A Song for the Church: Introduction

The Old Testament Song of Songs is an unrivaled book of true, biblical romance. An epic love poem between King Solomon and his bride, its depth transcends their relationship to emotive allegories of God and His people Israel and Christ and His Church. It is the standard for Eros, the “in love” of being in love! Charles Williams, of Oxford’s Inklings and friend to C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, aptly expressed Eros as “Love you? I am you!” This language is the heart of the mystery in Ephesians 5. Perhaps no passage of Scripture other than Song of Solomon better expresses the beauty of Christ’s presenting the Church to Himself holy and blameless, in splendor, without spot or wrinkle, or anything like that (Eph 5:27).

It is a book of relationship and response, expressed in poetry and place. The groom, the bride, her ladies-in-waiting, her brothers, and an attentive narrator each express their appreciation with unique and artful language. It is no stretch to see the bride and her attendants’ admiration as worship and the groom’s responses of love. We find these relationships flourishing in an unrivalled place of beauty, a vineyard, where love is expressed in full. Solomon’s vineyard is much more than a walled arbor. It is a rich and expansive land of rolling hills, breathtaking mountains, soft meadows, quiet woods, manicured gardens and satisfying labor. God’s Word often associates vineyards with the subject of responsibility, and both the bride and groom delight to be there (Isa 5:1-7; Mat 20:1; Joh 15:4).

Love stories have been written and sung in every culture since creation, but few hold the riches of this romance. The Song of Solomon is a chiastic poem, meaning that it follows a mirrored or ringed pattern from a distant place to an inner, crucial point and back, a bit like slicing through an apple, as the story is told. Often, words and thoughts are repeated in a mirrored format, though their place in context brings a new meaning. The thoughts are painted in broad picture, as an impression. Much like analyzing parables, to try and assign value to every word and notion will end in error. The whole of the image is the point. The simplest way to look at it is in the form A-B-C-B-A, and when the allegory of Christ and the Church is applied it looks like this:

A: Their Meeting | A New Relationship in Christ | Ch.1:1-11

B: Their Engagement | Earthly Worship and Service | Ch.1:12-3:5

C: Their Wedding | Christ’s Return for the Church | Ch.3:6-5:16

B: Their Relationship | Heavenly Worship and Service | Ch.6:1-8:4

A: Their Happily Ever After | Eternity with Christ | Ch.8:5-14

The story begins with our future bride enamored with the figure and character of Solomon. He is her delight, but he is so impressive that she feels deeply inadequate. Her efforts are not worthy of his love or relationship. “Mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Son 1:6 KJV). Wisely she seeks him out, and through his guidance she learns the ways of his vineyard, just as each one added to His Church learns the ways of His flock.

Their love grows, and with respect and holiness she appreciates his character. The vineyard blooms with the springtime, and he calls her out into the fields. She finds solace under his protection, resting in the shade of a great apple tree towering above all the others in the orchard. She finds satisfaction in his House of Wine, a picture of pure enjoyment in responsibility. He has given Himself wholly for her, and His banner over her is love (Eph 5:25; Son 2:4). But their love isn’t yet perfect, for little foxes tax the vines.

Then, one day he comes! With fanfare and royalty, the crowned King comes to her on the day of his wedding with his heart rejoicing (Son 3:11)! Eros smiles, and the bride is presented to Him with full satisfaction, perfect, holy and blameless without spot or wrinkle (Eph 5:27). He is delighted with her purity, a locked garden of the choicest fruits and best spices, a well of pure water (Son 4:12-15). In return, she seeks only His satisfaction (Eph 5:24).

Now together in eternal spring, their heavenly relationship is still one of worship and responsibility. True to form and the poetic pattern, he has gone down to enjoy the fruit of the garden (Son 6:2). But now their love is impenetrable; there are no foxes here. Her heart, like his, delights to see growth and beauty in the vineyard. At the beginning of the poem, he called her into the fields. But now, she calls to him: Let us go! Let us go! (7:11-13). Sharing her Master’s joy, she still delights in the responsibility of the vineyard (Mat 25:23).

Their moment will never end, but His bride pauses for a moment at the end of the Song to look over her new life, lived in service to Him. I imagine a veranda in soft light looking out over verdant hills. The Scripture reads as if she were speaking with herself. “Solomon had a vineyard,” she breathes with a contented sigh. It is a magnificent place to behold, and its work is most satisfying. “My vineyard, my very own, is before me,” she continues (Son 8:12 ESV). It is hers to give, and He is worth every shekel! Nothing she could dream could be better than eternity made perfect with Him.

Over the next several months, we’ll look more deeply into each of these five parts of the relationship between Solomon and his Shulamite bride as a beautiful picture of Christ and the Church. We’ll consider the setting, from her futile solo efforts in fruitless vineyards to full satisfaction with His great eternal provision. We’ll rejoice in the delight that he finds in her desire and service to him as he strengthens and encourages her along the way, and we’ll apply the lessons from their relationship to our own, as believers added to the Church, the bride of Christ our Lord.