Love as Strong as Death (Song 8:6-7)
The Song of Songs is a series of poems about human love written in the form of a dialogue between two lovers. The lovers are largely anonymous—a woman, the primary speaker who is referred to twice only as “the Shulammite” (
The perception of the Songs of Songs as a story of human love is relatively recent. For much of its interpretive history, readers understood the book as an allegory for God’s relationship with Israel (Judaism) or Jesus’ relationship with the soul (Christianity). Interpreters were likely steered on these courses by the Song of Songs’ troubling erotic subject matter—that, and the fact that there is no explicit mention of God in the text, a factor shared with only one other biblical book (Esther).
Did you know…?
- The Song of Songs is a series of intimate poems between two archetypal lovers.
- The recognition of the human, erotic dimension of love in the Song of Songs is a relatively recent development for the book’s interpretive history.
- The Song of Songs is one of only two biblical books that do not explicitly mention God.
- The Song of Songs contains a grand, philosophical statement about the nature of love toward its end.
- The Song of Songs compares love with death.
- The Song of Songs’ description of love’s nature is thought-provoking and weighty but ultimately leaves readers with the mystery of love unsolved.
What is love like, according to the Song of Songs?
For much of the Song of Songs, human love is an intimate affair, replete with personal references and endearments. The book does, however, culminate with a more abstract statement, which offers a universal lesson. The observation in
In these striking poetic comparisons, which plumb the deep philosophical problem of how life-affirming love might resemble life-ending death, the poet reveals that he understands the futility of trying to reduce love to a simple definition. Whatever love is, the poet claims in the following verse, it is so potent that even a flood cannot consume it. So, the poet urges, in the form of a proverb, do not be tempted to trade it for anything, even great wealth. Of this, at least, the poet seems certain: something so intangible, so indefinable (in whatever form it takes—the Song of Songs does not commit, for example, only to married love), does not match the greatest things of the material world.
Does Song 8:6-7 refer to God?
Something else lurks in the comparison between love and fire. In the last part of