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Reviews | Song of Solomon Study Guide

Song of Solomon Study Guide

Stanley Owen

Paperback

76 pages

Song of Solomon Study Guide

The Christadelphian review (from May 1992)

The Song of Solomon

THE Song of Solomon is probably one of the most neglected books in our private and ecclesial study. It is refreshing and encouraging, therefore, to have this addition to the Study Guide series by Brother Stanley Owen, which covers the Song.

According to the author’s own bibliography, two Christadelphian books and two magazine series represent the previous output on this subject in recent years. The author and publishers were courageous to embark upon a book on a subject which so many readers find daunting. However, if anything is going to stir readers into giving the Song of Solomon the attention it deserves, this book should.

The theme of the book

The virtues of true love and faithfulness between a man and a woman.

For the Jews: a warning against promiscuous friendship with the idolatrous world around them.

For spiritual Israel: the “altogether lovely” Christ and his betrothed Bride prepare for their marriage and for taking possession of the paradise of God in the Kingdom age.

True Foundations

A fair test for any publication is to ask whether it achieves the objectives that its author and publisher set for it. Study Guides, we are told, are designed to (a) “explain the straightforward teachings of scripture and where appropriate emphasise first principles of doctrine and practical discipleship” and (b) “provide an overview of the passage of scripture to be studied”. On both of these points, Brother Owen’s book succeeds and succeeds well and we shall highlight points in connection with this. It is important for those coming to Bible study to realise the importance of having a proper grasp of one particular interpretation and structure so that other views can be properly evaluated. With the format and content of this Study Guide this will be achieved by those who follow the sequence of chapters through. The enthusiasm of the author for his subject comes across in his easily readable style. The choice of language in his introduction to the Song, “unique … superb … majestic … eternal … in the best and the purest sense a love story”, sets the tone for a book which explains, exhorts and encourages.

Clarity of Purpose

Having explained the purpose of a Study Guide, the next four chapters are essential reading for those intending to use the Guide. They set out clearly the thinking of the author and his understanding before moving on to the study itself. The chapter headed “Interpretation” lays out the five possible views which could apply and explains the one the author has built the study on – that of a parable portraying the relationship between Christ and the saints while they prepare for their union. There is also a boxed “Theme of the Book” which summarises succinctly this approach. Indeed the format of the book has much to commend it. A verse by verse exposition can often be turgid and a method of exposition which often fails to give the flow and feeling of the scripture under consideration.

With this book, though, the short introductory summaries in boxed heavy type give continuity throughout the short pithy chapters which also have clear sub-headings, breaking up the text into easily digested sections and ensuring that the reader’s initiative and freedom to evaluate are not restricted. It is of considerable help, moreover, to have the Scripture text actually printed out in full at the start of every chapter.

One of the bonuses in reading this book, for the reviewer, was the “Test Yourself” sections – especially the answers at the back, where some delightful secondary lines of study are encouraged. One example, for instance, is on page 47: having dealt with verse 2 in chapter 5 and in particular with the expression “my head is filled with dew”, one of the assignments is “Look up references to ‘dew’ in the Bible”. The outline answer on page 66 links the thoughts of resurrection and new life into this study of dew and opens up the treasures of scripture in a lovely way. This could be considered a weakness by some in distracting from the main purpose of the study. Indeed, the question and answer sections present a total of 29 questions, which when viewed very objectively appear to have only 14 directly relating to the Song of Solomon and 15 on more general topics. On the other hand, the wider range of questions helps the reader to become aware of the inter-relating and interlocking of Scriptural themes and the evidence for the Bible’s divine inspiration. Such a widening of scope could hardly be considered a fault and to encourage deeper Bible study is far more acceptable than a too narrowly defined examination.

The Form of Sound Words

In looking at the content of this book we can see much excellent material supporting the objectives of a Study Guide. Concerning first principles – we see Inspiration, the Return of Christ, the Kingdom of God on Earth, Sanctity of Marriage – all clearly highlighted and emphasised. Some may be surprised to see the Sanctity of Marriage listed as a first principle, but there need be no apology for that. Brother Owen has reference to the relationship between Bride and Bridegroom, between Betrothed and Beloved on at least 12 pages of the study.

The theme is developed right from the Introduction, where love is shown to be the essence of the foundation of God’s covenant – between Himself and Israel, between Christ and his Bride, and as expressed now in our lives in the marriage bond. On a number of occasions the author highlights the contrast between the world’s attitude to sexual relationships and marriage with that put forward in scripture. A valuable question on page 41, “Compare the significance of betrothal and marriage”, and its outline answer on page 66, clarify for today’s believer what our behaviour should be spiritually and naturally. The 12-point summary on page 62 has as point 7 a statement which encapsulates this principle with the words, “The sanctity of marriage and the importance of chastity before marriage is stressed. Sexual philandering is not tolerated in the ideals which the Bible establishes”.

In the matter of Practical Discipleship there is plenty to stimulate thought and discussion besides the good advice on moral standards. The importance of ecclesial life and fellowship, the need for separateness from worldly attitudes and practices in our discipleship, to be ready for Christ when he comes, and continuing to witness until that Great Day both individually and ecclesially. To assist our study in all these matters there is a range of diagrams, maps, illustrations and helpful lists such as Spices, Animals / Birds and Flowers / Plants which appear in the Song of Solomon. Readers could quite easily overlook the note tucked away in the Acknowledgements on page 2 which tells us that, apart from the cover photographs and the graphics, “all other illustrations by the author”: Brother Owen certainly has used his full range of talents to bring this book of scripture ‘alive’ for us.

Test yourself

  1. When will Jesus eat with his friends?
  2. Look up the references to dew in the Bible.
  3. Suggest circumstances when we may not be ready or willing for Jesus to come into our lives.

Search the Scriptures

In advancing the interpretation that the “Beloved” / “Shepherd” is Christ and the “Shulamite” / “Rose of Sharon” is the saints and that the story is a parable of the love and faithfulness of a betrothed couple, Brother Owen builds a strong case from scripture.

No-one would pretend it is always easy to identify who is speaking in parts of the Song, but the study brings out the original uses of masculine and feminine genders, so that where speakers change from verse to verse this is highlighted. The text has bold sub-headings identifying the speakers so that readers can follow the dialogue fairly easily.

One of the main obstacles to the interpretation presented by this study – the use of “I am come” in chapter 5, verse 1, which is used to support the claim that the Song is about a married Bride and Bridegroom – is removed, by showing the RSV meaning of “I am coming”, or “I will soon be there”. This is further supported by reference to the large number of uses of the Hebrew word for ‘come’ (bo) in the future tense or imperative or prophetic sense. Brother Owen emphasises that “the whole pattern of the book concerns the pure love of a couple who are betrothed but not married”, and there will be many who having read this Study Guide will agree with him. It fulfils a real need for an aid to the study of the Song of Solomon, and has given this reviewer an enjoyable task.

TREVOR MAHER

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