Random musings on life, the universe and nothing in particular...
Friday, June 10, 2005
James Jordan on Solomonic Literature 2
A few words about the Song of Solomon. The Song of Solomon still waits for a really good treatment. The title of the book is 'the best of Songs, which is Solomon's'. This may mean that Solomon wrote it, or simply that it is about Solomon. It is kingdom literature. The theme is the love and union of king and bride.
There are four lines of interpretation that the book has been subjected to. It has often been treated as an allegory of Christ and the Church, often without any real attention given to historical context. During the 19th century a few read it as having three, rather than two principal characters. It was a drama, critiquing Solomon's lustful pursuit of women. There is the girl, the shepherd she loves and the evil greedy Solomon. Solomon ends up being thwarted. Keil and Delitsch and some modern commentaries have adopted this position. The literary structure does not sustain such a reading. The woman's name is a feminine form of Solomon's name ― 'Girl Peace'! It is a marriage between Mr. and Mrs. Peace.
In the 20th century Song of Solomon has been read as a celebration of marital love. It is a picture of what marriage should be like within the Garden of Eden. To read the book this way involves a lot of speculation about the symbolism. Almost invariably it is read in terms of ANE erotic literature. This determines the meaning of the book. Some things don't fit. For example, the woman wandering and being struck by the watchman of the city.
Where and when would this book have been read? There was a difference between written and spoken Hebrew. Very few could read and write. The priests had their own kind of writing, a specialized language, highly literary in its allusions. It would have been read to the people on the Temple steps. Biblical Hebrew is not broad enough to be a spoken language; it was a particular written language. Genesis was not written by a regular Israelite, but by a priest, working within a range of allusions in a particular language.
Where then would Song of Solomon be read? The king's bedroom, with a solely aristocratic audience? In such a setting our mind goes to love poetry. However, it was probably heard by regular Israelites on the steps of the Temple, in the synagogue, or in a Levitical city. Within such a setting, the allegorical reading makes a whole lot more sense. More and more scholars are returning to such a reading.
In Song of Solomon the Hebrew verb forms can tell us who is speaking. There are two pictures of union and communion in the Bible. Marriage is one person with one person. It is private, behind closed doors. Children coming forth out of the body are the result. Shared food is a public reality, things going in, rather than out. To understand our relationship with God we need both these pictures. The two pictures come together in the image of the marriage feast. The place where the marital union takes place is the threshing floor. The threshing floor (2 Chronicles 3:1) is where food and marriage are put together, in the context of the Temple. The threshing floor is where food is prepared.
There are three characters in the Song: the daughters of the city, the bride (representing the people) and the ruler of the people. On another level it is shepherd and shepherdess. On another level it is Solomon and his first Egyptian wife. In the ancient world, everyone would have seen God/Solomon relating to the people. This is due to the use of temple/palace imagery for the man and land imagery for the bride. This use of imagery can be seen in chapter 4. The reference to honey and milk in 4:11 point to the land of Canaan. The woman is clearly the land, unless we choose to read this as sexual symbolism. The man is described in terms of temple imagery in chapter 5:10-16. Lilies, pomegranates, etc. can all be found in the temple. In order to be in the right frame of mind to read this book, you must understand the temple imagery and other such things.
Another example of such imagery can be found in Song 1:4, where there is probably a reference to the chambers of the temple. The cedars of Lebanon are continually referred to. Myrrh (incense) is referred to as well. For these different reasons, the traditional reading is essentially correct. It has been argued that the book could be read as symbolizing marriage more generally. The Messiah will not have an individual as His queen (as he is divine), but a corporate body. This makes it clear that the book refers to a relationship between the Lord and his people. In many respects the more natural reading of Song of Solomon for an Israelite prior to Christ would be that the book depicts the relationship between the Messianic king and the people.
Who wrote Job? Some argue that Job was a very early book, earlier than Genesis. The proverbial parts of it link with the other Solomonic literature. The events take place in Edom; the characters are descendants of Esau. The situation occurred early, but it has direct significance to the situation in Israel. The characters are believing Edomites. The names Job, Eliphaz etc. are given to us in Genesis, particularly in Genesis 36. Here we read of the kings which preceded Israel. Jobab in Genesis 36:31 is traditionally considered to be Job, something mentioned in the Masoretic text of Job. We know that Uz is in the land of Edom (Genesis 36:28; Lamentations 4:21).
Job is the king in this land. The word 'king' is used of him in Job 29:25. Job was not merely the wealthiest man around; he was the leader of the community. That which happens to Job is about being a king.
David has three mighty men. The Hebrew word for the king and his three mighty men is 'cornerstone'. In 1 Samuel 14:38, the word 'corners' is used for the three chiefs of Saul's army. The nation is like a house, built on a chief cornerstone (the king) and three other corners. Jesus and Daniel also have three mighty men. The men who came to visit Job are called 'friends'. The word 'friend' means chief counsellor. Jesus calls His disciples ‘friends’ (cf. John 15:15) because they have fully entered into His counsel. Abraham is the 'friend' of God in the scripture; God consults with Abraham.
Job's friends are not merely buddies, but advisors. The reason why they come to see Job is not merely because bad things happen to him. This is not why the book of Job is so long and boring. Job is mainly about the king and his counsellors. We can draw implications for personal suffering, but it is about far more. There is a national disaster. After Job 1:15 there many widows, and even more after 1:17. The food has also been destroyed; there is a coming famine. Job tears his robe, the symbol of his kingship. The three friends tear their robes in Job 12:12; they join with Job in proclaiming national disaster. Job's boils are a symbol of the body politic; the land itself is full of open sores. [Man is made of earth; there are parallels between man and the earth. The darkness of the earth is paralleled by man's sleep. Leprosy also parallels the land.]
So far this is just a national disaster. However, God marks out Job by killing his family. We are led to suspect that this is Job's fault. God covers Job with sores; now it really looks as if it is Job's fault. Job must repent. If he doesn't he must be put to death and another put in his place. This is what Eliphaz points out.
1:6 — 2:10
B’: 38:1 — 42:6
The seven sections Job roughly follow the seven days of creation. The A section describes Job being reduced to a formless, empty and dark state. A' is the Sabbath reinstatement of Job. In B Job curses the day he was born. Every phrase in this chapter recurs in B', which is God's speech to Job. God answers Job's complaints as if nothing happened between. Job 3:8 is answered by God in great detail later on. This is one of 25 or 30 parallels.
The two C sections deal with Job's conversations with his accusers. The first three friends are clearly wrong. In D, chapter 28, there is a description of wisdom by the author of the book. Wisdom belongs to God and is too high to comprehend, paralleling the fourth day of creation. David Dorsey points out that the first and last sections of Job are chiastically matched. At the beginning and end we have Job himself. We then have sons and daughters, feasts and livestock, sufferings/reversal of suffering, friends come and are silent for seven days/the sacrifice seven bulls and rams to atone. Job interacts with each of his friends. There are three cycles, but there is no final speech by Zophar. Many scholars argue that 27:13ff is Zophar's final speech. 29:1 indicates that 28 is not by Job.
The book of Job teaches us that we must live by faith alone. Things will only be explained at the end by God Himself. The king suffers for his people. The book of Job is about the suffering of the king. Job 1-2 is a greatly intensified form of Genesis 3. The three friends become the voice of Satan in the book. Satan's original word to Adam and Eve was that God did not have good intentions for them. The same temptation faces Job. His society, his wife and his friends have turned against him. When he turns around and looks for God, He's nowhere to be found either. Man is made in the image of God, who is a society. It is a complete contradiction of human life to be completely alone. God always intended Adam and mankind in general to have all sorts of relationships. God will reveal at the end of the book that He has been there all along, but Job has no sense of it.
Job's friends become his enemies. In human society there are always those who are admired and imitated. This is called ‘mimesis’. As long as this imitation is at a distance, it is only imitation. However, in society, those who become close to the leader envy the leader. We fight with those who are closest to us. This is why brothers fight. Those closest to us irritate us. Job was the idol of all the people in the society, admired and looked up to. However, because of sin, there is always envy involved in such a relationship. When a leader falls, everyone happily turns against him. The mob welcomes Jesus on Palm Sunday as the admired leader; five days later they seek His blood.
Job has become the scapegoat. Disaster has come upon society and Job is the scapegoat. The mob will always find someone to blame. The scapegoat is marked out by God as different and envied by others. These are all social factors in Job. Job is a book about society, not merely about an individual person suffering. We don't feel satisfied unless we get the scapegoat to confess his guilt. The fear of being alone drives people to confess. We are willing to confess things we didn't do, rather than be left alone.
The threats against Job get worse and worse, because no-one can pin anything on him. The friends start by claiming that certain people deserve to die, they move to say God will kill such people and that they will do it if God doesn't. Job knows that all he has to do is lie and tell himself that God is unfair. This temptation is so strong because of the Trinity; man cannot bear being alone. Those who are alone are insane. Job is experiencing a 'dark night of the soul' or 'desertion'. Psalm 88 is a great example of this, ending unresolved. The positive aspect of this is that the psalmist is complaining to God ― an act of faith. The cup Jesus asks to pass from him is the cup of desertion. Job feels deserted; Jesus is deserted. Job's greatest suffering is the silence of God.
In chapter 28, the author reminds us to trust in God. This is followed by one more speech by Job and the words of Elihu. Does Elihu give good advice? There are good arguments on both sides. Elihu's advice is probably good. He is probably a priest or a pastor to Job. Speaking of himself as 'young' may carry priestly connotations. Job does not answer Elihu. Elihu does not accuse Job of bringing the troubles upon himself, but of complaining too much. God sends suffering, not to punish us, but to make us mature. Suffering can prepare us for expanded dominion. Going through death prepares us for knowledge of good and evil. This proves to be true in Job's case. His capacity for life is doubled as a result of his suffering.
Even if God seems absent, trust Him to answer. This is the message of Elihu, the message of a good pastor. This is as good an answer as we can receive before the end of time. God, however, brings Job, as it were, to the end of time. God's control of Leviathan is a picture of God's control over Satan. All things are for Job's good, even the actions of Leviathan. All of God's omnipotence is exercised for Job's good. Job repents for his lack of faith. The social situation is resolved by God's words to Job's friends. Job becomes a mediator, and more than a king, to his friends. This parallels with Christ. Jesus is vindicated after death and becomes our mediator. Job teaches us that social disasters aren't necessarily one person's fault and exposes the scapegoat mechanism in this regard.
Every year the Israelites were to celebrate the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. It is known as the Feast of Succoth (the Feast of Clouds). Every year Israelites made their own clouds to camp around God's cloud. In other senses it was a tree house. On the first day the houses were green and leafy, by the end of the week they were falling apart. God's cloud, however, did not disintegrate. Man's work is like an attempt to gather mist. 'Vapour, vapour, everything is vapour'.
The author of this book is the Qoheleth, the one who gathers the people together at the Feast of Tabernacles. This was the duty of the king. The author of Ecclesiastes is Solomon. 1:16 lends support to this. God gave wisdom to Solomon greater than that of all before and after. Melchizedek, Aboni-bezek (in Joshua) and David were all kings before Solomon, as well as other Jebusite kings. [This statement of Ecclesiastes gives us good reason to deny that Melchizedek was a pre-incarnate Christ].
Some argue for pseudonymous authorship, due to late Hebrew forms. Just because pagans accept pseudepigraphical books does not mean the Jews did. Books that lie about their authorship were not acceptable in Israel. The argument for late Hebrew forms is based on imagination. The Old Testament is all the literature that we have. There is nothing to compare it with.
The word YHWH is not used in Ecclesiastes. The word 'elohim' is used 28 times. The context is Genesis 1. The book focuses on man as a sub-creator, who does the same sort of thing God does. The king, as a mature man, is an elohim, who makes his own world, which keeps falling apart. Solomon fell into deep sin and judgment in the middle of his life. Translated accurately, however, there is nothing necessarily sinful in what he does. The book is not about sin, but about creativity. The theme is the limitation of wisdom. Wisdom is associated with kings. Wisdom recognizes things that are not good and has the skill to change things.
Proverbs teaches us that life makes sense and can be understood. Wisdom will enable you to prosper in the world — it's an American book. Ecclesiastes is European. Wisdom is limited and so, under the sun, we must live by faith alone. Not everything makes sense. A second theme is that of mist and vapour. The first man was earthly. The first man was Cain, a smith from the Earth; the second was Abel, a heavenly cloud. Everything is like a cloud (not ‘vanity’ or ‘meaningless’). You can see, feel it and move it, but it won't last. It is like shepherding the wind (1:14 ― the word is 'shepherd', not 'strive'). These words continually recur. 'Mist' and 'shepherding wind' occur 40 times. Life is uncontrollable, whether it consists of your personal life, family, church or society. We don't have full understanding. We cannot mentally or physically understand or control the world. We cannot control weeds in a garden.
As the world is not under our control, we cannot live by sight and must, therefore, rejoice in God's gifts and be grateful. ‘Eating, drinking and being merry’ is an allusion to Deuteronomy 14. This is a reference to the Feast of Clouds and the gift of the sacraments. The Feast of Clouds was the time for the reading of the Law. The Law is like nails driven into a wall (12:11). This contrasts quite radically with mist. God's Word is reliable and solid. Here we see the Word to go with the sacrament.
The mistiness of life means that it mysterious, confusing and enigmatic. However, in the centre of the cloud is God Himself. We cannot grasp the wind and shepherd the mist. Ecclesiastes 2:26: what is vapour and shepherding the wind? God is the one who is shepherding the wind here. God is capable of shepherding the wind. When God's cloud appears in Ezekiel 1, God can move it directly, wherever He wants to. This is the main picture in the book and where it comes from.
2:3-10 describes Solomon's world, which he built by wisdom. The world was without shape, empty and dark when God created it. Solomon shapes his world in 2:6. He fills his world in 2:7-8. In these verses he does exactly what he is supposed to do. However, in verse 11, he appears defeated. Man is limited in his control, unlike God. It is good and necessary to do these things, but not to expect them to last forever. Solomon alludes to light, formlessness and emptiness in 1:14-15. Filling and shaping is hard for human beings. These themes are continually repeated in the book. He says there is nothing new under the sun. What he means is that, under the firmament ― in the present age — we never come to full understanding. Full understanding can only come when the firmament is removed.
D: 1:12 — 3:15
I’: 5:8 — 6:9
H’: 6:10 — 7:29
C’: 11:1 — 12:7
A and A' are the works of Qoheleth. B and B' is the statement 'mist, mist, all is mist'. C and D are sections that present two problems. 1. In C we see that creation cannot be understood and is therefore tiresome and wearisome. 2. In D Solomon addresses the problem that wisdom makes good new worlds, but folly destroys them. Why bother with wisdom? The problem in D is answered in D': wisdom is better than folly, even in the present, because God is going to bring everything into account. The first problem is answered in C'. Creation cannot be understood, but if we live by faith we can know that our world is not, in fact, tiresome.
E and E' deal with the political side of this problem. Those who are wise are seldom put in charge. People would rather be ruled by idiots. In F and F' he moves to the boundary of human life. Both deal with death. Death comes to man and to beast and to the righteous and wicked. G has to do with light; H with form; I with filling. G refers to lights in human forms ― the oppressors. Those in authority are usually not wise. The stars are usually not wise. H and H' talk about form ― life in community ― how to live in your place, with other people in their places. I and I' have to do with generations, filling the Earth by having children. How will our children fill out the world that we have created? The centre of everything, J, is to fear God and live by faith alone.