Who wrote it?
Songs 1:1 mentions the book “is Solomon’s”, and traditionally this was taken to mean that Solomon composed the poem. 1 Kings 4:32 mentions that Solomon wrote many songs. At the same time, Songs 1:1 doesn’t necessarily mean that Solomon WROTE the poem, just that it was composed for him. The question of authorship (and some other related questions) determines how we can understand the book, and we will discuss that later.
When was it written?
While we may not know with certainty who write the book, the book at least mentions Solomon and his reign, so we can look at a date of no earlier than, say, 965 B.C. Song of Solomon also give hints of being written before Israel was divided into two after Solomon’s reign. This means that the poem was likely composed during Solomon’s reign, no later than 931 B.C.
What is in Song of Solomon?
Song of Solomon is the twenty-second book of the Bible, and belongs to the wisdom literature section of the Old Testament, along with books such as Psalms and Proverbs. The Song of Solomon is an eight-chapter poem about the love between a young woman and a young man, but there have been a few different major interpretations about the book throughout history. A common interpretation today is one of the more straightforward ones: a man and a woman are celebrating their relationship together, with their eventual marriage. This interpretation is more recent, for a more traditional interpretation is that the book is actually symbolic of Christ’s love for His church. Some today also see the book as not just one poem, but several separate ones (the consistency of the book, however, is problematic for people holding to this view). There are more possible views, but we’ll stick to the first one we mentioned, about how the book describes a relationship (progressing to marriage and consummation) between a young shepherd and a young shepherdess. Going too deep into critical analysis of the Song of Solomon is outside the scope of this article.
Why was it written? How does Song of Solomon apply to me today?
Using the common interpretation, the book commends saving sex until after marriage, shown, for example, in the admonitions in Song of Solomon to ‘not stir up or awaken love until it pleases’. Proverbs 5:15-19 supports being chaste outside marriage. The book also establishes marriage as a God-given gift, in which intimacy can be properly expressed together with a lifelong commitment.
Who is in Song of Solomon?
The characters depend on the interpretation of the book. Strictly speaking, the book identifies who is speaking as ‘he’ (a shepherd), ‘she’ (a Shulammite shepherdess), or a group of ‘others’. Some translations like the ESV add headings so we can easily distinguish the speakers, but other translations do not do this. Traditionally, the ‘he’ and King Solomon have been seen as the same person, but more recently this has not been the case (Solomon, after all, was not really the best role model for marriage, and besides that, Solomon is mentioned several times through the poem in ways that hint that he is not actually the main subject).
Since there are many views of the book, you may be asking at this point if the conclusions made here about sex and marriage can even be trusted as valid. It is important to remember that many of these possible interpretations do not compromise teachings elsewhere in the Bible, and those that do are most likely held by people who have discarded the idea of Biblical inerrancy. Teachings of marriage predate the book in passages like Genesis 2:24-24, the law of Exodus frowns heavily on sex outside marriage, and Jesus (after Songs was written, of course) reiterated both the inseparability of what God has joined through marriage and a standard of sexual purity.
As for all posts in this series, a book introduction in a good study Bible will provide more information than listed here. The ESV Study Bible is one recommendation. This is especially important in this book, because the Song of Solomon has been interpreted in many different ways. Plus, as a poem the book contains many figures of speech and poetic images not used today, so that the modern reader may miss them completely.