The Song of Songs, also known as the Song of Solomon or Canticles, has been criticized as being esthetically pleasing but a part of the Bible that contributes little to the theology of the believer. In my book, “Contributions of Selected Rhetorical Devices to a Biblical Theology of the Song of Songs” (Wiph & Stock, 2011), I argue that this most sensual love poem contains theology that is applicable, relevant and necessary to the 21st Century church. By highlighting three select literary devices Solomon employed [the use of first person (I,” “me,” “my,” “we,” “ours,” etc.), rhetorical questions (literary devices “dressed” as questions but are actually statements) and the characters in this ancient love song], I endeavor to display some of his theological points.
In any piece of literature, the author seeks to influence his audience by employing certain literary devices to argue his case and move his readers towards his point of view. We see this in movies where the director allows us to view certain characters, to hear certain dialogue and to experience certain scenes in an effort to involve us in the story and ultimately to persuade us to agree with the conclusion of the movie.
In the Songs of Songs, the biblical author employs certain literary devices (such as first person, rhetorical questions and characters) to make a rhetorical argument for the sake of making a theological point. I am not suggesting that every literary device is theologically loaded. The theological point the author is making is within the context of the literary device which he employs.
For example, in the Song there is a creative use of the first person “my” in 4:16-5:1:
The female lover states: “Awake, O north wind, And come, wind of the south; Make my garden breathe out fragrance, Let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden And eat its choice fruits!”
The male lover responds: “I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh along with my balsam. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk.
Notice the use of the first-person possessive “my” in 4:16: this is the female’s garden (which is her body). But in 5:1 the first-person possessive “my” references the male lover. That which belonged to the female “my garden” in 4:16 becomes the male lover’s “my garden” in 5:1. The theological import should not be missed. God designed physical intimacy to be enjoyed by both partners. Her garden (i.e. her body) becomes his body to enjoy, and she is glad to grant him access to it.
Here the poet employs the first-person pronoun “my” as a literary device to demonstrate the giving of one’s self in sex within marriage. This is followed by God’s declaration that this exchanging of bodies as it were, should be enjoyed to the fullest.
“Eat, friends; Drink and imbibe deeply, O lovers.”
This is just one instance of how the author uses a literary device to express his theology. The Song of Songs is rife with such examples of practical theology. While the Song may not include the theology of redemption, sin or the gospel, it is certainly theologically enriching and relevant for all believers in the church today and especially those who are married.
By Dr. Mark McGinniss
Join us for a Baptist Bible Seminary panel in Clarks Summit University chapel March 24–26, 2020, available via live stream on Facebook.com/ClarksSummitU. You can watch McGinniss in a past Clarks Summit University chapel here:
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