The Model for Marriage

by J. D. Watson

Editor's note: There are various understandings of the Song of Solomon. Some regard it as an allegory, concerning Christ Jesus and His church; others consider it to be taken literally, as a discussion about human sexuality. Still others believe its message is dual, applicable on both the spiritual and physical levels. In this series, Brother Watson considers it as a "Model for Marriage."

The Song of Solomon provides us with a biblical model for marriage. As we'll emphasize again further on, it is really a perfect model because the marriage presented here is not a perfect marriage. As we'll see, while this marriage was an excellent one, a problem arose, just like in all marriages.

The title "Song of Solomon" that appears in several English translations comes from verse 1, which states that the book was written by Solomon. The ancient Hebrew versions, however, call it "Song of Songs." This title translates the superlative in the Hebrew,1 as does "Holy of Holies," for example (Ex. 26:33-4). In other words, of the 1,005 songs that Solomon wrote, this is the song: Solomon's best.

Solomon's Song is a love story-and what a story it is! Once in a while a writer will pen a good love story, and once in a great while a movie is made that tells a good love story (instead of the typical lust story). But here is a real love story, one that is beautiful and absolutely pure. Once again, while it's not perfect, simply because people are not perfect, it does serve as a perfect model.

In light of the perversion of love and marriage in our day, Hebrews 13:4 captures the heart of this love story: "Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge." As this story underscores, the physical relationship between husband and wife is, as the Greek amantos ("undefiled") indicates, unpolluted, unstained, and unsoiled by sin.

The two principle characters in the story are Solomon, who is referred to as "the beloved" 32 times in the AV, and the Shulamite maiden. While her identity is uncertain, three possibilities stand out. One is that she was an unknown maiden from Shulam, but there is no other mention of Shulam in the Bible or the known extra-Biblical literature. Other interpreters say that it is simply another name for Shulem, located in lower Galilee, but that seems conjectural.

The third possibility makes more sense. In the Hebrew, "Shulamite" is actually the feminine form (Shulammith) of Solomon (Shelomoh). As scholar Augustus Strong points out, because the definite article is present, the term is "a pet name." In other words, having become Solomon's wife, she took his name, which was a common practice then as it is now, and which was instituted in Genesis 5:2, as God called "their name Adam," not just his name.

The story is told in three main sections: Solomon's days of courtship (1:2-3:5); his wedding and early days of his first marriage (3:6-5:1); and the growth and maturing of that marriage (5:2-8:4). While we might wonder how Solomon could have been the author of this song when he indulged in the pagan practice of polygamy (700 wives and 300 concubines, (1 Kings 11:3), the answer is undoubtedly that this was his first marriage, as implied in Ecclesiastes 9:9: "Live joyfully with the wife whom thou lovest all the days of [your] life."

Why put "a love story" in the Bible? After all, the Bible is a book about spiritual truth. Why put in something so earthly? One commentator well sums up the purpose of this wonderful book:

The purpose of the book is to extol human love and marriage. Though at first this seems strange, on reflection it is not surprising for God to have included in the biblical canon a book endorsing the beauty and purity of marital love. God created man and woman (Gen. 1:27; 2:20-23) and established and sanctioned marriage (Gen. 2:24). Since the world views sex so sordidly and perverts and exploits it so persistently and since so many marriages are crumbling because of lack of love, commitment, and devotion, it is advantageous to have a book in the Bible that gives God's endorsement of marital love as wholesome and pure. - Bible Knowledge Commentary

Amen! If marriage is the very foundation of society, of living, of having and training children, of all human relationships, doesn't it make sense that God would devote an entire book of Holy Scripture to it? If Scripture is authoritative and solely sufficient in every possible issue, would not the subject of marital love be treated in a practical, straightforward, even graphic manner?

J. D. Watson is pastor-teacher of Grace Bible Church in Meeker, Colorado.

1. Hebrew Shir Hash-Shirim.

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