With that, let’s address a couple issues that will help us understand this book better. First of all, the opening line is: “The song of songs, which is to/for/by Solomon.” The phrase “song of songs” is its Hebrew title, which means “the best song.” That’s not too difficult to understand. But the next part, “to/for/by Solomon” is more intriguing. In Hebrew, the phrase is “le-shlomoh.” The word shlomoh is the name “Solomon” and that single letter “le-” is the Hebrew preposition which most often means “to/for.” In Hebrew, if you wanted to say “Tim’s car,” you would say “the car le-Tim,” literally, “the car that is for/to Tim.” This indicates possession. But the preposition can indicate a much looser relationship as well, as in the phrase “to be told about the Lord” (le-adonai, see Ps 22:31), or even “a friend in connection with David” (le-David, see 1 Kings 5:15).
Even though we know that Solomon was brilliant and really good with words (see 1 Kings 4:29-32), this opening line doesn’t necessarily indicate authorship, as if Solomon wrote the poems. In fact, he almost certainly did not write the book, given that the speaking voice is mostly that of a young woman. When he is mentioned, which is not that much, he’s described in third-person (Song 1:5, 3:7-11, 8:11-12). Additionally, Solomon is simply an odd candidate as the book’s author. The poems celebrate the love between a man and woman, and they are one another's only lover. And Solomon, if you recall, had in the ballpark of 700 wives (political marriages), and an additional harem of 300 women on retainer for his sexual appetite (see 1 Kings 11:1-4). Needless to say, it’s very difficult to imagine him ever writing poetry like we see in this Song.
So, Solomon loved to write, study, and collect knowledge in all sorts of areas, even plant and animal studies. He loved to explore the world around him and observe its patterns. And, as a king who was loaded with wealth, he could sponsor all kinds of writing projects. We’re told elsewhere about his executive staff team, which included scholars and scribes (1 Kings 4:1-6). This also helps us understand his role as a “royal sponsor” of Israel’s wisdom tradition.
Another biblical book that begins with Solomon’s name is Proverbs, which opens with the words “The Proverbs of Solomon” (Prov 1:1). Now, there’s no reason to think that Solomon isn’t responsible for many of the proverbs and poems in this book, but he’s definitely not the author of the entire book. The book tells us as much! We’re told in 22:17 that we’ve begun reading “the words of the wise ones,” and in 24:23 we read, “these also are the sayings of the wise ones.” So, the book contains literature from Solomon, but also from anonymous sages and scribes in ancient Israel. And even more, the final two chapters of the book name their authors, Agur (Prov 30) and Lemuel (Prov 31). So even with Solomon’s name at its head, it doesn’t mean Solomon was responsible for all the material in the book of Proverbs, or even for the book itself. Brevard Childs, a Hebrew Bible scholar puts it this way:
The [Song of Songs], along with the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, is related to Solomon as the source of Israel’s wisdom literature. As Moses is the source [though not the only author] of the Torah, and David is the source [though not the author] of the book of Psalms, so is Solomon the father of the wisdom tradition in Israel… The connection of the Song of Songs to Solomon in the Hebrew Bible sets these writings within the context of wisdom literature.
– Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture
Wisdom Literature At Large
Israel’s Wisdom Tradition is the collective voice of Israelite elders who have lived in the fear of the Lord and are now sharing their wisdom on how to live well in the world with the next generation—the purpose of wisdom literature in the Bible. King Solomon would have been the royal sponsor responsible for aggregating and presenting this wisdom in the finished works we see in Hebrew and Christian Bibles.
If you think about the kinds of human experience that fall under “living well,” my hunch is that relationships and marriage would make it onto your short list of “really important things to learn about.” Love and relationships are two of the most basic human experiences, and we should not be surprised to find that an entire book of the Bible’s wisdom literature is dedicated to these topics. Actually, it's not only found in the Song of Songs, but the book of Proverbs has a number of poems celebrating the passion and physical intimacy between a man and woman (see Prov 5:15-23). The imagery and language of this poem is very similar to what you find in the Song of Songs, which should not surprise us. If the purpose of this biblical literature is to educate us in how to think wisely and well about the many aspects of life in God’s design, it makes all the sense in the world why an entire book would be dedicated to celebrating the goodness of love. Again, Brevard Childs puts it this way:
Israel’s sages sought to understand through reflection the nature of the world and human experience in relation to the Creator… The Song is wisdom’s reflection on the joyful and mysterious nature of love between a man and a woman within marriage. – Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture