Leonard Withington.

Solomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts online

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PROPERTYOF JH^^[^^^/^ ^/



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— t] (Jag^ ovy. cocps/.el ov8h'.


161 Washington Street.



Entered according to Act of Congress, in the year 1861, by


In the Clerk's Office of the District Court of the District of Massachusetts.


Every new book to be profitable asks a certain
degree of attention. But a reader is not always
disposed to give a new book much attention ;
and indeed it must be allowed, on the strictest
doctrine of chances and probabilities, that as an
hundred are to one, so is the chance against the
new claimant. However, here is a new book
that humbly sohcits attention ; and let the reader
remember, if it should not prove profitable, unless
he gives it the requisite attention, the fault may
not be wholly mine.





I. The Design 1

The Design (coNxmuED) 17

Adverse Authority 20

n. Places est Scripture where Divine Love assumes

THE Form of an Erotic Similitude . . 31

The Unity 40

III. Amatory Devotion in Heathen Literature and est

the Church since the Days of the Apostles 50

Happiness 70

lY. Divine Love an Intellectual and Informing

Passion 95

Y. The Dramatic Element in Interpreting the Bible 133

Particular Application 145

The Use of the Imagination . . . . 166

YL The Double Sense 171

YIL Metaphysics 187

Exemplification 205

The Example of the Sacred Writers . . 209



The Golden Song of Solomon .... 228



The Claim and the Proof 304

The Canon 313





One of the first requisites to the understanding of
this mystic Song is to see the author's design, — "In
every work, regard the writer's ^nd." The Bible is
too often considered by the neologist as a book of frag-
ments, having no moral unity, — no single design, no
divine design ; and this injustice to the whole necessi-
tates a greater injustice to all the parts, — nay, a want
of perception of their import, or beauty. Every part of
an arch rests on the key-stone. The history of the king-
dom of God may be considered as one great drama,
terminating in the triumph of grace over sin, and good
over evil. " Behold the tabernacle of God is with men,
and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his peo-
ple, and God himself shall be with them, and be their
God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their
eyes ; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow,
nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain ; for
the former things are passed away."

No book has suffered more than this Song from the


want of seeing the design. There is a twofold want.
First, a want of seeing the design of the whole work
of revelation ; and secondly, a want of seeing the design
of this particular book, and its harmony with the whole.
Let us then point out, first, its probable

Historic Origin ;

and this may help us to the moral design.

That the book was written by Solomon, I shall as-
sume ; for there is no end to that destructive criticism
which whispers suspicions of a later origin. Even the
Pentateuch itself has not escaped the daring innova-
tors ; and Aramseanisms, or later forms of Hebrew, are
found in the earliest books of the Bible. The neolo-
gists prove that nothing is or can be ancient. I must
be allowed to say, without depreciating any man's
Oriental learning, that I cannot conceive of a degree
of familiarity with any of these languages, which have
been dead for many centuries, which can justify a critic
in such bold censures as they undertake to pronounce.*

* Dr. Noyes, after giving several instances of alleged Aramasanism,
comes to this very judicious conclusion : " From these and other instances,
Gesenius, De "Wette, and Umbreit have referred the Book of Job to the time
of the captivity, — a period assigned to it by Le Clerc, Warburton, Heath,
Garnet, and Rabbi Jochanan, among the older critics. But from the few
remains of Hebrew literature that have come down to us, and our imper-
fect acquamtance Avith the history of language, it follows that it is by no
means certain that the words and forms above mentioned may not have
been in use in some parts of Judaea before the time of the captivity. ]*}^ as
a prefix, occurs in the Book of Judges. See vi. 17." — Preface to Job.


They cut here and slash there, until the whole forest
of antiquity is levelled to the ground. Indeed, I can-
not conceive of any language, which is not vernacular,
being so critically known to a man as to justify him
in upsetting all tradition, and saying he finds modern-
isms in every page. Dr. Bentley, in his dissertation on
the Epistles of Phalaris, speaks very modestly of the
modernisms he discovers in those Epistles, and places
the chief evidence of their forgery on the anachronisms
which he everywhere discovers. Besides, suppose there
are real Aramseanisms, is recency of authorship the only
way in which they can be accounted for ? We are told
in the sacred history, that Solomon " spake three thou-
sand proverbs, and his songs were a thousand and five,"
(1 Kings iv. 32,) and why may not this be one of them ?
Who more likely to produce it, than he of whom it is
said, there came of " all people to hear the wisdom of
Solomon, from all the kings of the earth, which had
heard of his wisdom" ? There is no end to this learned
scepticism ; and truth would always be found by these
sagacious divers, were she always certain to conceal
herself in the bottom of a well. They are sure to
miss her when she is on the surface.

Nor can I possibly agree with those who regard this
book as a collection of songs. The remarks of Rosen-
miiller are on this point excellent. '' That this book,"
he says, " contains one connected song, was never ques-
tioned until Richard Simon called it into doubt, by


saying it was a collection of various minor poems by
various authors ; and since his day the same hypothesis
has been adopted by distinguished critics ; the book,
according to these critics, is a collection of amatory
songs, having no unity but the common subject, like
the Book of Psalms, or the Book of Proverbs." But,
as Rosenmiiller says, there is no vestige in the book of
this variety, — nulla tamen tumultuariae congestionis
vestigia. It is everywhere a continued dialogue of the
same speakers, in the same style, on the same subject.
The unity is complete ; and the man who finds this
variety must do as a man who breaks a glass vase, and
then complains that he only finds a collection of frag-
ments. The only plausibility that such a theory can
have must arise from a peculiarity which pervades all
Hebrew poetry ; namely, the rapid transitions by which
a primitive people leave the reader to supply the inter-
stices of their thoughts. The transition of such writers
is always rapid ; and if every break indicates a new
subject and a new author, there is no end to the va-
riety which bad taste and daring speculation may every-
where find. Following these ancient, simple writers
is not like walking in the gravelled paths of a garden,
trodden down by art and consolidated by the roller,
but like walking over the glaciers of the Alps, where
you must leap many a chasm, and where you are an
unskilful traveller if the first interruption stops your
way. The frost in these haggard regions will not im
itate the nicety of an artist in his studio.


The want of tact in discerning the difference be-
tween a rapid transition (such as constitutes the char-
acter and beauty of primitive poetry) has led Rosen-
miiller himself, in that beautiful break in the nineteenth
Psalm, ver. 7, to find a new subject. " Mihi tamen ea
carminis pars, quae inde a versus et decurrit, parum
apte cum reliqua videtur cohaerere. Ea vero in utraque
rerum et verborum est dissimilitudo, ut nullus dubitem,
duo diversa carmina, aut certe diversorum carminum
particulas, quorum unum virtutem Jehovae ex opificio
coelorum mire relucentem, alterum legum divinarum
praestantiam et excellentiam celebraret, casu vel consilio
in hoc uno esse conjuncta, quae proinde a nobis erunt
sejungenda." But surely there never was a more beau-
tiful unity than this Psalm presents, or a more beau-
tiful transition. How natural that the works of God
should suggest the clearer revelation of his Word, and
that the same ode should present the harmony of
both !

That this book should be regarded as a collection
of fragments, is one of the most baseless visions that
ever entered a mind darkened by its own ingenuity.
Never was there a book that had greater unity. It is
all about the same pair, Solomon and Solomitis. The
style is the same ; the subject is the same ; and the
whole impression is unique. The fragments must be
made by the fragmentary mind that reads it.

The best way to discover the moral design of this


book is to consider its historical origin. "We must en-
deavor to state to ourselves the circumstances under
which its design was suggested and its form arose. It
is pretty clear that most of the Psalms, and many of
the prophecies, had an occasional and temporary appli-
cation ; and that the local event was an interpreter to
the ultimate design. The analogy of one to the other
was often very striking and instructive. Now this
principle, sanctioned by so many examples, we pro-
pose to apply in explaining the design of this difficult

"We know from the sacred history, that Solomon, in
his high glory, made affinity, not only with equal
kings, as the king of Egypt, but also with the rural
chiefs and sheiks of the tribes around him. We are
told expressly (1 Kings xi.) : " But King Solomon loved
many strange women " (i. e. foreigners), " together
with the daughter of Pharaoh, women of the Moabites,
Ammonites, Edomites, Zidonians, and Hittites ; of the
nations concerning which the Lord said unto the chil-
dren of Israel, Ye shall not go in to them, neither shall
they come in unto you ; for surely they will turn away
your heart after their gods. Solomon clave unto these
in love." Now we must remember that all these na-
tions, except the Zidonians, were pastoral and rural
nations, very much below the Israelites in the scale of
civilization in the golden days of Solomon. I cannot
think that the bride in this song is Pharaoh's daugh-


ter, though Lowth and other learned critics have coun-
tenanced this opinion. The Solomeith or Solomitis
of this Song is everywhere a rural lass, having that
mixture of rusticity and refinement which marks the
daughter of some sheik, — just such qualities as would
now characterize an Arab princess. " How beautiful
are thy feet with shoes, prince's daughter! " (vii. 1.)
" I am black, but comely ; " that is, a handsome bru-
nette, (i. 5.) ^' I am the rose of Sharon," i. e. a mod-
est autumnal flower, and '' the lily of the valley," i. e.
a beautiful flower growing in a humble place, (ii. 1.)
She sleeps under the trees ; " our bed is green ; the
beams of our liouse are cedar, and our rafters are fir."
(i. 16, 17.) She is made keeper of a vineyard, and fol-
lows a flock, and the more polished daughters of Jeru-
salem are jealous of her ; in a word, she speaks like a
polished, rural lass. Now if we put the hints of his-
tory and of the book together, we may come to the
conclusion that Solomon, in spreading his peaceful
empire, made affinity with some of the Arab tribes
around him. He did it from a partial wish of spreading
the Hebrew empire and religion through the vicinity.
He did not aim to conquer by war, but by affinity ; he
wished to cement a glorious empire ; it is true, that
afterwards his idolatrous wives turned away his heart ;
but such, probably, was not his first intention. Noth-
ing is more natural than that, when we mix too much
expediency in our designs to spread religion, the evil


should eat out the good. I suppose Solomon might
have a mixed motive ; it was one of those cases where
his own wisdom might deceive him ; his folly was not
the folly of a fool, and I cannot imagine any other
reason for his vast number of wives and concubines.
" And he had seven hundred wives, princesses," (mark
the word !) " and three hundred concubines : and his
wives turned away his heart. For it came to pass
when Solomon was old," (mark again,) " that his wives
turned away his heart after other gods ; and his heart
was not perfect " (mark again) " with the Lord his God,
as was the heart of David his father. For Solomon
went after Ashtoreth, the goddess of the Zidonians,
and after Milcom, the abomination of the Ammonites.
And Solomon did evil in the sight of the Lord, and
went not fully after the Lord, as did David his father.
Then did Solomon build up an high place for Che-
mosh, the abomination of Moab, in the hill that is be-
fore Jerusalem, and for Molech, the abomination of the
children of Ammon. And likewise did he for all his
strange wives, which burnt incense and sacrificed unto
their gods." (1 Kings xi. 3-8.) Several things may be
here noticed. First, the vast number of his wives, be-
yond all the purposes of sensuality, — one thousand ! —
and I fancy some of them found their houses more of
the convent than the seraglio. No doubt the purpose
was to prepare the way for a splendid kingdom. Sec-
ondly, it will be noticed that the seven hundred wives


were princesses ; now the very number shows they did
not belong to great kingdoms, like Egypt ; they must
have been princesses in the little tribes around Pales-
tine. Thirdly, it will be noticed that Solomon is not
totally condemned : " They turned away his heart ; it
came to pass when Solomon was old, that his wives,"
&c. " He went not fully after the Lord, like David his
father ; " " his heart was not perfect with the Lord his
God," &c. It seems very probable, therefore, that at
first his intention might have been good, or at least he
thought so ; he wished to establish a great kingdom ;
he was not a man of war ; he must do it by other
arts, — the arts of peace; he bound the rural tribes
around him to himself by his multiplied affinities ; —
none but the best and worst men act from single mo-
tives. Solomon was a mingled character; his great wis-
dom sometimes marred the simplicity of his piety. Now,
putting these things together, I suppose that he wooed
and won some beautiful daughter of some neighboring
sheik, — perhaps for the first time ; the thing made a
great noise in Jerusalem ; the fathers were alarmed,
and the daughters of Jerusalem were jealous. Some-
times he carried his rustic bride, his autumnal flower,
his lily of the valley, up to Jerusalem, where she com-
plains : " The watchmen that went about the city found
me, they smote me, they wounded me : the keepers of
the wall took away my veil from me." And sometimes
Solomon himself went down to rusticate in her country,


to spend part of the summer ; the wild cliffs were as
sweet to the king as the polished houses of Jerusa-
lem were to the bride. " my dove, that art in the
clefts of the rock, in the secret place of the stairs, let
me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice ; for
sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely.
Take us the foxes, the little foxes that spoil the vines,
for our vines have tender grapes." (ii. 14, 15.) These
alternations are presented throughout the whole poem.
Such, then, is the Historical Origin of this beautiful
work. King Solomon chooses some foreign bride ; he
deviates from the customs and laws of his country ;
his conduct excites great attention, and produces great
commotion in Jerusalem. But a popular king has his
own privileges ; his intentions are for good, though not
legal, and he writes this poem to show how pure his
felicity, how happy his marriage with a rural bride,
taken from a Pagan nation, whom, nevertheless, he
brings under the influence of the true religion, and
hopes to convert to the true faith, and make one of
the instruments of promoting the glory of his peace-
ful kingdom.

But we are told in Judges xiv. 4, that, when Sam-
son went down to Timnath, and saw a woman in Tim-
nath of the daughters of the Philistines, and wished to
have her for a wife, contrary to the wishes of her fa-
ther and mother, " his father and his mother knew not
that the thing was of the Lord." So in this case, the


occasional song was exalted by the providence of God
into a higher purpose. That purpose was mainly and
primarily to foreshow the formation and union of the
Gentile Church with Christ, when a more sublime and
spiritual religion should be presented. Of course, in
this purpose, as a unity, many constituents are in-
volved ; for example, a higher religion, a higher class
of saints, the union of the soul with Christ, — all of
which I consider not as separate items, but all involved
in the great idea. There is to be a religion (such is the
spirit of the book) which, uniting the soul with its Sav-
iour in a nobler life, is to bring the Gentiles under its
influence, and have power enough to spread through
the earth. For this opinion we should adduce several
reasons. First, the perfect analogy between the his-
torical fact and the spiritual signification. If Solomon
hoped to spread his kingdom by these marriages, the
first bride was not only a type, but an actual specimen,
of the signification looked for. Secondly, there is a
perfect consonance between this view and the occa-
sional signification of other places in the Psalms and
prophecies. They often have an historical origin, and
a sublime future import, as, in the seventy-second, the
reign of Solomon and the kingdom of Christ. This is
the general method ; when the neologists say that what-
ever is great and splendid about temporal things in
the Old Testament was applied by the later Jews to the
Messiah and his kingdom, they only pervert and misuse


a fact, which is the occasional signal of the great de-
sign. Thirdly, this Book would scarcely have had a
place in the sacred canon, if the authors of that canon,
whoever they might be, had believed it to be a mere
love-song ; it would have been like introducing the
image of Bacchus or Silenus into their holy temple.
On this point one of their own Rabbis has spoken, —
Aben-Esra. " Absit, absit ut Canticum Canticorum de
amore carnali agat, sed omnia figurate in eo dicantur.
Nisi enim maxima ejus dignitas esset, in sacrorum
librorum corpus non fuisset relatum, neque de eo ulla
est controversia." To which Rosenmiiller adds, that
the whole character and design of the sacred books for-
bid the supposition that a song which sung the loves
of a man and a woman should be numbered among
the books of the Old Testament. When we read the
following verse in the Book of Hymns by Dr. Watts,
we have no hesitation, from its place, to allow its
subject and design, though the words may seem am-
biguous : —

" Let my beloved come and taste
His pleasant fruits at his own feast;
I come, my spouse ; I come, he cries,
With love and pleasure in his eyes."

And the same reasoning applies to this book. It
stands rank and file amidst the solemnities of reve-
lation. This circumstance has in fact decided the
Church, at the least the vast majority of it, to receive


the book in its mystical import ; and the fact is signifi-
cant ; it was the decision of unconscious reason, which
the pubhc mind could not resist. . It is one of those
conclusions that we adopt before we have analyzed its
force. We do not expect the levity in a Greek chorus
which we find in an Anacreontic song. But there is
another reason. Fourthly, the poor, barren meaning
that emerges, if the allegoric is not taken. A very pe-
culiar choice meets us, — the great or the little; the sub-
lime or the ridiculous ; the most exalted devotion or the
meanest sensuality. On this point even the comment
of Grotius is instructive ; he rejects the spiritual mean-
ing, and where does he fall ? He shows the melancholy
consequence of not catching the note of inspiration from
its celestial harp. I hardly dare to state the import
which this great critic gives to this sacred book. In
searching for the latent meaning of this book, we are
reminded of the epitaph mentioned in Gil Bias, —
" Here is interred the soul of the Licentiate Peter
Garcias." The pert coxcomb laughed at the absurd-
ity of supposing a soul interred in a grave ; but his
wiser companion fathomed the mystery and found the

But, fifthly, the place the book supplies in meeting
the wants of a certain class of readers, perhaps I may
say, in some degree, of all mankind. Who does not
know that one great problem always before the awak-
ened and anxious mind is. How shall I get the will


to conquer my corruption ? How shall I shake off
those evil propensities, which, like iron chains, fasten
my soul down to earth and transgression ? To be
saved I must be willing to be saved; but how shall 1
get that will ? You tell me that religion is a cure
for all sorrow and sin; that it is easy, — "the yoke is
easy and the burden is light." But you contradict
my experience. It is vain to tell me of the reason-
ableness of religion ; the human passions are not
reasonable, — mine are not; and I turn like a door
on its hinges, and yet never get separated from
my own selfishness. Such are the complaints I have
heard from hundreds of sinners. Now, to such a
mind how impressive, how instructive it must be to
know that there is a form of religion where even the
struggle is lost in the perception of celestial beauty
and the free, spontaneous love which arises from it !
There are attainments in religion where it ceases to
be an effort, — duty is lost in delight ; Christ is seen
and his drawings are felt ; the whole soul is borne
on a new current. Let us seek an illustration. Yon-
der is a barge entering the harbor ; the tide is
against her, and the wind is contrary. How they
toil at the oars, and how little is their headway !
But suddenly the tide turns and the wind changes ;
they spread their sails, and enter the harbor with
streamers flying and with triumphant speed. " I went
down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the


valley, and to see whether the yine flourished and the
pomegranates budded ; or ever I was aware, my soul
made me like the chariots of Amminadib." (vi.
11, 12.)

To the Christian, too, the lesson is important. We
begin religion in a violent struggle witlt our own evil
propensities. It is a most discouraging combat, and
our frequent failures plunge us almost into despair.
Some of the strongest expressions are used in the
New Testament to describe this painful conflict. It
is plucking out the riglit eye, tearing off the right
hand ; it is a crucifixion ; it is taking up the cross
daily ; it drives us to the most agonizing prayer.
How delightful it must be to know that when the
renovated will, feeble at first, has done its part, a
time will come, when, if we are faithful in the strug-
gle, the will must give place to the whole powers
of the heart. There will be no struggle, no con-
flict, no cross. Indeed, the great secret in religion
is, to have a clear perception of the celestial bride-
groom, and to have the heart in a corresponding
state. Strauss says that Christ is a principle, and I
believe it. He is a principle and person too ; and he
is the more a principle because he is a person ; and
Dr. Young was more than a poet when he said :

" Talk they of morals, — thou bleeding Love !
Thou Maker of new morals for mankind,
The grand morality is love to thee."


But, sixthly, I think this must have been the ori-
gin and the signification of this song ; that is, its
sublime meaning gi^ew out of its historical origin,
from the fact that all the Pagan nations had similar
ideas, and God, in thus signifying his will to his
people, only employed the universal language. The
Pagans regarded all nature as one great sympathetic
system, indicating by the informing spirit future
events. The flight of a bird, the motion of a ser-

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Online LibraryLeonard WithingtonSolomon's song: translated and explained, in three parts → online text (page 1 of 20)