7 Questions on Song of Songs in the REC Commentary Series
Rev. Dr. Iain Duguid (PhD, Cambridge) is professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary.
Dr. Duguid’s academic interests include various topics of Old Testament theology. His doctoral research was on Ezekiel, which was published in the Supplements to Vetus Testamentum series, and he remains part of the small but lively group of scholars around the world interested in the theology of that prophet. He has also published scholarly work on Esther, Nehemiah, the Song of Songs, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi as well as more popular treatments of the patriarchs, Esther, and Daniel.
Current research projects include Judges, the biblical theology of worship, and preaching Christ from the different genres of the Old Testament. As part of the oversight committee for the Holman Christian Standard Bible, he engages in regular discussions about best practices in Bible translation. He has also contributed to many study Bibles.
1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Song of Songs (Reformed Expository Commentary)?
When I started teaching the Psalms and Wisdom Literature course at Westminster Seminary in California in 2000, I knew I wasn’t equipped to help people preach the Song of Songs. I had very little instruction on it myself, and so I gave as little time as possible to it in the course. But if I couldn’t deal with it, with a Ph.D. in Old Testament, how did I expect pastors to handle it well? Gradually, I started to research it with a view to finally preaching it myself and figuring out a methodology that worked for the book. I finally began to preach it in 2012, and from there wrote the commentary.
2. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?
I published a more academic version of my research in the Tyndale Old Testament Commentary series, but the REC version is essentially a series of sermons. So it is accessible to everyone, but would also really help pastors preparing to preach or teach from the book.
3. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to studies of Song of Songs?
Generally, interpreters force you to choose between a “natural” interpretation, in which the song is about two human lovers, and a “spiritual” interpretation, in which the primary meaning of the song is in terms of the relationship of God and his people. Both alternatives have wilder exponents, whose interpretations are basically free associations from the text, and more textual exponents, who are trying to do justice to a genuine understanding of the text. Often one side acknowledges that the other side is not impossible, but most commentaries in practice choose one or the other. I believe that the genre is that of wisdom literature (like Proverbs 5) and so the central focus is the human marriage relationship. However, since the human marriage relationship itself points us to Christ, a book about our relationships naturally leads us to Christ and the gospel, not just tips for a healthy marriage.
I’m also convinced that Solomon is not the hero of the song, but represents a worldly paradigm in which “love” and marriage are seen as a means to power and wealth, as indeed the historical Solomon did in 1 Kings. But I don’t think there is an active “love triangle” between Solomon, the Shulammite and her shepherd boy lover. There are two models of love in competition, not two potential mates.
4. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?
Chapter 2, on the necessity of waiting in love was fascinating. So many critical commentators think that there is no interest in marriage in the book – only love and sex. But in an ancient context, what would a woman insist on waiting for, when she acknowledges that all of her hormones and the natural world around her are crying out to consummate love? Marriage is the only logical answer.
5. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?
Wisdom literature is mostly indirect law: it shows us the beauty of the life of wisdom, which it then convicts each of us of having fallen short of. All of us are failed lovers, whether single or married, same-sex or heterosexually attracted, young or old. We all yearn for someone to love us deeply and unconditionally with a love that is stronger than death. In the gospel, we meet our true heavenly spouse, Jesus Christ, who washes away our many failures and clothes us in clean marriage garments.
6. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Song of Songs?
Richard Hess, Song of Songs, BCOTWS (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2005) was very helpful, as was Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 1985). But I have to say that I often find literary studies more useful than any conventional commentary and this was no exception. My number one pick is Elie Assis, Flashes of Fire: A Literary Analysis of the Song of Songs (New York: T. & T. Clark, 2009).
7. What is next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?
I’m currently preaching through Judges, with the sermons being posted at Christarp.com. That will appear in the Reformed Expository Commentary eventually, along with another volume on Psalms 1-41, which I’m co-writing with my son, James. This summer, I have a book exploring the OT background of the Christian Armor in Ephesians 6:10-20 coming out from Crossway, and a Bible Study on Jonah from New Growth Press.
Get Dr. Duguid’s Song of Solomon commentary
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