I’d like to start off this tantalizing book with my favorite verse to quote out of context:
“Don’t stare at me because I’m dark.” (1:6)
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s get into the goods of the context.
Our leading lady is introduced as a Shulamite. What does that mean? I copy-pasted some things from Wikipedia:
A Shulamite is a person from Shunaam (Hebrew: שׁוּנֵם), a small village located in the possession of the Tribe of Issachar, near the Jezreel Valley and south of Mount Gilboa (Joshua 19,18).
Shunaam is where:
• The Philistines encamped when they came against Saul, the first king of Israel (1 Samuel 28:4).
• Where Abishag, King David’s companion in his old age, came from; (1 Kings 1:1-3)
• Where the prophet Elisha was hospitably entertained by a wealthy or prominent woman whose son Elisha later revived after the son died. (2 Kings 4:8)
At the time Solomon crafted this piece of literature, the first two points would have meant something to him. I will note that Issachar is a very unpopular tribe. Who do we know from that tribe? I’ll be real impressed if one of y’all can think of someone. All I know (and only because I was just told) is Abishag.
Solomon knew her: the beautiful young lady chosen to keep his aging father warm, and also whom his brother, Adonijah, wanted to marry once dad died (1 Kings 2:13-25). This request got Adonijah killed, as Solomon said, “Why are you asking Abishag the Shunammite for Adonijah? Ask for him also the kingdom—for he is my older brother—even for him, for Abiathar the priest, and for Joab the son of Zeruiah!’” (22)
She was a beautiful nobody, but she became an object of great desire. A beautiful woman from a small, insignificant village, who captured the attention of the royal family.
Perhaps when Solomon decides to write a love poem between a king and a lowly village woman–embarrassed by how tan she is, since she has spent her life working in fields–he is inspired by Abishag. In fact, some scholars think this woman is Abishag.
But speaking of scholars, no one can agree on what this book means or why it’s in the Bible. It’s just there, making people blush, and inspiring us to think about love.
It’s easy to know what broken relationships look like, but we love to epitomize love’s potential. Not everyone gets to experience true love in their lifetime. Most scholars studying this book can agree, love is a gift from God. In our broken world, it certainly isn’t a given. So wherever we can find it, we must cultivate it and cherish it, thankful to God for the gift that it is.
Take some time today to reflect on the love in your life. The people, moments and memories. Thank the LORD for these beautiful gifts.