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Song of Songs (Reformed Expository Commentary)About 4 years ago I taught a SS lesson on The Song of Songs. One of the resources I used was Iain Duguid’s new (at the time) commentary on the Song in the Tyndale Old Covenant Commentary series. It was one of the more helpful commentaries I used. At the time, there was also notice of his Reformed Expository Commentary series volume on the Song. I had hoped it would come out in time, but it hadn’t.

When the volume was finally published, I bought a copy. While on vacation/study leave I decided to read for reasons I’ll lay out in the follow-up post.

The Reformed Expository Commentary series is rooted in expository sermons on the subject at hand. They are a popularization, so to speak, of the material he presents elsewhere. He’s making it accessible and applicable to his congregation. So, in addition to some background and linguistic material there is a focus on application not as readily found in his commentary.

In his preface, Duguid notes that this was the first sermon series for the church he planted in Philadelphia. In addition to being a professor he has also planted churches near the schools in which he’s taught. When we re-started our church in FL eons ago, we had been in Ephesians and I decided to begin our newly renamed and relocated congregation with a series on marriage which would end up in Ephesians 5 where I’d left off. I thought it would be an “attention getter” in the flyers we handed out. It got no one’s attention, apparently. But Christ Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia is still going so it was moderately effective for him.

The Introduction covers issues of interpretation. This seems shorter than in his TOTC volume, which is understandable. It is Hebrew poetry and this must be taken into consideration when interpreting the text.

“Poetry is the art of condensation: expressing maximum meaning in the minimum number of words. … Poetry tends to be open ended, leaving us pondering and wondering rather than tying up every loose end with a watertight argument.”

As a result, what it means is not always very clear especially due to the great distance in time and culture. There are plenty of times you need to toss out caveats and address varying interpretations.

He briefly discusses and rules out the allegorical method which so many reject in every book of the Bible except this one. An allegory is typically a story in which everything represents something else. Pilgrim’s Progress is an allegory. There was no real Christian and all that transpired was intended to be a picture of the Christian life. There are lions, giants and more that represent something else. In the case of The Song of Songs, this is to avoid discussion of … sex. This is because we somehow think Christians should not talk about the beauty of sex. Or something like that.

The way many Christians who use an allegorical interpretation for this book makes it incomprehensible for the original audience. The original meaning is not about God and His people. Duguid sees The Song as a love poem which does have a typological function in pointing us to Christ and the Church (iow God and His people). There is an original meaning with application to people about marital love which must be reckoned with first.

He also addresses the issue of Solomon. You really have to stretch things to make Solomon the hero or the Beloved. Solomon is viewed as a contrast to the Beloved. He has many wives and concubines and cannot know them like the man and woman here know each other.

“For these reasons I take the Song of Songs to be a poem by an unknown and anonymous author about two idealized people, a man and a woman, whose exclusive and committed love is great but, like all loves in this fallen world, is far from perfect. … Thus, the Son is designed to show each of us how far short of perfection we fall both as humans and as lovers, and to drive us into the arms of our true heavenly Husband, Jesus Christ, whose love for his bride is truly perfect.”

This is the understanding behind these twelve sermons that work through the Song. He speaks often of romantic love as friendship on fire. The Song begins before marriage as they express their longing for on another but also maintain boundaries. In many ways it was counter-cultural in that it begins with her desires and longings. She is interested in him physically, not just emotionally. She is neither a feminist nor a traditionalist. She communicates her desires, and those include him providing leadership and direction. She wants him to kiss her, but isn’t kissing him first.

One of the things that Duguid stresses often is the connection, in the Song, between sex, marriage and children. This couple wants to possess one another, when the time is right, and sees its logical and desired end in having children together. He also stresses the role of family and community that is found in the Song. At times it is negative (like her brothers) but also often positive.

The Song functions to correct our fallen views of sex and relationship. Each culture should experience correction. While, for instance, purity is prized here it is not an idolatrous pursuit as can often happen. Duguid explains this in terms of beams and bombs. We find sturdy beams of truth upon which to build a biblical worldview, and bunkerbusting bombs that explode our false notions and worldviews. The Song reminds us that we need to positively teach the good things God says about sex, including in the Song. Duguid reminds us that one of Satan’s biggest lies is that God is a cosmic kill-joy and that His law is repressive rather than the law of love and freedom. God designed our bodies to enjoy sex. On the other hand, our desires are disordered so not all we want to do sexually is good and conforms to God’s law.

He speaks much about purity. We see the couple refusing to act on their desires until they are married. They still have desires for connection that are person specific. Purity is not simply a good unto itself. We can make an idol virginity losing sight of it as a faithfulness designed to minimize our sexual baggage that disrupts and corrupts the marriage bed. We are mirroring His fidelity to His people.

In his application Duguid regularly addresses single adults and those struggling with same sex attraction. The Song is for them too, as God re-orders their disordered desires (however slowly at times) as well as pointing them to Jesus.

The twelve chapters bring us from the awakening of their love to marriage, the reality of struggles in marriage and ending with the power of love. While the Song is not a relational handbook, it does teach much about fidelity and passion in a love that moves toward and continues in marriage. Duguid applies this in chastising those who put off love for careers when in reality love finds us at unexpected times. Putting off marriage at the height of sexual desire sets many up for failure. Yet neither should we make an idol of marriage as if it will satisfy. No one person can meet all our needs. The limitations of human love are intended to drive us to Jesus, not serial monogamy. Or polygamy/polyamory.

Love is powerful, as the Song warns us. It can make us crazy. There is the repeated warning not to arouse or awaken love until it is time. We can’t give full reign to our desires until the right time and context.

All in all this is a great book. Because it is a series of sermons the focus is on the relationship between them and our relationship with God. It is a volume I’d recommend to the single adults in my life so they can develop godly and realistic expectations. He dispensed plenty of wisdom without trying to advance the norms of some bygone culture. He brings us to Jesus in each sermon (providing great examples of Christ-centered sermons). I appreciate this book as a pastor & preacher, husband & father.

In part 2, I will compare this expositional commentary with his other commentary. I’ll try to see the differences in how he handles the text for those different audiences.

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