Dusting off the Ancient Song

There is a book in the Bible we don’t talk about very much anymore—it seems too blatantly sensual. For a long time its title was known as The Song of Solomon, but aside from both the old and new King James and Revised Standard versions most Bibles today call it the Song of Songs. I will call it, and what it stands for, simply the Song.

Appearing immediately before the Song is the book of Ecclesiastes, only slightly more honored in our day than the Song but hardly any more fully understood. Probably these books are largely ignored today for the same reason that they were placed last among (or near the end of)1 the so-called Wisdom books of the Old Testament as it took shape. The wise sage who gave us Ecclesiastes understood what was happening. At the outset he expresses it (Eccles 1,9-112):

9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. 10 Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”? It has been already, in the ages before us. 11 There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to happen among those who come after.

The key word here is remembrance. It is one thing to have remembrance of history. It is quite another to have knowledge of it. The distinction between them is the key to understanding the Song.

There is a theme in the Song that occurs three times. It says, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that you stir not up nor awaken love until it please.” But after the third of these a verse occurs that one must keep in mind in considering “the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast” at the Last Supper. It reads, “Who is that coming up from the wilderness3, leaning upon her beloved? Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in travail with you.” Not only are these motifs used by John4, but it was only because John had attained the “love that pleases” in the Song that he could write (in regard to the promiscuous woman at Jacob’s well) about the “living water” that satisfies in his Gospel.

There are so many things in the Bible on which theology is still totally in the dark. It has no understanding of the meaning of Under the apple tree I awakened you. Another is the entire book of Job, as I shall touch upon later. In its 38th chapter the Lord asks Job, “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (vs 4) as well as a series of other questions related to ancient times and creative acts. Then it makes a very important statement, You know, for you were born then, and the number of your days is great! (Vs 21). Later in the chapter it refers to certain stars and seems clearly to be talking about the zodiac in relation to “the ordinances of the heavens” and “their rule on the earth.” The implications of all this are enormous and suggest that there is buried deep within the human soul an ancient knowledge that has been lost and needs to be remembered. This is what the Song is about. This is what being “awakened under the apple tree” is about.

To begin to see what it is we don’t remember anymore, and so that we can grasp who this “disciple” is, it is necessary to give some background that theology has not yet given us.

The Disciple Whom Jesus Loved