Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
The Song of Songs is an…interesting book. It doesn’t talk about God directly and it is rife with sexual references. Not just any sexual references, mind you. Solomon gets all-out kinky in a few spots. I mean, check this out,
If only you were to me like a brother,
Who was nursed at my mother’s breasts!
Then, if I found you outside,
I would kiss you,
And no one would despise me (Song of Songs 8:1).
Take a second to let that sink in. This book is the dialogue between two lovers, and the female voice says, “If only you were my biological brother, then we could make out in public and people wouldn’t talk.” Wait, what? On top of that, the female voice (referred to as “Beloved” in my NIV Bible) has a weird obsession with being intimate with her lover (named “Lover” in my NIV Bible) in the places where they were conceived by their parents. Honestly, during the first few times reading this book, I was constantly asking why it’s even in the Bible. I still am confused by it today and I think it’s probably the most challenging of all the books in the Word of God. However, Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” So no matter how frustrating or bizarre I find the Song of Songs to be, there’s something in there for us and it’s just a matter of getting the Holy Spirit to explain it. Generally, there are a few schools of thought on the Song of Songs. The first is that it is about the intimate love between a man and a woman (usually then applied to a marriage setting). The second is that it is about the relationship between Jesus and the church. This second interpretation is pretty close to the first since our relationship with Jesus is supposed to be like that of marriage. We can read what Paul says on marriage and Christ in Ephesians 5:29-33,
After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church- for we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery- but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
As you can see, the ideas of marriage and our relationship to Christ are so bound up in each other that even Paul has difficulty splitting them, rather he encourages us that we should treat our marriage like we do our relationship with Christ and vice-versa. There’s another interpretation of the Song of Songs though, and that is how Christ relates to us on a personal level. Again, this ties in so closely with the first two ideas that they are all somewhat inseparable, which leads to multiple interpretations of the same, near impossible, Scripture. I’ve heard sermons on the Song of Songs and still have no idea how to unpack it at any sort of proficiency during my personal read-throughs. However, after much praying and prodding, the Holy Spirit did open up a message to me that we can all take home on a personal level.
Before we start, remember that the writer of the Song of Songs was King Solomon, one of the wisest men to ever walk the earth. In fact, his wisdom was given to him by God, and therefore his writing certainly speaks of something more than it appears and probably has many levels of understanding with each part of this song. Solomon, as the “Lover,” writes,
Your stature is like that of the palm,
And your breasts like the clusters of fruit.
I said, “I will climb the palm tree;
I will take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine,
The fragrance of your breath like apples,
And your mouth like the best wine.
May the wine go straight to my lover,
Flowing gently over lips and teeth (Song of Songs 7:7-9).
Boobs, wine, and mouths- this ain’t your dad’s Bible…oh wait, yes it is. Alright, so what are we supposed to do with this? The Lover wants to climb his Beloved and take hold of her fruit-like breasts while smelling her apple-like breath and tasting her wine-like mouth. Seriously, why is this book in the Bible proper and at least not relegated to an apocryphal section or something? Ok, what did the Spirit have to say on this? Solomon tells us that breasts are like the fruit of the vine. Jesus tells us that he is our vine in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” Now the vine produces branches, and the branches produce fruit. However, without the vine, the branches can produce no fruit. Therefore, our fruit is based upon our relation to the vine. So if our fruit is good, then it means that our heart is good from a strong relationship to Jesus Christ. And if our heart is good, then it means that our breath will be sweet; for it is written,
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks (Luke 6:45).
So when we read that the Lover is hoping for good fruit and breath, what we’re really reading is Jesus (our lover) telling us that he hopes our relationship with him is as such that our deeds and words reflect the changes he’s made in our hearts. Now, the last line from the Lover is that he hopes the mouth is like the best of wine. In this we find a cool little message. You see, wine can be used for good (like health reasons or representing Jesus’ sacrifice) or it can be used for bad (like getting drunk). It can also be of a high quality, or horribly bitter like vinegar. In the same way we use our mouths both for good and evil,
With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be (James 3:9-10).
And, just like wine, the quality of our mouths can be controlled by how well they’re kept. Solomon writes,
A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,
And a man of understanding is even-tempered.
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,
And discerning if he holds his tongue (Proverbs 17:27-28).
So when our “Lover” Jesus tells us that he wants our mouths to be the best wine, he’s looking for us to watch how we speak and make sure we’re not using our mouth for cursing and other no-good exercises.
Ok, let’s take a look at the elephant in the room: breasts. Why breasts? Couldn’t Solomon have used something less sexualized to explain our relation to Jesus Christ? Well, keep this in mind, breasts are round like grapes (I guess), so they reflect Jesus’ “vine and branches” explanation better than arms or legs would. Another thing to keep in mind is who the writer is. Solomon was a boob kind of guy. It shows up in a lot of his writing and considering he had hundreds of wives it goes without saying that Solomon appreciated the beauty found in a woman. Here, take this example from Proverbs 5:18-20,
May your fountain be blessed,
And may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer-
May her breasts satisfy you always,
May you ever be captivated by her love.
Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress?
Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?
This is a part of Solomon’s writing style in order to talk about the deep intimacy between a husband and a wife. So when we read the Lover saying that he’s looking for big boob clusters, what Scripture is telling us is that we should be producing good fruit.
Alright, then how do we produce good breasts…er…fruit? John the Baptist gives us the answer in Matthew 3:8; he proclaims, “Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” The first step in the process is repentance. We must come to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and ask for his forgiveness through his death on a cross. Every person on this earth is born with a nature of sin and rebellion, which separates us from our perfect God. Therefore, the only way to right our relationship with God is to get off our pedestal, admit that we’re not perfect (and in fact very flawed) and submit ourselves to Christ, who sacrificed himself in order to free us from our sinful nature. This transplants us from the awful vine of poison and evil to the vine of Jesus, which not only brings good fruit but also eternal life. Fruit, fruit, fruit, breasts, fruit, fruit. This fruit thing is a pretty big deal in the Bible. What fruit counts as “good” fruit? The Word of God explains, “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). After repentance, this is what we should be seeing in our lives. As our hearts are changed by the Holy Spirit, we should naturally start producing joy, peace, patience, love, faithfulness and so on- that’s why it can be so frustrating seeing angry Christians. Paul makes a special point while writing to note that there are no laws against the fruit of the Spirit. Many people try to follow the Laws given by God on Mount Sinai from the Old Testament, but the trick isn’t to follow all of them, it’s rather to produce fruit that is in keeping with the Holy Spirit inside of you. Through this you will naturally keep the Law at the same time rather than becoming embittered by everything you are suddenly barred from doing after coming to Christ.
The representation of us in the Song of Songs, “Beloved,” has a problem though. The “Friends” (or background singers if you prefer) explain,
We have a young sister
And her breasts are not yet grown.
What shall we do for our sister
For the day she is spoken for?
If she is a wall,
We will build towers of silver on her.
If she is a door,
We will enclose her with panels of cedar (Song of Songs 8:8-9).
Oh no! She has no breasts! What shall we do!? Alright, going with our knowledge that breasts are the works of the Spirit, this means that we’re either looking at a new Christian, who hasn’t had a chance to produce fruit yet or a backslidden Christian who’s stopped and no longer is acting in a Godly fashion. Now this is what I love. The friends then note that if she is a wall they’ll do one thing, but if she is a door they’ll do another. In this way we can see that the Holy Spirit will work on each one of us based upon what we bring to the table; no matter what our background is, or our personality. Jesus reminds us just how personal the Holy Spirit is to every believer,
And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you (John 14:16-17).
The Spirit of God lives in each person who has submitted their life to Jesus. Through the Holy Spirit we are changed and grow in our faith. It doesn’t matter what you’ve done in the past or where you’re from or how screwed up everything is; the Holy Spirit can work with it and produce something beautiful in you if you work with him and obey the commands of the Lord to the best of your ability. It is through your relationship with Jesus that you can finally reach the ultimate goal in the Song of Songs as presented by the “Beloved,”
I am a wall,
And my breasts are like towers.
Thus I have become in his eyes
Like one bringing contentment (Song of Songs 8:10).
God isn’t looking for silicone, but rather that our fruit grows from us being deeply rooted in our vine of Christ Jesus. Cling to him with all of your life, and let the Holy Spirit make the changes needed in your life. Open up your heart and let the fruit of the spirit grow big and plentiful as you praise God and love (in a nonsexual way) the people around you. And don’t just keep it all to yourself; spread the word of the Gospel. For it is written, “He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation’” (Mark 16:15). In this way you will radiate the Spirit in the actions of your body and your life, and your breath will be sweet with the Word, making your mouth the best of wine. And really, isn’t that something we all want?