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Exposition of the Old and New Testament, by John Gill, [1746-63], at

Song of Solomon (Canticles) Introduction

Song of Solomon (Canticles)

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This book is entitled, in the Hebrew copies, "Shir Hashirim", the Song of Songs. The Septuagint and Vulgate Latin versions call it, "the Song"; and the title of it in the Syriac version, is,

"the Wisdom of Wisdoms of the same Solomon;''

that is, the same who wrote the two preceding books. It has always been received and esteemed by the ancient Jews as a valuable part of the sacred writings, calling it "the Holy of Holies" (a); forbidding their children to read it, because of the sublimity and mysteriousness of it, until they were at years to understand it: nor was there ever any controversy among them about the authenticity of it; but all their writers (b), ancient and more modern, agree that it was written by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. The ancient Christian fathers and councils have held it as a part of the holy Scriptures, and have continued it in the canon of them; and it has been received as canonical by Christians in all ages, except a very few, as Theodore of Mopsuest, condemned calling it in question by the second council at Constantinople, in 553; and Castalio, in later times, who for the same was censured and exiled by the senate at Geneva; and Mr. Whiston, in our age, whose objections to it I have attempted to answer, in my larger Commentary on this book, published in 1728, and since republished: and I am very sorry I am obliged to take notice of an objection to the antiquity of it, and to its being Solomon's, made by a learned (c) man, very lately; who observes, that the word David, from its first appearance in Ruth, where it is written without the "yod", continues to be so written through the books of Samuel, Kings, Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel; but appears with a "yod", in the books of Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah and Zechariah; wherefore he suggests, that if it was customary to write this word without a "yod" till the captivity, and with one after it; then he thinks a strong argument may be drawn from hence against the antiquity of the Canticles, and its being made by Solomon, since this name is written with a "yod" in Sol 4:4; the only place in it in which it is used: but in answer to this it must be said, that it is not fact that the word is invariably without a "yod" in the books mentioned, particularly the book of Kings: for the authors of the Masorah have observed, on Kg1 3:14, that it is five times written in that book full, as they call it, that is, with a "yod", three of the places I have traced out, Kg1 3:14; and have found it so written in all the printed copies I have seen; and so it is read by the eastern Jews, in Eze 37:24. This learned man is aware that it is so written, once in Hosea, and twice in Amos, books written two hundred years before the captivity; but then he observes, that in the two last places, in Bomberg's edition, it has a little circle (o) to mark it for an error, or a faulty word, though none over the word in Hosea: but it should be known, that that circle, in hundreds of places, is not used to point out anything faulty in the copy; but is only a mark referring to the margin, and what is observed there; and be it that it does point out an error, or a faulty word, the same circle is over the word in Canticles, and consequently shows it to be faulty there, and to be corrected and read without the "yod", as it was originally without it there; which observation destroys the argument from it: and so it is read in that place in the Talmud (d) without it, and in the ancient book of Zohar (e); and indeed it seems as if it was read without the "yod" in the copies seen by the authors of the Little Masorah; since in their note on Kg1 3:14; besides the five places in the Kings, where it is written full, or with the "yod", they say, it is so written throughout the Chronicles, the twelve minor prophets, and Ezra, which includes Nehemiah; but make no mention of Solomon's Song, which, one would think, they would have done, had it been so written there in the copies before them: so that, upon the whole, the argument, if it has any force in it, turns out for, and not against, the antiquity of Solomon's Song. This book of Canticles has plain marks of a divine original, and proofs of its being of divine inspiration: it was written by, one that was inspired of God, as appears by the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, written by him; the greatness of the matter contained in it, the dignity, sublimity, and majesty of its style, show it to be no human composure; the power and efficacy which it has had over the hearts of men, in reading it, and hearing it explained, is another evidence of its being the word of God, which is quick and powerful; the impartiality of it, the bride, who is introduced speaking in it, confessing and proclaiming her own failings and infirmities, is no inconsiderable proof of the same; to which may be added the agreement between this and other portions of Scripture, as particularly Psa 45:1; and there seem to be many allusions and references to various passages of this book in the New Testament; see Mat 9:13, &c. Joh 3:8 Col 2:17; compared with Sol 1:3 Sol 5:1. In what time of Solomon's life this book was written is not agreed on: some of the Jewish writers say the book of Proverbs was written first, then the Song of Songs, and last of all Ecclesiastes; others, that the Song was written first, then Proverbs, and then Ecclesiastes (f); though their chronologer (g) says they were all written in his old age, as indeed the last book seems to be; but the Song rather seems to have been written in the middle part of his life, when in the most flourishing circumstances as to body, mind, and estate. Dr. Lightfoot (h) is of opinion it might be written in the thirtieth year of his reign, about ten years before his death, after he had built his summer house in Lebanon, to which he supposes respect is had in Sol 4:8; and upon his bringing Pharaoh's daughter to the house prepared for her, Kg1 9:24; but be this at it may, it was not a celebration of the amours between Solomon and her, since the literal sense, in many places, would be monstrous and absurd; and besides it must be written twenty years at least after that, if the house of the forest of Lebanon is referred to in the above places; nor does it set forth their amours, and the marriage between them, as typical of the inexpressible love and marriage union between Christ and his church; though there is a resemblance between natural and spiritual marriage, and the love of persons in such a relation to one another, and to which there may be an allusion in some passages. Nor is this book historical and prophetic, expressing either the state of the people of Israel, from the times of Abraham to Solomon, and so to the Messiah; in which way go many Jewish interpreters, as the Targum, Jarchi, Aben Ezra, and others: nor is it to be considered as describing the state of the church: of God, whether legal, from the times of David and Solomon, and before, in and after the captivity, to the birth and death of Christ; or the Gospel church, in its beginning, progress, various changes, and consummation, as Brightman and Cotton nor as setting forth the several ages and periods of the Christian church, in agreement with the seven churches of Asia, as Cocceius, and those that follow him, Horchius, Hofman, and Heunischius; which latter, particularly, makes this distribution of them:

(1) The Ephesian church, Sol 1:5; from the ascension of Christ to heaven, A. C. 33, to 370. (2) The Smyrnaean church, Sol 2:1; from A. C. 371, to 707; (3) The church at Pergamos, Sol 3:1; from A. C. 708, to 1045. (4) The Thyatirian church, Sol 4:1, from A. C. 1046, to 1383. (5) The Sardian church, Sol 5:2, from A. C. 1384, to 1721. (6) The church at Philadelphia, Sol 6:9, from A. C. 1722, to 2059. (7) The Laodicean church, Sol 8:1, from A. C. 2060, and onwards.

But these senses are very arbitrary, uncertain, and precarious, and limit the several parts of it to certain periods; whereas it is applicable to believers in all ages of time. The whole is figurative and allegorical; expressing, in a variety of lively metaphors, the love, union, and communion, between Christ and his church; setting forth the several different frames, cases, and circumstances of believers, in this life; so that they can be in no case and condition spiritual whatever, but there is something in this Song suitable to them; and which serves much to recommend it, and shows the excellency of it; and that it justly claims the title it bears, the Song of Songs, the most excellent. M. Bossuet (i) is of opinion, that whereas the nuptial feast with the Hebrews was kept seven days, this Song is to be distributed into seven parts, a part to be sung, one each day, during the celebration: The first day, Sol 1:1. The second day, Sol 2:7. The third day, Sol 3:1. The fourth day, Sol 5:2. The fifth day, Sol 6:10. The sixth day, Sol 7:12. The seventh day, Sol 8:4. The thought is ingenious, but seems too fanciful, and without foundation.

(a) Misnah Yadaim, c. 3. s. 5. Shir Hashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 4. Abarbinel in 1. Reg. iii. 12. fol. 209. 2. (b) Zohar in Exod. fol. 59. 3. Shir Hashirim Rabba, fol. 2. 4. Targum, Jarchi, & Aben Ezra in loc. (c) Dr. Kennicott's Dissert. 1. p. 20, &c. (d) T. Bab. Beracot, fol. 30. 1. (e) In Gen. fol. 114. 3. (f) Shir Hashirim Rabba, fol. 3. 3. Yalkut Simeoni, par. 2. fol. 28. 3. (g) Seder Olam Rabba, c. 15. so Shir Hashirim Rabba, fol. 3. 3. (h) See his Works, vol. 1. p. 76. (i) Vid. Lowth de Sacr. Poesi Heb. Praelect. 30. p. 393, 394. & Not. Michaelis in ibid. p. 156-159.

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