The Song of Songs is a surprisingly fitting book for the season of Advent.
On the face of it, the Song is the story of a woman, unloved and unvalued by her family and society, who has been set to marry the King of Israel. This King is both a royal figure and a shepherd. Sometimes, the King is portrayed on his couch, approaching with a caravan of soldiers and servants; other times, the King is a simple man, tending to his flock. Specifically, the Song was written as an ode to Solomon, the son of David. The woman is a Gentile who now lives under the reign of Solomon’s expanded Israel. As the Song progresses, the woman falls more and more in love with Solomon, becoming more like him. She is not named, but by the end of the Song, she has taken on the identity of Solomon: she is called a Shulammite, the feminine form of Solomon’s Hebrew name, Shlommo.
The Song is also the history of Israel, but with a surprising twist. In the Song, the woman can stand for God. The woman spends the majority of the Song chasing after the King, who is surprising aloof and far off. This is the story of Yahweh’s pursuit of Israel. She finds him in the Garden, where they enjoy a brief but broken time together (2:3-7). She searches for him in the wilderness, but he is nowhere to be found. She also describes their marriage house with language from the temple (1:16-17), but she can’t find her lover there. She searches for her lover in the city; no one has seen or heard from him (3:1-5). Her lover is like a fig tree (2:13), ripe for the eating. The story of Israel is the story of the chesed love of God, the love that pursues us and never abandons the chase, just as the woman pursues her king-lover.
But because this is the Bible, the lovers can also be swapped. We are the woman, searching for the better-Solomon-shepherd-King, the one who brings us the wealth of Israel and the nations of the world. We are the bride, unloved and unvalued, who finds their identity in the king. Just as the woman became a Shulammite, we are made into the likeness of our Groom. We yearn for our King, chasing him in the wilderness, the valleys, the fields, the gardens, the city; even when he seems far, he can always be found, and we rejoice.
The Song is an Advent book because it is a story about longing. When we yearn and long for the Advent of our King, Jesus, we are reliving the experience of Israel as she waited for the return of Yahweh to his Temple. But we have seen our King, and he has made himself known and found: a baby laying in a manger, the Bread of Life born in the flesh in the House of Bread (beth-lehem). As we search desperately, in love, for our King, we have seen him in the face of Jesus Christ. Now, we wait for him to return to us in the flesh, revealed in all of his glory.
Three times, the Song says “do not awaken love before its time”. In the dawning of the new covenant, in the rising sun of Jesus Christ, love has awoken, and our love can be stirred again.