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Final Introductory Note

First, if you have not read the Bible Reading Program's introduction to the Song of Solomon, we highly recommend that you read that to start with to better understand this verse-by-verse commentary. Second, realize that we at times mention proposed interpretations that cannot be correct because they are in conflict with God's teachings in other parts of the Bible. These are presented so that you will be aware of them-particularly if you pursue further study of the Song in other resources. Wherever those erroneous interpretations are mentioned, we hope our disagreement with them is clear.

"Your Love Is Better Than Wine" (Song of Solomon 1:1-2:7)

After the title in 1:1 (explained in our introduction), the Song opens in 1:2 with words of the woman-the Shulamite (though she is not so named until 6:13). Expressing sensuous desire for the man, it is she who broaches the issue of physical love in the song. We are being told here and throughout the Song that female sexuality is good-in contrast to the repression various cultures have imposed.

That the woman is speaking of the man in Song 1:2 is understood from the use of "him" and "his" and the "your" being masculine singular in the original Hebrew. And in most modern Bible versions, the speaker (or singer, recalling that this is a song) is noted prior to the actual text translation. Realize, however, while reading through the book that the notations as to who is speaking do not appear in the original Hebrew text. As the New King James Version margin notes on 1:2: "The speaker and audience are identified according to the number, gender, and person of the Hebrew words. Occasionally the identity is not certain"-though context can help. Discerning the identity of the man in different passages of the Song-whether speaking or being addressed-depends on whether the Song is viewed as a two-character or three-character progression (i.e., the shepherd hypothesis). As you have no doubt noticed, we are taking no position in our comments on the identity of the man the Shulamite loves-whether Solomon, a shepherd or a generic husband-as the matter is uncertain and highly debatable, as explained in our introduction.

Regarding the notations as to who is speaking, it is certainly easier to read a translation that includes these (unlike the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible, which do not). However, it must be borne in mind that these notations are not always necessarily correct. We should also note differences in these notations in different Bible versions, which can cause confusion. For instance, observe that the NKJV uses "The Shulamite" for the woman and "The Beloved" for the man-the latter based on the woman's repeated references to the man as dodi, which the NKJV translates as "my beloved" (the chorus referring to him in response to the woman as "your beloved"). In the New International Version speaker notations, however, "Beloved" refers to the woman, while the man is referred to as "Lover" (the latter being consistent with the NIV translating dodi in the Song lyrics as "my lover"). The woman is labeled "Beloved" in the NIV because she is the object of the love of the male lover. In Hebrew, the man refers to her as ra'yati, which the NKJV renders as "my love." More precisely, though, as this word is related to re'eh, meaning "friend," it denotes "dear/darling companion." The NIV actually translates ra'yati in the Song lyrics as "my darling," so it is inconsistent in using "Beloved" as a distinction for the woman in its speaker notations-though it is not completely inaccurate, given the broad meaning of "love" in English. The NKJV's designation of the chorus as "The Daughters of Jerusalem" is taken from that label as explicitly found in the Song's lyrics. The NIV's use of "Friends" is more of an assumption.

Some have seen in the shift from "his" to "your" in verse 2 a change in speaker or addressee-and others have seen an error in need of text emendation to make these the same. Neither of these notions is valid. As Dr. Lloyd Carr (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries, No. 17) notes: "Some commentators have argued that the first colon, which is in 3rd person forms, is a statement of the beloved to her friends (4b), and the second colon, in 2nd person masculine forms, is the response of those friends to the lover. This necessitates a shift of speakers again in v. 3 when the beloved [woman] addresses her lover directly. Such a series of shifts is possible but very awkward, and with no compelling need. The shift from kiss me to his mouth to your love appears awkward to us, but such a sequence of shifting pronouns is a common phenomenon in biblical poetry (e.g. Am. 4:1; Mi. 7:19; cf. Song 4:2; 6:6), and is also known in Phoenician and Ugaritic. Similar shifts are evident in some of the Sumerian Sacred Marriage texts" (The Song of Solomon, 1984, p. 72, note on 1:2). Commentator Roland Murphy concurs: "Such shifts (enallage) are well attested in Hebrew poetry (e.g., Ps. 23:1-3, 4-5, 6), and elsewhere in the Song (1:4; 2:4, etc.)" (The Song of Songs, 1990, Hermeneia Commentaries, p. 125, footnote on 1:2).

The word translated "love" in verse 2 is dodim, the plural form of dod, the word used for the lover in the Song. "Loves" here evidently connotes loving acts. The Hebrew plural is used in Proverbs 7:18 and Ezekiel 23:17 to refer to physical lovemaking. Coupling this with the fact that the woman expresses knowledge of the man's "loves" in Song 1:2, many argue that they have already been sexually intimate with one another prior to the start of the Song. But the matter is not so cut and dried. For just as the English term love can denote sex (as in lovemaking) yet also apply more broadly, so can the Hebrew term dodim. Consider that the name David (Hebrew Dwd, "Beloved") is derived from this word-as is the second name of Solomon in 2 Samuel 12:24-25, Jedidiah (Yedyd-Yah, "Beloved of the Eternal"). The word can also apply to a close relative, such as an uncle (see 1 Samuel 14:50). Clearly there is no sexual connotation in these uses. So perhaps the plural form in Song 1:2 should just be understood as "affections." Some translate the word here as "caresses," yet this creates a problem in verse 4, where a multiplicity of women say they will celebrate the man's dodim. Thus "affections" or "loving acts" (in a general sense) would probably be better. Yet even if "caresses" is intended, this, as with "affections" and "loving acts," would not imply that the man and woman have already consummated their relationship at this point.

Yet a loving relationship with strong sexual attraction does already exist at this point, as is clear from the woman's desire to be passionately kissed. This is a problem for those who view chapter 1 of the Song as the initial meeting of the woman and her love or the mere beginning of their courtship. Things have clearly progressed beyond that at the very commencement of the Song.

The woman desires the man's kisses and affections more than wine with its delectable taste, celebratory use and intoxicating effects. The man says basically the same of the woman later in 4:10. A parallel is found in the love songs of Egypt, where love's effect are compared to those of the favorite drink there, beer. Number 23 in the Cairo Love Songs collection says: "I embrace her, and her arms open wide, I am like a man in Punt [a place scholars today identify with Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan or Yemen that was conceived of as a mystical wonderland], like someone overwhelmed with drugs. I kiss her, her lips open, and I am drunk without a beer" (in William Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt, 1973, pp. 310-311-this passage is renumbered as 20F and 20G by Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, 1985, p. 33).

Song 1:3 contains some wordplay in the Hebrew, given the alliteration in the words for "fragrance" (rayak) and "poured forth" (turak) and the similarity between the words for "ointment" (i.e., "oil" or "perfume"- shemen) and "name" (shem). Some interpreters, especially those who understand the opening chapters of the Song as a manual for courtship, take "name" here in its sense of reputation and character-as to say that we should only be interested in someone as a future spouse who has a reputation for good character. Yet, while that is certainly true in any case, it may be a stretch to say that this is the point of verse 3-which seems merely to say (in parallel to affections as wine in the previous verse) that just the mention or thought of the man's name is to the woman's mind like sweet perfume is to the nose. It is just a joy to think about him.

There is an issue of reputation here, though, in that the man, as noted at the end of verse 3, is evidently known among the "virgins" for his loving tenderness-prompting their statement about remembering his "loves" later in verse 4. The shepherd hypothesis typically labels these young women as members of Solomon's harem who have experienced his "loves" firsthand. Yet the impression from the word translated "virgins" is that these are young, unmarried women. It may simply be, then, that they have witnessed some of his loving affections toward the woman of the Song and desire the same for themselves.

In 1:4, the New King James Version notes a shift in speakers that is probably unwarranted. It shows "Draw me away!" as the words of the Shulamite and "We will run after you" ("you" here being masculine singular, thus the man) as the words of the daughters of Jerusalem. The Hebrew order of these words is "Draw me / after you / we will run." The NKJV has taken the first slash here as a sentence break, so that "After you we will run" is an intrusion by the chorus. Yet other translators, probably correctly, take the second slash to be the break-so that the woman is saying to the man, "Draw me after you; let us run together!" (compare NIV, NASB), in which case there is no choral intrusion.

The next sentence in verse 4, "The king has brought me into his chambers" in the NKJV, could also be "Let the king bring me into his chambers" (NIV). Those who follow the shepherd hypothesis and accept the first translation here see it either as the Shulamite speaking of being inducted into Solomon's harem against her will or another harem girl speaking of having been taken into Solomon's bedroom. Those who follow the shepherd hypothesis and accept the second translation see it as another harem girl expressing her desire to be taken into the king's bedroom.

Many who adhere to a two-character progression accept the second translation and see the woman longing to be taken into her lover's bedroom-on condition of an impending marriage it is typically assumed. (The lover here is deemed by many two-character advocates to be Solomon, yet others see the lover as merely extolled as "king" in the woman's eyes even though he is not one literally.) Others, accepting the first translation, see "chambers" here as a general word for quarters or rooms, and simply take this to be a visit to the lover's home-or to Solomon's royal chambers in his palace, including his audience hall, if he is the lover. Some who accept the first translation take this to mean that the woman has been taken into the bridal chamber with her lover because the two have just wedded. And a few would say that the woman is Abishag the Shunammite, having been taken into King David's bedroom as his nursemaid and to keep him warm, though she longs to be with her lover, whether Solomon or a shepherd.

The NKJV is correct in ascribing the next two lines in verse 4 to the women of the chorus. They first say to the Shulamite, "We will be glad and rejoice in you"-the "you" in this line being feminine singular. Many view the women here as other members of Solomon's harem. Yet we have noted in our introduction the difficulty of such a view if the two-character progression is embraced. The statement itself is difficult if attributed to harem women, whether a two-character or three-character progression is accepted. As James Burton points out in The Believer's Commentary (a.k.a. Coffman's Commentary), "Such love in a king's harem for a new member of his seraglio seems to this writer totally contrary to the mutual hatred among the women, such as that which we have always understood to be characteristic of such godless places" (1993, p. 157, note on verse 4). Thus he deems the sentiments expressed here as feigned.

Yet if the daughters of Jerusalem are here representative of the woman's friends or attendants or the young women of Jerusalem generally, the sentiments could well be genuine. Or perhaps the meaning is that they are, in a sense, living vicariously through her-imagining her experience to be their own. That could explain the statement that is then made to the man, which we noted earlier: "We will remember your love [dodim, affections] more than wine," the "your" here being masculine singular. ("More than wine" clearly recalls the woman's own words in verse 2.) However, Dr. Craig Glickman in Solomon's Song of Love notes that the word translated "remember" here literally means "cause to be remembered" and translates it as "celebrate" (2004, p. 191)-indicating that through their singing they will perpetuate this love story for all time. Indeed, both of the statements here in the middle of verse 4 could simply be a general approval of the two lovers of the Song and their story placed into the mouths of a chorus by the Song's composer.

After the women speak of remembering or celebrating the man's loves, the Shulamite responds at the end of verse 4, "Rightly do they love you"-"you" here being masculine singular.

In 1:5-6, the woman addresses the daughters of Jerusalem about her dark skin as a result of her working outside in the sun. (Some adherents of the shepherd hypothesis think this is the first appearance of the Shulamite at the court of Solomon. Yet it seems far more likely that earlier speech in the Song should be attributed to her.) Based on the woman's statement to the Jerusalem girls, it is not clear whether they have shown her actual disdain or whether she self-consciously imagines that they do. In any case, it is evident that being tanned in that society was not a mark of high-class beauty but of the low station of being a field hand. In her case, her brothers ("mother's sons" being an indication that her father must have died) sent her out to be a vineyard keeper-for which reason she did not keep her "own vineyard," meaning her own person and appearance. Some take her vineyard here to represent her sexuality, in parallel with "gardens" later in the Song, and consider that her brothers were angry with her because she had not remained a virgin. Yet there is nothing to indicate such an interpretation at this point in the Song. That she is speaking of her appearance is clear.

In 1:7 the woman addresses her beloved. Some see this as a private soliloquy, speaking to him in her thoughts since he is not actually there. Others contend that he is present and she is speaking to him directly, seeking to arrange a midday meeting with him. She wants to know "where you feed your flock, where you make it rest at noon." The italicized words here represent words not actually in the Hebrew text. They are interpolated. The fact that the word for "feed" (ra'ah) often means "tend" or "pasture" along with the actual mention of "flocks" at the end of the verse is thought to imply the interpolation here. The shepherd work of the lover is of course a major basis of the shepherd hypothesis, which sees the lover as a different person than the king in the story. This also fits with the alternative two-character progression, which sees the lover not as Solomon but represented as both shepherd and king. Yet, as noted in the introduction, it is possible to conceive of Solomon in a shepherding role as king-among other possibilities. In any case, some see the initial absence of the word flock to indicate a double entendre-that the woman is asking her lover where he himself grazes (either where he will eat lunch, so she can meet him for a picnic, to which verse 12 might refer, or, as is more commonly assumed, where he will feed on her own graces, whether figuratively deriving sustenance from the good things about her or kissing her, the latter seeming to be indicated later in the Song, as we will see) and where he will, as her personal shepherd, lead her to lie down at noon (not necessarily in a sexual sense). Where can they rest and be romantic together? Some think the intention is for sexual relations, which if so would mean this is no mere courtship or even engagement period-as that is permissible only in marriage (and that includes the sexual foreplay of necking and petting). Yet she may intend merely stretching out on the grass during a picnic lunch to look up at the clouds and talk about life and their future, possibly with cuddling, light caressing and restrained kissing within the context of an engagement. In any event, she wants him to tell her where to find him so that she doesn't appear as a veiled woman-that is, a prostitute (compare Genesis 38:12-15)-while she is searching about for him among his friends with whom he works.

It is unclear who is speaking in Song 1:8. Some contend that the woman's lover is answering her, as she just spoke to him. His answer is seen as a playful one, as it does not alleviate her concern of having to look for him and the appearance that may give. Many, however, feel that the lover is not actually present, and they therefore believe that the daughters of Jerusalem, addressed previously, have overhead the woman's soliloquy and respond to her. Some view their response as sarcastic, essentially telling her that she might as well go back to life on the farm. Those who believe the daughters of Jerusalem are speaking in verse 8 note that the woman is referred to here as "fairest among women"-which is the same way the daughters of Jerusalem refer to her in 5:9 and 6:1. Yet others argue that they in these other verses have adopted this designation from the man's use of it in 1:8 (mockingly, some would say).

Song 1:9 (and 1:10 probably) is spoken to the woman by a man calling her, for the first time, ra'yati ("my darling companion")-the nominative form ra'ayah perhaps being seen as a counterpart to the related word rayah, meaning "shepherd" (from ra'ah, "feed" or "tend") as just used in previous verses. Most would say that the man in this case is the woman's lover, who is here praising her-perhaps at their prearranged midday meeting-though adherents of the shepherd hypothesis usually contend that King Solomon (whom they view as interloper rather than the lover) is here attempting to seduce the woman in referring to her as his mare among Pharaoh's chariots (i.e., horse-drawn chariots imported from Egypt-see 1 Kings 10:26-29).

Those who see Solomon as a seducer here think there is something dehumanizing in comparing the woman to a horse, a beautifully groomed animal and prized possession. But this is imposing modern sensitivities onto ancient poetry. After all, if the statement was not flattering, why would a flattering Solomon attempt seduction through it, as is argued? Indeed, "in ancient Arabic poetry, women were sometimes compared to horses as objects of beauty" (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, note on verses 9-11). And "the comparison of a beautiful woman to a horse is well known in Greek poetry. Alcman [of Sparta in the seventh century B.C.] compares Hagesichora [a female choir leader] to 'a sturdy thundering horse, a champion'...and Theocritus [court poet of Ptolemy Philadelphus of Egypt in the third century B.C.] writes of Helen [of Troy]: 'As some...Thracian steed {adorns} the chariot it draws, so rosy Helen adorns Lacedaemon [i.e., Sparta ]'.... In [the work of sixth-century-B.C. poet] Anacreon the image is given a distinctly erotic turn: 'Thracian filly...I could fit you deftly with a bridle/ and, holding the reigns, could steer you past the end posts of our course, lack a rider with a practiced hand at horsemanship'" (Ariel and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs: A New Translation, 1995, p. 144, note on verse 9). In any case, the man in the Song is not comparing the woman to a horse per se, but to a horse in a particular sense.

Notes commentator Marvin Pope in his Anchor Bible commentary: "A crucial consideration overlooked by commentators is the well-attested fact that Pharaoh's chariots, like other chariotry in antiquity, were not drawn by a mare or mares but by stallions hitched in pairs.... The situation envisaged is illustrated by the famous incident in one of the campaigns of Thutmose III against Qadesh. On his tomb at Thebes, the Egyptian soldier Amenemheb relates how the Prince of Qadesh sent forth a swift mare which entered among the [Egyptian] army. But Amenemheb [pursued and killed the mare]...thus preventing a debacle before the excited stallions could take out after the mare" (Song of Songs, 1977, p. 338). Carr concurs: "These factors suggest that the comparison here underscores the girl's attractiveness. A mare loose among the royal stallions would create intense excitement. This is the ultimate in sex appeal!" (p. 83, note on 1:9).

Yet Fox points out that the term for chariots in verse 9 does not necessarily refer to war chariots but could mean chariots for ceremonial pomp and regalia, an idea that may be borne out in the next verse: "Canticles immediately specifies the basis of the comparison, namely the girl's ornamented beauty, not her sexually arousing effect on males" (p. 105). Glickman says, "It is noteworthy that the image [in verse 10] of ornaments on her cheeks and necklaces around her neck is likely a continuation of the metaphor and portrays a mare decorated with jewels, which were common on the bridles of horses" (p. 195). Yet it could be that both comparisons are in view.

Song 1:11 is spoken to the woman, the "you" here being feminine singular. Yet there is a question as to who is speaking. Some think the man is still speaking-and consider that he must be Solomon, whether as the lover or a seducer, given his call for making gold and silver ornaments (the "we" including those who would do the actual work at his behest). It is often argued that this is beyond the means of a shepherd and therefore speaks against the alternative two-character drama in which Solomon and king are figurative references to any lover-though it should be realized that any lover would mean the shepherd reference is figurative as well. It may be that the jewelry here is a literal or symbolic reference to betrothal gifts to a woman (see Genesis 24:22, 53). The NKJV ascribes Song 1:11 to the daughters of Jerusalem. This could fit with the shepherd hypothesis as easily as Solomonic attribution does. Or the women speaking could indicate community women manufacturing wedding attire for a bride. Yet it does not seem natural that the women would jump in at this point unless verses 9-10 are not part of a private meeting between the woman and her lover.

Song 1:12-13 is properly attributed to the Shulamite, but the setting is of course debated. Some see the passage as a continuation of the midday meeting of the lovers, with the man referred to as the king, whether Solomon or another man (a shepherd perhaps) figuratively regaled as a king. The king being at his "table" could, combined with the possible outdoor setting of verses 16-17, indicate a picnic as the lovers' noon outing. In the shepherd hypothesis, the notion here is that while King Solomon is off having a meal, the girl is thinking about her absent shepherd lover-or perhaps meeting with him in secret, unbeknownst to the king. Others see the two lovers of the Song joined together here at their engagement feast or wedding banquet. And still others see a sexual implication-that the man is feasting on the charms of the woman, so to speak. Perhaps there is intentional ambiguity here so that the Song on one level applies to a courtship or engagement period but, for a married couple, a double entendre points to a more intimate encounter. Some, it should be noted, see the word rendered "table" here more generally as meaning an "enclosure"-perhaps denoting one of the shepherds' tents of verse 8 or an open spot under the trees, as, again, may be suggested in verses 16-17.

In 1:13-14, the Shulamite speaks of her beloved as a bundle or pouch of myrrh (using the assonant phrase zaror hamor) between her breasts as a perfume or valuable spice over her heart (verse 13). Many see a sexual connotation here, but that is not necessarily the case-or perhaps it is intended this way for a married couple but not for the courtship period. As Dr. Glickman comments: "Occasionally translators and interpreters will render this in a way that it is not a bag of myrrh between her breasts all night, but Solomon [or her lover if not him] lying there. However, the parallelism of verses 13 and 14 make it clear that just as the cluster of henna blossoms [that represent her lover and not her lover himself] are in En Gedi, the pouch of myrrh [representing her lover and not her lover himself] is between her breasts. It is true that the verb 'lies' means to 'spend the night,' and it creates a warm image of the pouch of myrrh 'spending the night between her breasts.' The image personifies the pouch of myrrh and pictures Shulamith holding it like a young girl would hold on to her pillow, pretending it is her lover" (p. 196). Yet later the lover actually does lie there himself.

The henna shrub in verse 14 ("camphire" in the KJV) was used to produce a copper-colored cosmetic dye, but the fragrance of the blossoms is here in view. Regarding the oasis of En Gedi near the Dead Sea , "archaeological explorations indicate that a significant perfume business was located there (cf. E.M. Blaiklock and R.K. Harrison, edd., The New International Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology {...1983}, p. 180)" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, note on verses 13-14).

In 1:15 the woman is addressed by the term ra'yati ("my darling companion," rendered "my love" in the NKJV). This would seem to be spoken by her beloved-perhaps while they are enjoying their midday outing. Yet shepherd-hypothesis adherents see this as Solomon's intrusion into the woman's inner reverie. The exchange here stretches the credulity of this interpretation. The man in verse 15 twice extols the woman as "fair" or "beautiful" (NIV)-the Hebrew here being yaphah. She then in 1:16 uses the masculine form of the same word, yapheh, in addressing her beloved, here translated "handsome" (NKJV, NIV). This most naturally reads as the man telling the woman, "You are beautiful," and her returning the compliment by saying "You are beautiful." The shepherd hypothesis has Solomon saying this, while she completely ignores him and says the same thing in her mind to her absent lover. Such a reading is quite unnatural and awkward-and seems rather unlikely. Note also here that the man says the woman has "dove's eyes"-a compliment also used of the woman in 4:1 and used by the woman of her lover in 5:12. "The common denominator of eyes and doves is their softness and gentleness, and perhaps also the oval shape of both" (Fox, p. 106).

In the last line of verse 16, the woman says that their bed (or couch, as it could also be rendered) is green. Song 1:17, which could still be her speaking though some make it the words of the lover (imagining rapid exchanges here), refers to cedar beams and fir (or cypress or juniper) rafters of their houses (plural). Some think this refers to the luxury of Solomon's palace. Yet others understand the bed or couch of green and tree rafters to refer to an outdoor setting on a bed of grass under the "houses" of overarching tree branches. This fits with the theme permeating the Song of love in the countryside. It is not clear if this is all to be taken literally or comprehended in a figurative sense. Commentator Tom Gledhill says: "The natural backdrop is a literary device. Our lovers are free from the trappings of convention, of society, of civilization, in order to express themselves fully to each other" (The Message of the Song of Songs, 1994, The Bible Speaks Today, p. 122).

The outdoor perspective continues in 2:1, where the woman says, "I am a [not 'the' as in the NKJV] rose of Sharon [the coastal plain], a lily of the valleys" (NIV). "Rose" here is typically thought to be a mistranslation: "Crocus, narcissus, iris, daffodil are the usual candidates" (Carr, p. 87, note on 2:1). The word rendered "lily" is often thought to actually denote a lotus, water lily or anemone. Based on the comparison of "lilies" to lips in 5:13, some "argue for a red or reddish-purple colour for the flower, but no identification is certain" (p. 88, same note). In any case, the woman is referring to herself as a common country flower. Whether she is being self-deprecating or playfully fishing for a compliment, a compliment is what she gets in return, her lover responding in 2:2 that she is as a lily among thorns-emphasizing her beauty above that of "the daughters" (i.e., women in general or perhaps the daughters of Jerusalem). Again, the notion of the shepherd hypothesis that this is Solomon's seduction here as she ignores him and thinks instead of her absent lover seems quite unlikely. Indeed, her response compliments her lover in a manner parallel to what was just spoken to her-elevating him in 2:3 above "the sons" (i.e., men in general or perhaps the sons of Jerusalem).

She refers to her lover here as no common tree-continuing the outdoor imagery, perhaps actually looking at the forest about them-her point here being that he is no common man. Rather, he is a bountiful tree offering shade (protection from the sun for this maiden who had previously been darkened from working outdoors) and yielding delicious fruit. Carr notes: "The apple tree to which the lover is compared is not certainly identifiable. Most versions translate the Hebrew word [tappuah] as apple (NEB apricot)....The [intended] fruit is aromatic (7:8), with a sweet taste. In Joel [1:12], it is one of the important agricultural trees associated with the vine, pomegranate and date-palm.... The apricot, although not native to Palestine , was grown there from Old Testament times and may have been introduced early enough to be the fruit in question. Although there is no clear evidence that the apple was cultivated in the ancient Near East, and the Proverbs passage [25:11] speaks of 'apples' of gold, any of the aromatic, sweet, globe-shaped fruits, including the apple...may be what is described here" (p. 89, note on 2:3).

"Apples" here were evidently associated with love and sensual passion-along with raisin cakes in verse 5. Indeed, such an association in the ancient Middle East is apparent from the pagan sacred marriage texts of Sumer (Pope, pp. 371-372, note on verse 3a), though this should not be taken to imply any sort of pagan association in the Song. The usage here could merely illustrate the common folkloric conception of these foods as aphrodisiacs. On the other hand, the association of apples and raisin cakes with love in the Song may merely be based on the idea that both these foods and love offer sweetness and sensual pleasure. An awakening-perhaps a sexual one (compare 4:16)-is later said to have taken place "under the apple tree" (8:5), this imagery being symmetrically arranged opposite the passage we are now reading in chapter 2. Interestingly, as Pope points out, the titles of two relatively recent songs indicate that the concept of the apple tree as a sensual place of romance has continued down to the present time: "In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree" and "Don't Sit Under the Apple Tree" ("with anyone else but me," as the latter song continues). Many see the woman's tasting of the man's fruit in verse 3 to imply amatory relations, but that is not necessarily the case. Perhaps the words were carefully chosen so that various layers of meaning can be found here. On one level, it might just mean experiencing the man's goodness (compare Psalm 34:8). On a more sensual level, for an engaged couple for instance, Song 2:3 may denote an experience of restrained kissing. And for a married couple it could signify more. That there is a need for restraint here may be implied by the woman's charge to the daughters of Jerusalem in verse 7-though whether this need applies to the woman herself is unclear.

In 2:4, the woman again speaks yet no longer addressing her beloved directly. More likely she is either musing privately or speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem, as in verse 7 (in which case verses 4-7 would be addressed to them). She says her lover has brought her to the "banqueting house" and that his "banner" over her is love. "Banqueting house" here is literally "house of wine." "This is the only use of this phrase (bet hayyayin) in the Bible, but there are near synonyms, including 'house for the drinking of wine' (bet misteh hayyayin) in Esther 7:8 and the 'drinking house' (bet misteh) in Jeremiah 16:8 and Ecclesiastes 7:2" (NICOT, p. 112, note on Song 2:4). The term in verse 4, then, could indicate a banquet hall or tavern. The word "banner" here translates the Hebrew word degel, the same term apparently used in Numbers 1:52 for a tribal standard or flag. Armies flew such standards for identification purposes (the apparent basis of the imagery in Song 6:4 and 6:10). Perhaps what we have here, as some suggest, is a public proclamation of the man's love for the woman at a feast or party. Some even take it to refer to an engagement party, where a shared cup of wine sealed the betrothal. Others take the wording here to mean a full wedding feast-and see the couple as already married here. Alternatively, some view the house of wine here in more figurative terms since wine has already been compared to loving affections in 1:2 and 1:4. They see the house of wine as merely the place the lovers share affections together, perhaps the same outdoor setting we've already noted. Some even contend that full lovemaking is in mind, though there is no statement to that effect. Of course, if that is meant then the couple would necessarily be married already. Additionally, it should be noted that the translation "banner" is rejected by some who see the term in the Hebrew text here as coming from the Akkadian word diglu, meaning "intention" (though "banner" seems more likely, given the other Song references). Either way, an intention is declared, whether privately or publicly.

In 2:5, most Bible versions describe the woman making a request for sustenance and refreshment with raisin cakes and apples. (The foods here could be literal or, as noted above, figurative of sensual enjoyment-particularly as the "apples" denote the fruit of her beloved in verse 3.) It should be noted, though, that the word translated "sustain" in verse 5 more broadly means "support" (as in having something to lean on) and the word translated "refresh" is elsewhere used to mean "stretch out" or "spread." So some interpreters understand the woman here asking to be laid out on a bed of raisin cakes and apples. This could imply being sustained by these but it may also imply a wish to indulge in sensual relations or thoughts of such. Either way, the point is to deal with her lovesickness.

However, it is not clear to whom the woman addresses her call here-whether she is speaking to someone in particular (her lover, herself or the daughters of Jerusalem) or is making a general appeal to anyone who can help her. Some see her as pining away in lovesickness over her absent lover. Others see her lover as present and understand her lovesickness here as being worn out from love but wanting more of the same. Fox comments: "Egyptian love songs nos. 6, 12, and 37 describe the symptoms of love-sickness, in particular weakness and loss of control over the body (nos. 6, 37). There (as in 5:8) the love-sickness is caused by the beloved's absence. Here his presence causes much the same symptoms" (p. 109, note on 2:5). It may even be that she is lovesick because she has stirred up passionate feelings within herself that cannot yet be given full expression, she and her lover being not yet married (which may explain her charge to the daughters of Jerusalem that follows).

That her lover is actually present seems to be supported by 2:6. But some say she merely imagines him holding her-or recalls it from times past. Others see a wish: "Oh, may his left hand be under my head and his right hand embrace me" (Glickman, p. 178). Of course, this is possible even if she was with him only moments before. That is, she wishes the experience would not end. Yet it could be that a period of separation is indicated by the arrival of the lover in the next section of the Song noting that winter, a time of bleakness and cold, is past (verses 10-13). The words here in verse 6, prior to the charge to the daughters of Jerusalem in verse 7, reappear in 8:3 prior to the partially repeated charge to the daughters in 8:4.

In Song 2:7 (as in 3:5) the woman charges or adjures the daughters of Jerusalem with the use of an oath formula. A group of women ("daughters") is clearly addressed, but for the "you" here, the Hebrew has "the masculine plural form 'etkem, instead of the expected feminine 'etken...similarly ta'iru ['you stir up'], te'oreru ['you awaken'] in this verse" (Bloch, p. 152, note on 2:7). The same is true in the other three charges to the daughters of Jerusalem in the Song (3:5; 5:8; 8:4). The masculine plural form could designate a mixed group of men and women, but usually not one exclusively female. It may be pertinent that in the book of Ruth, Naomi uses the masculine plural of her daughters-in-law in giving them a parting blessing from God (1:9). Perhaps the formality in these cases allows or calls for this usage.

The particular oath formulation in Song 2:7 and 3:5 seems rather odd. For instead of invoking God, as would be expected, the oath is taken "by the gazelles or by the does of the field." As pointed out in the introduction, there seems to be a deliberate avoidance of mentioning God in the Song-the intent perhaps being to reveal Him more subtly. In this case, we may have an allusion to Him. The quoted phrase above appears in Hebrew as bisba'ot ’o be’aylot hassadeh. This is thought by several commentators to be substituted, based on commonality of sound, for be[YHWH] seba’ot ’o be’el (ha)saddai, meaning "by [the Eternal of] Hosts or by God (the) Almighty." This is possible, and God is implied in any case since the oath is taken by His creatures in nature. Beautiful, graceful, lively and free, these creatures are also representative of human lovers. The man in the Song is compared to a leaping gazelle immediately afterward in 2:8-9, and a wife is compared to a graceful doe in Proverbs 5:19. The joy of true love between lovers is, like the creatures representing them, ultimately the work of God through creation-thus providing a basis for the oath formula here. It is also conceivable that gazelles and deer were familiar illustrations of sexuality in ancient Near Eastern culture (which may be why pagans used them as love goddess emblems)-so that speaking of these creatures together may have been similar to what we mean today by "the birds and bees." The oath then would be by love and sexuality generally, which, again, is the handiwork of God.

The Greek Septuagint, it should be noted, interprets the phrase in question here as meaning "By the powers [substituting for 'hosts'] and by the virtues of the field," which is perhaps possible (though cryptic as well). In context, however, the mention of gazelle and stag immediately afterward in 2:8-9 shows that gazelles and does were likely intended here.

At the end of 2:7 (and in 3:5 and similarly in 8:4) we have the substance of the charge to the daughters of Jerusalem: "Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases." In 2:7 and 3:5, the "not" and "nor" is translated from the Hebrew ’im. "While usually meaning 'if,' the particle ’im is regularly used with a negative sense in oaths, as in 2 Kings 5:16 hay ’adonay... ’im ’eqqah 'as the Lord lives, I will not take a thing,' Gen. 14:22-23, 21:23, 2 Sam. 11:11, etc. The semantic shift from a conditional to a negative meaning may have come about as follows: 'I swear, if I were to commit this crime (may such and such an evil come upon me)'→ 'I swear not to commit...,' with the negative consequence left unspoken" (Bloch, p. 152, note on Song 2:7).

Some insert the modifier "my" before "love" here (as in the KJV) and think the charge is to not disturb the lover-and there is disagreement in such case as to whether the woman or the man is charging the daughters. Yet there is no "my" here-the object of awakening being love and not lover-and the woman is clearly the speaker, following on from verse 6. Others, who see the lovers as engaging in sexual union in preceding verses (which would require that they be already married), take the charge to mean that no one should disturb them in their lovemaking until they are satiated. Still others, who see the woman's lover as not actually present, think she is telling her attendants to not disrupt her daydreaming about her lover until she has spent sufficient time in it-or, alternatively, that they not get her worked up about him until she can actually be with him.

Yet other interpreters take the Shulamite to be instructing the other women here (and by extension the audience) in the ways of love. Some think her point is that they should not artificially drum up loving feelings but, rather, let love develop naturally on its own. And still others believe she is telling them-perhaps derived from her own experience-to not let passionate desire be awakened within them until there is an acceptable context, as the phrase "until it pleases" can mean "until it is agreeable." As Dr. Carr words this likely possibility, "Don't start the process of loving exchange until the opportunity and appropriate occasion is present" (p. 95, note on 2:7). Thus the charge would constitute a warning against premarital intimacy and lustful thoughts. Why then not just say, "Wait until you're married"? Perhaps the instruction is broader than that-including not merely the thought that you wait until you're married, but that you not even think about getting married to a potential spouse until you are both ready for that.

The refrain with its charge closes the first major section of the Song.

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