The Song of Songs: An Introduction and Commentary

Iain M. Duguid, The Song of Songs: An Introduction and Commentary, Grand Rapids, MI: Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2015. Pp. 160. $18.00, paper.9780830842865

In this book, Iain M. Duguid offers an introduction to the Song of Songs with discussion on its title, authorship, date, approaches of interpretation, canonicity, themes and message, and structure and unity. This introduction is followed by an analysis, translation, and commentary of the text. Duguid argues that Solomonic authorship is not necessary and considers a date after the exile as more likely for the book.

Duguid takes the book as a love song. He briefly discusses the allegorical, natural, typological, and the three-character hermeneutical approaches. Duguid adopts the twofold interpretation, combining natural and spiritual meanings. He reads the book against the backdrop of wisdom literature. For Duguid, the Song is designed to show us an idealized picture of married love in the context of a fallen and broken world. Duguid also regards the book “parabolic” in that it speaks of our imperfection as humans and as lovers and thus it drives us into the arms of our heavenly husband, Jesus Christ.

While Duguid does not rule out the typological reading of the book, he prefers to couple it with the allegorical interpretation where both comprise the spiritual meaning. He then wishes to divorce this spiritual interpretation from the book’s literal meaning—what Duguid calls “natural” reading. One is left wondering, to what extent can we divorce the spiritual and natural readings? Is it even possible to separate the two at all? And what constitutes the “natural” reading of any Scripture if it does not include any typological or spiritual sense?

A more helpful hermeneutical approach is the analogical and canonical reading, which seriously takes into consideration the book’s immediate context and literary genre as wisdom literature. According to this approach, the book is read following Proverbs and Ruth in the Hebrew canon. Proverbs 31:10 speaks of אֵשֶׁת־חַיִל (‘eshet-hayil) “virtuous woman” (cf. Prov. 12:4) and then comes Ruth as an example and embodiment of this virtuous woman, thus was called אֵשֶׁת חַיִל (‘eshet hayil) (Ruth 3:11). The Song of Songs follows this motif as it presents the celebration of the virtuous woman’s love with her lover. Proverbs describes the ideal wife, which Ruth is. Song of Songs describes the bliss of love and can apply to Boaz and Ruth by juxtaposition. This canonical consideration sets the stage for the analogical reading once we consider the wider canonical context. In this context, we learn that Yahweh’s relationship with his people is often couched in the language of the covenant of marriage. This relationship finds its ultimate expression through the covenant mediator’s work on the cross.

Duguid summaries the main themes and message of the book, which are centered on love and sex within a committed marriage. The Song also speaks against asceticism. Once the book’s message is identified through natural or literal reading, Duguid wishes to see a message beyond marriage that looks into the heavenly bridegroom through the work of Christ.

Although not arguing for a strict narrative behind the Song or a chiastic structure, Duguid sees a broad development and logical flow where there is a movement that leads up to and way from the marriage. Duguid rightly observes that the Song leaves the couple (and us) at the end longing for something more complete.

The second major part of this book has an analysis, where Duguid outlines the book, Duguid’s own translation of the book, and then a commentary. The commentary discusses the context of each passage at hand, then Duguid offers comment on the passage where some key phrases and words are highlighted, and finally there is the meaning that explains the passage from a practical perspective with spiritual life applications.

Although the book is a poetic song in its genre, this does not negate the possibility that it might reflect a story that took place in history. In other words, it could be a historical account written poetically in form of a song, in the same way Genesis 1, for example, is written in a poetic style to reflect historical account.

Duguid takes the approach that the man in the poem is an idealized figure, a poetic persona rather than a historical individual. For Duguid, the focus of the Song is not on the specific identity of the lovers so much as it is on the nature of their love. He understands אֲשֶׁר לִשְׁלֹמֹה (‘asher lishlomoh) “which is Solomon’s” (1:1) not as designated authorship, rather as possession. Thus, according to Duguid, the Song’s title suggests that this book is in some general sense about “that which belongs to Solomon.”

Duguid’s book is good for pastors and preachers. It is not academically technical as one might expect, rather it is practical and handy. It relies on many resources and Ancient Near Eastern comparisons. While there are spiritual applications, this book lacks a coherent presentation of the Song’s contribution to biblical theology. Since Duguid adopts the view that Solomon is neither the subject of the Song, nor its author, he sees the Song’s primary significance as describing human relationships. He fails to read the Song canonically in its final shape and place within the canon. This canonical hermeneutics operates within a theologically articulate interpretive method that opens the door for reading the Song, which belongs to Solomon, in light of the Davidic covenant and the promise for David’s son and everlasting throne (2 Sam 7). The Song also has borrowing images from the Garden of Eden (Gen 2–3) that one cannot neglect if we are to understand it canonically. These images not only connect the Song to the first garden, but also looks forward to the consummate garden in the new heavens and new earth.

Rev. Dr. Sherif L. Gendy

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