September 2, 2012
Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Today we hear a beautiful passage from the most famous love poem of the western world. There are all kinds of love. This poem celebrates erotic love. No one knows when it was written or by whom (certainly not Solomon). It’s nature imagery and its romantic joy in nature are unique in the Bible. It consists of a series of songs sung by a young lover and his beloved young woman. From time to time their interplay is interrupted by a sort of Greek chorus of women friends. The poet, whoever he was, had no concern for moral matters: he does not advocate either chastity or promiscuity. He just sings beautifully about sexual loe. But he does keep us in mind of procreation by setting the love tryst in the spring.
It might well be a wedding poem. At wedding feasts in that time and area, the bridegroom often wore a crown, which may be why he is called Solomon in the poem. Today, Chapter 8, verse 7, is often read at weddings, but ironically that verse, in the opinion of many scholars, is a later addition.
There is a pious interpretation of the poem that explains away the eroticism. The male voice is that of God, the female that of the Israelites (or for pious Christians, God and the church). We must be thankful for such an interpretation, for probably it allowed the ancient editors to include this treasure in the Scriptures.
If you intend to read the poem, it might be helpful to mark the passages spoken by the chorus of women: 1:4b, 11; 3:15; 3:6-11, 13; 8:5, 8-9.
During the month of September, the second readings will all be taken from the Letter of James. Some identify the author as Jesus’s brother, James the Just, leader of the Jerusalem Christians, but others disagree, citing the Greek tone and style. Whoever this James was, he was not at all concerned for doctrine and very little for theology. His concern was to correct the moral waywardness of some Christians by providing a sort of manual of correct conduct. But he is a good teacher and often makes his points in a colorful, imaginative fashion. In our reading today, God is described as the father of “lights” that never change, that is, the fixed stars. Those who give lip service to religion, but never act out their faith are guilty of a flimsy egocentricity that the author describes in a delightful mirror image.