Douglas Sean O’Donnell is the senior pastor of New Covenant Church in Naperville, Illinois. He is also the author of The Beginning and End of Wisdom, which I’ve previously reviewed on here. Quite the student of the wisdom literature, O’Donnell did his doctoral work on Song of Solomon and this commentary in the Preach The Word series is some expositional fruit of that endeavor. While Crossway is progressively republishing the existing volumes in the series, this actually represents a new publication and complements the other wisdom commentary I recently reviewed (Proverbs) rather nicely.
O’Donnell begins with a chapter on understanding the Song itself. He proposes four guideposts for our reading (16-22):
- This is a song…
- …about human love
- …found in the Bible
- …written to give us wisdom
Keeping these in mind should lead to sound readings of the song, and to demonstrate, O’Donnell breaks out the text into these divisions:
Throughout his expositions, O’Donnell doesn’t shy away from Christological readings in places. However, his primary focus is on the wisdom Song of Solomon can impart to human love relationships. Resisting the urge to treat it as a dating manual for Christians, O’Donnell nonetheless offers many applications that those of us who are married can readily take to heart.
Along different lines, I found O’Donnell’s final chapter drawing a connection between virginity and eschatology to be very interesting. O’Donnell felt that while Proverbs seems aimed at young boys, Song of Solomon is clearly aimed at young girls (23-24). A big part of the message is the importance of waiting which links closely with eschatology as we wait on Christ’s return. There is a strong connection between young girls waiting to indulge in sexual pleasure until you’re married and waiting until that time when Christ returns since in both cases, there is nothing the waiting part can do to speed up the process. I think many of our church youth groups could benefit from a rehabilitated look at Song of Solomon and Proverbs and the way they wisely implore young people to stay pure.
This book is surprisingly short. Much like the counterpart volume Proverbs, O’Donnell doesn’t cover every verse of the book in detail. Instead, we get 10 sermons based on the text of Song of Solomon and very detailed endnotes explaining his exegetical decisions. In terms of page count, the actual text is 117 pages long and the end notes comprise an additional 35 pages. Think for a second about that proportion. Since end note font is small, we’re talking about endnotes that are may be closer to 50 pages of normal text (that’s just a guess), which means the additional exegetical discussion makes up almost half the length of the actual commentary. This means that O’Donnell has done his homework on Song of Solomon, and keeps most of the detailed discussion out of the main text.
Though the text itself is short, O’Donnell has much to say and so I don’t think it qualifies as a weakness per se. Since this is intended to be an expositional, sermonic commentary on Song of Solomon it doesn’t need to be comprehensive. I think O’Donnell offers a fair balance and though I might have liked a bit more, the shortness of the book made for a good weekend read that has much to think about and apply in the coming months.
Just like in The Beginning and End of Wisdom, O’Donnell writes in an engaging, conversational voice, even in some of the footnotes digging into academic discourse. He is sensitive to handling the literary concerns that comes with a poetic book though he keeps the focus mainly on reading the book as the word of God and apply it wisely to your lives. It made me feel like I was reading a letter from a friend explaining the book, rather than a typical commentary. For that reason, I’d really recommend this commentary. I think it will help many average Christian readers not only understand, but also apply Song of Solomon. Though O’Donnell does a good job of summarizing the more scholarly discussions about interpretive issues in the book, readers who want more in depth exegetical reflections should pick a commentary off my list of recommend ones. As long as readers keep in mind the goal of this commentary series is to be expositional and applicational, rather than deeply exegetical I think expectations will be met.
- Author: Douglas Sean O’Donnell
- Title: Song of Solomon: An Invitation to Intimacy
- Publisher: Crossway (November 19, 2012)
- Hardcover: 192pgs
- Reading Level: General Reader
- Audience Appeal: Anyone interested in an accessible commentary on Song of Solomon with practical import
- Gratis Review Copy: Yes (courtesy of Crossway)
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