Richard S. Hess Baker Academic 2005-04-01

The commentaries in this series focus on the message of the biblical book being discussed. They are written primarily for clergy and seminary students. However, they will benefit any serious student of the Scriptures.

This work by Hess, professor of Old Testament at Denver Seminary, is an insightful commentary on one of the most hermeneutically difficult books of the Bible. Hess has woven together his interpretation and insights around the central theological message of the book, which he sees as God’s gift of love. The introductory section deals with authorship, canonicity, overview of text critical issues, history of its interpretation, and theology. Then the author divides his discussion into seven major sections. Each section begins with translation, followed by paragraph-by-paragraph commentary, and concludes with a summary of the passage’s theological implications. Hess has provided helpfully nuanced comments on every verse in the book, including many word studies. He interprets the meaning of words and phrases in light of their use in the Song, in the rest of Scripture, and in the extrabiblical literature of the ancient Near East.

Hess has concluded that the book is a piece of inspired erotic love poetry similar to other works that have been discovered in Egypt and the Middle East (pp. 124, 142). He holds a two-character view of the main speakers. The male lover was a king in the eyes of the female heroine; she viewed and described him as Solomon, though he may not have been Solomon. The writer of Song of Songs is presently unknown and, Hess suggests, may have been a female. Hess rejects the idea of chronological progression in the relationship of the hero and heroine as the book unfolds (from single to married). Instead he says the hero and heroine are married throughout the book. Hess has succeeded in highlighting the message of the book, namely, the gift of God’s love both in the physical relationship between a man and a woman within holy matrimony and in the spiritual relationship as it points to the greater love of God for His people and their response to Him.

Hess resists the temptation to speculate in places where the meaning of the text is not clear. Overall this is a masterful work, one of the best evangelical, exegetical commentaries on this difficult book of the Bible.