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The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Trinity Theological Seminary of South Florida Lecture and Study. The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.

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the book of ecclesiastes and the song of solomon

The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon

Trinity Theological Seminary of South Florida

Lecture and Study

the book of ecclesiastes and the song of solomon1
The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon

This course is a study of the Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. This lecture is of the Study of the content of these two books of the Old Testament.

the book of ecclesiastes
The Book of Ecclesiastes


  • OT book of Wisdom Literature. Ecclesiastes is philosophical in character, posing deep questions about the meaning and nature of human existence.
  • “Ecclesiastes” is the Greek title for the book and has come into English from the Septuagint (Greek translation of the OT). In keeping with an early Jewish practice of adopting the first few words of a book as the title, the Hebrew title of Ecclesiastes is “The Words of Koheleth, the Son of David, King in Jerusalem.” It is also known simply as “Koheleth.”
  • The term “Koheleth” is the author’s title for himself throughout the book (Ecclesiastes 1:1-2, 12; 7:27; 12:8-10). It is the Hebrew participial form of a verb meaning “to assemble,” and thus it seems to designate one who speaks in an assembly. The word has often been translated “the Preacher” in English. Because of the philosophical nature of the book, however, the title possibly indicates the author’s function or station as a leader in the community of wise men.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes

1:1 The words of . . .—Such superscriptions are common in wisdom (Proverbs 1:1; 25:1; 30:1) and prophetic literature (Isaiah 1:1; Jeremiah 1:1). words—in this context proverbial wisdom words (cf. 12:9, 10), but it may also refer to the deeds and events which are described in the book (Crenshaw). Preacher—Hebrew, qoheleth, meaning “assembler,” one who gathers the congregation together (cf. 1 Kings 8). The Septuagint translated the term as ekklesiastes in Greek, from which the English title of the book is derived. The author uses it as a proper name: Qohelet (cf. 1:12). son of David—“Son of” often means “having the qualities of” (e.g., sons of Thunder, sons of the prophets) or “descendant of” [Christ as the son of David (Matthew 1:1)]. Many think this identification refers to Solomon because of his gift (1 Kings 3) and intense pursuit of wisdom (1:17), which is consistent with the ethos of the book.

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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • The authorship of Ecclesiastes presents complex questions, on which biblical scholars disagree. Early Jewish tradition was divided over the issue, ascribing the book to King Hezekiah and his school, as well as to King Solomon.
  • Internal evidence is often appealed to for support of Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes. The first verse ascribes the authorship of the book to “the son of David.” Other passages (e.g., 1:16-17; 2:6-7) also seem to refer to Solomon, who succeeded David as king of the united kingdom of Israel. Those who reject Solomonic authorship interpret such references as literary devices, written by a later unknown author in order to use Solomon’s devotion to wisdom as a context for his own ideas about life’s purpose and meaning.
  • A number of passages in the book have been appealed to in support of non-Solomonic authorship. Some scholars allege that if the book had been written by Solomon, he would not have used the past tense about his reign “over Israel in Jerusalem” (1:12). Proponents of Solomonic authorship point out, however, that the Hebrew verb “was” can also mean “became,” thus stating that Solomon had become king in Jerusalem.
  • It is also alleged that 1:16 supports a date of writing by an author who lived much later than Solomon. They say that Solomon could not have said that he was wiser than “all who were over Jerusalem before me,” for that would point to a long succession of kings before him. But the author may have meant prominent wise men rather than kings (see 1 Kings 4:31).
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • One of the chief difficulties with Solomonic authorship is the fact that OT history does not record a period of spiritual revival in Solomon’s life as a context for the book of Ecclesiastes. That is not a conclusive argument, however, for the thoughts recorded in the book are intensely personal in nature. The historical books of the OT deal primarily with historical developments, mentioning personal aspects of human life only where they bear upon God’s purposes as reflected in the national history. It would, in fact, be surprising if the extremely personal struggles recorded in Ecclesiastes were cited by the historical writers.
  • The question of authorship is a difficult one, but there seems to be no conclusive evidence against Solomon as the author of Ecclesiastes.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • DATE
  • The majority of scholars who hold to the Solomonic authorship of Ecclesiastes date the book in Solomon’s final years as king (c. 940 BC). The book would then have been written in the golden era of Israelite wisdom, by one of the foremost proponents of wisdom teaching.
  • Those who deny Solomonic authorship disagree among themselves as to when the book was written, but most date it in the postexilic period. A Maccabean date (c. 165 BC) is difficult to maintain, because fragments of the book, dated in the second century BC, have been found at the Dead Sea site of Qumran. Also, the apocryphal book of Ecclesiasticus, probably written in the early second century BC, was heavily influenced by Ecclesiastes. Such factors would allow little time for the writing and circulation of the book in the Maccabean period.
  • A number of conservative scholars, such as Franz Delitzsch and E. J. Young, have assigned a fifth-century BC date to the book. Many others consider it a third-century BC document.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • Attempts have been made to determine the date of the book of Ecclesiastes from alleged historical allusions. But the somewhat gloomy observations found in such passages as 1:2-11 and 3:1-15 need be nothing more than the author’s conclusions about the emptiness of life. They do not necessarily indicate that the book was written in a time of national decline or social decay within Israel, a time that would not fit with the reign of Solomon.
  • It is also alleged that the book contains allusions to Greek philosophical concepts. That would indicate that it was written sometime after the Hellenization of the Syro-Palestinian world effected by the conquests of Alexander the Great (356–323 BC).
  • One of those philosophical concepts is the “golden mean” propounded by Aristotle. The golden mean calls for avoiding extremes in the pursuit of satisfaction in life, and it is reflected in Ecclesiastes 7:14-18. The same concept is found in Egyptian wisdom literature (Instruction of Amen-em-opet 9.14), as well as in Aramaic wisdom literature. In one of the finest examples of Aramaic wisdom, The Words of Ahiqar, the golden mean is expressed in the words “Be not (too) sweet, lest they [swallow you]; be not (too) bitter [lest they spit you out].” But the golden mean concept need not indicate one particular period of thought; it may simply represent a basic kind of wisdom shared by people of all times and all ethnic backgrounds.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • The most critical issue in dating Ecclesiastes is the nature of the book’s language. The Hebrew of Ecclesiastes is unique, differing stylistically and linguistically from such fifth-century OT books as Ezra, Nehemiah, and Zechariah.
  • Some scholars maintain that the language of Ecclesiastes was heavily influenced by Aramaic, and thus the book was written at a time when the Aramaic language was influential in the Hebrew-speaking world. Others have argued that the peculiarities of the Hebrew should be understood as affinities with Canaanite-Phoenician dialects.
  • It is often asserted that the Hebrew of the book is similar to later Mishnaic Hebrew, particularly in its use of the relative pronoun. Yet the language of Ecclesiastes is dissimilar to the Mishnah in other ways.
  • The linguistic evidence could point to a late date for the book, but it is also possible that Solomon wrote in a literary style that was heavily influenced by Phoenician literature. Such a style may have become a standard for the literary genre into which Ecclesiastes falls. During the reign of Solomon, contacts between Palestine and Phoenicia were quite common.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • The book of Ecclesiastes demonstrates the meaninglessness of a worldview that does not press beyond the limits of human experience to include God. It seeks to show that meaningful satisfaction may be attained in a universe that seems to be nothing more than a succession of wearying cycles—a universe into which people are locked with no apparent means of escape. According to Koheleth, freedom can be achieved by fearing God and believing that God will ultimately judge everything fairly. Thus, life has a goal and purpose that it will reach, although in the course of history and the processes of the physical world, it may not look that way.
  • The book’s chief theological tenet is that God is not disinterested in the course of human events with its gross injustices. He will judge every deed. Life, therefore, has a purpose, and human deeds have meaning.
  • Koheleth is often accused of having a pessimistic view of life. One cannot read such passages as 1:12-14, 18 and 2:1-9, 18-23 without feeling his helplessness as he viewed what seemed an empty existence. But Koheleth’s pessimism had to do with life apart from God. To him such a life had no meaning.
  • A positive good emerges from the book, however, even though it is often overlooked. Koheleth speaks in terms of absolutes as he spins his argument. There is an absolute good for people as they live in a seemingly meaningless world. That good is the enjoyment of God’s gifts to his people. Thus Koheleth is not an utter pessimist. When he lifts the horizons of his worldview to include the hand of God at work in the world, he becomes an optimist. But when he looks at life without God, he is pessimistic, for such a view offers only despair.
  • Koheleth’s “theology of contentment” is clear in such passages as 2:24-25, 3:10-13, and 3:22. The first passage seems to express a hedonistic view of life, making eating and drinking the main purpose. The expression “eat and drink” is a Semitic idiom that seems to express the everyday routines of life (cf. Jeremiah 22:15; Luke 17:27-28). Koheleth’s use of the phrase, then, simply means that one should enjoy God’s providence. Life is meant to be enjoyed, not endured.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • In 3:10-13 Koheleth sets forth the great enigma of humankind: God has put the knowledge of eternity in the human mind. That is, he has made the mind able to go beyond the limits of physical existence. Yet even that ability to conceptualize the eternal does not explain all of God’s purposes. Therefore, it is good for a person simply to accept human limitation and enjoy whatever knowledge God gives.
  • Ecclesiastes 3:16–4:3 is a difficult section of the book. There Koheleth observes the inequities of life and concludes that God allows such things for the purpose of “sifting” people to show them that they are no more than animals. The same principle appears in 8:11, where Koheleth observes that when evil goes unpunished, the wicked are encouraged to continue to do evil. In 3:18 he asserts that injustice is present in the world to distinguish the good from the wicked. The Hebrew in that assertion should be translated “in and of themselves.” That is, viewed alone, apart from God, humankind is no better than animals. If one adopts a worldview that omits God, there can be no way of knowing what lies beyond the grave (3:21). The inequities that Koheleth observes will be corrected only in the Day of Judgment. Thus, it is best for a person to be content with God’s providence and not to be anxious about tomorrow (3:22).
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • The key to understanding the book of Ecclesiastes is the recurring phrase “under the sun.” That phrase defines Koheleth’s perspective. He is not judging all human experience as vain. Rather, he is observing life “under the sun,” or apart from God, as vain. The apostle Paul rendered the same verdict on the created world in Romans 8:20-23, but he went on to say that God uses all things in his world to work out good results for his people (Romans 8:28). Koheleth’s viewpoint is similarly helpful.
  • Koheleth has often been interpreted as expressing an Epicurean view of life, that eating and drinking are humanity’s highest good. In 2:1-8, however, he tests pleasure and finds it futile. He concludes that pleasure is not an absolute good. The passages that speak of eating and drinking refer only to the enjoyment of those good and necessary things that come from God’s hand.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • (1:1-11)
  • Koheleth begins his recital of the vanity of life by observing its emptiness and the apparent lack of purpose in the processes of nature. Human toil is fruitless (1:3), and the endless cycle of life and history is meaningless (1:4-11).
  • In this dramatic section Koheleth looks back to observe the futility of aspects of his life that some might have regarded as possessing great value. He recalls his search for wisdom, but pronounces human philosophy futile (1:12-18). His search for pleasure (2:1-11) also ended in futility. In the light of this conclusion, Koheleth hardly sets forth the attainment of pleasure as life’s highest good. The search for valid philosophical verities is wearisome and futile in its outcome (verses 12-17). Human toil is also vain (verses 18-23), because one can never be sure who will inherit the reward of one’s toil (verse 21). Koheleth concludes that the greatest good is to accept God’s providence joyfully (verses 24-26), an optimistic note in his message.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • Koheleth’s familiar statement that everything in life has its time (3:1-9) has often been interpreted as crassly fatalistic. But those verses more probably set forth the unalterability of life’s circumstances. Humankind is locked into a continuum from which there is no escape, yet people are able to think in terms that go beyond the physical (verse 11). That is the enigma of humankind. Viewed apart from God, people really are no better than animals (verses 19-20).
  • The author begins with a gloomy outlook on life (4:1-3) but goes on to draw conclusions of permanent value. He points out, for example, that life’s difficulties are better faced with a partner than alone (verses 9-12).
  • Koheleth gives a powerful denunciation of a self-seeking life by focusing on God (5:1-2, 4-6). His condemnation of the misuse of riches and his concern for the poor (5:8–6:9) are themes later emphasized in the NT.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • WISDOM FOR LIVING (7:1–8:17)
  • This fine example of OT Wisdom Literature uses a proverbial pattern (7:1-13) and personal references (verses 23-29) to give insight into how one may find true satisfaction. The whole passage upholds the virtue of godly wisdom. Koheleth’s theology of contentment underlies his observation that God is the source of adversity as well as prosperity (verse 14). He affirms that one should accept both as coming from God. Applying wisdom to governmental authority (8:2-9), Koheleth counsels the reader to obey the authorities. The apostle Paul gave the same advice in Romans 13. Koheleth strikes an optimistic note (Ecclesiastes 8:13), exalting the fear of God. The author is not totally pessimistic, for he shows that fearing God leads to genuine satisfaction.
  • “Under the sun,” that is, apart from God, there are no apparent differences among human beings (9:1-6, 11-12). Great deeds often go unnoticed and unthanked (verses 13-16). A person should nonetheless be content, for life does offer certain benefits (verses 7-10).
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The Book of Ecclesiastes
  • WISDOM AND FOLLY (10:1-20)
  • Wisdom in the OT basically means knowing God, and folly is rejection of God. Koheleth shows how wisdom can lead to honor and satisfaction, and folly can lead to ruin.
  • The book of Ecclesiastes began with a pronouncement of vanity on all creation, and it ends with Koheleth looking beyond his gloomy vistas to see God. Chapter 11 begins with a statement of human inability to understand the ways of God. Though people are meant to enjoy life, they must remember that the future will bring God’s judgment (11:9-10). After giving a beautiful description of old age (12:1-8) and encouraging the reader to fear God in youth, Koheleth states his conclusion. A person’s whole duty is to fear God (verses 13-14). The pleasure of youth will burst like a bubble and, without God, one will finally have nothing. Satisfaction can come only as one fears God. Life without God is the ultimate vanity.
song of solomon


  • Short OT book (eight chapters) containing only poetry. Its beautiful poetic passages describe the many dimensions of human love; there is little in this book that is explicitly religious. In addition to the popular title, the book is sometimes referred to as the “Song of Songs.” This is the most literal translation of the short title of the book in the original language and means “the best of all possible songs.” Some writers also entitle the book “Canticles”; this title is based on the name of the Latin version of the book, Canticum Canticorum.
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  • There was an old tradition among the Jews that King Solomon (c. 970–930 BC) wrote the Song of Songs. This view is based on one of several possible translations of the first verse of the Song: “Solomon’s song of songs” (1:1, NLT). This view could be correct, though there cannot be absolute certainty, for the last words of the verse in the original language could be translated in various ways. An English translation that preserves the ambiguity of the original would be “The song of songs, which is Solomon’s” (KJV); the last words could mean that Solomon was author, but equally they could indicate that the song was “dedicated to Solomon” or “written for Solomon.” As is often the case with the OT writings, authorship cannot be known with absolute certainty.
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  • DATE
  • It follows that if the authorship is uncertain, there must also be uncertainty concerning the date at which the song was written. If Solomon was the author, it was written during the latter half of the tenth century BC. If he was not the author, then the song was probably written at a later date. But the contents indicate that the song must have been written and completed at some point during the Hebrew monarchy (before 586 BC). For those who do not accept Solomon as author, the precise date will depend to some extent upon the theory that is adopted concerning the interpretation of the song. If the song is an anthology of Israelite love poetry, then the many poems making up the song would have been written at different dates and gathered together into a single volume toward the end of the Hebrew monarchy.
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  • There are two major difficulties in interpreting this book. First, the song appears to be secular in its present form and God’s name does not appear; the only exception to this statement is in 8:6, where some English versions translate the text to show God’s name, though the original text uses the name in an unusual (adjectival) sense. The second problem is that, taken at face value, the song contains only secular poetry of human love. What is the theological significance of love poetry? These and other difficulties have led to a multitude of different interpretations of the song. A brief survey of some of the most significant interpretations will clarify not only the problem of understanding the book but also its content and meaning.
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  • One of the oldest interpretations of the song sees it as an allegory. This view was held by both Jewish and Christian scholars from an early date. The description of human love in the song is seen as an allegory of the love between Christ and the church. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354–430) believed that the marriage referred to in the song was an allegory of the marriage between Christ and the church.
  • This theory was valued for a long time. It influenced the translators of the KJV. They added chapter headings to their translations as an aid to readers in understanding the Bible. For example, at the beginning of the first chapter of the Song of Solomon, they wrote, “1. The Church’s love unto Christ, 5. She confesseth her deformity, 7. and prayeth to be directed to his flock.” It is important to stress, however, that the Hebrew text does not mention Christ or the church. The headings represent the understanding of the translators, not the content of the original Hebrew.
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  • The view that the song is a drama is also an old one. Those who hold this theory begin by noting that there are several speakers or actors. Perhaps, then, the song is the script of an ancient dramatic play.
  • This theory has some strong points. In the manuscript of an ancient Greek translation of the OT, headings have been added to the Song of Solomon that identify the speakers. The cast includes bride, bridegroom, and companions. However, the headings were probably not a part of the original Hebrew text. They reflect the interpretation of the early Greek translators.
  • There is one major difficulty with this theory: there is no clear evidence that drama was a form of art used by the Hebrews. Although drama was common among the Greeks, it does not appear to have been employed in the Near East. It is possible, however, to suggest a slight variation to the drama theory. Perhaps the Song of Solomon is not a drama but simply dramatic poetry, similar to the book of Job. This possibility is more plausible, but it too has difficulties. A story or plot would be expected for either drama or dramatic poetry, but it is not clear that there is a story.
  • According to one interpretation, the story might go as follows. The song tells the story of true love. A maiden was in love with a shepherd lad. King Solomon, however, fell in love with the maiden and took her to his palace. There he tried to win her love with beautiful words but failed. She remained faithful to the shepherd lad whom she loved. Failing to win her, Solomon released her and allowed her to return to her true lover. The story is beautiful and simple, but it is not easy to see in the text without added headings and explanations. Other interpreters have discerned a quite different story in the Song of Solomon. In conclusion, it is not absolutely clear that there is a single story being told.
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  • Some modern scholars claim that the origin of the Song of Solomon is to be found in the fertility cults of the ancient Near East. In ancient fertility cults there was great emphasis on the fertility of the land, which would be seen in bountiful harvests. The cults were designed to ensure that the land remained fertile. They were accompanied by a mythology describing the gods responsible for fertility. This mythology included love poetry about the gods, and the poetry has some similarity to the Song of Solomon.
  • The theory might go like this: Originally the Hebrews also had a fertility cult. The Song of Solomon contains the love poetry associated with that cult. Later, the mythological references were omitted, so that the present song looks like secular love poetry.
  • The main difficulty with this theory is the lack of any firm evidence. There is no reference to God or any other gods in the Song of Solomon. There is no reference to a fertility cult or any other kind of cult. If the theory has some validity to it, the evidence no longer exists.
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  • This last, most probable theory of interpretation involves two basic principles. First, the song is to be interpreted literally; it is what it seems to be—poetry celebrating human love. Second, the Song of Solomon is a collection, not a single piece
  • of poetry. Just as the book of Psalms contains songs, hymns, and prayers from many different periods of Israel’s history, so too the Song of Solomon contains poetry from different periods and different authors. The common theme joining all the passages together is human love. Opinions differ concerning where one
  • song ends and the next begins. There may be as many as 29 songs in the book, some consisting of only one verse and others much longer.
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  • If the Song of Solomon is primarily an anthology of the poetry of human love, what is its significance as a biblical book? What are its theological implications? First, the presence of the song in the Bible provides a valuable insight concerning human love. The love between a man and a woman is a noble and beautiful thing; it is a gift of God. It is characterized by a certain mystery and cannot be bought. But because human love is a beautiful and noble thing, it can easily be debased. In the modern world, the Song of Solomon provides a proper perspective and a balanced view of human love. Further, a high value of human love is essential. Since human love and marriage are employed in the Bible as an analogy of God’s love for humanity, love in itself must be good and pure.
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  • In each of the songs, the reader is like an eavesdropper listening to the words of love spoken, sometimes privately and sometimes to the beloved one. The opening song is a song of praise, rejoicing in love and delighting in a particular loved one: “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—for your love is more delightful than wine” (verse 2, NIV). This song, as many others, is characterized by a country setting, here highlighted by a contrast with the city. The young woman is from the country and tanned from working in the open air; it makes her self-conscious among the city women of Jerusalem. But love overpowers self-consciousness, and it is in the country that she will meet her lover.
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  • In this passage, both the man and the woman are talking, though it is not a conversation in the normal sense. They are talking about each other, rather than to each other, and the beauty of both the man and the woman emerges, not in an abstract sense, but through the eyes of the beholder. Though beauty may perhaps be defined in an abstract sense, the beauty perceived by lovers is of a different kind; it is rooted in the lover’s perception of the loved one and in the relationship of love that acts like a lens to focus that perception.
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  • This beautiful song describes the young maiden watching her beloved come to her. He calls her to join him in the countryside, where the winter has passed and the new life of spring can be seen in the land. The beauty of young love is here likened to the blossoming forth of fresh life and fragrance that characterizes Palestine in spring.
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  • Now the woman sings and a new dimension of her love emerges from the words of her song. Love is full when the partners are together, but separation creates sorrow and loneliness. The words of the maiden evoke the desperation of separated lovers, a desperation that could only be dissipated when she held her lover again and would not let him go (3:4).
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  • The song begins with a description of the approach of the royal wedding procession, a palanquin surrounded by men of war. The king approaches the city for his wedding, and the young girls of the city go out to greet him. The song can be compared with Psalm 45, another wedding song.
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  • In sumptuous language, the man describes his maiden’s beauty. To the modern reader, the language is sometimes strange: “your neck is like the tower of David” (4:4, RSV). But the strangeness lies principally in our unfamiliarity with the ancient metaphors. Nonetheless, much of the language here draws upon the imagery of nature and wildlife, which can be appreciated by all. Again, beauty is not described merely as something aesthetic, for it is intimately tied to the relationship of love: “How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine” (verse 10, NIV). And again, the maiden’s beauty is not simply to be admired; it is to be given to the beloved. So when the man stops his words of adoration, the woman offers herself to him (verse 16) and he accepts (5:1).
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  • In this song, the woman is talking with other women, and the man is not present. As she speaks about her lover, there is a change from words expressing a sense of loneliness and separation (5:4-8) to a resurgence of delight as she contemplates her loved one. The sorrow of separation from her beloved is dispelled as she recounts to them the handsomeness of her man (verses 10-16).
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  • This long passage may contain more than a single song; there are words from the man, the maiden, and the female companions. The principal theme is further description by the man of his beloved’s beauty (6:4-10; 7:1-9), a theme already known from an earlier passage (4:1–5:1). Each part of the maiden’s body is exquisitely beautiful in the eyes of the one who loves her.
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  • Both partners speak in this complex passage, which may contain a number of short love songs. While some parts are difficult to interpret (especially 8:8-14), other verses reveal in the most profound language the meaning of love. Love, that most powerful of all human relationships, creates a sense of mutual belonging and mutual possession: “I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me” (7:10, NIV). And later, the girl speaks of love with words that convey one of the most powerful understandings of love in the entire Bible: “For love is as strong as death. . . . Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (8:6-7, NIV).
the book of ecclesiastes and the song of solomon2
The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon
  • This is the end of this lecture format.
  • Complete the Assignment on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon. Use the KJV of the Bible. A link is attached to the assignment for reading. Once finished with the assignment, complete a 1,000 word essay contrasting the similarities and differences in both Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon.
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The Book of Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon
  • References:

Illumina Bible, Bible Dictionary,

New International Version Bible

King James Version Bible

Revised Standard Version Bible