Understanding The Bible
The Book Canticles, Song of Solomon, Song of Songs


Return to Syllabus

Dr. Clarence E. Mason, Jr.
Philadelphia College of Bible

The Plot Usually Given (Ewald's)
Many have thought that the plot usually heard has been held by the Church through the centuries and is the traditional plot. This is not true. It is actually traced to Ewald, the great German critic, who has been called "the father of the Higher Criticism." Certainly we would not expect delicate spiritual perception from him! The story he suggested runs something like this:

In the hill country north of Jerusalem there was a family in charge of a vineyard belonging to King Solomon. There was a young shepherdess in the family whose heart has been won by a stalwart shepherd of her strata of society--not low, but plain (8:1.) They are betrothed and are about to be married when one day King Solomon, riding by as the beautiful young shepherdess was working in the family vineyard, is truck with her beauty, sends for her and has her brought to his palace, tearing her away from her rightful lover. Here there are two different points of view. Some say he married her immediately, and then sought unsuccessfully to win her affections; others say that he did not marry her but sought to dazzle her with his wealth and attractive personality, trying with all his blandishments to stir up her affections. But all who hold this plot agree that she was true to her 'shepherd lover," despite the fact that at times she was tempted to yield because her case seemed to be hopeless. But at such times she would remember her lover and say, "No, I cannot turn from him. 'I am my beloved's and his desire is toward me.'" Again there are two views as to how the story ends. Some think that Solomon, seeing that she remained steadfast, sent her back to her home and shepherd lover, while some even suggest a dramatic rescue raid upon the palace by the shepherd lover and fellow sheiks, with which Solomon did not interfere because he saw he could not win her heart.

Objections to This Plot Usually Given

  1. If this plot were true, many scenes would not be the expression of pure wedded love, but basest lust. Elsewhere in Scripture sin is either rebuked directly or by inference. The Bible frankly tells the fact of sin, but by tone and statement always condemns it. But, nothing in this book or any other book suggests that the scenes here have in them anything out of order morally.
  2. Solomon is made to be a lustful villain, whereas elsewhere in Scripture he is a type of Christ, and an unknown, anonymous person is by this plot made to be a type of Christ. This is contrary to the Scripture analogy of types. There is no necessity for two men in the story. The supposed unknown shepherd lover is a misconception and a fabrication.
  3. This plot is psychologically unsound. Why should a man write love lyrics celebrating himself as a lustful villain? People do not do such things.
  4. The plot is practically unsound. Most, if not all, of the words are spoken by the woman. Even Solomon's statements are often reported by her (3.g., 2:10.) If she has been snatched from her true lover by a lustful monster, she would certainly not have cast the pearls of her inner thoughts before such swine.
  5. The Shulamite would not have said "draw me" (1:4) or "he brought me to the banqueting house and his banner over me was love" (2:4, etc), if she had been forced against her will be become a member of Solomon's harem.

Dr. Ironside's Suggested Plot
Ewald's plot has no real spiritual insight into the book, but has unfortunately been generally accepted (for want of a better solution) by many who have not dreamed of who fathered this plot. It has caused many thoughtful fundamental Bible expositors perplexity and pain. As indicated in the objections, it makes necessary a book in which lust is unrebuked. This is a real difficulty for which there is no answer to critics of the Scripture, unless a better solution -- harmonious with the facts of the book -- is substituted. Dr. H. A. Ironside once told my class at Dallas that he was much perplexed over the situation, and some years before he gave himself to prayer that the Spirit of God would reveal to him its real meaning. As a result, I am positive that the plot he suggests is the right one because it glorifies Chris, avoids the objections and fits the facts. Here it is:

Dr. Ironside was led to see that the book was composed of a large number of unconnected love lyrics of indefinite length, making a connected plot hard to gather, but the key thought which struck him and which opened the door to the only correct interpretation was that Christ is both the Shepherd and the King, fir it is said of Him, "He shall rule (i.e., 'shepherd' in Hebrew) them with a rod of iron." (This idea of a two-fold Messiah has led some of the Jewish rabbis to a mistaken theory that there would be two distinct Messiah, just because the two aspects of the one Messiah were so varied. These two Messiahs were called Messiah ben Joseph - The Suffering Shepherd, and Messiah ben Judah -- the Glorious King." So, with this in mind, the story was comparatively easy to deduce.

As 8:11 makes clear, up in the north country, (Lebanon) Solomon has a vineyard which he rented out to keepers. One of these renting families was made up of some brothers and a sister, their father and mother having evidently dies. (If the parents were still living, the brothers would not be the ones giving her in marriage (8:8.)) The heroine of the story was the "ugly duckling" or the "Cinderella" of the family. Her brothers did not appreciate her, characteristically of older brothers, and foisted hard tasks upon her (1:6), denying her the privileges that a growing girl might have expected in a Hebrew home. She was made to keep the family vineyard, and also to care for the lams and kids of the flock. She worked and was in the sun from early till late; so she describes herself as sunburnt or swarthy (1:6).

One day, as she was caring for her flock, she looked up and, to her embarrassment, there stood a tall and handsome stranger-shepherd, one whom she had never seen before, gazing intently upon her. She is amazed but pleased at the attention of this stalwart stranger, mistaking him for one of the King's shepherds from over at the King's ranch and never dreaming that he was the King himself. He kept his secret well, for one day, when she asked him who he was, his answer was polite but evasive (1:7-8.) Nevertheless, his evident sincerity and close acquaintance prepared her to return his love when it was offered.

In the course of time, clouds come upon their happy courtship. He told her that it was necessary fro him to go to Jerusalem, but that just as soon as he business was transacted there, he would return for her (or send for her) to become his beloved bride. OF course, she is heartbroken at his leaving, but she trusts him and is sustained by the promise of his return (2:16-17.)

The stranger-shepherds is none other than King Solomon incognito, dressed appropriately for one visiting his sheepfold (just as former King Edward, when Price of Wales, used to dress like a cowboy on visits to his Canadian ranches.) The stranger-shepherd did not wish to make known his identity for many reasons. It was state business which called him to return reluctantly to Jerusalem, and he eagerly looks forward to the day when, with his mother's consent and approval (3:11), he can make this uniquely beautiful shepherdess-commoner his wife.

During his absence, thoughts of him filled her mind during the day, so quite naturally she dreamed of him at night, as people in love are prone to do; but there entered into her thoughts and dreams one sad note. She could not help but wonder why one who loved her so had not revealed to her who he is and, in addition, like any lover during absence she occasionally fears for her fiancé's safety. This leads to the element of nightmare in her dreams. One should note that both the so-called "lapses and restorations" (3:1-5; 5:2-6:3) are plainly introduced as dreams. It may well be that these nightmares continued to disturb her after being brought to Jerusalem, requiring his reassurance.

One can well imagine her amazement, therefore, when one day she sees a gorgeous royal procession approaching her home (3:6.) She is even more amazed when upon inquiry she and her friends find (3:7-10) that it is Solomon's palanquin which has been sent to take her to Jerusalem to become the bride of the King! The wedding song, sung a she is carried through the streets of Jerusalem to the palace, is recorded in 3:11.

Of course, she is delighted to be the wife of the King, but she feels very much out of place amid the gorgeous ladies-in-waiting in the court (2:1; 6:13), both because of her humble origin and particularly because of her swarthy complexion (caused by the sun, 1:5-6,) which made her look different from the women of the court who had led a pampered and protected life. So she pleads with them not to gaze upon her (1:6.) But is this same healthy glow and unique beauty which had so attracted Solomon and which also aroused the admiration of her ladies-in-waiting, so that they could not praise her beauty enough, much to the embarrassment of one whose brothers saw no beauty in her and told her she would not likely get a husband (8:8-9.)

So she constantly needs Solomon's encouragement (6:;8-9,) and he constantly assured her that she was not only not out of place, but was like a "lily among thorns" (2:2.) Though very happy indeed, she nevertheless longed for the beautiful surroundings in which, and the open life to which, she had been accustomed. So to please her (7:11-13,) Solomon returned with her (8:5) on a visit to her old home (which would always be "Mother's home"), where, after twitting her brothers over the way they had feared they would never be able to marry her off to anyone worthwhile (8:8-10), she nevertheless requested and received of Solomon a generous share of the products of the farm for her brothers (8:12.)

From time to time she reminds him of the happy times they had together in the beautiful surroundings of her mountain home and, catching the cue, Solomon revives sweet memories of their courtship together.

Thus, these love lyrics are largely composed of reminiscences of courtship days, as told by the bride and written by Solomon. And though she loves him rapturously as King, she loves him all the more as Shepherd.

What a beautiful story it now becomes, and how truly scriptural in its typology. It was not as the King, but as the humble Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep, that Jesus wooed and won our heart. And though his enforced absence provides a temptation to doubt and fear, nevertheless we, like the bride, are sustained by His promise, "I will come again and receive you unto myself." And thank God, true to His promise, one day He will return. And though we already know something of His glory, when the full blaze of that heavenly scene bursts upon our eyes, like the Shulamite, we shall be amazed at the wonders of His glory and grace; and although we shall be overwhelmingly delighted to be the Bride and the King during His Millennial reign, we shall always think back with delight in happy reverie upon the scenes when, as the humble Shepherd, He wooed and won our love.

The Advantages of Dr. Ironside's Plot

  1. It is in harmony with typical teaching throughout Scripture.
  2. Much of what some people term "objectionable language" is therefore very satisfactorily explained, when it is remembered that all such conversations in the book take place after marriage and are the mutual admiration of married communion. This, on the one hand, this books is God's rebuke of the lasciviousness and lust of unbridled passion, which degrades the sanctity of human live and, on the other hand, the book is God's rebuke of that asceticism which sanctimoniously considers marital desire as an unholy thing. Therefore, this book is God's sanction upon the rapturous joy of marital communion, fittingly enough follows the analogy of marital communion in revealing the joy of the soul's fellowship with Christ (cp. Eph. 5:32, 22-33.)
  3. This plot is harmonious with all the facts given under the Story Back of the Book. Especially note 4-8. Also, it avoids the objections to the plot usually given, satisfactorily explaining all the problems with Ewald's plot raises.

Two things to Note:

  1. The word "beloved" is always masculine and the word "love," when used as a title of address, is always feminine. The translators have failed to note this. Especially note that 2:7, etc. should read "stir not up, or awake my love, till SHE please." "This he please" is incorrect and misleading and the ASV, although recognizing the feminine ("she"), makes things worse with a very bad translation.
  2. Shulamite (6:13) is simply the feminine form of Solomon's name (i.e., Mrs. Solomon.) She is not a maid of a town by the name of Shulam, as many have thought.

Key to the Book:
This is the BOOK OF COMMUNION, portraying the mutual love of the Shepherd-King (1) for Israel, (2) for the Church, (3) for the individual believer.

The Hebrews sensed the significance of the book and called it the "Holy of Holies." Men generally seek to avoid reflection and solitude under the plea of things to do (duty) or because of the distracting appeal of pleasure. They ignore the highest part of man (i.e., his spirit) and man's chief end in life (i.e., "to glorify God and enjoy Him forever".) We need not go off to some earthly solitude nor shut ourselves off from the world like monastics. We can withdraw within the inner chamber of our hearts and shut the door -- alone, yet not alone, for He is there! How blessed! "There, turn, O my soul, to the quiet solitude of the contemplation of God -- to communion with thy Saviour!"


Return to Syllabus


"Mason's Notes"

(formerly Philadelphia Biblical University, Philadelphia College of Bible.)
Copyright © 2012 to present,
All rights reserved.

Cairn University

200 Manor Avenue
Langhorne, PA 19047
United States of America
"Mason's Notes" Study materials on this website are made available here free, through the generosity of Cairn University, and may be copied for use in Bible study groups, in limited numbers, providing that no charge is made for them.  No further distribution or use of these materials is allowable under U.S. or International Copyright Law without the express permission of Cairn University.