I found myself repelled by the Commentary's allegory of a sexual relationship with a bigamist king and wondered whether my understanding of the Bible may have just come to tatters! If it is all allegory, it would simply mean all is perfect unity with God – end of story.
So I dug deeply into the history of interpretation of the Song of Solomon; that history is long and often contradictory. I am indebted to J. Paul Tanner, who reminded me of something he learned at Dallas Seminary that I also learned twenty-plus years ago at Denver Seminary:
When in doubt as to wide-ranging historical interpretations, none of which have held sway forever over the course of history, fall back to the literal story and consider what it might be teaching. A second important interpretive tool is not mentioned by Tanner, but I am sure he would agree: consider any passage in the wider context of the entire book and the entire Bible.
I strongly recommend Tanner’s article on this subject. My conclusions are consistent with his, so I encourage you to go to this link and to read his article.
The “most beautiful of women” who is taken into Solomon’s chamber reminds me of the broader context of the Book of Esther. In that book we learned of the practice of the king taking many young women into his chambers, who would then compete for the king’s favor. The king’s process was bigamy based solely on physical attractiveness and submission.
So while Esther did what she must to save her people from annihilation, how could this virtuous young woman in the Song of Solomon truly love a man who had “…sixty queens, eighty concubines and virgins without number” (6:8)?
Solomon clearly is infatuated with her and lures her with the most romantic of words. But when she responds concerning her “beloved”, he appears to be an unnamed shepherd (1:7-8) who is radiant and ruddy, that is, toughened by the outdoor life. This cannot be Solomon.
So I believe that the Song of Solomon is a conflict of wills between a king who can take in whoever he pleases and a woman of virtue who desperately loves only one man, but cannot have him because the king’s desire takes precedence.
Thus the warning, three times in the Song, not to stir up love until it “pleases.” In 5:8, she indicates clearly that she cannot find her beloved because she has been abused by the watchmen of the king. That is, I believe, because she is captive in his chambers. Her pursuit of her lover is in her desperate dreams at night (read 3:1-5 and 5:2-8), betraying her fears and apprehensions of Solomon, who was known to have many lovers, in violation of the command of God.
In Chapter 8, a clear distinction is made between the chambers of the king and the chamber of her humble mother, the former being full of many women in the harem of a king, and the latter a humble country existence full of family love. It is in the latter that this young woman sees herself coming up to from the wilderness, not the king’s chambers, leaning on her beloved. Clearly this is the love awakened that pleases.
So despite all the allurements and splendor of the king, this young woman knows her heart:
“Set me as a seal on your heart…for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love…If a man offered for love all the wealth of his house, he would be utterly despised” (8:6-7).
Solomon is the one who offered all the wealth of his house instead of true love.
“My vineyard, my very own, is before me,” says the young woman (8:12).
You, Solomon, can go ply your riches on someone else. To all the young women of Jerusalem, she gives warning, to be very careful: “…do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (8:4).
“Pleasing” love, in perfect unity with God, includes not only a wonderful sexual relationship, but also the mutual and very passionate, on-fire dedication of one man and one woman, until death.