I have noted in previous posts how difficult it is as a minister to spend your money on an expensive commentary only to have a reference that is hardly used because it was not helpful. I have done this many times and am always scouring the internet for commentary reviews so I can make an educated decision before making the purchase. I have been preaching through a number of books of the Bible lately and plan to post more reviews over the next month. For this post we will look at commentaries for the Song of Songs, also called the Song of Solomon.
1. New International Commentary on the Old Testament by Tremper Longman
This was very close between number 1 and number 2. But I will give the nod to Longman. While I disagree with his theory that these are separate, individual songs (since it is the called a “song” not “songs”), Longman is very helpful is observing the usage of the images in ancient Near Eastern literature. This knowledge will pave the way for a teacher to be able to understand what the love metaphors represent. This commentary must be purchased by anyone preaching or teaching through the Song.
2. Baker Commentary on the Old Testament Wisdom and Psalms by Richard Hess
This work by Hess is really 1a rather than number 2. Hess engages with Longman and other scholars and makes useful observations to counter some of Longman’s interpretations of certain metaphors. Sometimes I read Longman and wondered if this was the only explanation for a particular image. Hess was very useful in addressing Longman’s interpretation and either confirming or disagreeing with his point of view. As I studied and prepared my material for teaching, I relied heavily on Hess and Longman every step of the way. This commentary also must be purchased and is worth the expense. If you can only afford two books, Hess and Longman are the two that you need.
3. Apollos Old Testament Commentary by Daniel Estes (includes Ecclesiastes)
Most of the time I relied most on Hess and Longman. However, Hess and Longman really let me down in their explanation of chapter 8. Song of Songs 8:11-12 is certainly a difficult text. Both Hess and Longman suggest the meaning is that Solomon is being romantically intimate with hundreds of women. While historically true concerning Solomon, this does not fit the message of the book nor does it fit the image properly in 8:11-12. Estes came to the rescue with an excellent explanation of chapter 8. For this reason I place his work at number 3 and worthy of your expense.
4. NIV Application Commentary by Iain Provan
Provan follows a minority view that the Song is not a love song between two people but a drama between a king and a shepherd who are both vying for the love of the woman. The only value of this commentary is to see another interpretation of the Song, but scholars note that this view really does not stand up to the weight of the text. One must read a love competition into the story. No ancient interpretation ever saw three people in the song. Further, Provan’s applications are often allegorical, applying the images to Christ and church. This is an unnatural way to apply the book. I do not recommend purchasing this commentary for the Song of Songs.
5. New American Commentary by Duane Garrett
Once you have read Longman and Hess, Garrett does not offer anything new. Many of his comments are very short where one feels more could be explored in the text. I do not recommend purchasing this commentary either.
6. Preaching the Word by Douglas Sean O’Donnell
The only value here is if you are preaching through the Song and need some help with applications and teaching points. I was able to make applications quite easily concerning love and marriage after reading Longman and Hess and therefore found consulting the Preaching the Word commentary unnecessary.