"I Sought Him, But I Could Not Find Him" (Song of Solomon 5:2–7:10)
We come now to the fifth major section of the Song. It begins at 5:2, which clearly describes a different scene entirely from that of the previous verses, but there is dispute as to where this section ends. Many have noted the obvious similarity between verses 2-8 and the earlier dreamlike unit of 3:1-5 (the third major section of the Song). Both segments begin with the woman lying in bed at night. Both describe her rising, probably in mind rather than literally, to search about the city for her beloved, whom she can't seem to find. Both mention her being found by the city watchmen. And both segments show her afterward issuing a charge to the daughters of Jerusalem. There are key differences though. The former passage apparently concerned multiple instances ("By nights..."). The current one gives no such indication. In the former case, the woman was merely wondering in desperation about where the man was when she went to look for him. In this later passage, the man arrives at night, is apparently turned away by the woman, and then leaves, whereupon she then goes out in a desperate search for him. In the former passage, the woman was merely found by the watchmen. Here they abuse her. In the former unit, the woman immediately found the man and declared her intention for union with him. Here she does not immediately find him—so resolution is lacking. In the former sequence, the woman's charge to the daughters of Jerusalem was a repeat of the refrain to not awaken love until it's acceptable—and this (3:5) formed the end of the unit. Here the charge is that if they find him to tell him that she is lovesick—and this (5:8) clearly does not form the end of the unit since the daughters respond to her charge in the next verse. Where, then, does this later unit end—and how are we to understand it?
Determining the end of the major section of the Song that begins at 5:2 involves following the story flow, considering the symmetrical parallel with the aforementioned third major section of the Song (3:1-5) and observing a chiastic structural pattern that begins at 5:2 and recognizing where this pattern concludes. Let's take these one at a time.
First the story flow. Verse 9 is clearly the response of the daughters of Jerusalem to the Shulamite's charge in the preceding verse, as they mention her charge explicitly. Observe that their response is a question about why her lover is so special. This then sets up the Shulamite's description of her lover in verses 10-16 (the last verse explicitly addressing the daughters). The daughters then respond in 6:1, and the Shulamite answers them in verses 2-3. Verse 3 here, concerning the mutual possession of the lovers, appears to be a refrain (see also 2:16; 7:10). This and the fact that the man's praise speech beginning in 6:4 is not introduced has led some to consider 6:3 as the end of the unit. Yet we should consider that the man's earlier praise speech beginning in 4:1 is not introduced and appears to continue the same unit as that begun in 3:6. Indeed, 6:2-3 seems to convey a return of the lover, so that his speaking thereafter would follow naturally from that (though shepherd-hypothesis advocates view this differently, as we will consider shortly).
The man's praise of the woman beginning in verse 4 continues through verse 9 with the mention of queens, concubines and "daughters" praising her. Some see this as a section ending, taking the next words in verse 10, "Who is she...?" to begin a new section, parallel to these words occurring at the commencement of the central and final major sections of the Song (see 3:6; 8:5). However, the question in 6:10 seems most likely to be the words of the queens, concubines and daughters just mentioned in verse 9 (or the man quoting them)—making it a continuation of the same section. (Note also that verses 4 and 10 end the same—the full context indicating that these are the bracketing verses of an inclusio.)
Verses 11-12 are difficult with respect to who is saying them and what they mean (verse 12 does follow from verse 11). Some note the parallels between verse 11 and 7:12 and take these verses to be the beginning and end of an inclusio. However, the theme and scene of 7:12 obviously continues beyond it. Still, Song 6:11 could be the beginning of a new section, but there is no clear break to indicate this. Indeed, some have argued that verses 11-12 are a response to the women in verse 10.
Verse 13 is taken as a new section in modern Hebrew Bible chapter divisions—which are the same as in the English versions throughout the Song except here. (What English Bibles number as 6:13, Hebrew Bibles number as 7:1—and Hebrew verse numbers are all one number higher than in English versions throughout chapter 7.) Yet while 6:13 (English numbering, which we will adhere to throughout) does appear to go with the praise song that follows in chapter 7, perhaps inspired by the dance of 6:13, this verse—especially if the word rendered "return" is properly translated—would seem to be a call in response to the previous verse (or at least a response to seeing the Shulamite, who appears in verse 10). So there seems to be no break here. The praise sequence in chapter 7 then continues through the middle of verse 9, where the woman breaks into the thought (which we will examine more shortly). She then makes a statement in verse 10 similar to the refrain of mutual possession in 2:16 and 6:3. The woman's call in 7:11 to come away could then denote a continuation of the same section or, particularly if verse 9 refers literally to sleep, the start of a new section. We will stop here to go to the next ending determinant.
The second factor here is the symmetrical parallel with the third major section of the Song, the dreamlike unit mentioned above (3:1-5). The wedding and consummation appear to form the fourth and central section of the Song (3:6–5:1). On either side of that segment are these similar dreamlike sequences. Note that the former section went from the woman's panicked loss of her lover to the joy of reuniting with him. In parallel, we would expect the panicked loss of her lover in the latter section to conclude with a happy reunion. It does—but not right away. Still, despite the longer length of the latter section in reaching resolution, it is sensible that its conclusion should come with the reunion. This could conceivably come with 6:3, but all is not clearly resolved until the implied sexual union of 7:9.
Third is the issue of the apparent chiastic structure of this section, as discovered by Dr. Craig Glickman. Recall the chart from his book Solomon's Song of Love showing the symmetrical outline of the entire Song (an adaptation of which is reproduced in our introduction). Well, he also provides an expanded diagram of each major section—which greatly helps in comprehending the structure of the current section. The diagram for this section (see chart in ADOBE PDF or IMAGE format) reveals that the unit beginning at 5:2, with the Shulamite sleeping alone, continues through 7:9, where it is implied that the lovers are sleeping together. However, the refrain of verse 10 appears to complete the thought here. Looking at the chart, consider that another form of this refrain also occurs in 6:3 as a transition to the central subsection of the chiasm (i.e., from subsection c to d). Thus, it also seems logical as a transition at the end of the chiasm leading into the next major section. Dr. Glickman himself groups 7:10 with the next section, as the beginning of the second section from the end, because another form of the refrain occurs near the end of the second section from the beginning (in 2:16). Still, he does view 7:10 as transitional from the current unit. Indeed, he generally regards the section breaks as transitional, at times with some overlap, rather than as hard and fast (and that may well be the case). Note that there are seven subsections within this unit—as detailed in the chart.
It may be noted that this unit (5:2–7:10) is by far the longest unit in the Song—set symmetrically opposite to what is by far the shortest unit in the Song (3:1-5). It is not known why the Song was composed this way—but it has the very interesting effect of making the actual center of the Song (4:16–5:1) fall at the end of the central unit (3:6–5:1) rather than in the middle of the central unit. It also serves to stress the greater magnitude and impact of events in this longest section as compared with the earlier problem in the shortest section.
Now let us proceed into what is happening within this unit, starting with the first subsection (5:2-8). The man knocks to be let in at night after the woman has gone to bed and is sleeping (5:2-3). If the Song is arranged chronologically, this episode would seem to occur after the couple is married—unlike the previous dreamlike sequence, which appears to have preceded their wedding. Of course, this is assuming that the apparent sequence of the wedding and the wedding night in 3:6–5:1 concerns a real and present event rather than a dream or wish for the future—and that 5:2–7:10 is not a flashback to the premarital courtship or engagement period. Indication that the couple is married is found in the fact that the man is seeking entry very late at night, when the dew makes his hair wet (5:2). Some argue that this is still during the seven-day wedding festival and that the man is late in coming to the bridal chamber, having been reveling with his friends. But the setting may well be sometime later, in the couple's private home.
Some might argue that if the two lovers are married, the man would not need to be let into a shared bedroom with his wife. However, even if a private home is meant, it is possible that he is without a key. Furthermore, women in that society may have had their own quarters separate from their husband—as evidenced by Abraham's wife Sarah having had her own tent (see Genesis 24:66-67; compare also 31:33). Alternatively, some read Song 5:2-6a as heavy with double entendre—the idea being that the man and woman are already lying in bed together and that he is actually seeking sexual entrance while she is sleeping. Verse 3 may speak against that, though, since the woman doesn't want to put on a robe or get her feet dirty after having washed them—which seems to imply having to get up to open the door of her quarters. Yet it could be that she is referring to a possible need to rise briefly after sexual relations.
Of course, even if the man is literally standing outside his wife's door, the implication of this section seems to be that he desires sexual relations—not that he just wants to come in to sleep. As Dr. Michael Fox points out: "While 5:2 clearly begins a new dramatic sequence...the similarity between the motifs of this unit and those of the preceding one shows that the placement of the units is not random. In the preceding unit the girl was called a 'locked garden' (4:12). Here too the boy's entry to the desired place is prevented by a 'lock,' and here too the girl is willing 'to open' to him (5:5-6; cf. 4:16)" (The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs, p. 142).
The tenor of the woman's response in 5:3 is unclear. Perhaps she is really sleepy and tired. Some fault her for being lazy, indifferent, cold and unreceptive. Yet it is reasonable that she would be quite groggy, lethargic and even incoherent if awakened late in the night. On the other hand, the husband, if he is literally outside the door, could be faulted for showing up so late—though perhaps his job required it in a later setting. Or, if he is already in bed with her, he could perhaps be faulted for insensitivity. (Those who see this passage as representing Christ and the Church, with some even thinking Jesus referred to the knocking on the door here in Revelation 3:20, fault the woman exclusively for failure to properly respond to her husband—though this may be a misapplication of the passage.) Others see the woman's response as teasing or playful—that is, her complaint is not genuine and she really intends to let her husband in, as we see her desiring him in verse 4 and in verse 6 saying her heart leapt when he spoke. (Thus the problem that develops would be a misunderstanding, and no one's particular fault.)
In 5:4, the word translated "latch" here literally means "hole" and "of the door" is not in the Hebrew. Where the NKJV says the woman's "heart yearned" for the man and the KJV has "bowels were moved," forms of the Hebrew words me‘ah and hamah are used. As Lloyd Carr notes: "The basic meaning of the word [me‘ah, Strong's no. 4578] is the internal organs generally (2 Sa. 20:10; Ps. 22:14), or the digestive tract (Jon. 2:1f.). But several texts use the term to refer to the procreative organs [sometimes rendered 'loins' by translators], either male (e.g. Gn. 15:4; 2 Sa. 7:12) or female (e.g. Ru. 1:11. In Gn. 25:23; Ps. 71:6; and Is. 49:1, me‘eh is used in parallel with beten, the common word for womb). The focus of the thrill is specifically sexual" (The Song of Solomon, Tyndale Commentaries, p. 135, note on Song 5:4). Hamah (Strong's no. 1993) means to make a loud sound or, by implication, to be in commotion or tumult. Some see the word in Song 5:4 as meaning "moaned," "roiled" or "seethed." Yet it should be pointed out that the two words together can simply connote sympathy: "The Hebrew expression...is used elsewhere to express pity or compassion (e.g., Isa. 16:11; Jer. 31:20). It was not used to express sexual arousal as some scholars maintain" (Bible Knowledge Commentary, note on Song 5:3-4). Yet it may be that the phrase could, in context, be taken in an amatory sense. Perhaps, as with other verses here, a double entendre is intended.
In 5:5, the Shulamite says that she arose for her beloved and that her hands and fingers dripped with liquid myrrh on the handles of the lock. This is understood in one of three ways among natural interpreters. Some see the woman getting out of bed and quickly splashing or rubbing on myrrh as perfume so that it was all over her hands and got onto the lock handle when she touched it. Others see the myrrh as having been left on the lock handle by the man as a token of affection, this being earlier a symbol for him in 1:13, the myrrh getting onto her hand because of touching the handle. Sometimes cited in this regard is the first-century-B.C. Roman poet Lucretius. In his work On the Nature of Things, he said, "But the lover shut out, weeping, often covers the threshold with flowers and wreaths, anoints the proud doorposts with oil of marjoram, presses his love-sick kisses upon the door..." (quoted by Roland Murphy, The Song of Songs, Hermeneia Commentaries, p. 168, footnote on 5:2–6:3). Of course, this was written around 900 years after the Song and in a very different cultural setting. Still others see an erotic metaphor in 5:5. The man's lips are said to drip liquid myrrh in verse 13.
When the woman at last opens for her lover in 5:6a, whether this means that she literally arises to let him in, does so in a dream or, in a metaphoric sense, becomes receptive to sexual union, it is too late. He is gone! It would seem that whether the woman was genuinely sleepy in her earlier response or was being coy, the man takes her lack of immediacy as a rebuff. Thus we have a problem between the lovers. As Shakespeare wrote, "The course of true love never did run smooth" (A Midsummer Night's Dream, Act 1, Scene 1). Some recognize this episode as representative of a period of sexual adjustment to each other in marriage. Upset at the man's departure, the woman seeks and calls for him in similar imagery to that of 3:1-5. It seems likely that at least 5:6b-7 contains a dream or daydream-at-night sequence similar to that of the prior passage—especially given the lack of reaction to being struck by the watchmen in verse 7. Perhaps finding her lover gone sent her into the dreamlike mode described previously.
How are we to understand the abuse by the city watchmen here? They strike and wound her and strip off her light overcloak, as the word translated "veil" in the NKJV is thought to mean (this being a different word from that often translated "veil" in 4:1). Again, a literal interpretation does not seem likely. Those who take this literally and see the Shulamite as the bride of Solomon should consider the implausibility of city watchmen assaulting the queen of Israel. Would they not recognize her? How would she even have made it out of the palace? As for the Shulamite being a designation for a woman not married to Solomon, this still does not explain her being able to roam the streets at night—much less the striking and stripping and lack of reaction to this mistreatment. Thus we look to a dreamlike, figurative interpretation here. Recall that in the parallel of 3:1-5, the watchmen seemed to signify the woman's own sensibilities, her mental and emotional governors that took hold of her, helping her to see things rationally (i.e., she "got a grip" on herself). In the present case, we should consider that the woman is perhaps wracked with guilt for effectively chasing her lover away, even if unintentional. Thus, through the mental and emotional patrol of her mind, she essentially beats herself up and is left miserable over what has happened.
Her message then in 5:8 to the daughters of Jerusalem is to tell her beloved that she is lovesick. That is, she doesn't want him to have the wrong idea, thinking she doesn't want to be with him (sexually, the whole context implies). Rather, she desperately longs for him, ailing from desire. A few translators take the words here to have the Shulamite charging the daughters to not tell her beloved that she is lovesick—out of embarrassment over her foolish actions in searching for him (e.g., Fox, p. 146, note on 5:8). Yet this denies the clear sense of longing here and is probably not grammatically accurate. (More on this will follow in the comments on 8:4.) As noted with regard to Song 2:5, Egyptian love songs 6, 12 and 37 describe the symptoms of lovesickness. Observe the latter: "Seven days have passed, and I've not seen my lady love; a sickness has shot through me. I have become sluggish, I have forgotten my own body. If the best surgeons come to me, my heart will not be comforted with their remedies. And the prescription sellers, there's no help through them; my sickness will not be cut out. Telling me 'she's come' is what will bring me back to life..." (Papyrus Chester Beatty I, Group A, in William Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt, pp. 320-321).
In 5:9, the beginning of the second subsection of the current unit (verses 9-16), the daughters of Jerusalem, whom the Shulamite has just addressed, respond to her—their words likely being sung by the chorus. They refer to her as "fairest among women" or "most beautiful of women" (NIV)—as they also do in 6:1. This descriptor was earlier given in 1:8, where it was not clear whether the daughters of Jerusalem or the lover was speaking. Some contend that the use of this phrase by the women is sarcastic—especially followers of the shepherd hypothesis who see the other women here as members of Solomon's harem. As for the daughters asking what is so special about the Shulamite's lover, some see their query as sincere (deeming them her friends) while others view it sarcastically as well. Shepherd-hypothesis adherents sometimes point out that this verse creates a problem for those who see Solomon as the woman's true love—for would not the women already know all about him? Yet it could be that their question is a mere literary device to give the woman an opportunity to extol the attributes of her beloved.
This she does in the verses that follow. In a wasf (again, a song of descriptive praise cataloging a person's physical characteristics) in 5:10-16, the Shulamite sings of her beloved's body from head to toe. She starts out in verse 10 with his overall general appearance, "white and ruddy" describing the reddish tinge of healthy white skin (compare 1 Samuel 16:12; 17:42; Lamentations 4:7)—and "chief among ten thousand" referring to his distinguished appearance (not to being king). She later concludes summarily, "Yes, he is altogether lovely" (Song 5:16). "And in between, she compliments ten aspects of her beloved. This number underscores his worth in her eyes, since ten, like seven, is a number used to signify perfection" (Glickman, p. 100)—ten signifying a full enumeration, there being ten fingers of the hands. The aspects here are: 1) head (verse 11a); 2) hair (verse 11b); 3) eyes (verse 12); 4) cheeks (verse 13a); 5) lips (verse 13b); 6) arms (verse 14a); 7) "body" or abdomen (verse 14b); 8) legs (verse 15); 9) countenance or stature; 10) mouth or speech.
Let's note a few particulars here. "Gold" denotes the precious quality of his head, not to being blond, as the man's hair is black (verse 11). Observe that the longest description is given of the man's eyes (verse 12), which are compared to doves, just as the man drew the same comparison with the woman's eyes (see 1:15; 4:1). The "lilies" the man's lips are compared to in 5:13b are often thought to be reddish in color, perhaps lotuses or anemones—and this goes for the mention of the same flowers throughout the Song (though it could be that the comparison is due to shape rather than color). The word translated "body" in verse 14b is a form of me‘ah, the word used earlier in verse 4 in reference to the innards of the abdomen. Obviously the word must also be applicable to the exterior or it could not be praised as something visible in verse 14. Some believe an erotic reference is intended by the woman here. Yet we should note that she is not speaking directly to her lover in private but describing him to other women. (Of course, this may all be part of her dream.)
After reaching the legs in the downward progression of praise (verse 15a), the woman mentions the man's "countenance" (NKJV) or "appearance" (NIV). While the word rendered countenance could refer to facial expression, the comparison with Lebanon and its cedars (which are great and tall) implies appearance more broadly. In fact, it seems likely that the legs, being long and sturdy, lead to mention of the man's great stature and bearing. The concluding focus on the mouth being sweet in verse 16 seems a regression from the downward progress of the wasf. It may mean that consideration of all his qualities has led her to desiring to kiss him. Or, since the lips were earlier mentioned in verse 13b, the man's "mouth" in verse 16a may refer to another aspect that does not fit in the bodily description—his speech, as the mouth often connotes in Scripture. This, she tells the daughters of Jerusalem in verse 16b following the wasf, is her lover and this is her "friend"—i.e., her companion, stressing not just their sexual relationship but also their general togetherness and closeness. All of this, she tells them, makes him a man to be desired (thus explaining her lovesickness).
In 6:1, beginning the third subsection of the present unit (verses 1-3), their interest is clearly piqued. They are now enthusiastic about finding him. Some consider the women the Shulamite's friends indicating their support for her in her search. Yet others see this as the women of Jerusalem (or other harem girls in the shepherd hypothesis) expressing their own desire for this wonderful man just described to them. It is interesting to note that they ask her where the man has gone, as if she knows (when she has been searching for him).
More surprising, though, is her response in 6:2-3—wherein she relates exactly where he is. And just where is that? Some think that the man here going to his garden to "feed his flocks" means that he has returned to his regular job—the shepherd to his shepherding of flocks or, if Solomon, that he is engaged in his duties as king. This, however, ignores the context of the Song. The man going to "his garden" and the beds of spices to feed (the italicized "his flock" in verses 2 and 3 in the NKJV is not in the Hebrew here) is surely related to the end of the former unit, where the man going into his garden of spices referred to sexual union with the woman (see 4:9–5:1). We are later told that the woman dwells in the gardens (8:13). The man's gathering of lilies (6:2) ties in to his gathering of myrrh and spice (5:1) and to his feeding among the lilies (6:3)—the latter probably referring to the woman's lips (as with 5:13) or other physical charms, she herself being the beds of spices of 6:2. Verse 3 is the refrain of mutual possession reversed from 2:16, where the man grazing among the lilies is first mentioned. This passage, it would seem, has nothing to do with the man being away at his regular job. Rather, in answer to the women questioning the Shulamite about where her lover is that they may seek him, she seems to be emphatically answering, "He is with me" and "He's mine" (some seeing the implication as, "...and is not available for you").
Just what is happening here? Recall in the earlier dreamlike sequence of 3:1-5 that the woman, after getting hold of herself (pictured by the watchmen finding her) immediately found her beloved—probably indicating that he was never really lost. Similarly, in the present sequence, it appears that after the lover is gone and the woman seeks for him with pangs of guilt (pictured by the watchmen striking her), she describes her desire for her lover and then finds that he is not really gone after all. Perhaps the man being "gone" concerned him being emotionally withdrawn after what he perceived as a sexual rejection by his wife. And now that she has reached out to him, he is again expressing his love as always—physically, companionably and, in the verses that follow, in praise of her. The women of Jerusalem may have never been literally present—merely a sounding board for the woman's feelings. Or it could be that the withdrawal period was unresolved by the next day and she was actually speaking to her friends about trying to resolve the problem. In fact, this one episode could be representative of a lengthy adjustment period in marriage—where a number of such episodes occur. In any case, things work out—the man returns (emotionally if he never actually left physically). The mutual possession refrain "indicates that the emotional distance had been overcome on her part and she was confident that it had also been overcome on his part. All that was needed for a complete reconciliation was a statement of forgiveness or acceptance from the lover" (BKC, note on 6:1-3). And that comes next.
In the fourth and central subsection of this unit (6:4-10), the man now praises the woman in verses 4-9, beginning with a wasf, some of which is repeated from 4:1-7. Shepherd-hypothesis advocates see this as another attempt at seduction by the interloping Solomon, considering that the elements repeated from the beginning of chapter 4 show that he was speaking in that previous section as seducer as well. Yet we have already noted in our comments on 3:6–5:1 the major difficulties with the beginning of chapter 4 being spoken by someone other than the woman's true love. Both sections, 4:1-7 and 6:4-9, are more reasonably attributed to the woman's lover (which could be Solomon in a positive sense).
In 6:4 the man compares the Shulamite to the cities of Tirzah and Jerusalem—pointing out that she is as "awesome as those with banners" ("those" here possibly denoting "armies" or "hosts," as commonly translated, though this is not explicit in the Hebrew). Comparing a beautiful woman to cities probably sounds strange to us today. But people still speak and sing of certain cities as beautiful, exciting or loved in an idealized sense. Jerusalem was described elsewhere as "the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 50:2; Lamentations 2:15) and "beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth" (Psalm 48:2). However, comments Tom Gledhill, "the resemblance is not so much in physical beauty...but in royalty, power and stature. Tirzah was an ancient Canaanite city, mentioned in Joshua 12:24. Jeroboam I moved his capital there at the time [soon after Solomon's death] of the schismatic breakaway of Israel from the Solomonic dynasty which ruled Judah. Omri later established Samaria as the capital of the Northern Kingdom [1 Kings 14:1-20; 16:8-26—this all showing that the Song likely dates to before the transfer of the capital to Samaria and probably before the divided monarchy period]. The site of Tirzah [now Tell el-Farah, six miles north of Shechem] has been described as one of great natural and rustic beauty. Jerusalem of course was the capital of the Davidic Kingdom of Judah [and all Israel ]. It is possible that we are meant to perceive connotations from the etymologies of these names. Tirzah [which was also a woman's name (Numbers 26:33; 27:1)] comes from a root meaning 'to be pleasant' [lovely or delightful] (hence: Mount Pleasant). Jerusalem means something like 'a foundation of [peace or] well-being.' Later, in 8:10, the girl describes herself as one who brings shalom, that is well-being, peace and security. We say that a city in a prominent position has a certain 'aspect.' So also our girl 'looks out' with grandeur, dignity and loftiness [compare 6:10]. Her aspect is awesome, yet pleasing. Tirzah may be regarded as the archetype of the delightful garden city, whilst Jerusalem, perched on its fortified rocky outcrop, represents imposing impregnability" (The Message of the Song of Songs, p. 191).
The New American Commentary states regarding the lover's words at this time of reunion and reconciliation: "His awe of her is as great as ever; if anything, it has increased. She is compared to Tirzah and Jerusalem, the two greatest cities of the early monarchy, in all their splendor. The meaning is that she inspires awe and wonder in him; and, as in his comparison of her to David's tower [in 4:4—which the city imagery may hark back to, considering the other repeated references in this section], he is still aware that he [or anyone else] cannot storm her by force (the walls of the city were its prominent feature). The request that she turn away her eyes [in 6:5a] further expresses his sense of her power. She can unnerve him with a single glance" (p. 417, note on verses 4-5a).
Regarding the eyes in 6:5a, we may recall that the man in his previous wasf compared the woman's eyes to doves (4:1a). It may be that he does not repeat this in the present wasf, as he does other elements, because the woman has already turned and applied the same picture to him in her own wasf (5:12). So he elevates the praise in this case—telling her that her eyes overwhelm him. She is just stunning—a knockout, we might say today. The man's praise then in 6:5b-7 is essentially repeated from his earlier wasf (see 4:1b-2, 3b). He, as Dr. Glickman points out, "praises her hair, smile, and lips in [almost] exactly the same way he did on the wedding night. He tells her again that she is his...darling companion [6:4], and dove [verse 9]. This is not for lack of creativity—it's a poetic way to communicate that his appreciation for her has not diminished since that time" (pp. 110-111). Thus we seem to have more of the reconciliation of the lovers here. (Some, however, see the wasf repetition here as following formal custom during the seven-day wedding festival, which they consider to still be ongoing at this point.)
Song 6:8-9 presents us with a difficulty that, as explained in our introduction, impacts the identification of the characters in the Song. In verse 8 we have mention of 60 queens, 80 concubines and numberless maidens—the point in the next verse being that the Shulamite outshines them. Who are these women? Many take them to be Solomon's harem before it reached a later size of 700 royal wives and 300 concubines (see 1 Kings 11:1-3). The maidens here are sometimes taken to be ladies in waiting—many of whom would supposedly later become concubines. If the various women in these verses, or any of them, do represent Solomon's harem, it is most likely that Solomon is not the lover in the Song—a point in favor of the shepherd hypothesis and of the alternative two-character progression, which sees a nameless groom portrayed as King Solomon.
Yet it could be that the reference is to the wives and concubines of rulers near and far. A number of commentators point out the general quality of the women here. Gledhill, for instance, states: "The queens, concubines and virgins are mentioned in order of decreasing rank, but their numbers increase in ascending scale, sixty, eighty, beyond number. The numbers must not be taken literally; it is merely a literary device to indicate an indefinitely large number. All these gorgeous females are usually considered to be members of Solomon's harem. But the reference is more general. There is no mention of the king at all" (p. 193). The New American Commentary says: "The increasing numbers (sixty, eighty, a countless multitude) are typical wisdom technique" (p. 417, note on Song 6:8-9). "Note that the sixty and eighty are respectively three score and four score [as the KJV writes these numbers], as in the wisdom formula, 'For three..., even for four" (footnote on verses 8-9; see Proverbs 30:15, 18, 21, 29; Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, 4, 6). Interestingly, the large number started with in Song 6:8, 60, is also used for the armed guards in 3:7—so the number may well be representative.
The only problem here is that the queens and concubines are said at the end of verse 9 to praise the Shulamite—and the parallelism here identifies the virgins as the "daughters," most likely meaning the daughters of Jerusalem referred to throughout the Song. This would seem to limit the queens and concubines to Jerusalem as well, particularly as they are portrayed as speaking of and to the Shulamite. It may, however, be that the queens and concubines are the consorts of foreign kings visiting Jerusalem—either all at once at some grand occasion (perhaps even Solomon's wedding to the Shulamite) or in smaller groups over an extended period of time. This would give these women exposure to the Shulamite as the wife of Solomon—particularly since she would at this stage be the only one. So it is quite possible that a young Solomon, prior to his polygamous corruption, is the lover in the Song. Yet even if the women mentioned here are not his harem, it is not required that Solomon be the lover. A nameless man and woman could still be portrayed throughout the Song. Of course, in this case the praise from several score of royal consorts would likely be figurative (that is, the man would be saying that all other women would have to admit that the Shulamite outshines them—whether or not they actually do).
The Shulamite here is not classed among the increasing numbers of other women. Rather, she, as the man's "perfect one" and the "only one" (verse 9), is in a class all by herself. ("My dove, my perfect one" is repeated from 5:2). The woman is likewise said in 6:9 to be the "only one of her mother, the favorite [Hebrew barah] of the one who bore her." There is a question here as to whether the woman is the only daughter of her mother. (We know she had brothers.) A favorite only daughter is an oxymoron—but the word barah here can mean "pure" (just as it is translated "clear" in verse 10), which may better parallel the man's description of the Shulamite as "perfect" or "undefiled." "Speaking of the girl from the mother's point of view accentuates the girl's youth and innocence" (Fox, p. 153).
There is some question as to who is speaking in 6:10. Some, as is reflected in the NKJV speaker annotations, argue for the man still speaking, particularly given the repetition of "awesome as...with banners" from verse 4 (indicating an inclusio). Yet the phrase "Who is she...?," parallel to its occurrence in 3:6 and 8:5, seems to denote some surprise and evidently comes from someone who is not already speaking with the Shulamite—as the man has been. As the women of the chorus (representing the daughters of Jerusalem ) apparently sing 3:6 (and probably 8:5 too), it seems most likely that they sing 6:10 as well. This follows the context here well. The man concluded verse 9 with mention of the daughters and royal consorts praising the Shulamite, effectively introducing verse 10 as conveying their words. Of course, it could be that the man is quoting their words in concluding his own praise section. (Either way, the praise section does include verse 10.)
The Shulamite, we should recall, earlier sought help from the daughters of Jerusalem while she was in distress over the apparent separation from her lover. Now she is utterly radiant—giving real cause for surprise. Perhaps the idea is to see them saying, "What have we here?," wondering why she is now so happy. There is also a contrast here with the perceived disdain of the daughters for the Shulamite in the opening of the Song. The New American Commentary says: "The woman is so thoroughly transformed that the girls hardly recognize her. They describe her beauty as like that of the moon and sun, but they do not use the usual vocabulary for these bodies. The word for 'moon' here [lebanah, alliterative with Lebanon and lebonah (frankincense)] is related to the word 'white' and contrasts with her self-description in 1:5, where she asks the Jerusalem girls not to chide her for her dark skin. She is also said to be like the 'dawn'; the word used here is a play on the word in 1:5 for 'black.' The word for 'sun,' which is related to the word for 'heat,' seems to imply that she is too dazzling to behold. In a Cinderella motif, the woman who was very ordinary is now extraordinary in her beauty and breathtaking to behold" (p. 418, note on 6:10). Additionally, we may have the concept here of her light breaking forth after a dark and troubled night.
Based on the opening and close of the apparent inclusio here, Glickman draws an interesting comparison: "'Fair...as Tirzah, as lovely as Jerusalem,...as awe-inspiring as bannered hosts' begins the praise in 6.4 and parallels the conclusion of the praise [in verse 10:] 'fair as the white moon, pure as the blazing sun, awe-inspiring as bannered hosts.'... Since Tirzah was a magnificent city in northern Israel...yet not deemed as glorious as Jerusalem, it seems natural to see the moon describing Tirzah, the sun describing Jerusalem, and the bannered hosts bringing balance to both descriptions but taking its specific meaning from the different contexts [in the latter case perhaps referring to the stars].... So both the beginning and ending of this section praise Shulamith as representing the best of Israel in its glory. The symbolism of the moon, sun, and eleven stars (or twelve, counting Joseph—Revelation 12:1) in the dream of Joseph, where they represent the Israel comprised of Jacob, his wive(s), and Joseph's eleven brothers, adds further support to this view (Genesis 37)" (p. 213). If this association is valid, as seems plausible, it would lend support to the idea that the Shulamite represents, in a typological sense, the nation of Israel or spiritual Israel (spiritual Jerusalem), the Church.
The description in this section of the uniqueness of the woman along with the comparison of her appearance to celestial grandeur resembles Egyptian love song 31: "One, the lady love without a duplicate, more perfect than the world, see, she is like the star rising at the start of an auspicious year. She whose excellence shines, whose body glistens, glorious her eyes when she stares.... She turns the head of every man, all captivated at the sight of her.... When she comes forth, anyone can see that there is none like that One" (Papyrus Chester Beatty I, Group A, in Simpson, pp. 315-316).
As was earlier noted regarding the next two verses, 6:11-12 (the fifth subsection of the current unit), it is difficult to know who is speaking here and just what is meant. Murphy comments: "Verses 11-12 represent a sudden break with the preceding song of admiration [though some see a response here to verse 10, as we will see]. It is difficult to determine who is the speaker. Since the woman is the garden to which the man comes in 5:1, the verse might be attributed to him. On the other hand, the blooming of the vine and blossoming of the pomegranates are repeated in an invitation uttered by the woman in 7:13. The difficulty is compounded by the obscurity of v. 12. One may draw a parallel with chapter 7, where the man's resolve to be united with the woman follows a song of admiration (...[verses 7-8 after verses 1-6]). So also, 6:11-12 might represent his coming to the woman after the praise of her beauty in the previous verses. However, v.11 can also be understood as spoken by the woman who recalls a former tryst with the man. She gives a specific purpose to her visit to the garden: to see if the flowers are in bloom, etc. In the language of the Song, this sign is associated with love. The man spoke of the awakening of nature in the famous Spring song of 2:11-13, and it has been pointed out that phrases of 6:11 are repeated in 7:13 (spoken by the woman). The visit to the garden may be intended as a real visit to a real garden by the woman; the language about the blossoms would then suggest that the purpose is a rendezvous with the lover" (pp. 178-179, note on verse 11).
However, Murphy also points out that "the association of the nut-garden with the valley is not clear. The garden [if literal] could hardly contain a valley. It must [again, if literal] be a vantage point from which to see the valley in bloom, which occurs in the Spring as a result of the winter rains. But perhaps we are simply confronted with a profusion of images (garden, valley, vines, pomegranates) that have no spatial connotation" (p. 176, footnote on verse 11). Or perhaps the garden, as already postulated, is figurative of the woman's body, so that a fertile valley would not be out of place here in an erotic connotation. We will come back to verse 11 after considering the next verse.
Regarding verse 12, "commentators are unanimous that this verse is the most difficult in the Song and one of the most difficult in the Old Testament to make sense of.... The words themselves are all common, all but the last used well over 100 times each in the Old Testament, but the syntax is elusive" (Carr, pp. 151-152, note on verse 12). Consider the Hebrew transliteration and the literal rendering:
(I know/knew not)
(my being or myself)
(or Amminadib, a proper name)
Some put the first three words together as meaning "I do not know myself (anymore)" or "I did not know myself"—or "I am beside myself (with joy)." They then take the next two words to be "She set me in (or as) chariots" or "You set me in (or as) chariots" (there is no preposition here in the Hebrew). Others put the first two words together as meaning "I knew it not (when)"—that is to say, "Before I knew it..." These interpreters then take the next three words to mean "My being (implying my thoughts and feelings) set me in (or as) chariots." Placement in a chariot implied royal acceptance and public exaltation (compare 1 Kings 20:33; 2 Kings 10:15). Regarding the phrase ‘ammi-nadib, there has long been dispute as to whether it should be taken as two words or as one word, a proper name. On the two-word view, The New International Commentary on the Old Testament explains, "Some have taken it as a construct phrase consisting of the word 'people' (‘am) and nadib, a word often rendered 'prince,' but more appropriately taken as noble, generous or willing" (p. 186, note on verse 12). Thus the NKJV rendering: "the chariots of my noble people." However, it should be noted that the word nadib is typically translated "prince" (ruler) almost immediately after in 7:1 (bat-nadib here understood as "daughter of a prince," though some consider it "noble daughter"). A conceivable alternative is "set me in the chariots of my people's prince"—which would seemingly be spoken by the woman of being accepted by the man regaled as king (or as actually king if Solomon). Yet another possible meaning is "set me in the chariots of my people as prince"—which would be the words of the man referring to being made to feel like a king, sitting as king at the wedding feast or perhaps being actually crowned king if Solomon (though there is no other indication of an actual coronation).
The proper name interpretation, which is followed by the King James Version, goes all the way back to the Greek Septuagint translation. The same commentary continues: "Many have understood the word to be a proper name, Amminadib, taken as a variant of the more frequently attested Amminadab [see Exodus 6:23; Numbers 1:7; 2:3; 7:12, 17; 10:14; Ruth 4:19-20; 1 Chronicles 2:10; 6:22]. This rendition certainly is possible, and, if correct, the figure of Amminadab would [it is supposed] have a similar function to [the mysterious] Prince Mehi in Egyptian love poetry. The latter is a well-known lover, who is also associated with chariots. However, two factors speak against this view. One, it is something of a last resort to appeal to a proper name in a difficult text. Second, the Amminadab of the Bible has no special connection with love, and there are no other tales or evidence to suggest that another Amminadab had those connections" (pp. 186-187, note on Song 6:12). However, it may be significant that Nahshon of the house of Amminadab was the chief of Judah following the Exodus and that the ruling lineage of Israel , that of David and Solomon, was traced back to him (see the scriptural references above). Considering this, it is possible that being set in the "chariots of Amminadib" is perhaps a figurative reference to being made royalty. However, Amminadab's name is nowhere else used this way.
How, then, are we to understand verses 11-12? Most see the woman speaking here (as the NKJV does)—primarily because verse 13 seems a response to her. Adherents of the shepherd hypothesis usually claim that the woman in verses 11-12 is recalling her abduction into Solomon's harem—in response to the women in verse 10 asking how she happened to be there among the princesses. The idea is that she was roaming about in the outdoors near her home when she came among the king's retinue and was taken away. Others think the woman is merely expressing how it is that she came to be a bride—that she went from enjoying the springtime of love with her beloved (compare 2:10-13) to being exalted to a queen in their wedding (either figuratively or, if she is Solomon's bride, literally). Some who see the woman as Solomon's bride view her as dreaming of her homeland and desiring to visit there—and that her desires materialize later in the Song. The thought here is that Solomon's duties have kept them apart and that she wants him all to herself on a vacation away from palace life—the chariots being either the means of actually fleeing away or representing her mental flight of fancy.
Yet, as noted earlier, it seems likely that the garden imagery has a sexual connotation, as elsewhere in the Song. Or perhaps the blossoming here more generally relates to the budding of the loving relationship (as in 2:10-13)—which would include amatory expression in the case of a married couple. The Bible Knowledge Commentary states regarding 6:11-12: "These verses tell the story of the couple's reconciliation from the beloved's [i.e., the woman's] point of view. She knew that he [her lover] had 'gone down to his garden' (v. 2). So she went there to see if their love was still in bloom (v. 11). As a person would look in the spring for new growth, buds on grape vines, and pomegranate blossoms, so she looked for fresh evidence of their love. When she found him there his first words were words of praise (vv. 4-10), indicating that their love was in fact flourishing" (note on verses 11-13). The chariots imagery in verse 12 would then simply mean that she is now exalted and overjoyed after a period of distress. The Shulamite in such case would seem in verses 11-12 to be responding to the women's question in verse 10 about why she is now so radiant. Tommy Nelson interprets verses 11-12 as the Shulamite's words in this way: "I went to find out if there was still hope for fruitfulness in our relationship, and before I knew it, my soul—my love, my husband, Solomon—had fully forgiven me!" (The Book of Romance, p. 148). Thus we have the continuing theme of reconciliation.
On the other hand, it could be the man speaking in verses 11-12 (as the NIV notes). Consider again the chiastic structure of this section (as shown in the chart from Glickman displayed earlier in our comments on the current unit). Here we see that 6:11-12 is symmetrically parallel with 6:2-3, which concerns the man going to his garden—an apparent reference to the woman (see also 8:14). Glickman sees 6:11-12 as referring to the woman now going to the garden, which as described above may well be the case, but it could again be the man. And if so, perhaps the reference is to the exact same thing as in 6:2-3, with him describing how overjoyed and exalted it made him feel to be reconciled and intimate with his wife once more. Note also the vine (or vineyard) as an image of the woman in 1:6—though it may be that the man could be pictured this way too (as could perhaps the loving relationship between the two).
Song 6:13 transitions into the next subsection of the present unit (6:13–7:5 or 7:6). Recall that Hebrew Bibles label this verse 7:1. Again, it is not obvious who is speaking. "It seems a fair conclusion to suggest that the first and second halves of the verse are spoken by different parties as we move from an imperative directed at the Shulammite to a sentence that seems to question the command. In the first parallel line, noted by the fourfold repetition of the verb return ([shubi]), the speakers are plural and request that the Shulammite come back into their presence so that they may get a close look at her" (NICOT, p. 191, note on 6:13, English numbering). Just who the plural speakers are is not clear. Note that the NKJV attributes the words to the man and his friends. This is likely based on the fact that "the verb form in the next colon [in the Shulamite's response] is masculine: Why should you look?" (Carr, p. 154, note on verse 13). The sudden introduction of other men here, though, seems rather odd. (Some even take these other men as the admirers of the Shulamite in 7:1-5. But other men praising the sexual charms of a married woman in those verses seems extremely unlikely.) It should be recognized that the masculine plural can indicate a group comprising men and women (as long as the group, typically speaking, is not exclusively women—but see the relevant comments on 2:7). Since the daughters of Jerusalem have been mentioned several times, it seems simplest to view the group of 6:13 as them and the man. Shepherd-hypothesis advocates see the group as Solomon and his other harem girls. Alternatively, a chorus of both women and men (as was suggested for 3:6-11) could be singing the first part of the verse—perhaps representing the wedding guests generally if these verses are still in the wedding context (though that is questionable).
The opening of 6:13 is heavy with alliteration: Shubi, shubi, ha-Shulamit; shubi, shubi. Following this are two forms of the word hazah ("gaze") and then ba-Shulamit. This is, we should note, the only verse in the Song (and in all Scripture) that actually uses the term Shulamite—spoken by those calling to her and by herself or the man in reply. As explained in our introduction, this word could perhaps refer to a person from the town of Shunem. Others suggest a person of Shalem or Salem —i.e., Jerusalem. Yet it seems odd that the woman would be designated this way when the daughters of Jerusalem are not called the daughters of Salem. As our introduction further details, the term Shulamite seems more likely to be a female form of the name Solomon—the Solomoness, as it were—both being related to the word shalom, meaning peace and well-being. Perhaps this was a pet name for the actual bride of Solomon or a figurative title for a bride portrayed as a queen. Others have proposed a meaning, based on an expanded sense of shalom, of perfect one, completed one or consummated one. This would tie in to the meaning of the Hebrew word for bride or spouse in chapter 4, kallah, literally denoting one who is complete. It should also be pointed out that some have seen the term Shulamite here as a reference to another person. As Gledhill explains: "Others have suggested that the girl senses a rival here, that she is being upstaged by a Shunammite who is being recalled by her companions. But it is all too easy to explain away awkward verses by positing yet another intruding character, and thus adding to the complexity of the story" (p. 203). The term most likely refers to the principal woman throughout the Song—the one who in 8:10 finds "peace" (shalom) with her beloved.
There is dispute as to the specific sense of the repeated Hebrew word shubi in 6:13. The NKJV translates it "return"—as if she is going away and the call is for her to come back. Yet the word could have the meaning of "turn" or "turn around"—implying that she is facing away and is asked to turn so as to be seen (or so that her attention is redirected). Verse 10 saw the woman radiant in her happiness over her reunion with her lover. Verses 11-12 is likely either the woman or the man giving details of their happy reconciliation in the deepening of their loving and sexual relationship. Verse 13 in this vein is then thought by many to be calling for the woman to return from the revelry of her thoughts. Alternatively, it could be that the man and the chorus are calling for her return in a further unfolding of the reconciliation. Some, however, think that the woman is being called back from daydreaming about her distant home. Others, in a different take, believe the woman is retiring from the wedding festivity (perhaps going with her husband to the bridal chamber) and is being asked by all the guests to come back or make an about face so that they may continue to behold her resplendence mentioned in verse 10. Others, though, considering the mention of a dance at the end of the verse, interpret the word shubi as meaning turn in the sense of dancing—i.e., whirl or, as Marvin Pope in his Anchor Bible commentary has proposed, leap (though many reject this translation). Still others interpret shubi here as a call of "again" or "encore"—which would imply some activity being engaged in (the dance it is thought).
The latter part of verse 13 is usually thought to be the response of the Shulamite (as in the NKJV), speaking of herself in third person and asking what the onlookers would see in her as related to the dance mentioned here. Some see her being self-effacing or playfully fishing for compliments here, asking what there is to behold about her as she dances a dance—setting up the wasf or praise poem of the verses that follow. Others contend that there is no dance—that she is rebuking the onlookers for wanting to gaze on her as they would on some camp dancer (see below). However, the beginning of the wasf with praise of the woman's feet in sandals (7:1) seems to indicate that she does dance here. On the other hand, some attribute the words here to the man (as the NIV does). It is clear that he would not be asking what there is to see in the woman. So his words are taken as either a rebuke for others gawking at her or a simple acknowledgement of their awe. Dr. Glickman takes the mah at the beginning of the second part of 6:13 not as "what" but, as at the beginning of 7:1, as meaning "how"—seeing the man as commenting to the group, "How you gaze in awe upon Shulamith..." (p. 186).
What is the "dance of the two camps"? The NIV has "dance of Mahanaim," leaving the concluding phrase untranslated. Mahanaim was a place on the east side of the Jordan River near Bithron (2 Samuel 2:29), which some have identified, as we earlier noted, with Bether in Song 2:16. Mahanaim derived its name from the stay there of Jacob and his family in Genesis 32—"Two Camps" denoting either his own family's and that of God's angels or, as some view it, his family here split into two companies. Since this episode ended with the reconciliation of Jacob and Esau, Glickman takes the reference to mean any dance in celebration of reconciliation (p. 216). That could perhaps be hinted at here. However, it should be pointed out that while Genesis 32:2 and other scriptural references to Mahanaim present the term as a proper name, Song 6:13 uniquely uses the term with the definite article— ha-mahanaim meaning "the two camps" as opposed to the geographic reference (just as you wouldn't say "the Chicago").
Rejecting the geographical reference, some see in the terminology of the two camps a woman dancing between military companies, entertaining troops in a promiscuous sense—and deem that the Shulamite does not want to be viewed like this. Others, however, consider it some sort of belly dance the woman would perform for her husband (considering the visibility of the body parts implied in the wasf that follows). This was not necessarily in private. (Recall the 1956 movie The Ten Commandments, where the daughters of Jethro danced before Moses, as would have been common in that society. See also Judges 21:16-24.) Some take the dance here to be part of the seven-day wedding festivities. J.G. Wetzstein's observations in the 1800s of Syrian Arab wedding traditions, which may have been passed down from biblical times, included special dances accompanied by poems or songs—including a sword dance by the bride accompanied by a wasf (see Franz Delitzsch, "Appendix: Remarks on the Song by Dr. J.G. Wetzstein," "Commentary on the Song of Songs," Keil & Delitzch's Commentary, pp. 622-626). Some have argued that the two camps could be two lines of people between which the woman is dancing. Or perhaps the two sets of family and friends at the wedding are meant (if that is even the context here). There is simply no way to know.
We proceed next to the wasf (the descriptive praise song cataloging physical virtues) in Song 7:1-5 (and perhaps verse 6), which extols the woman not from head to toe (as in other cases) but, just the opposite, from toe to head. It has been argued, reasonably so as we have noted, that the praise begins with the feet because she is dancing the dance mentioned in 6:13 (attention thus being drawn to the feet first). That she is dancing and not undressed in bed, as some believe, is likely from the mention of her feet being in sandals. Some even think the "curves" of the woman's thighs in 7:1 refers to movement, though this is disputed. The implied visibility of some body parts here, as noted above, has led some to envision her not in thick robes but in the more revealing garb of a belly dancer—form fitting with diaphanous veils. Some, it should be pointed out, regard "navel" and the waist in verse 2 as actually denoting a lower area. If so and if the dance is before a plurality of onlookers, the description would be from the mind and not from what is actually seen at the time. Some, however, take her to be dancing nude (which would only be proper before her husband in private), yet the sandals would seem to argue against that. But who knows?
In any case, it seems most likely (as in the NKJV speaker annotations) that the woman's true love, her husband, is singing the words here. Note particularly the description of her breasts as twin gazelle fawns (verse 3), which is repeated from the man's earlier praise in 4:5 (likely given immediately before or during the wedding night)—just as 6:5-7 repeated elements from that same time (see 4:1-3). In the former repetition, the man was essentially telling the woman that he feels the same about her as he did previously—and the idea would be the same here, thus continuing the theme of reconciliation and reunion. Of course, shepherd-hypothesis advocates usually argue that the beginning of chapter 4 was Solomon's seduction—and some of them see him speaking here at the beginning of chapter 7 too. Yet others among them, as well as some followers of the two-character progression, take the end of verse 5, "a king is held captive by your tresses," to mean that the "king" could not here be speaking. Yet this is rather weak reasoning, as he could easily be speaking in third person—whether this is Solomon as seducer, Solomon as lover or another represented as Solomon (just as the Shulamite is often thought to be speaking in third person at the end of 6:13). Some, in consideration of the group calling to the Shulamite at the beginning of 6:13, understand the same group to be speaking in 7:1-5. Some argue for a group of young men in both cases. But the idea that they would be praising the woman's intimate parts as the husband looks on is untenable, being inappropriate and even dangerous—particularly if these are, as some bizarrely imagine, young men catcalling the queen while King Solomon looks on! As with the shepherd hypothesis generally, we should ask why lustful desire would be set to lengthy, beautiful poetry to be sung. Others argue for the daughters of Jerusalem singing admiringly in 7:1-5. Again, however, the intimate references and the repetition already noted in the description of the breasts argues strongly for the husband—and the mention of the king in verse 5 does not at all rule him out.
Furthermore, Glickman points out that this wasf is one of tenfold praise—signifying a full enumeration—set in symmetrical parallel within the present unit to the tenfold praise of the woman for her beloved in 5:10-16. This parallel strengthens the identification of the current praise segment with the man—it being his praise for the woman in turn. The ten elements in this wasf are: 1) feet (verse 1a); 2) thighs (verse 1b); 3) navel (verse 2a); 4) waist (verse 2b); 5) breasts (verse 3); 6) neck (verse 4a); 7) eyes (verse 4b-c); 8) nose (verse 4d-e); 9) head (verse 5a); 10) hair (verse 5b-c).
The comparison of the woman's neck to an ivory tower in 7:4a recalls the man's earlier comparison of her neck to the tower of David , described as an armory, in 4:4. The mention of ivory may be intended to convey the sense of gleaming rather than pure whiteness. This nevertheless seems a rather odd way of describing a woman black of skin, as some contend the Shulamite is based on her describing herself as having dark skin in 1:5-6. Indeed, as she plainly stated there, her darkened skin was a result of working outdoors. It may be that significant time has passed since her initial appearance in the Song—so that she is no longer so dark (compare also the likening of her to the white moon in 6:10).
The woman's eyes are described as "the pools in Heshbon by the gate in Bath Rabbim" (7:4b-c)—this being a town 20 miles east of the Jordan River in the territory of Reuben, now called Hesban. "Heshbon, once the royal city of King Sihon (Nu 21:26), was blessed with an abundant supply of spring water. Bath Rabbim ('daughter of many' [or 'daughter of great ones']) may have been a popular name for Heshbon" (NIV Archaeological Study Bible, note on Song 7:4). Biblical archaeologist Bryant Wood has noted regarding this site: "Remains from the period of the divided monarchy, the Iron II age (ca. 900-600 B.C.), were also found. Pottery from the ninth and eighth centuries B.C. came to light in two sites on the mound. One is an open-air water reservoir which is undoubtedly the largest such Iron Age reservoir on Jordan 's East Bank. The sections uncovered indicate that it is 50 feet square and 18 feet deep with a capacity of nearly 300,000 gallons. It was probably one of the pools mentioned in Song of Solomon 7:4" ("The Israelites and the King's Highway," Archaeology and Biblical Research, Spring 1990, p. 41).
The comparison of the woman's nose to "the tower of Lebanon which looks toward [faces or overlooks] Damascus" (7:4d-e) is problematic for a few reasons. First, we don't know what is meant by the object of comparison. Some suggest a fortification in Jerusalem built of Lebanon cedars, as was Solomon's national armory, named "the House of the Forest of Lebanon" (1 Kings 7:2)—though the dimensions of this particular building do not resemble a tower (yet a tower may have protruded from it). In line with this is the suggestion that the tower was a fortification on the north side of Jerusalem that faced Damascus —as Jerusalem 's northern gate was later known as the Damascus Gate. Others suggest an otherwise unknown mountain fortress in the high Lebanon range to the north of Israel. And still others think the Lebanon mountain range itself is in mind—towering above the land around.
The second, and larger, problem here is applying the imagery to the woman. How, we may wonder, is her nose to be compared to any of these things? Of all the descriptions in the various wasfs in the Song, this one probably seems to our modern sensitivities to be the most outlandish—a great tower or mountain protruding from a woman's face hardly seeming something beautiful. Some suppose the fortification imagery to symbolize her face being set against the invasion of her person by unwanted advances (particularly with the Syrians of Damascus having been at times enemies of Israel). Others take the comparison to be with a scene of awe or grandeur—mountains or a grand fortress on a mountainside—though having no relation to shape or actual appearance.
Yet just as some specifics of appearance are intended in the other descriptive comparisons, that would also seem to be the case here. Dr. Carr says that the Lebanon range, "solid limestone and 10,000 feet high, hardly seems an apt comparison for a lady's nose. The simile has given commentators no end of trouble. Prominent noses are not normally considered especially beautiful. Delitzsch...took this to mean 'symmetrical beauty combined with awe-inspiring dignity,' since it 'formed a straight line from the brow downward, without bending to the right or left.' This is hardly convincing. Lebanon (cf. 3:3; 4:8) is one of several words derived from the Hebrew root laben, 'to be white' (cf. 'frankincense,' 3:6). It was probably the whiteness of the limestone cliffs that gave the mountain its name. This suggests that the imagery here is associated with the colour of her nose rather than its shape or size. Her face is pale, like the ivory tone of her neck, not sunburnt (cf. 1:6)" (p. 159, note on 7:4). This seems reasonable, as verse 4 would then have "ivory tower" set in parallel to "tower of Lebanon," which in Hebrew sounds like "white tower." Yet the fortification concept of resisting ingress also seems applicable here in both cases—as in 4:4.
Some take the comparison of the woman's head in 7:5 to Mount Carmel, in the northwest of Israel, as a reference to her holding her head high. However, the more likely comparison is to Carmel's beauty and lushness, the mountain being heavily covered with forest—as the woman's head was covered by her beautiful hair, which is next described. The description of her hair as purple could refer to the lustrous highlights of her flowing locks in flickering lamplight (as she danced perhaps), her hair being earlier compared to goats that were most likely black or dark brown (4:1; 6:5). Or "like purple" may point to her hair's richness or regal quality—purple dye being expensive and used by royalty—thus a fitting twine to figuratively bind a king (captivating the man).
The next sentence in 7:6, beginning with "How beautiful..." (NIV), may conclude the wasf of the previous verses, forming an inclusio with the "How beautiful..." of the opening in verse 1. Some, however, take it as the opening of a new subsection. It is, in any case, transitional. The next subsection (7:6 or 7:7 to 7:9 or 7:10) is the last subsection of the present unit. Those who view verses 1-5 as spoken by a group believe the lover (or Solomon as seducer in the mind of shepherd-hypothesis advocates) breaks in at verse 6, introduced by the mention of "king" in verse 5. Yet it seems more likely that no break in speaker has happened here—that the lover sings 7:1-5, 7:6 and 7:7-9a.
Verses 7-8 speak of shinnying up the woman as a palm tree to take hold of her breasts—as the phrase the KJV and NKJV render "go up to" is literally "go up in" or "go up into" (J.P. Green's Literal Translation), usually understood as "climb" (NIV). Clearly the man here is intending sexual intimacy with the woman. Some see this section describing present sexual relations between husband and wife. That seems likely in terms of the formerly parted couple coming back together—now fully—particularly with the remark about sleepers, as we will see. However, some argue that the intimacy is not here actually renewed—merely thought of and not realized until after 8:4 or after the end of the Song. Some, of course, argue that the couple has never been married—that the intimacy of 4:16–5:1 was a wish for the future, not yet a reality. And the intimacy here in 7:7-10 and in the next sections is viewed that way as well. Then there are the followers of the shepherd hypothesis, who see Solomon here continuing his attempted seduction of the woman. How, though, would an interloping seducer be privy to the experience of kissing her, as implied in what follows? The rejoinder is typically that it is pure fantasy on his part.
The end of verse 8 describes the fragrance of the woman's nose as apples or a similar fruit—"nose" being the proper translation of the word translated "breath" in the NKJV (this being the same word translated "nose" in verse 4). Yet the breath coming from her nose may well be in mind. A similar statement occurs in Egyptian love song number 12: "The scent of your nose alone is what revives my heart" (Papyrus Harris 500, Group B, translated by Fox, p. 21). Fox comments: "A gesture of affection frequent in the ancient East (including the Far East) was the nose kiss, in which the couple would rub faces and smell each other's nose" (p. 97, note on 1:2). Others see the breath of passion here.
The wording of 7:9 makes it clear that a change of speakers takes place in the middle of this verse. After the description of the interior of the woman's mouth as wine, she breaks in and says that the wine goes down smoothly for her beloved. Those who understand a two-character progression here see the man speaking his erotic intentions to the woman and then her joining in, completing his sentence—saying that she is happy to give him the enjoyment he seeks. This ties in well to her statement about the wine flowing smoothly over or through the "lips of sleepers." Some emend the text here to read "lips and teeth" (e.g., NIV). But there is no need for that. The word "sleepers" denotes those who sleep together—married lovers, which strengthens the argument that the couple is married here. Glickman translates the end of the verse to say, "as we fall asleep" (p. 187). He stresses that this completes the theme of the unit. It began with the woman waking from sleep separated from her beloved when he desired physical relations with her (5:2-8), and it now concludes with the two falling asleep together after physical union.
Those who adhere to the shepherd hypothesis view this in a completely different way. They see Solomon pressing his seduction through the beginning of verse 9 to the point that the woman can no longer take it. Her breaking into the verse is then seen as her telling the lustful king that the wine of her mouth is not for him but for her true love, who is not actually present. However, the sleeping imagery does not fit so well in this interpretation.
Finally here we consider 7:10. As noted earlier, it seems to reasonably conclude this unit—though it could transitionally open the next. Song 2:16 was the first occurrence of the refrain of mutual possession sung by the woman. She reversed it in 6:3, transitioning into the central subsection of the unit we have here been covering. There she said, "I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine." Now in 7:10, at the end of the unit, she declares, "I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me." Shepherd-hypothesis advocates take this as her final stand for her true love in opposition to Solomon's advances. But why, we should ask, has the woman here changed the refrain to conclude with not her lover's possession of her but, it is now stressed, his desire for her? The simplest explanation is that his desire for her has just been expressed in the preceding passage—which argues strongly against the shepherd hypothesis. We should also observe that in the previous two instances of the refrain, the lover is described as feeding among the lilies, which may imply kissing (see 5:13). In 7:10 there is no mention of that—perhaps because it is already clearly implied in verse 9. This again favors the two-character progression. In this view of the present unit, we see that the man had initially desired the woman but, after perceiving her as refusing him, was gone—whether actually or just emotionally. But after she expressed her longing for him, he followed with expressing his undiminished love for her again, his great admiration for her, and now his intense desire for her anew—accompanied, it would seem, by kissing and sleeping together.
We should also note that the Hebrew word used here for "desire," teshuqah, occurs in only two other places in the Old Testament—in Genesis 4:7, where sin is pictured as wanting to get at Cain, and, more significantly, in Genesis 3:16 in the judgment on the primal couple, Adam and Eve, where the woman was told that her desire would be toward her husband who would rule over her (not always in a good sense it would seem). Now the Shulamite says that she belongs to her beloved and that his desire is toward her. Some see here an implied reversal of the Edenic judgment—that is to say, that through the loving admiration and desire of a good husband, the curse is mitigated or even alleviated (perhaps paralleling the reconciliation and relationship healing that has occurred in this section).
In reading the next unit, where we note more about verse 10 up front, we will see the lovers go away together for the purpose of deepening their love and intimacy.