Does Song of Solomon Teach Sexual Immorality?

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Abstract

A recent charge against Scripture goes beyond denying that it addresses and/or prohibits certain sexual sins. There are some liberal theologians who even claim that the Bible endorses and encourages such sins. One book singled out in this regard is the Song of Solomon. Due to Solomon’s infamy for rampant polygamy later in life, his marital state and motives for writing Song of Solomon are not just questioned but openly declared a monument to lust, premarital sex, and/or excessive polygamy. But we know that Scripture does not contradict itself, and such an interpretation of Song of Solomon would be counter to numerous other Old and New Testament passages clearly stating that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman, and that sexual relations are to be confined within marriage. In addition, biblical passages directly relating to Solomon, and the chronology and timeline of Solomon’s life, refute this claim.

Setting the Stage For Sexual Sin?

In our current time and culture, sexual sin has been at the forefront of the battle with biblical morality and authority. In fact, there has been a recent rise in people completely twisting passages of Scripture and saying that the Bible clearly teaches a different view on sexuality and does not require intimacy to be between one man and one woman who are married to each other. It is popular in our culture to teach and promote “sexual liberation” where anything and everything goes, as long as there is consent (for now anyway). Some liberal theologians have ignored or reinterpreted God’s Word to allow for this idea. They’ve become like those mentioned in Romans 1:321:

Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.

These theologians want to portray the Bible as promoting a licentious lifestyle—perhaps because some want to live such a lifestyle, want to encourage (or at least not discourage) others to do so as well, or just want to be as provocative as possible. One of the books of the Bible that has recently come under attack is the Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs). It has been adopted by those who claim that the Bible not only speaks of sexual promiscuity but also endorses it in glowing terms.

700 Wives and 300 Concubines

Does this claim have any weight? Does Song of Solomon, written by King Solomon, really teach sexual immorality? King Solomon certainly engaged in sexual immorality later in his life, considering he had 700 wives and 300 concubines (1 Kings 11:3). But the Bible tells us these women turned his heart away from the Lord (verses 4–8) and caused him to worship other gods. His immorality and vast number of marriages certainly didn’t honor the Lord, nor are they upheld as a good example for us. Rather, they were his downfall, and God judged him for it (verses 9–13). But this happened later in his life, long after Song of Solomon was written.

An Unmentioned First Wife, and Then a Second Wife?

And Rehoboam the son of Solomon reigned in Judah. Rehoboam was forty-one years old when he became king. He reigned seventeen years in Jerusalem, the city which the Lord had chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, to put His name there. His mother’s name was Naamah, an Ammonitess. (1 Kings 14:21)

If Solomon was around 70 when he died2 (as is assumed from 1 Chronicles 3:4–5; 2 Samuel 5:6–9, 7:1, 11:1–12:24; and 2 Chronicles 9:30) and his son Rehoboam was 41 at that time, then Solomon was 29 when Rehoboam was born (and this would have been one year before becoming king). This would mean that Solomon must have had a previous wife before Pharaoh’s daughter (who most theologians believe is the main female of Song of Solomon), as can be deduced from the verse above about Rehoboam and his mother. If Solomon was married to Pharaoh's daughter in the third year of his reign (deduced from 1 Kings 2:39 and 3:1), then Solomon would have been 33 at that time.

Typically, most Jewish males were married between 16 and 18, so it is quite possible that Solomon was married to Naamah at age 16–18.3 She may have died before Solomon became king and married Pharaoh's daughter, possibly while giving birth to Rehoboam. Since there seems to be no power struggle over who would succeed Solomon (1 Kings 13:1–2), it also appears fairly certain that Rehoboam was Solomon’s oldest son. We also know that Solomon had at least two daughters (Taphath and Basemath—perhaps also by Naamah) who were probably older than Rehoboam and were married off to Solomon's governors when he took the throne (4:11, 15). These might be clues that Rehoboam was the last child of Naamah, allowing for the possibility that she died giving birth to him or shortly afterward.

A Faithful 17-Year Marriage?

Solomon’s second wife was the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). They may have married about three years into Solomon’s reign (if that marriage took place immediately after the events described in 1 Kings 2:39–46). Twenty years into his reign, after Solomon had finished his palace and the Lord’s temple, he built a palace at Gezer for the daughter of Pharaoh, his wife (1 Kings 9:10, 16, 24). Solomon was still serving the Lord at this point (verse 25).

In 1 Kings 10, King Solomon is visited by the Queen of Sheba and almost immediately afterward begins multiplying more gold and riches as well as gathering chariots and horses, even from Egypt. Accumulating excessive wealth and horses, and acquiring those horses from Egypt, was forbidden for kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14–17).

Israel’s kings were instructed not to accumulate wives (Deuteronomy 17:17). After Solomon accrued excessive wealth and horses, it should not come as a surprise that 1 Kings 11 begins,

But King Solomon loved many foreign women, as well as the daughter of Pharaoh: women of the Moabites, Ammonites, Edomites, Sidonians, and Hittites.

Not only had the Lord designed marriage for one man and one woman (Genesis 2:24) and forbidden kings to accumulate wives, but he had also forbidden the Israelites from taking wives from certain nations because they would lead them away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1–2). And the women Solomon loved were from those nations the Lord had told the Israelites to avoid (verse 1).

This passage, the first place Solomon is described as loving many women, records that his love for other women was in addition to his love for the daughter of Pharaoh, signifying her priority to them, in both time and prestige. So it appears that Solomon started multiplying wives after Pharaoh’s daughter moved to Gezer and after the visit by the queen of Sheba. If this is the proper way to understand the narrative, Solomon was faithful to his wife for several years before he became entangled with many foreign wives, who led him away from the Lord and into idolatry.

A Wandering Eye

So what caused a man married nearly two decades to begin looking for other wives? Theologians have three main hypotheses.

The first hypothesis is that Solomon's Egyptian wife had reverted back to idolatry, and Solomon, who was still following the Lord at this time, felt that her idol worship made her unfit to be in the same city where God's Shekinah glory dwelt and that’s why Solomon sent her to Gezer.

Now Solomon brought the daughter of Pharaoh up from the City of David to the house he had built for her, for he said, “My wife shall not dwell in the house of David king of Israel, because the places to which the ark of the Lord has come are holy.” (2 Chronicles 8:11).

This is a strong case, because Solomon’s only other reason for making this statement was that she was Egyptian, and this would be contradictory to Deuteronomy 23:7–8, which forbids abhorring (despising or hating) Egyptians and allows third-generation Egyptians dwelling in Israel to enter the Temple. It would also go against the thoughts of Solomon's own Temple dedication prayer in 1 Kings 8:41–43.

This “idolatry hypothesis” also seems to be supported by Nehemiah 13:26, which strongly implies that Solomon was upright with the Lord until he sinned by worshipping idols after marrying foreign wives. The additional fact that, while the Temple was built, Solomon had a luxurious home built for his wife (1 Kings 7:8) lends credence to the possibility that she had reverted to idolatry.4 Had she been idolatrous at that time, Solomon would not have built her a mansion in Jerusalem. And if she had not become idolatrous later, it seems strange for Solomon to relocate her to Gezer.

If Solomon’s wife reverted to worshipping the Egyptian gods, perhaps she began to lead him away, or, perhaps being separated from her, he became lonely and sought out other women.

A Love For Political Alliances

The second hypothesis is that Solomon began to marry other wives for political reasons, and these wives caused him to quit loving his Egyptian wife. Some scholars believe this insult to the honor of his Egyptian wife angered Pharaoh (assuming this was still the same Pharaoh who was the father of Solomon's wife). Perhaps out of anger at Solomon for abandoning his daughter, Pharaoh Shishak harbored Jeroboam.

Shishak is recorded as coming up against Jerusalem in the fifth year of Solomon’s son Rehoboam and taking some of the golden objects from the Temple (1 Kings 14:25–26). But the only pharaoh of that era who reigned long enough to give his daughter to Solomon and then outlive Solomon would have been Ramses II. Therefore, Shishak is almost certainly not the father of Solomon's wife.

However, this doesn’t negate the possibility that some of Solomon’s marriages were for political advantage. And indeed once Jeroboam sought and received sanctuary in Pharaoh Shishak’s court, Solomon would likely have increased his taking of wives from other local monarchs to cement political alliances. Solomon would have reason to suspect that Shishak was harboring Jeroboam with his own eye on attacking Israel. With that thought in mind, Solomon would have readily used this as an excuse to marry into the other political powers in the area, namely Moab, Ammon, Sidon, Edom, and Syria. And these are exactly the peoples singled out in 1 Kings 11:1 as the ones Solomon married into.

If we assume that Naamah died before Solomon took Pharaoh's daughter as wife, which was probably three or four years after Rehoboam was born, then we have Solomon being faithful to his first wife, Naamah, for up to 13 years. Pharaoh's daughter was Solomon's second wife, but he remained faithful to her for at least 17 years, again assuming that he was upright with the Lord as is mentioned in Scripture. This means that he did not at this point have multiple wives. According to this third hypothesis, then, like his first wife, it is possible that not long after moving to Gezer, his Egyptian wife died and Solomon began to multiply wives unto himself.

It seems strange that we read in 1 Kings 11:1 that Solomon loved foreign women and loved his Egyptian wife, but then we never hear of the Egyptian wife again. If she had become ill and he moved her to Gezer, and she died shortly afterwards, then that passage makes more sense, especially as no children are ever mentioned as resulting from this marriage. Another possibility in this scenario is that the passage in 1 Kings 11 is not speaking of simultaneous events. Rather it may be saying that Solomon loved many foreign women, of which Pharaoh’s daughter was just named as the primary or preferred of the foreign wives. This reading also leaves open the possibility that Solomon’s Egyptian wife had died, after which Solomon married several foreign women.

The timing of this scenario is plausible. If this view is accurate, then after his second wife (Pharaoh’s daughter) died, Solomon married another foreign wife. As she turned his heart to idols and away from God, he was no longer concerned with having just one wife and soon married more, causing him to sin even further. As he sinned, God raised up adversaries against him, Solomon married more women to gain political alliances, and it became a snowball effect. Soon Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines.

This accords well with Scripture and with Solomon's character both before and after the (assumed) death of his second wife. At this point, Solomon was potentially a double widower and lonely, so he sought women more than God. Even if his second wife did not die, this can still be a working hypothesis and might possibly incorporate part of the first hypothesis along with this one. Perhaps Solomon put away his Egyptian wife because of her idolatry and then married another woman who over time corrupted Solomon. Or perhaps he put away his Egyptian wife but then missed her and came back to her, embracing both her and her idolatry. In any event, Solomon began to love pleasure more than God, and sexual sin and idolatry brought him down.

Song of Solomon: A Song of Lust or Love?

Given Solomon’s eventual penchant for multitudes of women, how can we know Solomon wasn’t writing a song about lust, rather than love, in his second Old Testament book (he also wrote much of Proverbs and, toward the end of his life, Ecclesiastes)?

First of all, we know that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God (2 Timothy 3:16), meaning that it is God-breathed. We also know that the men who wrote Scripture were filled with and moved by the Holy Spirit and were called holy men of God (2 Peter 1:21). Now it is true that Scripture records men and women committing sins. It does not hide this fact, even recording the sins of the kings of Judah and Israel. But this is done in the historical narrative portions of Scripture and is written in the third person.5 Song of Solomon, written in the first person, is not historical narrative but Hebrew poetry.6 Therefore, we know that when the Song of Solomon was written by Solomon it was inspired by the Holy Spirit and that what he wrote is profitable for instruction in righteousness. This absolutely means that Solomon was not writing in a lustful spirit, nor was he engaged in any sexual sin—what is written is God's Word.

Secondly, as has been shown, Solomon seems to have been faithful to his first and second wife for many years, until he grew older and turned to polygamy and idolatry.

Thirdly, scholars are fairly confident that Solomon wrote Song of Solomon fairly early on in his reign.7 We have no reference to the Temple, but plenty of references to Lebanon and its cedars. This probably means Song of Solomon was written no later than during the construction of Solomon's palace sometime before his 13th year of kingship, and most likely much earlier.

Song of Solomon 6:8 is not referring to Solomon's harem (as some liberal theologians claim and use to promote). Instead, it may refer to Pharaoh's harem or entourage attending the wedding, and here Solomon is saying that the woman he loves is the most beautiful of them all, and all the members of the Pharaoh's royal court acknowledge her beauty. Based on the history we have just traced, Solomon had been married to Pharaoh's daughter for a year to several years when he wrote Song of Solomon, with the longest timeframe being perhaps a decade, and was devoted to and in love with her alone. It was not until many years later, perhaps when she had passed away, that Solomon changed. This is a pure and undefiled (Hebrews 13:4) love poem between a man and his wife.

What About Naamah As Song of Songs’ Leading Lady?

As mentioned above, it is typically thought that Solomon married Pharaoh’s daughter about three years after ascending the throne. This is based on the assumption that it took a while for Solomon to establish his kingdom, and the fact that Shimei was put to death in the third year of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 2:39–46), and then assuming that the alliance with Pharaoh took place immediately after these events (3:1). But some theologians date the marriage of Solomon to Pharaoh’s daughter earlier, in his first year of reign,4 meaning that they still believe Song of Solomon was written about his Egyptian wife. But there are others who accept the third year regnal date for Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter and believe that the writing of Song of Solomon took place earlier than that (during his first or second year as king). This then means that Song of Solomon was not written about Pharaoh’s daughter but about Naamah the Ammonitess. One such promoter of this hypothesis was the late Dr. Henry Morris. In the Henry Morris Study Bible, he stated,

It seems almost certain that the young bride whom Solomon loved so passionately was Naamah, who is said to have been the mother of his son Rehoboam. Rehoboam had been born a year before Solomon became king, for Solomon reigned 40 years, whereas Rehoboam was 41 years old when he became king. . . . Therefore Naamah was evidently “the wife of his youth” and the bride eulogized so beautifully in this Song of Songs.8

Flee Sexual Immorality

But whether Song of Solomon is speaking of Naamah or Solomon’s Egyptian wife, it is speaking of a marriage between one man and one woman. There is no basis to the claim that Song of Solomon teaches otherwise and absolutely no biblical support for the sexual liberation preached by our culture. Scripture is clear that sex is a wonderful gift from God (just read Song of Solomon!), but it is a gift to be used within the bounds of marriage, and marriage is designed to be between one man and one woman for life.

For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate. (Mark 10:7–9 (NKJV))

Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. (1 Corinthians 7:3)

Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. (Hebrews 13:4)

Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice with the wife of your youth. (Proverbs 5:18)

Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–5)

So when we examine the above passages it shows that the love expressed in Song of Solomon is one of a devoted married couple expressing their God-given and God-encouraged love for each other. Solomon’s wife could (and did) rightly say:

I am my beloved’s, And his desire is toward me. (Song of Solomon 7:10)

Answers in Depth

2018 Volume 13

Footnotes

  1. All Scripture references are from the NKJV.
  2. James Ussher, The Annals of the World, rev. Larry and Marion Pierce (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2006), 60–63. Ussher only has Solomon living to approximately 59 and a half years from 1034–975 BC, but this is problematic for several reasons. Ussher has David take Jerusalem in 1048 BC and then lists Solomon as being born in 1034 BC. Then Ussher lists Rehoboam being born when Solomon was 18, just one year before ascending the throne. If Solomon’s daughters were marrying his governors shortly after he took the throne (1 Kings 4:11, 15), there is no time for Solomon to have had daughters and have them old enough to be married if Solomon were only 19 at the time. Even if these marriages took place a little later, it appears that they happened by the time the Temple was started, which was the fourth year of Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 16:1). Therefore, Ussher appears to have erred here in allowing David 14 years in Jerusalem before Solomon is born, because if the above calculations are close to correct, then his daughters could have been no older than six years old when given away in marriage. Textually it fits much better to have Solomon born about 10–11 years earlier (c. 1045 BC) which is the date chosen here.
  3. Ibid, 63. Indeed, Ussher lists Rehoboam as being born to Solomon in 1016 BC, meaning he reckoned him married at around 17. Although we agree with the marriage age of Solomon, this probably occurred 11 years earlier, and Rehoboam was likely the last child born (although the first male) .
  4. The timing of when Solomon built this palace for his Egyptian wife is hard to pin down. But it appears from the chronological flow of 1 Kings 6:38, 7:1–8, 7:13–8:2 and 8:63–66 that it was either shortly before the Temple was completed or after the Temple was completed but before the vessels for it were made and the Temple was dedicated.
  5. As an example, David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah is recorded in 2 Samuel 11. He is confronted with his sin in 2 Samuel 12:1–7. But it is the Holy Spirit’s conviction which prompted David’s heartfelt confession and repentance of that sin in a first-person emotional outpouring recorded in Psalm 51.
  6. Tim Chaffey, “Parallelism in Hebrew Poetry Demonstrates a Major Error in the Hermeneutic of Many Old-Earth Creationists,” Answers Research Journal 5 (2012): 115–123, https://answersingenesis.org/hermeneutics/parallelism-in-hebrew-poetry-reveals-major-hermaneutic-error/.
  7. Commentator Adam Clarke dates the writing of Song of Solomon to the fifth year of Solomon’s reign. In his Revised Works of Josephus, Pierce states that Josephus places it during the first year of Solomon’s reign. Many commentators just say it was written early in his reign.
  8. Henry Morris, “Introduction to Song of Solomon,” The Henry Morris Study Bible (Green Forest, AR: Master Books, 2012), 999.

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