power of love to draw the beloved to the one who is loved. 'Nearer, still nearer' is the believer's longing expressed here, enforced by the words, We will run after you. We cannot run after him unless he himself draws us, yet once he draws us it is our business to run. We run to him as sinners and we run after him as believers. We remain in need of the same drawings to Christ of divine power and love throughout our Christian lives, as we needed to bring us to him in the first place. Here is eager desire, fervent affection, vigorous pursuit—reminiscent of Jesus' own teaching about the need to take heaven by force or storm (Matt. 11:12). We may compare the language of Psalm 119:32 ('I will run in the way of your commandments, for you shall enlarge my heart'), and Psalm 63:8 ('My soul follows close behind you; your right hand upholds me').

There are degrees of communion with Christ (something which the Song continually teaches). None of these can be attained to or enjoyed without the divine drawing. What Peter refers to as growing 'in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ' (2 Pet. 3:18) is the believer's desire. The language of this present verse 4 is very much that of making such progress, and doing so (or desiring to do so) with cheerfulness, vigour and strength. Here is a true taking pleasure in Christ.

Given what we have insisted all along concerning the Christian and the church, there should be found no difficulty in the swopping about of 'me' and 'we' in the Song, of which the present verse is a case in point. The Christian's personal experience of and longing for Christ, and the church's corporate experience of and longing for the same, is interchangeable in the Song. It is a matter both of keen individuality and resolved unity. Moreover, when Christ visits the church in a marked manner, individual believers are quickened, just as, when he manifests himself to a believer, the church is affected. We do not run after him alone.

What follows is really a 'before they call, I will answer' (Isa. 65:24), both immediately and abundantly. The king has brought me into his chambers. Again the background of the time of writing of the Song comes to the fore in aid of the spiritual dimension. With respect to oriental palaces, there was the court of the garden of the king's palace where feasts for many people would be held; there was the inner court of the king's house, where only invited guests were permitted to enter; and there were the king's own apartments or chambers, where he admitted only those whom he cherished most intimately and loved most warmly. Think of Psalm 27:5 and Psalm 91:1 in this connection. This is a reminder that the Lord Jesus invites his own not into some general court or vague and distant relationship, but into his very chambers, into the secret of his presence. Here is intended intimate fellowship, close enjoyment, intense mutual delight.

The title 'the king' is well applied to Christ. Indeed it belongs to him. He is the king by way of pre-eminence, 'King of kings and Lord of lords' (Rev. 19:16). He rules over his everlasting kingdom (Rev. 11:15). The Messianic reference of Psalm 2:8 declares that as the Mediator he has a kingdom given to him by the Father, one which he has purchased with his own blood and by the glorious and spiritual conquests of his grace.

It goes without saying that all of this being brought into the king's chambers is the provision of pure, free, divine grace; for how else could any 'who were dead in trespasses and sins' and 'by nature children of wrath' (Eph. 2:1,3) ever have such a royal invitation, access and welcome? Here, in this private and intimate place of fellowship and communion, Christ assures our hearts of his changeless love, he instructs us in the mysteries of his Word, he reveals to us some of his sublime glories, he listens to our cries, he renews our strength, he revives our drooping spirits, he restores our souls and he grants to us his Holy Spirit. Moreover, there we can tell him 'to his face' all that he means to us. All is mutual.

The thoughts of gladness and rejoicing are often linked in the Old Testament, and so it is here. We will be glad and rejoice in you. Both here and earlier in the verse ('we will run after you'), the focus is kept firmly upon Christ. In his chambers or out of them, in the secret place or away from it, how Christ's people are glad and rejoice in him! This is important, for our rejoicing is not a rejoicing in the chambers for their own sake (anymore than in the house of the Lord for its own sake); our rejoicing is in Christ, whose chambers and whose house they are. Such places without him would be desolate—as on occasions, to our cost, we may have found them to be, when he has withdrawn himself for a season and for a reason. Our joy is in the Lord. Our satisfaction is in God.

There is a redolence here of 1 Peter 1:8. Peter there, speaking in the previous verse of 'the revelation of Jesus Christ', continues, 'whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory'. Everything about Christ is a cause of gladness and rejoicing to the Christian: his person, his work; his offices, his promises; his blood, his righteousness; his power, his authority; his glories, his kingdom—everything. The list is endless.

We will remember your love more than wine. The verb 'remember' means to fix in the memory and (in its tense here) to bring to remembrance, and frequently to do so by way of praise. Not to remember Christ's love would be sheer folly and ingratitude. Wine is mentioned again, as in verse 2, and, as also in that verse, 'love' appears in the plural, 'loves'. The emphasis in this sentence is upon the excellence of the king's company, fellowship, gifts and blessings, as well as upon the greatness, the variety, the generosity and the abundance of it all. This remembering is not some cold mental exercise, therefore. It is a spiritual activity, assisted concretely by engaging in the means of grace which have been given and appointed to this end (such as public worship as well as private devotions, preaching and prayer, the Lord's Supper and Christian fellowship, and the careful and proper sanctifying of the Sabbath day). It will be very much to our spiritual comfort and edification, and will serve to keep before us both the sinfulness of sin (that we might avoid it the more) and the preciousness of Christ (that we might prize him the more). In both the 'we will be glad' and the 'we will remember', a holy resolution is declared.

Rightly do they love you. With these words this section closes. There is no need to refer 'they' to the daughters of Jerusalem. Their first appearance need not come until much later. Versions diverge in their translation here. AV has 'the upright love thee'. The word AV translates 'upright' only appears once more in the Song (at 7:9) where AV translates 'sweetly' and NIV, 'straight'. The word means level or straight, and appears in Isaiah 40:4 as such. If we choose 'the upright', the reference would be to the same as 'the virgins' (v. 3), the point being that however others view Christ and whatever others think of him, those who are truly his own love him with a right mind and a sincere heart, and are all agreed in that, and share in the blessedness of communion with him. But the translation 'rightly' (NKJV—compare NIV, 'How right they are to adore you!') is not improper, and, if anything, makes a similar point more strikingly. With good reason do believers love him. How absolutely right, proper and justified it is to love Christ. How he is to be loved. Not to love him is robbery; to love others more than him is idolatry.