On God’s Presence in Song of Songs

If you have studied the bible either as a literature in a scholarly setting or in a church, you might have heard that there are two books of the bible that don’t mention God. Well, it is true; the two most common terms used to name God, YHVH and Elohim, are not used in Esther and Song of Solomon. Why is this so? The Old Testament mostly consists of Hebrew narrative and the books of the prophets. The latter are books recording teachings of God’s prophets. Not only do they mention God, but the men for whom these books are named acted as God’s mouthpiece. The Hebrew narrative not only mentions and names God, but God plays an active role in the storyline. In the Torah, God works miracles and even appears (although the characters never see God’s face he talks to them directly, and shows himself to them without revealing himself entirely). So why is Esther and Song of Songs different?

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Of course, complex questions on Bible language can never be easy. Certain translations of Song of Songs do mention God. The ending of Song of Songs 8:6 varies according to what translation one is reading:

ESV: “very flame of the Lord”

NIV: “like a mighty flame”

KJV & NKJV: “a most vehement flame”

NLT: “the brightest kind of flame”

Translation is the issue here. The Hebrew word that appears in Song of Songs 8:7 is “shalhevetyah.” The term could be interpreted as one or two words. When interpreted as one word, it means “a great fire,” and as two words it means “fire of Yah,” Yah acting as a shortened form of the Hebrew word for God- Yahweh or YHVH.

Additionally, there are two additional verses that could contain words that mean God in Song of Songs. The Hebrew term “bi-tseva’ot” appears twice in the book, once in 2:7 and again in 3:5. Not including Song of Songs, the term “tseva’ot” occurs 292 times in the bible, all as forms of the name of God. In every case the term is linked with YHVH or Elohim. For this reason, the Talmud considers “tseva’ot” one of the holiest names of God which cannot be erased according to Jewish laws concerning the name of God. The Targum translates the term in question as “Lord of hosts.” However, it is more commonly translated as “gazelles,” the female form of “tsvi.”

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So it is hard for one to actually conclude without reasonable doubt that God is not mentioned in Song of Songs. At the very least, though, we can conclude that God plays no active role in Song of Songs, right? The book is a love poem between a bridegroom (King Solomon) and his bride. The book is only eight chapters long, contains no miracles, nor does it reveal revelations from a prophet. Nonetheless, according to Jewish tradition, God plays a vital role in the narrative of Song of Songs. According to Talmudic tradition, every “Solomon” in Song of Songs is holy and it also falls under the law of the names of God because every “Solomon” is, in fact, the name of God.

“Every ‘Solomon’ in Song of Songs is holy; it is a song to Him Who is the possessor of peace…” (pg 4 of Talmud link)

So it seems that Song of Songs is more than just a love poem. It is a piece describing God’s covenant with or marriage to Israel, and it describes God’s love for Israel. Whether or not God is directly mentioned or just alluded to, His presence existed within the lyrics of the Song of Songs according to the Hebrews. According to Dr. Frederick J. Gaiser, Song of Songs is hard to put a finger on. He says that interpreters sense elements of Egyptian love poetry and Canaanite fertility religion. There are no explicit theological themes, and there is no (direct) mention of God. Still, as Dr. Gaiser puts it, “Today the song is generally read, as it should be, on its own terms as a beautiful poetic love song; yet, we can also hear in it-properly, no doubt- ancient and medieval overtones of an erotic interpretation of the relationship between humans and God.”

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