Song of Solomon 6:8-9 “There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number. My dove, my undefiled is but one…” For those of us brought up under the New Testament code of “a bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior…” (I Timothy 3:2)… “If any be blameless, the husband of one wife…” (Titus 1:6)—and, for those of us who remember the creation of Eve for Adam as a singular and complete helpmate for him…and who know the admonition for kings from the Old Testament law: “Neither shall he (the king) multiply wives to himself, that his heart turn not away…” (Deuteronomy 17:17)—for those of us who live in Judeo-Christian culture, verse eight hits at first like a smack in the face. Isn’t this supposed to be a description of perfect love? Aren’t Solomon and his bride a typological picture of Christ and the Church? Who are all these other women? Shouldn’t he just ignore the existence of other women?
Does your mind flood you with a jumble of such troublesome thoughts? Let’s consider each question:
1. Isn’t this supposed to be a description of perfect love? Yes and no…or maybe not exactly…at least not divine love as we see demonstrated between the Father and Son. Typologically, this is a description of Christ and his church, but it is also the love relationship between a man and a woman here on earth. We have traced separations, failures, and silences. This is not perfection; this is reality. The Song of Solomon is a description of real life…between a real, imperfect king and his imperfect wife. The Garden of Eden no longer exists. Reality and perfect, unthreatened, uninterrupted perfection do not coexist in our world at the present time.
2. Aren’t Solomon and his bride a typological picture of Christ and the Church? Yes, this is the widely accepted view. In the typology, however, only Solomon is the all-wise, all-knowing spouse (and only in this divinely inspired book…certainly not in the reality of Solomon’s every day life). The bride of Christ here on earth (his Church) is not yet perfect, and therefore her responses and behaviors are not always unerringly correct.
3. Who are all these other women? This is a much more debatable issue. Commentators’ responses to these verses land “all over the map” so to speak. Some suggest that Solomon was not speaking of his own wives, pointing out that the term for queen is melek, which is used elsewhere to describe foreign queens, and suggesting that possibly Solomon was just mentioning all the other beautiful women in the world—not necessarily in his possession but in his purview. Other commentators suggest that 60 queens and 80 concubines add up to only 140, and that by the end of his reign he had 300 wives and 700 concubines, so this was obviously early in his reign. Some who hold this view point out that harems were inherited, and it wouldn’t be impossible that this was the harem Solomon inherited from his father. One author even suggested that perhaps the beloved bride from the Song of Solomon died young and Solomon’s huge harem resulted from a desperate but unfruitful attempt to find someone to replace her in his affections.
Conjecturing aside…however this group of women came to Solomon’s notice, it seems most reasonable that they are intended to generically represent all the world’s most beautiful women—and definitely not simply a group of women with which he’d had a sexual relationship (which would have engendered terribly painful jealousy)—because he ends the list with “virgins without number.” In a broad sense, this list includes all the attractive women in his world: the “queens” (those who were chosen, married, and exalted); the “concubines” (those who were taken, but degraded by not being married); and the “virgins without number” (those who were as yet unchosen and untaken).
His comments are not meant to be hurtful reminders of “the other women” in his life; they were meant to be the backdrop of the world against which he portrayed his beloved…like a diamond displayed against a beautiful black velvet drape.
4. Shouldn’t he just ignore the existence of other women? Again, the answer lies in understanding reality. We no longer live in the Garden of Eden where Eve had no thought of another woman stealing her husband’s affection. The facts of the case were that Solomon was surrounded by beautiful women, and his bride could not have been oblivious to that fact. Even if Solomon had not addressed the issue, his bride would be silently dealing with it. She had just been searching for him, and all the “daughters of Jerusalem” knew how much she treasured him.
That in itself would be enough to make her feel threatened, lest they also desire…and try to obtain…her treasure! So, it is not unkind for the king to confront and address the issue. He was not trying to make her painfully aware of something she did not recognize; rather, he was articulating and answering her fears. He was not saying, “You are only one among thousands.” He was saying, “Among the thousands, you are unique…you are my special treasure…my choice…my prize! From the most beautiful queen, to the most sought out mistress, to the most highly esteemed virgin…out of the entire pool of the world’s most dazzling women, you are my unique beloved, and you outshine them all!” Now, that’s not a smack in the face; that’s the highest compliment a woman could receive!