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Bible Articles and Lessons: S

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Song of songs, outlines

* How to read the book as a whole:

First, as a progression, vaguely discerned:

(1) Acquaintance
(2) Interest
(3) Deepening of the relationship
(4) Betrothal
(5) Separation
(6) Waiting
(7) Seeking
(8) Finding
(9) Final reunion.

This answers, generally, to our developing relationship with Christ:

(A) Learning the Truth (#s 1-3)
(B) Baptism (# 4)
(C) Probation, while Christ is in heaven (#s 5-7)
(D) Christ's return and kingdom (#s 8,9)

So the basic NT story is as follows:

  1. The good shepherd = Christ, in the days of his flesh.
  2. The Shulamite = the church, or ecclesia.
  3. Their courtship = ministry of Christ; preaching by apostles.
  4. Disappearance of shepherd = Christ's ascension to heaven.
  5. "Dreams" of Shulamite about his return = the longing of saints (in all ages since) for the coming of their Lord.
  6. Watchmen's treatment of the Bride = persecution/tribulations of the church in Christ's absence.
  7. The shepherd returning as King = Christ returning in his glory (accompanied by angels)
  8. Wedding feast = "marriage supper of Lamb".

Possible outline narrative:

(a) Song 1:2-6: The end of the story first? (This is the same device as used in Rev, several times, for example.) The bride is brought by her husband ("Solomon", "prince of peace") into his royal palace. She speaks with awe of her surroundings, and apologizes for her sun-burnt complexion. She has gone through many trials, but now (at last) she has reached her destination: the home of her Beloved.

Now... how did this come about? In answer, we return to the beginning of the story...

(b) Song 1:7 -- Song 2:17: The real beginning of the story: a sequence of courting scenes. The humble "shepherd" whom the maiden loves (Song 1:7,8) is in fact a king (notice how HE speaks in Song 1:9,10,12; although he appears as a shepherd, the imagery and figures of speech he uses betrays his true, royal, identity). She imagines their home and their life together (Song 1:16,17). Then they are alternately together/apart/together/apart, etc (Song 2).

(c) Song 3:1-4 and Song 5:2-8: While seeking her "Beloved", the maiden is mocked and beaten by the "watchmen" (Song 3:3; 5:6,7). She suffers much because of her love, while the object of that love is absent. (Notice the repetition and alternating of themes in this sequence.)

(d) Song 4:1-7: The "Beloved" describes her "beauty".

(e) Song 4:8,9,15,16: He proposes to her, and she accepts.

(f) Song 5:9-16: She is separated (again?), and describes her "Beloved" to the "daughters of Jerusalem", in terms of unrestrained enthusiasm.

(g) Song 3:6-11 and Song 6:11,12: She is almost "surprised" (when at last she finds him) that her "Beloved" (the "simple" shepherd) has been transformed into the great "Solomon" (the King of Peace). The shepherd has returned in his true character, as a great and mighty King!

(h) Song 6:13 -- Song 7:9: The wedding festival, with the "guests": the friends of the Bride (her companions, the virgins, the "daughters of Jerusalem") and the friends of the Groom (the angels? the mighty warriors?) (Song 6:13).

(i) Song 7:10 -- Song 8:14: A series of vignettes: pictures of the "honeymoon".

...And so, back to the beginning/end (Song 1:2-6): The king ushers his lovely bride into the royal palace...


Another possible outline

This outline takes the wedding itself as the backbone of the book, with various remembrances, or "flashbacks", to earlier times (the courtship, and separations).

1. The beginning of love: Song 1:1 – 5:1

(a) The wedding day (beginning): Song 1:1 – 2:7

(1) Shulamite in the palace (Song 1:1–8)
(2) At the banquet table (Song 1:9–14)
(3) In the bridal chamber (Song 1:15 – 2:7)

(b) Reflections on a courtship: Song 2:8 – 3:5

(1) A springtime visit (Song 2:8–13)
(2) The little foxes (Song 2:14–17)
(3) A dream: on counting the cost (Song 3:1–5)

(c) The wedding day (continued): Song 3:6 – 5:1

(1) The wedding procession (Song 3:6–11)
(2) The wedding night (Song 4:1 – 5:1)

2. The development of oneness: Song 5:2 – 8:14

(a) A dream of love refused: Song 5:2 – 8:4

(1) The dream (Song 5:2–8)
(2) A change of attitude (Song 5:9 – 6:3)
(3) The return of Solomon (Song 6:4–10)
(4) Shulamite in the garden (Song 6:11–13a)
(5) The dance of the Mahanaim (Song 6:13b – 8:4)

(b) A vacation in the country: Song 8:5–14

(The outline is followed, in large part, by JS Baxter in "Explore the Book", and RG Moulton in "Modern Readers' Bible".)


RW Ask suggests an outline consisting of 12 separate songs:
In this he follows Mason Good, Thomas Percy, and Joseph Bush, and is in turn followed by HP Mansfield. In order to avoid some of the confusion as to time sequence of the songs, HPM turns the 12 songs into two complete cycles of six songs each, the first six subtitled "The Bride selected from Israel", and the last six "The Bride selected from the Gentiles".

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