Discerning Reader Editorial Review
Reviewed 07/15/2008 by Tim Challies.
Recommended. A valuable introduction to Song of Solomon.Though it has been thousands of years since it was written, and though countless people have made valiant attempts to decipher it, it seems as though we are no closer than ever to reaching a consensus regarding the Song of Solomon. Should it be read literally, as a poem that deals with love and sex? Or is this only a superficial meaning beneath which we will find a whole world of allegorical meaning pointing us to Christ? Or might it be some combination of the two, where it speaks both literally and allegorically? Christians continue to disagree.
In A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex and Marriage, a book geared primarily, I suppose, to married or engaged couples, Derek Thomas offers his understanding of Song of Solomon. By the book’s title you will know that he offers a literal reading. He asks the reader to keep three things in mind: first, that Song of Solomon is a book about love, marriage and sex; second, that in teaching us about intimate relationships in marriage, it helps us understand how marital union reflects Christ’s relationship to the church corporately, and the believer individually (though he argues that this is not its primary intent; third, he reminds the reader that Song of Solomon, strange and difficult though it may seem, is God’s inspired and inerrant Word and must be treated as such. “The Holy Spirit thought it necessary that we be given these love poems to teach and exhort us to love more deeply the one he has provided to share our lives with.”
Through eight chapters, then, Thomas provides some exposition of the Song and a good deal of valuable application. An excellent appendix offers information about the historical interpretations of the book and a list of recommended resources for further study. Though it seems clear that the content of this book arose from a teaching series, it does not read as a collection of sermons. Instead, it reads as a collection of wise advice from a man (and his wife) who have been married for over three decades. Using Song of Solomon as his text, he shares biblical wisdom on an always-difficult topic. It certainly widened my understanding of this portion of Scripture and gave me much to meditate upon as I think about my own marriage.
I was glad to see that Thomas did not treat the Song of Solomon as if it is a book of sexual technique, meant to guide us step-by-step in the bedroom. I’ve often read interpretations of each of the poem’s elements that use it to defend all kinds of behavior, good or bad, and I’m quite sure this is often done at the expense of a fair reading. This book offers nothing in the way of technique but much in the way of the big picture. Also, while Thomas insists on a literal interpretation of the Song, he does not go into any great or graphic detail. He remains cautious and dignified, focusing more on the aspects of love and marriage than on pure sexuality.
A Biblical Guide to Love, Sex and Marriage is a short book and one that is easy to read, both as a “Christian living” kind of book and as an overview of the Song of Solomon. I recommend it.