Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory
Things get wild in Song of Songs, in large part thanks to the crazy animal imagery:
- In 1:9, the groom states that the bride is "a mare among Pharaoh's chariots." The writer isn't trying to say that these lovers have any relationship with Pharaoh, but this helps serve as a reference point to understand the context.
- In 2:9, the bride describes the groom as a "gazelle" and a "stag." Talk about hardy animals. When we hear him compared to these creatures, we're probably supposed to think, "hubba hubba."
- In 2:15, animals begin to personify people: "Catch us the foxes, the little foxes, that ruin the vineyards—for our vineyards are in blossom." The foxes represent the men who are attempting to seduce the women; and the vineyards represent the budding sexualities of the women themselves.
Yeah, the Bible is pretty racy when you give its metaphors a shot.
Sometimes, though, the metaphors don't translate very well into our generation. Remember that line from Chapter 4 when the groom says, "Your hair is like a flock of goats, moving down the slopes of Gilead" (4:1)? Not exactly the best compliment to give in our world today, right? But here's deal. Metaphors like these can tell us a lot about life in the ancient world. Why would you say something like that unless it would produce a blush and a smile?
Let's do our best to interpret that metaphor, ancient-style. Think about looking at a far off flock of goats, grazing on the slopes. All of the animals will seem like one mass, right? And when they move, it'll probably look pretty cool.
Still with us? Okay. What job would you have to have to be really familiar with that image? Yep, shepherding. And there you have it: our guy is a shepherd. (Jump on down to "Shepherds and Flocks" for more on this.)