An allegory is a literary work in which the characters and events are symbolic of a deeper moral or spiritual truth. The Pilgrim’s Progress and The Holy War by John Bunyan are famous allegories. The Song of Solomon is often interpreted as an allegory by both Jewish and Christian scholars. Jews have seen it as an allegory of God’s love, while Christians have often viewed the book as an allegory of Christ’s love for the Church. The book is lyric, poetic, and rich in symbolism, but can it properly be called an allegory?
Because of the romantic and even sexual nature of the book’s contents, many have sought a different way to understand its message. However, an allegorical approach is unnecessary to understanding the intended meaning of the Song of Solomon. The straightforward approach to the Song of Solomon shows it is a love poem written by Solomon regarding a woman he loves. The book includes many intimate details regarding the love between a man and a woman; those details are cloaked in symbolism, but chapter 4 is obviously a poetic description of the consummation of a marriage on the wedding night. There is no need to allegorize this, since its presentation of connubial love is completely consistent with the Bible’s other teachings regarding marriage.
In the poem the wedding takes place prior to the consummation of sexual relations between the lover and his beloved (Song of Solomon 3:6–11). The wedding night is symbolically described in 4:1—5:1, and then 5:2–8:4 addresses the maturing of the marriage relationship. The beloved concludes, “Many waters cannot quench love; / rivers cannot sweep it away” (Song of Solomon 8:7).
There is nothing in the book to suggest it’s anything but a lyrical presentation of what actually took place between King Solomon and his true love. There are no supernatural events or apocalyptic beasts; there is nothing that must be understood as allegorical, and there is no need to spiritualize the text.
A major concern with an allegorical approach to the Song of Solomon is that the meaning of the allegory is debatable. The lover is usually seen as God or Christ, with the beloved as either God’s people (Israel) or the Church. While the Church is called the bride of Christ (Ephesians 5; Revelation 19:7), this does not mean the bride in the Song of Solomon must be seen from this perspective. The Church did not exist at the time the Song of Solomon was composed. Unless speaking prophetically, the book cannot refer to the Church.
Could Solomon have written the book as an allegory of God’s love for the Jewish people? God loves Israel (Hosea 3:1), but this does not require the Song of Solomon to be an allegory about Israel. There may be applications relevant to God’s love for His people, but this is different from interpreting the book as an allegory.
The Song of Solomon can be read and interpreted just as it was written, as a love poem. It offers an intimate look of the growth, joy, and maturation of love between a man and woman. It can thus offer much insight for married life today. The Song of Solomon can also be seen as an illustration of God’s love for His people, but it is not an allegory, per se.