A Brief Thought on Ecclesiastes and the Song of Songs

Kevin Steyer

In response to my recent blog post on Ecclesiastes, a friend of mine suggested a connection between the message of Ecclesiastes and the fact that it is followed in the Bible by the Song of Songs, with its emphasis on “finding him whom my soul loves.” Her point was that Ecclesiastes, in agreement with me, grounds us in reality, but besides encouraging us to fear God and keep His commandments, doesn’t directly offer us Christ, whereas the Song of Song does. In that case, it sort of provides the solution after Ecclesiastes told us the problem. It is of course true that Ecclesiastes doesn’t offer us Christ in the way, for example, that the Gospels do, because it doesn’t mention Him. But then neither does the Song of Songs, unless one allegorizes the whole book as a love song between Christ and the Church, as was common throughout much of the history of the Church, and remains common today. I am hesitant to allegorize, however, because I think the plain meaning of Scripture is the intended meaning, though allowing for different genres and figures of speech. I do not think that caveat applies to the Song of Songs, because it seems to me that it is meant to be read literally, as a romantic poem between a man and a woman. (As an aside, I have not always held this current view, and am willing to change my mind.)

Nevertheless, the suggestion my friend made was one I found very intriguing, if not for exactly the same reason. Ecclesiastes tells us to “enjoy life with the wife whom you love” (9:9) and while I think we are safe in expanding that command also to non-spousal companions with whom we share life, the main point is obviously to enjoy life with a spouse. The language is very similar to the Song of Songs: “I found him whom my soul loves” (3:4). That connection in itself suggests the Song is speaking about human marriage, not Christ’s love for the Church. So, in one sense, one of Ecclesiastes’ primary application points is to enjoy married life, and the Song of Songs gives us a picture of what that can and ought to look like. In that sense, I think my friend was right in saying there is a theological reason why these books are next to each other.

One of the key verses in the Song of Songs is 8:6, which speaks of romantic love as “the very flame of the Lord,” the only reference to God in the entire book. God is the source of this kind of love, and in some way to experience it is to experience Him. One commentator wrote of this verse, “Love of a right kind is a flame not kindled and inflamed by man, but by God.” When man experiences the type of love spoken of in the Song of Songs, he is receiving one of God’s greatest gifts, and one of the most significant counterweights to the hebel (futility, vanity) of the world. In keeping with the very practical and utilitarian outlook of the wisdom books, if we wish to live grounded in reality as Ecclesiastes urges us to, but also to thoroughly enjoy life and the gifts God gives, the Song of Songs provides an immediate remedy.

Ardsley Bible Church