Historically speaking, an allegorical approach that sees the Song of Songs as being about the love of God for his people has certainly been the most popular among preachers. Without having to descend to the embarrassing matter of talking about sex from the pulpit, hearers can be encouraged and directed in their spiritual lives with all kinds of edifying observations about prayer and Bible reading. So according to Cyril of Alexandria, writing in the fifth century a.d., when the woman describes her lover lying between her two breasts like a sachet of myrrh, what she is really talking about is Jesus coming between the two Testaments, Old and New.
Given enough imagination, you can get radically different messages out of the same passage: the Song can relate to Yahweh and Israel, God and the church, or wisdom and the individual soul.Equally, you can get the same message out of radically different passages: in that case, why do we need the Bible at all, when by using the same technique you could preach edifying messages from Winnie the Pooh?On the other hand, a more typological form of interpretation pays attention to inner biblical connections.Part of the difficulty of the Song of Songs comes from the fact that it is a song, and therefore poetry.Poetry is the art of condensation: expressing maximum meaning in the minimum number of words.
As a result, poetry is often more evocative than explicative.It doesn’t take the time to unpack its figures of speech or to explain its analogies. Poetry tends to be open-ended, leaving us pondering and wondering rather than tying up every loose end with a watertight argument.Yet at the same time, poetry has a remarkable ability to address the whole person and to move our souls with a power that prose can rarely match.The second challenge is to decide what precisely the Song is about.On one level, that is an easy question to answer: it is about love. Some scholars have argued that it is an originally secular love song about two people that acquired a religious cast simply by being included in the Bible.On the opposite end of the spectrum, others have insisted that it was composed as an allegory of God’s love for his people that really has nothing to do with human love at all.