Over the past year I have heard more than a few Christians talk about the Song of Solomon as a marriage manual recounting and encouraging the joys of sexual intimacy. I understand how they get there and appreciate why they think it is important, but I believe this is an unfortunate perspective that deserves some reflection.
The book presents us with a back-and-forth love song between King Solomon and his Shulamite bride. Let's go ahead and camp out on this first point for a second. We have a song written by King Solomon, not a didactic piece of literature by Dr. Laura. Should we assume for a second that a love song from the pen of Solomon functions the same way a Billy Joel song functions in the 21st century? Is that really what it means to interpret the Scriptures "literally?" Let's try interpreting Scripture with Scripture.
What made Solomon great? Two things that rise to the surface are his wisdom (1 Kings 4:29-31) and his completion of the Temple which ushered in the "glory days" of Israel (1 Kings 8-10). He was NOT known for his marital-sexual fidelity. In fact, it was his intermarriage with foreign women that was his greatest downfall and the downfall of Israel (1 Kings 11).
So let's review what we have established. We have 1) an ancient song, not an instruction manual or 21st century pop lyric. The Song is by 2) Solomon about the joys of marital intimacy and yet he was not known as a man of great marital faithfulness. Solomon's greatness was rooted in his 3) wisdom writings / songs (1 Kings 4:32) and his, 4) finishing of the Temple.
It would be misguided to take this very clear context and conclude that the Song of Solomon is really about the joys of marital sex. Marital sex is very joyous, but the Song of Solomon is making a much more important point about the King and His bride. The love that the King has for His bride and vice versa is a theme that cuts through all of Scripture (Exodus 34:15-16, Isaiah 54:5, Hosea, Eph 5:23ff, Rev 21:2). Israel was God's bride and the King was God's man for the people. Solomon is not talking about the joys of sex, but about the joys of the KINGDOM. Solomon is in effect saying that when God and His people are loving each other it is as good as marital sex.
The Song of Solomon is therefore an encouragement towards Christian community in the church. When the bride of Christ is loving the King it is very, very good. It is something Solomon was committed to before his folly and it is something we should be committed to as well.