Prev Next

"Set Me as a Seal Upon Your Heart" (Song of Solomon 8:5-14)

We come now to the concluding section of the Song, which evidently looks back on the relationship and also looks ahead. In considering the unit's opening in 8:5a, we should recall that the third unit of the Song closed in 3:5 with the adjuration refrain to the daughters of Jerusalem and the next, the fourth and central unit (probably concerning the wedding of the couple), opened in 3:6 with "Who is this coming out of the wilderness...?"—this being likely a reference to the woman (compare also 6:10). Even so, the unit before the present one closed in 8:4 with a form of the adjuration refrain and this last unit opens in verse 5 with "Who is this coming up from the wilderness...?"—clearly defined in this case as the woman, since she is "...leaning upon her beloved" (same verse).

Recall from our comments on the preceding unit that some believe the couple was there heading off on a romantic getaway to rekindle their romance—some understanding the destination to be the woman's childhood home. Proponents of the shepherd hypothesis see the couple leaving the palace and harem in Jerusalem and permanently returning to the area of the woman's childhood home. In either case, 8:5 is often considered to be the couple coming up from the wilderness in approaching the childhood home. Taking verses 8-9 to be the words of the Shulamite's brothers is considered to buttress this view—the idea being that these words are spoken during a visit to the home of the woman's family. This is part of the reason that some attribute verse 5 (as the NKJV does) to an unnamed relative—often viewed here as witnessing the couple's arrival at the country homestead. The other reason is that the speaker is taken to be the same in the latter part of the verse—where the speaker, a single individual, is deemed from the wording to have been present at the birth of the person being addressed. This is likely a mistaken notion, as we will see. Furthermore, we should consider that the Song is not a drama in the sense that we might expect a brief walk-on role. It is a song sung in parts—and it seems odd that there would be a man waiting to sing this one small part. (Though one man singing here who also sings elsewhere with a male chorus is perhaps conceivable.)

Others who believe the lovers leave on a getaway vacation, whether to the countryside generally or to the woman's childhood home particularly, see verse 5 not as early in the getaway but as the end of it. That is, they see here the man and woman returning to Jerusalem from vacation (which is understood to have occurred between verses 4 and 5 without description). In this view, the beginning of verse 5 is read as being spoken by residents of Jerusalem—most likely the chorus representing the daughters of Jerusalem , who were just mentioned in verse 4. This would parallel the chorus of women singing, as they probably do, "Who is this [or she]...?" in 3:6 and 6:10.

Some, as we earlier saw, recognize the getaway intended by the woman in the previous section to be purely figurative, so that no literal trip was being proposed. In this view, the husband and wife were either going to their new life together after the wedding feast or, more likely, intending after a period of trouble in marriage to reconnect with one another in their own home and bedroom. This could mean that the beginning of verse 5 is to be understood figuratively as well—the man and woman returning from the countryside signifying their reemergence among people after a period of private lovemaking. Or the man and woman coming up from the wilderness together might signify their reunion after the period of distress. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states: "A final picture of the Song's couple is presented here. The wilderness or desert had two symbolic associations in the Old Testament. First, the wilderness was associated with Israel 's 40-year period of trial. In their love the couple had overcome trials which threatened their relationship (e.g., the insecurity of the beloved, 1:5-6 [more so in 3:1-5]; the foxes [if that was really a problem], 2:15; and indifference [or perhaps simply misunderstanding], 5:2-7). Second, the desert or wilderness was used as an image of God's curse (cf. Jer. 22:6; Joel 2:3). The couple's coming up out of the wilderness suggests that in a certain sense they had overcome the curse of disharmony pronounced on [the primal couple] Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:16b)" (note on Song 8:5). Along these lines, the first emergence from the wilderness in 3:6 perhaps symbolized coming from the betrothal period separation and difficulties and, in the wedding ceremony, inheriting the "Promised Land" of marriage. This second emergence from the wilderness could be seen as a renewed inheriting of that Promised Land—a renewed marriage. Only now their emergence from the wilderness is not merely through the institution of marriage (as symbolized by the public wedding) but through leaning on each other, working out their difficulties and growing together in love and intimacy (shown by the two coming up together privately). Again, it would make sense here that the chorus sings the beginning of verse 5—not as literal witnesses of a return from the wilderness, but as friends noting the special togetherness of the couple. The NIV lists the singers here as the "Friends"—referring to the chorus.

Who, then, is singing in 8:5b, who is being addressed, and how is this part of the verse to be understood? As mentioned above, the NKJV attributes both parts of the verse to a relative—thought, because of the wording in the latter part, to have been present at the birth of the person being addressed. (The idea is that the speaker points to a literal apple tree and says to one of the newly arrived lovers, "That's the spot where you were born [or conceived].") There are a few points we should observe.

First of all, the object suffixes of this verse are all masculine—the "you" addressed being apparently the man. Some dispute this, however, on a thematic basis. They correctly point out that other references to being brought forth by the mother in the Song apply to the woman (3:4; 6:9; 8:2). There is, however, an earlier mention of the man's mother in the context of the wedding, she being the one who crowns him and thus sends him off into marriage (3:11). And this may apply here in a figurative sense with the woman as the speaker, as we will see momentarily. Yet another reason people insist on the man not being the one awakened and brought forth, in either a literal or figurative sense, is that they find this difficult to reconcile with the man as a type of Christ (or God in Jewish allegory). How, in a spiritual sense, could the woman, as the Church or Israel, (or a relative, for that matter) have wakened Christ (or God)? Would it not be the other way around? Of course we then get into disputes about Israel or Mary giving birth to Christ. And would this not also be an issue with the mention of the mother in 3:11? Or how about the woman proposing to lead the man in 3:4 and 8:2? Indeed, a preconceived notion about spiritual parallels should not be the basis for ignoring Hebrew grammar. Marvin Pope in his Anchor Bible commentary correctly points out that the retention of the masculine suffixes in the Jewish Masoretic Text here despite this running counter to centuries of Jewish allegorical interpretation, supports a solid early tradition for the masculine suffixes (Song of Songs, p. 663, note on verse 5c). This is not to say there is no typology here—but it probably should not be applied strictly to every line or passage. It thus seems best to take the grammar of 8:5b at face value and understand the man as the one being addressed.

Second, the phrases in verse 5b represent key themes in the Song. "Awakened" occurs earlier in the adjurations to the daughters of Jerusalem about not awakening and then awakening love (2:7; 3:5; 8:4) and also in the erotic central passage of the Song, where the woman calls for the north wind to awake and blow on her garden (4:16). The "apple tree" (or a comparable fruit tree, as it is not certain just what fruit is meant by the term "apple" in both places—some suggest apricot) was used of the man as being the place of love and intimacy in 2:3—the fruit there and in 2:5 being symbolic of sensual pleasure. And being brought forth by the mother is, as already noted, mentioned of the woman in 3:4, 6:9 and 8:2 (the former and latter verses here occurring in a sexual context and perhaps having an erotic meaning). So it seems most likely that the sentence in 8:5b is to be taken in a figurative sense of sexuality—especially on the heels of an emergence from the wilderness that is also probably a metaphor concerning the relationship. Surely a relative is not making all these erotic connections. This is most likely private communication between the lovers—probably the woman (as the NIV notes) speaking to the man, as per the grammar. As before, some of the prior references alluded to concern the experience of the woman—though both were involved in these and there may be a mutual application, especially as the last section concerned the woman taking the initiative to lead the man in a renewal of romance and intimacy.

Third, the repetition near the end of the verse seems to emphasize not just being conceived, but the labor of birth, as the NIV translates it. As Dr. Craig Glickman explains: "The word for 'to labor' in birth [as he translates it] may also mean 'conceived' or simply 'to be pregnant.' The noun derived from the word means 'labor pains,' which favors the meaning of the verb as 'to labor' in birth. Perhaps the songwriter intends both meanings, having a play on words with a single word" (Solomon's Song of Love, p. 228). Here, again, may be a figurative picture of the pain of labor giving way to the joy of new life.

Putting all of this together, it would seem that the woman is telling the man that she awakened him sexually during the delight of intimacy with him—and that he was born anew through this experience (or perhaps that he was, so to speak, born to be loved by her). More specifically, she may be speaking of having re awakened him sexually in a rebirth during their recent intimacy—the idea possibly being that she herself has followed the pattern of his mother in giving new life to him (in their revived relationship) after going through a period of distress. Directing attention toward the apple tree, besides its implication of sensual delight, would seem to indicate a return to the joy of love in the opening section of the Song (again see 2:3). That is to say, after coming up from the wilderness in a renewal of marriage, the lovers find that they have arrived back at the love they once knew. This truly is a beautiful picture. Of course, it is contingent on seeing some chronological progress in the Song from the beginning until this point. A number of interpreters deny this, but it helps a great deal in making sense out of what is being described throughout.

Continuing the apparent theme of renewing the marriage (as, again, coming up from the wilderness in 8:5 was an image previously associated with what seems to be the wedding of the couple in 3:6-11), we are next, in 8:6-7, given a call to renewed commitment and an abstract description of the nature of love, which in context refers to the various aspects of the love between a man and woman in marriage—including the mutual attraction, passionate desire, romantic feeling, companionship, concern, and commitment that bind them together. As the pronouns in verse 6a are masculine singular, it is clear in context that the woman is speaking to the man—and, given the "for" here, that she speaks through the end of verse 7 (as is generally acknowledged).

She asks him to set her as a seal on his heart and on his arm (verse 6a). Engraved stone or metal seals, used for identification (Genesis 38:18) and signature purposes, were carried on one's person—just as people in the Western world today don't leave home without wallet and driver's license. The word for "seal" in Song 8:6 "is an Egyptian loanword. Such objects could be worn on strings about the neck (Gen 38:18) and thus lie over the 'heart'; they were also worn as rings on the hand (Jer 22:24)" (Roland Murphy, The Song of Songs, Hermeneia Commentaries, p. 191, footnote on Song 8:6). Interestingly, the boy in one of the Cairo Love Songs may have used similar imagery: "If only I were her little seal-ring, the keeper of her finger! I would see her love each and every day...{while it would be I} who stole her heart" (Group B, no. 27 or 21C, translated by Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and The Egyptian Love Songs, p. 38). Here the picture is of perpetual closeness with the person loved.

Song 8:6, however, does not mention the finger but the "arm." Some picture a bracelet. Yet a ring on the finger could be meant if the word literally translated "arm" is interchangeable here with "hand," "just as in 5:14 'hand' was understood as 'arm'" (Murphy, footnote on 8:6). Yet the nuance of "arm" is surely deliberate in this brilliantly crafted work. If the woman herself is pictured as a seal, then it would seem she wishes to be over the man's heart (in private affections) and on his arm (in the sense of holding onto his arm and being presented on his arm in public). Their arrival in 8:5 was marked by her leaning on him, evidently on his arm. On the other hand, "set me as a seal upon your heart...upon your arm" may have the sense of "impress me as a seal onto your heart and arm." In this case, the idea is that she be indelibly stamped onto his heart (that is, onto his emotions and inner commitment) and onto his arm (meaning, as with God's commandments in Deuteronomy 6:6-8, onto his actions). And, considering the identification imagery, she may have been asking that the man be completely identified with her—that in observing him, all would see a man wholly devoted to her (her name being figuratively tattooed on his arm, as we might think of it today). Moreover, there may be a sense here of a mark of ownership—that the man would willingly belong, and be seen as belonging, to her (in this apparent recommitment to marriage with its mutual possession).

The remainder of Song 8:6-7 gives the basis of the commitment the woman desires of the man—clearly implied to be the basis of her own feelings. The first two lines about the seal are connected by the word "for" to the next two lines about love being as strong as death (in not letting go of those in its grasp) and, likewise, jealousy (i.e., proper jealousy in the sense of guarding the exclusivity of the committed relationship) being as "unyielding as the grave" (NIV)—the word "cruel" in the KJV and NKJV probably being a wrong nuance in this case of the Hebrew word here that literally means "hard." Glickman notes a short chiastic or symmetrical pattern: a: heart; b: arm; b': strong; a': jealousy unyielding (p. 228). This abstract statement about the nature of love, continuing through to the end of verse 7, is quite remarkable here—there being nothing else like it in the Song. Having tied the whole of the Song together in the description of the renewal of the relationship in verse 5, the segment that follows forms the secondary high point of the Song (the climax being the central passage, 4:16-5:1). Here in 8:6-7, in what is likely aimed at the audience in an instructive sense, we are told not only about the unbreakable grip of love and accompanying jealousy, but that love is a flame of God, as the words in the last line of verse 6 can translated "a flame of YAH." If this translation is correct, this is the only direct mention of God in the Song. The translation issues here, and the import of this segment, are considered in detail in our introduction, and you may wish to review that here. Though this translation is disputed, it reasonably fits here—and the wording may be intentionally ambiguous so that the mention of God is very subtle. In any case, it is clear that God is the very author of human love and sexuality.

The last two lines of verse 6 go with the first two lines of verse 7. So intensely does true love burn that "great waters" (mayyim rabbim) cannot put it out—these being representative in other passages of Scripture of destructive forces and applying most naturally here, since water would typically extinguish a flame. This is not to say that love can never die—for it clearly can and does die out through neglect and wrong choices of the lovers themselves. But when true love is burning, it cannot be quenched.

At the end of verse 7 we are further told that love cannot be bought. If a man gave everything he had for love, "it [or 'he,' this could be translated] would be utterly scorned" (NIV). Shepherd-hypothesis advocates take this as a summary of what has happened throughout the Song. The New Bible Commentary: Revised contends here: "True love is not only unquenchable, it is also unpurchaseable. Solomon had made every effort to buy her love with all the luxuries of the court, but to no avail. The Shulammite speaks from experience" (note on verses 8:6-7). Yet there are ways to understand this passage that do not require a three-character interpretation. If Solomon is the lover in the Song, the woman could simply be making a point that it was not his wealth that drew her to him in love as some might assume—that he, rather, won her over naturally because no one can be induced to true love through bribery. On the other hand, if a poor shepherd and vineyard caretaker girl are being extolled in the Song as if they are king and queen, the girl may be contrasting her man with the real Solomon, commenting that true love is not really about wealth and splendor. Murphy makes another suggestion here, pointing out that this pronouncement of disdain on one seeking to buy love "may seem somewhat anticlimactic after the preceding lines, but in the biblical world, where the mohar, or bride-price, played a significant role, the reference was appropriate. Moreover, the practices associated with the bride price seem to figure in the background of vv 8-12" (p. 198, note on verses 6-7). We will consider this shortly.

The next segment here, 8:8-10, seems to spring out of nowhere. While these verses go together based on the same matter under discussion carrying through them, it is not clear who is speaking and who is being discussed. Let's first consider what is being talked about, as this is fairly easy to discern. In verse 8, a group or an individual speaking on behalf of a group mentions having a little sister with no breasts—probably indicating that she is very young. Concern is expressed as to what to do for this sister in (or perhaps in consideration of) "the day when she is spoken for"—which seems to indicate the day that commitment is made to her in betrothal or marriage (or at least the time when such is possible). Some note a similar expression in 1 Samuel 25:39 regarding David and Abigail. In fact, this meaning would follow well in the context of the commitment sought in Song 8:6.

Verse 9 is either a response by another part of the group here or a continuation by the same speaker or speakers if the question at the end of verse 8 was posed rhetorically. If she is a "wall," verse 9 says, the group will build a silver battlement on her—and if a "door," the group will enclose her with cedar boards. Some assume that the "wall" imagery here corresponds to the girl having no breasts and believe that the intention is to enhance her flat-chested appearance. But this is clearly not the case. The "if" here clearly indicates a condition not presently apparent. Of course some then assume that the concern is whether the girl will remain undeveloped. But this is not the point either. In verse 10 a girl who does have breasts (which are reckoned as towers) is presented as a "wall" (so no flatness is intimated here). Moreover, the imagery of building of battlements on this wall shows what kind of wall is meant, making the meaning plain. "The wall (the Hebrew word [and the battlements imagery] signifies a fortified city wall, not the wall of a house)...suggests defence, impregnability, repulsion of intruders. Metaphorically it represents chastity, unavailability, self-protection and preservation" (Tom Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, p. 236). Indeed, in the context of preserving a young girl for marriage, the wall imagery could reasonably apply only to the guarding of her virginity. The battlements, normally meaning further stone courses (though some picture turrets here), could entail extra support in maintaining virginity. Yet their being silver would seem to refer more to adornment as a reward or gift (perhaps a bridal gift)—the courses atop the wall being the place in this metaphoric picture to place such adornment.

There is a bit of confusion about the "door" (or "gate") imagery. Some regard this in the same sense as the wall—that it also implies a barrier to entrance. The enclosure with cedars is then reckoned to be, as before, extra security and/or, as a reward, adornment consisting of cedar paneling. Others, however, regard the door or gateway as promoting access—an image of being open, or sometimes open, to seduction and unchastity. The need, it is deemed in this case, is to board her up—to sequester her from that potential. This seems more probable. For consider: In presenting the image of a door beside that of a wall, are both really intended in the same light? It seems hard to get around the idea that you can get through one of these. There certainly is not the same degree of impregnability. Furthermore, the woman in verse 10 selects only one of these to describe herself—the wall. The implication seems to be that she has not been a door. And boarding over a door makes more sense than decorating it with paneling. The word "enclose" here means "confine" (Strong's No. 6696).

Who is saying all this, and who is the little sister? Most understand, as in the NKJV speaker annotations, that the Shulamite's brothers (mentioned in 1:6) are speaking in 8:8-9 (or that she is quoting them—with her continuing to speak after verse 7) and that verse 10 is her comment in reply. Many holding this opinion see verses 8-9 as a flashback to the brothers discussing the Shulamite when she was young. Others, however, see them presently discussing another sister. On the other hand, some consider that the woman is speaking (to or on behalf of her brothers) of a younger sister in the present—verse 10 referring to her being a personal example to the sister. Still others see the female chorus singing here as the daughters of Jerusalem regarding a young girl among them, a "sister," figuratively speaking, among them (they all being "daughters")—perhaps representative of young girls generally. Again, verse 10 would be the Shulamite pointing to herself as an example. Others have proposed a group of men, suitors (being supposedly the companions of verse 13), discussing the Shulamite in verses 8-9 as a young "sister" in a figurative sense—each aiming to sequester her until marriage. This view is the most unlikely, as there has been no hint of such suitors at any point prior (and verse 13 does not support the idea, as we will see). What, then, of the other views here?

Regarding the Shulamite and her brothers having a younger sister, we should consider the earlier words of the man in 6:9: "My dove, my perfect one, is the only one, the only one of her mother, the favorite [or 'pure one,' this probably ought to be] of her mother." At face value, it would appear that the Shulamite is an only daughter (not an only child, as we know she had brothers). Some argue for the supposed interpretation of "favorite" here as being parallel to the concept of one and only—unique or being essentially the only one the mother sees. Of course, this would be rather sad for a second daughter. (And the idea that a second daughter would be too young to be prized or noticed by her mother is absurd.) Furthermore, "favorite" does not seem a reasonable meaning of the Hebrew word here, since the same word is translated in the next verse as "clear" (you would never say "favorite as the sun"). A second sister would be necessary only if the Shulamite were clearly shown to be speaking her own words in 8:8. Yet since there are easily other alternatives, there is really no basis for a second sister.

While it is possible that the daughters of Jerusalem are speaking of a young one among them, why would one be singled out? Would there not be many such young girls? Perhaps the idea is that one represents many, each to be considered individually. Older sisters could and did, of course, influence younger ones. But did older sisters have the authority that seems to be indicated here? "Responsibility of brothers for a sister is well established in the Bible, especially in matters pertaining to sexuality and marriage, as in the case of Rebecca, Gen. 24:29-60; Dinah, Gen. 34:6-17; and the daughters of Shiloh , Judg. 21:22. Song 1:6 clearly reflects the fraternal authority of the brothers over the Shulamite" (Ariel and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs, pp. 214-215, note on Song 8:8). Such authority is magnified in the absence of a father. Even if older sisters had similar authority over younger sisters, we should consider that this is attested to nowhere else in Scripture and that such an image has no correspondence to earlier imagery in the Song—whereas the common opinion that the brothers are speaking does.

In encountering verse 8, we properly recognize a change of speakers since the Shulamite, who was previously speaking, had no other sister. Then, in considering who the little sister is, we consider that the Shulamite herself is earlier referred to figuratively as "sister" by her beloved. And, more importantly, we recall that she earlier referred to herself as being under the authority of her brothers (1:6)—making her their younger sister. Thus, without inventing new information, it is most natural to assume (barring some conflict) that they are in 8:8-9 speaking of her. A potential conflict immediately emerges with respect to the chronology. We consider that the Shulamite is no longer a young girl under their care, but is evidently married to her beloved. However, we also note that we have already met with reflection on past events a few verses prior, as the lovers returned to the theme of the apple tree (from 2:3) in 8:5—getting back, as we earlier noted, to the love they once knew. This, we should recognize, is a facet of the overall symmetrical arrangement of the Song—particularly correspondence between the last major section (8:5-14) and the opening section (1:1–2:7). And now we have further correspondence in what is evidently additional reflection. In 1:6, the earlier mention of the Shulamite's brother's authority over her, she said that they were angry with her and made her a vineyard keeper so that she was not able to attend to her own vineyard (her own person, particularly her appearance in context). Putting this together with 8:8-9 gives us a better picture here. It seems that part of their motivation was to safeguard her purity.

Some believe the Shulamite's brothers were angry with her in Song 1:6 because she had failed to protect her virginity—and that her work in the vineyard, where they could see her, was her sequestering. Yet the Shulamite declares herself a wall in 8:10, so this seems unlikely. Perhaps the brothers were mistaken (not necessarily thinking she committed immorality but imagining based on something that happened, perhaps some perceived flirtation, that she might). Or perhaps she earlier mistook their assignment of her to vineyard work as their anger—when it was merely a way to help her maintain her chastity (through having duties that took up her time and energy and kept her in public view). She seems to appreciate their past efforts in verse 12, as we will see in a moment.

Those who regard verses 8-9 as the words of the brothers but see only a female chorus in the Song typically imagine that the woman is here quoting the brothers. Yet there is no indication of a quote here, such as we find in 2:10. Indeed, this would be extremely confusing to listeners since the woman sings the previous verse (8:7). How could an audience reasonably comprehend a new speaker here without a new singer? The man singing would not make quick sense of it. These factors make a good case for a male chorus singing here (and probably earlier in parts of 3:6-11). This does not mean that the brothers, in the storyline of the Song, are actually present in 8:8-9. Those who consider 8:5 as picturing the arrival of the lovers at the Shulamite's country home often imagine her family gathered together with them in 8:8-10 and the group reminiscing here. Likewise, some who see the lovers returning to Jerusalem in 8:5 imagine a family visit. Those who comprehend a wedding feast setting still ongoing—or having just ended—think that the family is still gathered together in verses 8-10. Yet we ought to realize that the brothers' words in verses 8-9, constituting a memory or reflection, do not require any such gathering or visit.

Verse 10, as already noted, is typically taken to be the words of the Shulamite. Where her words are typically translated "I am a wall," some render this "I was a wall" (NRSV), which is possible, as the verb is only implied. Indeed, this seems to fit better in context. In reply to her brothers having in the past wondered if she would be a wall or a door, she says she was a wall, with her breasts as towers (meaning that they were unreachable and guarded atop her fortress wall). Yet this was until she became in "his" eyes (which can logically only mean the eyes of her lover—perhaps referring to the one who spoke for her, as verse 8 anticipated) as one finding "peace." That is, the lover (the husband) was, through terms of peace, allowed entrance into her fortress. His advances were not repelled but embraced. Some take "peace" (shalom) here in the sense of wholeness and contentment, and this may be implied in a secondary sense. Yet the primary meaning in the metaphor seems to be that of opposing forces coming together, there being no further need of defensive fortifications guarding chastity (at least within marriage—there still of course being a need to defend against threats from outside). The peace and unity here may also tie in to the ongoing reconciliation of the past few chapters—the idea being one of having recaptured that earlier peace that came through marital union (physical and otherwise).

It is interesting to note the phrase "one who found peace [shalom]" at the end of verse 10 as a designation for the woman. This may specifically relate to the reference to her in 6:13 as ha-Shulamit (the Shulamite), possibly—especially if a feminine form of Shelomoh (Solomon)—derived from shalom. Indeed, the last word in 8:10 is shalom, "peace," and in the next verse, verse 11, is Shelomoh (Solomon). Indeed, "his eyes" in verse 10 is thought by some to refer to Solomon since his name immediately follows. So we may have some implied wordplay here: ha-Shulamit finding shalom in Shelomoh. This, it would appear, happened with initial union in marriage—and it has now happened again, in a parallel sense, through the renewal of love and intimacy. Shepherd-hypothesis proponents view the woman's statement in an entirely different light of course, usually taking it to mean that Solomon finally ceased his attempted seduction of her and allowed her to be with her beloved shepherd.

Continuing in Song 8:11-12, we note that these two verses clearly go together (each mentioning Solomon, vineyard, thousand and fruit), though there is dispute as to who is speaking and what is truly being portrayed. Solomon, we are told in verse 11, had a vineyard in Baal Hamon, a name otherwise unknown. In verse 12, Solomon is addressed and mention is made of "my own vineyard." How are we to take these verses—literally or figuratively? And why are they here? As with verses 8-10, this segment that follows seems at first glance to come out of the blue. Yet considering the reflection we have already noted—and the symmetry between this closing section of the Song (8:5-14) and the opening section (1:1–2:7), it is natural and appropriate to look for more of the same.

Solomon, we should note, is mentioned twice here (8:11-12) and also twice in the opening section (1:1, 5)—both these positions being exactly opposite to three mentions of his name in the central section of the Song concerning the apparent wedding procession (3:7, 9, 11). The word translated "keepers" or "those who tend" (8:11-12), thus appearing twice here in this segment, occurs elsewhere in the Song only in the opening section—in that case also appearing two times together as "keeper" and "kept" (1:6). This former instance is part of the segment that also mentions Solomon (1:5-6). Furthermore, it should be recognized that the word "vineyards" and then "my own vineyard" at the end of 1:6 parallels the two mentions of "vineyard" in 8:11 and "my own vineyard" in 8:12. On top of this, we should observe that 1:6 is also the verse that mentioned the Shulamite's brothers assigning her work—parallel to their authority over her we have already noted in 8:8-9. All of this very strongly indicates that 8:8-12 should all be taken together—as parallel to 1:5-6.

This can help us to understand what is going on in 8:11-12. In 1:6, the girl was sent by her brothers to work in the sun in literal vineyards—and this prevented her from devoting as much energies as she would have liked to her own personal vineyard, a figurative reference to her own person (her appearance being at issue here). This gives us good reason to see the vineyard of 8:11 literally and the personal vineyard of verse 12 as a figurative reference to the speaker's person. Indeed the vineyard of verse 11, in this parallel, would seem to be one that the girl was sent to work in—followed by reference to her own person in the vineyard of verse 12. However, the related wording between verses 11 and 12 indicate that the vineyard in verse 11 is to be understood figuratively on some level, as we will see. Thus it may be that a literal situation in verse 11 is being used in a symbolic manner.

A literal interpretation of the vineyard in verse 11 most naturally implies a literal interpretation of Solomon here as well. It does not follow that a poor shepherd or even an average citizen would have a great vineyard leased to keepers who were to bring a return of 1,000 silver coins for the fruit sold. The lord of this vineyard would be a wealthy individual, and King Solomon makes a great deal of sense in that light. Solomon is the likely author of Ecclesiastes, and the writer of that book lists among his great works the planting of vineyards and the making of gardens and orchards with pools and all kinds of fruit trees (2:4-7). That Israelite kings had a penchant for possessing vineyards is also evident in the story of Ahab's desire for Naboth's vineyard in 1 Kings 21. We may also note David's appointment of officials to oversee vineyards and wine production, evidently to supply state needs (1 Chronicles 27:27). Solomon's administration was surely no different in this. So it may well be (putting the whole story together in Song 1:5-6 and 8:8-12) that the king placed one of his vineyards into the care of the Shulamite's brothers and that they delegated some responsibilities to her.

In this scenario, Baal Hamon in verse 11 would be a literal place—though it is probably also a figurative reference. On the literal side, we should note that even though "Baal-hamon" is not specifically attested to elsewhere, there are other geographic names in Scripture beginning with Baal—for example, Baal-hermon, Baal-meon, Baal-peor, Baal-perazim, Baal-hazor. Some see a resemblance to a place mentioned in the Apocrypha, which is written in Greek: "As pointed out by a number of commentators, Judith 8:3 mentions a place called Balamon, possibly a Greek equivalent to Baal-hamon, which is near Dothan. In this regard, it is interesting that the Septuagint translates the Song of Songs' reference as Beelamon" (New International Commentary on the Old Testament, p. 219, note on Song 8:11). This is the same as "Khirbet Balama, modern Ibleam...about a mile south-west of Janin [in the northern West Bank].... This site was occupied as early as the pre-conquest Canaanite period" (Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon, Tyndale Commentaries, p. 174, note on verse 11). This being taken as the location of the vineyard in which the Shulamite worked is thought by some to buttress the view of the word Shulamite being equivalent to Shunammite, since Shunem was about 15 miles away. But that's quite a distance for people without modern cars. It certainly doesn't make sense as a daily commute.

Alternatively, some take Baal-hamon as an altered form of Baal-hermon in the far northern territory of Manasseh on the east side of the Jordan River (Judges 3:3; 1 Chronicles 5:23). This location is understood to be parallel with "Baal Gad in the Valley of Lebanon below Mount Hermon" (Joshua 11:17; compare 13:5) and typically equated with modern Banyas, a beautiful, lush place of springs and waterfalls in the Golan Heights. Mention of Baal-hermon here is thought to parallel the several uses of the word Lebanon in the Song, particularly in 4:8 as possibly signifying the woman's homeland: "Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse...from the top of Senir and Hermon." Of course, it may be wondered in that case why the Song would not simply say "Baal-hermon" in 8:11 and not "Baal-hamon" when the spelling "Hermon" is used in 4:8. It may be that the songwriter, perhaps Solomon himself, intentionally changed the spelling here to, in a clever wordplay, inject a figurative meaning.

In any case, it seems highly likely that there is a figurative meaning in this name—exclusively if no physical location is intended. For commentators point out that the term Baal-hamon means "lord (or possessor) of a tumult (or crowd or multitude)" or, alternatively, "lord of abundance (or wealth)"—these definitions fitting Solomon. He was the lord of a multitude and of abundant wealth. Moreover, the term baal or "lord" could designate "husband," and the abundance could well apply to the wife as the fruitful vineyard—so that the name could apply to the actual Solomon or a nameless groom represented by him. A figurative meaning here would give us a very strong parallel with the Song of the Vineyard in Isaiah 5:1-7. The actual word order at the beginning of Song 8:11 is "A vineyard was to Solomon in Baal-hamon (possessor of abundance)." Isaiah 5:1b, written well after the Song of Solomon and perhaps alluding to it, reads: "A vineyard was to my Beloved in a horn of fatness" (J.P. Green, The Interlinear Bible)—or on a fruitful hill, as it is often interpreted. This correspondence may also imply other parallels—such as Solomon (or one referred to as Solomon) being the beloved in the Song. And since in the Song of the Vineyard God is the Beloved (Husband) in relation to His people Israel as His vineyard, it may be that we have here a scriptural basis for understanding the marriage in the Song of Songs as typifying, on some level, divine marriage.

If the actual King Solomon is the lover in the Song, neither of verses 11-12 can be attributed to the male lead. It might in this case be possible that a chorus sings verse 11 and the woman sings verse 12, but it is generally reckoned in this view that the woman is singing both verses. Support for this comes from verse 10—where "his eyes" is understood to anticipate the mention of Solomon in verse 11. That she would refer to Solomon now by name without having done so previously (all the other times using "my lover") does perhaps seem odd. Yet it may be that it is appropriate for the businesslike discussion here of ownership, profits and payment.

Those who believe the actual Solomon is the lover here comprehend a figurative comparison being made to a literal financial arrangement. The idea is that the brothers, as caretakers, were to bring a return of 1,000 silver coins for selling the fruit of the vineyard. (Interestingly, Isaiah 7:23 mentions a thousand vines being worth a thousand silver coins—yet that is the sale value of the vineyard itself, as opposed to the expected return from produce in Song 8:11.) In verse 12, the woman mentions her own vineyard (probably indicating her own person, as in 1:6) but then says that "the thousand"—i.e., the same thousand previously referred to (not "a thousand" as in the KJV and NKJV)—goes to Solomon and 200 to the keepers, the woman's brothers. The wording here is sometimes taken to mean that each caretaker was to bring a return of 1,000 coins and then keep 200. Yet it is clear from verse 12 that the thousand was the total value of the vineyard's produce. What, then, of the 200? If each keeper received 200, as some believe, this would be a problem if there were five brothers, as the profit would be eaten up. In fact, though, we don't know how many there were. Others suggest that 200 (a fifth of the 1,000) was the total payment to the keepers. Of course we can't know, and it's not important. The point is that the caretakers receive fair payment for their efforts—and the 200 does seem to indicate that an actual sum is in view (whereas the thousand by itself might be viewed in purely figurative terms).

Of course, a figurative parallel is understood here. As Solomon's literal vineyard gave him profits in part through the efforts of its caretakers, so would his figurative vineyard, his wife, yield up her profits to him (willingly, she seems to be saying)—again, thanks in part to the work of the caretakers, her brothers, who should properly be compensated. This seems to indicate a change in attitude on her part regarding their having made her work in the literal vineyard. (Indeed, some deem her grateful in thinking that if they had not made her work there, she would never have met her future husband—though this is an assumed embellishment.) Some even regard that the money to the caretakers here is an allusion to the bride price or gift a man would give to his bride's family (compare Genesis 24:22; 24:53; 29:18; 34:12; Exodus 22:17; 1 Samuel 18:23-25). This was of course a small price to pay next to the great reward reaped from receiving a wife! (as represented by the thousand coins). Of course, in no way is this to be taken as having bought love—which cannot be done, the point stressed in Song 8:7. That may be why there is emphasis in verse 12 showing that the woman's vineyard is her own—to give freely.

Shepherd-hypothesis advocates see the actual King Solomon referred to in 8:11-12—yet they of course do not reckon him as the woman's beloved. They typically see the vineyard of verse 11 in both a literal and figurative sense. Literally, they deem it the place where the Shulamite was working in 1:6—and the place she was noticed by the king (since she was working in his vineyard). Figuratively, they conceive of the vineyard and the name Baal-hamon as representing either Solomon's wealth and kingdom or his vast harem. In the first view, verses 11-12 are taken to be the words of the woman, telling Solomon in verse 12 that he can keep his wealth and power with which he tried to seduce her—that he cannot buy her person, her own vineyard, which belongs to her (this seen as parallel to the end of verse 7, which transitioned into the segment now in question). The 200 for the caretakers in this conception allow for, nonetheless, honest earning in working for the king, such as by her brothers. In the second conception, of the vineyard as the harem, the idea is that Solomon put it into the care of eunuchs, whom the Shulamite has had to deal with (though there has been no prior mention of them). The thousand coins are seen to be the physical enjoyment the king derives from all his women (often thought to symbolize his 1,000 women—yet the 60 and 80 of 6:8 makes that problematic as seeming to represent a much smaller number at this point). In this view, either the Shulamite or her beloved shepherd is thought to be speaking. If the woman, she is in verse 12 telling the king that he may have his "profit" from his harem but he will not derive any profit from her personal vineyard—or, in a slight variant, "You've got all those others so just let me be." If the shepherd is seen as speaking, he is saying the same thing but referring in verse 12 to the woman as his own vineyard. The keepers receiving 200 here, whether the Shulamite or the shepherd is speaking, are deemed to be the eunuchs getting their personal compensation out of the deal—yet it seems rather odd that these new characters would be introduced here at the end in a summary conclusion.

Those who understand an alternative two-character progression in the Song wherein a nameless groom is portrayed as Solomon sometimes interpret verses 11-12 in much the same fashion as those who see the literal Solomon as the lover (considering the woman to be singing in both)—except that the verses are taken either in a wholly figurative sense (the vineyard entrusted to caretakers here seen as applying only to the wife and not to a real vineyard) or in an analogous sense, with an actual vineyard arrangement of the real Solomon overlaid onto the characters here (the family in reality having no connection to actual Solomon). On the other hand, there are some who take some earlier references to "king" and "Solomon," such as those connected with the wedding in 3:6-11, as applying to a nameless groom but who nonetheless consider Solomon in 8:11-12 not as the groom but as the real Solomon—in the sense of a foil or contrast. In this light, verses 11-12 are thought to portray Solomon negatively—as in the shepherd-hypothesis view—as one who did try to buy love many times over (counter to the point in verse 7) or one who maintained a harem for personal profit. In this conception the groom is thought to be commenting that Solomon can have his big vineyard, the harem (so large it must be entrusted to others) while he will be happy with his own—this being the woman. The 200 are then taken as a knock at Solomon—to say that others who are taking care of his women are getting some of their fruit (this being not the eunuchs but other lovers). Yet such an interpretation does not seem consistent with the other imagery here.

All things considered, it is probably best to take verses 11-12 as sung by the woman and referring either to the real Solomon as her lover (prior to his polygamous corruption) or to a nameless groom as her lover here portrayed positively as Solomon. The 200 here seems best explained by the bridal gifts typically presented to a woman's relatives. This goes well in line with the reflection of this section regarding the relationship of the couple in the Song—here highlighting the arrangement of the marriage as the natural outcome of the preparatory work of the woman's family in rearing her and helping her to maintain her chastity. All are ultimately blessed through this noble effort.

Finally we come to 8:13-14, the last two verses of the Song. There is no ambiguity here as to who is speaking. The grammatical gender of a number of the words make it clear that the man is speaking in verse 13 and that the woman is speaking in verse 14. Yet still there is dispute as to what is intended.

In verse 13, the woman is said to "dwell in the gardens." Some debate is made regarding the word rendered "dwell." That could be a correct sense, but others argue for "stay," "linger" or "sit"—seeing the implied permanence of "dwell" to go beyond what is intended, particularly as some infer from this verse that the man is cut off from the woman while she is in the gardens (which is reckoned to be a condition that does not last). This perspective, however, may be wrong. The garden motif appeared earlier in 4:12–5:1 as symbolizing the woman as a source of every kind of sensual pleasure. The imagery reappeared in 6:2, with the lover returning to the garden, probably again in a sensual context—and then once more in verse 11, where the visit to the garden, whether this is by the woman or the man, is to examine the blossoming of the relationship in terms of love and intimacy (see also 7:12). The plural "gardens" in 8:13 may imply something different from these earlier singular references—yet it may be simply a way to ensure that we do not envision her in a fixed place or static situation in her cultivation of her sexuality and relationship with her husband (and perhaps other aspects of life as well).

The "companions" here are masculine plural—which can denote an all-male group yet also a mixed group of men and women. The particular Hebrew term used for the friends here occurs elsewhere in the Song only in 1:7, where it refers to the man's companions, portrayed as fellow shepherds. The companions in 8:13 are listening for the woman's voice. The man then asks to hear her voice. It should be recalled that he made the same request in 2:14, following his invitation to her to join him in the newness of spring (verses 10-13), symbolizing the budding of their love. In 2:14, her being as a dove in the rocky clefts indicated some apparent inaccessibility—perhaps indicating that she had not yet fully given herself to him yet. Thus, his desire to see and hear her on that occasion may have symbolized his request that she join completely in a life together with him. It is based on that imagery that some see in 8:13 an indication again of inaccessibility. Moreover, the mention of the companions listening for the woman's voice has led some to believe that they have the same intention as the man. Some imagine here a group of rival suitors vying for the woman's affections. But there is no other hint of that elsewhere in the Song—and such an interpretation is not at all necessary. In fact if the companions be linked to those in 1:7, we might ask why the man's friends would be trying to court his bride? Of course, it might be argued that 8:13 is flashback to early in courtship, but that does not tie in well to verse 14—which appears a response to verse 13.

It could well be that the companions of verse 13 are a mixed group of men and women. Indeed, the specific word used would appear to link the meaning with the man's friends in 1:7. Yet in the symmetrical arrangement of the Song, we might expect that since 8:8-12 corresponds to 1:5-6, something following 8:8-12 would correspond to something preceding 1:5-6. Indeed, commentator Robert Alden noted this in his chart on the chiastic arrangement of the Song's lyrics, which is reproduced in our introduction. The companions of 8:13 are there shown to correspond to the female friends in 1:4b. Yet perhaps both the woman's friends of 1:4b and the man's friends of 1:7 are intended in 8:13. Some picture all the wedding guests as being in mind here—if the wedding feast setting is still intended. Even if an all-male group of the man's friends is meant, this would not imply rival suitors. The New American Commentary suggests: "This may imply that she has moved out of her old world—the world of her brothers and of the Jerusalem girls—and has entered his" (p. 430, note on verse 13). Furthermore, "'Friends pay heed to your voice'...simply means that all attention is fixed on her" (same note).

If there is any sense of the man being cut off from the woman here, it seems only to do with the fact that they are together with others in public and therefore cannot share the secret togetherness of their relationship. So in asking to hear the woman's voice, the man may be seeking to hear something that the others who are listening never could—her expressed desire for intimacy, which is exactly what she answers with in verse 14. Recall that the man's request to hear her voice in 2:14 was followed by her call (whether coy or serious) for catching the little foxes (2:15), her refrain of mutual possession (2:16) and then her concluding request that he be like a gazelle or young stag on the mountains (2:17). In chapter 8, the man's request to hear the woman's voice (verse 13) is followed immediately with her concluding request that he be like a gazelle or young stag on the mountains (verse 14)—without intervening dialogue or remarks as before.

In this last verse of the Song of Songs, we end as we began in 1:1-4a with the woman seeking escape and intimacy with the man. As noted above, the wording of 8:14 is very close to the woman's words in the latter part of 2:17. In full the earlier verse stated, "Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of Bether [separation or perhaps cleavage]." There she seemed to be looking forward to the consummation of marriage yet to come. Then, on what appears to be the wedding day, we see further mountain imagery from the man: "Until the day breaks and the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense" (4:6). As was pointed out in earlier comments on these verses, the mountains here are taken by some as an erotic symbol. Some see them as representing the woman's breasts, lower parts or body generally. But others reckon them to imply some sensual wonderland, such as being in the land of Punt in the Egyptian love songs—or what people often mean today when they say, "I'm in heaven." The imagery of a gazelle or stag on mountains (2:17) and then mountains of spices (4:6; compare 4:13–5:1; 6:2) combine in 8:14 at the Song's conclusion.

It should be pointed out that the word translated "Make haste" here actually means "Flee." Some imagine that the woman might be telling the man here to go away from her—with similar ambiguity to that found in the word "turn" in 2:17. Yet it seems obvious that if she is telling him to go in 8:14, she means that she will be right behind him. More likely, since the place she tells him to go is one that elsewhere obviously symbolizes intimacy with her, she is more likely telling him to leave from wherever he is, from whatever he is doing, to be with her to romp and play in the enjoyment of physical relations.

The impression here is one of ongoing physical relations within the marriage bond. Some interpreters, we have previously noted, believe the couple has never as yet been married—and take all the singing of intimacy to be anticipation of the future wedded bliss. Yet it is hard to believe that all of the erotic language and innuendo in the Song would be shared between an unmarried couple—particularly given the social setting of the Song's composition. We certainly have anticipation here at the end—yet it appears to be of more to come within the blessings of a marriage relationship that already exists. And with that, the Song is over. "The lack of closure at the end of the poem has the effect of prolonging indefinitely the moment of youth and love, keeping it, in Keats's phrase, 'forever warm'" (Ariel and Chana Bloch, The Song of Songs, p. 19).

So much to say, then, for so short a book as the Song of Solomon! And still we are no doubt left wondering if we truly comprehend it. Of course, it is probably not vital that we do in all respects—or God would have made the meaning plainer for us. It seems far more important that it make an impression on us, that we get the gist of it and that our lives are appropriately impacted by it.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary summarizes well: "The Song of Songs is a beautiful picture of God's 'endorsement' of physical love between husband and wife. Marriage is to be a monogamous, permanent, self-giving unit, in which the spouses are intensely devoted and committed to each other, and take delight in each other. 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh' (Gen. 2:24). The Song of Songs shows that sex in marriage is not 'dirty.' The physical attractiveness of a man and woman for each other and the fulfillment of those longings in marriage are natural and honorable. But the book does more than extol physical attraction between the sexes. It also honors pleasing qualities in the lovers' personalities. Also moral purity before marriage is praised (e.g., Song 4:12). Premarital sex has no place in God's plans (2:7; 3:5). Faithfulness before and after marriage is expected and is honored (6:3; 7:10; 8:12). Such faithfulness in marital love beautifully pictures God's love for and commitment to His people."

Prev Next