Welcome to a year of reading Richard Sibbes together! The reading plan for the entire year can be accessed here. I encourage you to stick with us, allow yourself time to read, and soak in the riches of this gifted and prolific Puritan preacher. You will be edified and encouraged.
If you have trouble with how Sibbes used words, check out the Lexicons of Early Modern English for definitions from the period.
Bowels Opened Study Plan
- Discuss Biblical Hermeneutics, which is the science of biblical interpretation.
- Explore various interpretations of the Song of Solomon.
- Brief outline of what I believe to be a correct interpretation.
- Canonization – Why is this book in the Canon? (This post)
Last week I put my cards on the table and gave you what I think the correct genre and interpretation of the book is. The Song of Solomon is love poetry and must be read as such. In prior weeks we learned we must seek the meaning the author willed to intend and not put our own meaning on the text. We have no right to do so. In fact, reading meaning in to the text ends up in error at best and heretical beliefs at worst. Let the author speak through their words, and here it is plain to see those words speak of love and its physical consummation.
Why does the Bible contain a book on love and its physical aspects? Should we have such a book in the Bible? Isn’t it a little undignified for such a book to be considered the words of God?
The book has been part of the recognized Hebrew scriptures since at least 200 BC. The Old Testament Jews debated its canonicity and yet concluded that it had a place with the other wisdom literature such as Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Wait, wait. “I thought you said Song of Solomon is love poetry,” you say. It is indeed! Books can contain multiple literary genres and yet the overarching purpose of a book is one. Historical narrative can have prophecy and poetry. Gospels have parables and historical narrative in them, and so on. This book is part of a larger genre in the bible, with the aforementioned books, called wisdom literature. Grant Osborne says that wisdom literature’s goal is “to use properly God’s creation and to enjoy life in the present under his care.” How does the Song of Solomon help us to use properly God’s creation and to enjoy life in the present under his care?
Sexuality was broken in the ancient world just the same as it is now. As Ecclesiastes frequently refrains, “there is nothing new under the sun.” There were pagan fertility cults with temple prostitutes who turned sex in to religious rites. People cheated on their wives or husbands then as now. Sex outside of marriage is not new. Homosexuality is not new. The Greeks denigrated the body altogether. It is no wonder God inspired a book extolling a positive look at biblical love and sexuality. We certainly need such today, just as our brothers and sisters did.
Sex is not something to be abused, used as the ultimate end in itself, or neglected as dirty. Sex is a gift from God to be enjoyed by a man and a woman in the bonds of marriage. So let’s use our definition of wisdom literature as a definition of the book’s purpose. The Song of Solomon is a positive example and celebration of God’s good gifts to properly use our created bodies and enjoy life in the present under God’s care. The surrounding culture then, as now, uses sex and the body as tools for pleasure without any concept of the greater reality. Indeed, why shouldn’t God have a book in his word celebrating the benefits and goodness of sex in marriage?
When you come to Song of Solomon, do not allegorize it or attempt to explain it away as something it is not. Many of our forerunners in the faith, including Puritans like Richard Sibbes, got their interpretation of this book wrong. Contrary to the mischaracterization of the Puritans, they were not prudes. They did however take temptation seriously, which does not mean they did not take sex in marriage seriously. We are indebted to them for their example of faith, piety, and resolve to live for God. I don’t think they allegorized the Song of Solomon because they were ashamed, but did so in keeping with the traditional interpretation rather than reading the book with fresh eyes.
We should not be ashamed of the gift of sex given to us by God to be enjoyed in marriage. This book celebrates love and its joyful expression in marriage. God gave us our bodies and designed them to be used in purposes that glorify him. Sex can glorify God when it’s done according to his design and this book shows us that and encourages us to see it that way. The fight against adultery, divorce, homosexuality, promiscuity, and every other kind of sexual immorality is a fight to redeem sex and the body for its God intended uses rather than our sinful desires. This book is a positive look at unashamed biblical sexuality. Let me then like the Song of Solomon encourage you to enjoy what God has given you, in marriage, to his glory.
A COMPLETELY FREE online Hermeneutics class taught by Dr. Danny Akin, President of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Check it out!
Two helpful books:
- Robert Stein: A Basic Guide To Interpreting The Bible.
- Robert Plummer: 40 Questions About Interpreting The Bible.
Last week, we read the Third Part of Bowels Opened and discussed a correct interpretation of Song of Solomon.
Next week, we read the Saint’s Happiness. Here is an audio recording of Mark Dever reading it.