Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The song of songs, which is Solomon's.Chap. Song of Solomon 1:11. The song of songs, which is Solomon’s] For the superscription, which probably comes from a later hand than that of the author, see Introduction, § 1, p. ix.
Chap. Song of Solomon 1:2-8. In the King’s Household
The first scene from the life of the heroine called the Shulammite is contained in these verses. She has been brought by the king’s command into his chambers (Song of Solomon 1:4). The scene is consequently in some royal residence, probably at Jerusalem, and we have present, the Shulammite, the Jerusalem ladies of the court, and perhaps also Solomon. The ladies of the court sing the praises of the king as the object of their love, and seek to rouse the Shulammite also to admiration of him (2, 3, 4b). She, rapt in dreams of her absent lover, pays no heed at first, but murmurs a wish that he might come and rescue her (4a). Then, becoming conscious of her surroundings, she turns to address the ladies of the court (5, 6). Again she falls to musing, and asks her shepherd lover where he may be found (7). The ladies answer ironically (8).
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.2. Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth] It may be doubted whether this is spoken by the Shulammite of her absent lover, or by one of the ladies of the court, of Solomon, In favour of the former view, there is the likelihood that the heroine would first speak, and the change of pronoun in Song of Solomon 1:3, if there be no change in the persons speaking, is abrupt. But the change of pronoun would not be altogether unnatural in any language if the person spoken of were suddenly seen approaching after the first clause had been uttered. Nor even if he were not present at all would the change be impossible; for in passionate poetry the imagination continually vivifies and gives life to its conceptions by representing the object of affection as present, though actually absent. Perhaps the view that the king is seen approaching and that one of the court ladies speaks is preferable. In that case it would be his kisses that would be referred to.
for thy love is better than wine] i.e. thy caresses are better than wine. The word dôdhîm is properly ‘manifestations of kindness and love,’ but it also means love. Here the former is the better translation.
Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.3. Because of the savour of thy good ointments] Lit. ‘For fragrance thy ointments are good,’ i.e. as R.V. Thine ointments have a goodly fragrance. This clause is a continuance of the praise begun in Song of Solomon 1:2, not the reason for it. The particle translated because of in the A.V. stands here in its common sense of as to, or with regard to. Ointments means unguents or perfumes.
the virgins] Or maidens. There is probably here a reference to the Shulammite, for another word would probably have been used had the women of the hareem been meant. So noble is Solomon that even maidens as unsophisticated as she loved him. Or the reference may be to young women who were about to be taken into the hareem, hardly to slave girls already there, as Grätz suggests.
Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.4. Draw me, we will run after thee] Better, Draw me after thee, that we may run. This rendering is contrary to the Heb. accents, which connect after thee with run, but in that case it is difficult to see who are meant by we. By taking the words as suggested we get the maiden and her deliverer as subjects, and the next clause then does not require to be taken as a hypothetical clause, as it must be if after thee is connected with run. It is simply a statement of the dangerous position from which she calls upon her lover to deliver her.
we will be glad and rejoice in thee] These are the words of the court ladies, continuing the speech of Song of Solomon 1:3.
we will remember thy love more than wine] Rather, we will celebrate thy caresses more than wine. Nazkîrâh means literally ‘to commemorate,’ ‘to keep in memory,’ but this easily passes over into the signification of praising or celebrating. Cp. Psalm 20:7, “we will make mention of the name of Jehovah.” In 1 Chronicles 16:4 the word is used absolutely, in the meaning ‘to celebrate’ (R.V.), and this is perhaps the best rendering here.
the upright] Rather, in uprightness, R.V. margin, or rightly, R.V. Rightly do they, viz. the maidens, Song of Solomon 1:3, love thee.
I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.5. Here the Shulammite, under the inquisitive glances of the court ladies, who probably desire to see whether they have in any degree accomplished their purpose of rousing her admiration for the king, remembers her rustic appearance, and explains that the swarthy colour which is so different from theirs, is not natural or permanent, and asserts her equality in beauty.
I am black] Better, swart. The word denotes here, not blackness as of a or of a horse (cp. Zechariah 6:2; Zechariah 6:6), but the ruddy or brown hue of sunburning; though with poetic exaggeration the speaker compares herself to the Bedouin tents of camel’s hair, for blackness, and to the brilliantly coloured curtains of Solomon’s tent, for beauty.
Kedar] i.e. black, was the name of a tribe of nomads whose eponymous ancestor was (Genesis 25:13) a son of Ishmael. They wandered in the Arabian desert towards Babylonia, and are called Kidru in the cuneiform inscriptions.
Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.6. because I am black] The word for black here is a diminutive of the former word, and would be better translated swarthy.
the sun hath looked upon me] Rather, hath scorched me (R.V.).
my mother’s children] Lit. sons. These are not, as Ewald and others conjecture, her step-brothers. They are rather her full brothers, and the pathos of her case is deepened by that fact. Even her own brothers, in their anger, set her menial tasks. From there being mention only of her mother and her brothers, and from the authority her brothers exercised over her, we may infer that her father was dead. This is one of the undesigned touches which compel us to assume a connected story of some kind as a background for the book. Those who deny any connexion between the songs and assert that they are only the fragments of a professional singer’s répertoire cannot satisfactorily explain this reference,
but mine own vineyard have I not kept] i.e. she did not take fitting care of her own beauty; or it may be that the reference is to the carelessness which had brought her into her present danger. The former is more probable since she affirms most strongly (cp. Song of Solomon 8:10; Song of Solomon 8:12) that in the sense of her person she has kept her ‘vineyard.’
Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?7. where thou feedest, &c.] Rather, where thou wilt pasture (thy flock), where thou wilt make (them) rest at noon. ‘Feedest’ is in English ambiguous, but the Heb. word is not. Cp. Genesis 37:16, “Tell me, I pray thee, where they feed (their flocks).”
as one that turneth aside] Vulg. ne vagari incipiam. The LXX, ὡς περιβαλλομένη = as one veiling herself, is more correct. The Heb. of the text is kě ‛ôtyâh, which is the participle fem. Qal for the usual ‛ôtâh (but perhaps it should be ‛ôtîyyâh; cp. Ges. Kautzsch Gramm. § 75 v) of the verb âtâh = to fold, or pack together; cp. Isaiah 22:17, “He will wrap thee up closely” (R.V.); and Jeremiah 43:12, “He shall array himself” (literally wrap himself) “with the land of Egypt”; then ‘to veil’ or ‘cover,’ and this must be its meaning here; like one veiling herself. But what is the significance of her veiling herself? Delitzsch and others understand the reference here to be to the custom of harlots to disguise themselves, as Tamar, Genesis 38:15, “He thought her to be an harlot, for she had covered her face,” but there is no plausible reason given why she should veil herself, especially if this interpretation could be put upon her doing so. Others, taking the text to be correct, make the meaning to be ‘as one mourning or forsaken,’ then ‛ôtyâh must have become a technical term from which the original meaning had almost wholly been stripped. The Syriac, the Vulgate, and Symm. apparently read, ‘wanderer,’ transposing the letters and making ‛ôtîyyâh into tô‛ iyyâh, the participle of the verb ‘to wander.’ Archdeacon Aglen’s suggestion in Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers, that as the word ‛âtâh in Isaiah 22:17 is given the meaning of ‘erring,’ or ‘wandering about,’ by the Rabbinic commentators, probably the idea they had in their mind was that a person with the head wrapped up has difficulty in finding his way, and thus, even without any transposition of the letters, the word might come to be translated ‘wandering,’ is interesting and plausible. He would translate as one blindfold. This seems the best rendering.
7, 8. Song of Solomon 1:7 is spoken by the Shulammite, asking her lover where she will find him at noon, and Song of Solomon 1:8 is the mocking comment of the daughters of Jerusalem. Martineau, indeed, supposes that the lover actually appears here, at the king’s residence in Jerusalem, and she asks him where she can find him feeding his flocks. But that seems unmeaning if he was a shepherd of En-gedi, as Martineau supposes; and in any case, he would not be feeding his flocks in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. Budde supposes that this is a song put into the mouth of the newly married couple, in order that the marriage, which really was a mere matter of arrangement, should be made to appear to be the result of previous affection. This, therefore, is an account of a lovers’ meeting before marriage. But if the universal custom was to arrange marriages in this way it seems obvious that no one would wish to make the thing appear otherwise, in fact it would be a breach of the convenances to hint at such a thing. There seems no alternative but to suppose that the speaker is here musing upon her absent lover and asks aloud where she could find him. She longs to go to seek him. Some however take the two verses to be a reference to the past, while Oettli supposes them to be an interlude brought in to shew who the two lovers are.
If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.8. by the footsteps of the flock] i.e. hard on the footsteps, in the very tracks of the sheep, until she reaches the place where the shepherds’ tents are set up, and there she will find him.
I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.9. O my love] Rather, O my friend; cp. the use of ami in French between lovers. This word ra‛yâh is found only in the Song of Solomon, except once in the plural in Jdg 11:37, where Jephthah’s daughter says “I and my companions,” and in that case there is an alternative reading. It is used in the Song indiscriminately by Solomon and by the Shulammite’s true lover.
a company of horses] Here the A.V. follows the Vulgate, which has equitatus; and that might be the meaning as the fem. may be a collective (cp. Ges. K. Gramm. § 122 s). Oettli, however, suggests that a favourite mare is meant, and in that case we should render to my mare in Pharaoh’s chariots have I compared thee. The plural, chariots, makes a slight difficulty, but it may be meant to indicate that this favourite steed was driven in various chariots. This reference to Egyptian chariots and horses is specially Solomonic (cp. 1 Kings 10:26-29), as he first introduced the horse and chariot as a regular part of the army of Israel. To us this may seem a very unbecoming simile, but in the East women are held in lighter esteem than with us, and the horse in higher esteem. Arabic poets often use such comparisons for the women they love. But perhaps there is intended here a hint of the quality of the king’s affection. Cp. Tennyson, Locksley Hall,
“He will hold thee, when his passion shall have spent its novel force,
Something better than his dog, a little dearer than his horse.”
Chap. Song of Solomon 1:9—Chap. Song of Solomon 2:7. A King’s Love despised
In this scene Solomon presses his love upon the Shulammite for the first time; but in reply to his endeavours to win her she always utters praises of her absent lover. She contrasts their humble woodland resting-place with the royal palace, and declares herself to be a modest country flower which cannot bloom elsewhere than in the country. Finally, grown love-sick at the thought of her lover, she turns to the ladies of the court, beseeching them to restore her strength, and adjures them not to seek to kindle love, which should always be spontaneous, by any unworthy or extraneous means.
Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.10. Thy cheeks are comely] The LXX have τί ὡραιώθησαν σιαγόνες σου, ‘How comely are thy cheeks,’ which would be a very good reading.
with rows of jewels] Most probably these are strings, either of beads formed of the precious metals, or of precious stones, hanging down over the cheeks in loops. R.V. renders ‘plaits of hair.’ Archdeacon Aglen very aptly quotes from Olearius the following sentence: “Persian ladies use as head-dress two or three rows of pearls, which pass round the head and hang down the cheeks, so that their faces seem set in pearls.” He also notes that Lady Mary Wortley Montague describes the Sultana Hafitan as wearing round her head-dress four strings of pearls of great size and beauty.
with chains of gold] Rather, with strings of jewels, as R. V. The word occurs here only in the O.T., but cognate words in Aramaic and Arabic shew that it means an ornament of beads or jewels strung together. Probably it is the ‛iqd or necklace described and figured by Lane, Modern Egyptians, vol. II. p. 319. He says the necklaces mostly worn by ladies are of diamonds or pearls.
We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.11. We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver] Rather, strings of golden beads will we make thee, with points of silver. These more splendid adornments will be substituted for her modest country ornaments.
While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.12. While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof] R.V. sat … sent forth. So long she says as the king was on his divan her spikenard gave forth its perfume.
his table] Heb. mçsabh or mçsçbh, probably a divan or seat set round a room. Ewald and Delitzsch, following the usual rendering of 1 Samuel 16:11, translate “a round table,” but see Oxf. Heb. Lex. Here it would mean a seat, in some public reception-room probably, in any case outside the hareem. The meaning seems here to be that so long as Solomon was absent from her, her nard, “a figure,” as Delitzsch says, “for the happiness of love,” gave forth its fragrance. She was then free to let her thoughts go out to her rustic lover. In the succeeding verses her thoughts of him are compared to perfumes, myrrh and henna flowers; here the delight she had in thinking of him is likened to nard and its fragrance.
my spikenard] Heb. nçrd. Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 485, says, “Spikenard or nard is exclusively an Indian product, procured from the Nardostachys jatamansi, a plant of the order Valerianaceae, growing in the Himalaya mountains, in Nepal and Bhotan. It has many hairy spikes shooting from one root. It is from this part of the plant that the perfume is procured, and prepared simply by drying it.”
sendeth forth] This should be, gave forth.
12–14. The Shulammite replies to Solomon’s wooing.
A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.13. A bundle] From Isaiah 3:20 we learn that Israelite women were accustomed to carry perfume boxes. The bundle of myrrh here would seem to be something of that kind, probably a small bag with myrrh resin in it.
myrrh] Heb. môr. It is the Balsamodendron myrrha of botanists, a low, thorny, ragged-looking tree, something like an acacia. It is found in Arabia Felix. “A viscid white liquid oozes from the bark when punctured, which rapidly hardens when exposed to the air, and becomes a sort of gum, which in this simple state is the myrrh of commerce. The wood and bark emit a pungent aromatic odour.” Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 365.
he shall lie all night] Rather, as R.V., that lieth. The clause is the ordinary relative sentence with the relative pron. suppressed, by which the attributive participle in English is expressed in Heb., and the translation should be, a bundle of myrrh lying all night between my breasts is my love to me, i.e. the thought of him abides with her and refreshes her heart as a perfume bag of myrrh would do. Cp. Shelley,
“Rose leaves, when the rose is dead,
Are heaped for the beloved’s bed,
And so thy thoughts when thou art gone
Love itself shall slumber on.”
The translation of the A.V. is refuted by the parallelism. In the second half of Song of Solomon 1:14, in the vineyards of En-gedi is an attribute of the cluster of henna-flowers, and so in Song of Solomon 1:13, lying between my breasts is an attribute of the bundle of myrrh.
My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.14. camphire] R.V. henna-flowers, the Lawsonia inermis or henna plant, from which Eastern women get the reddish yellow colour with which they stain their hands and feet (Tristram, op. cit. p. 340). It has a strongly perfumed flower which takes the form of yellowish white clusters. It is found to-day in Palestine only at En-gedi.
the vineyards of En-gedi] Martineau seems to take these words as an indication that the lover had his vineyards there, but this is highly improbable. En-gedi means the fountain of the kid, and the place still retains the name Ain Jidy. To this day the rocks and precipices above and about the well are frequented by wild goats. “The plain of En-gedi,” says Dr Porter in Murray’s Guide, “is a rich plain about half a mile square, sloping very gently from the declivity of the mountains to the shore of the Dead Sea, and is shut in on the North by the cliffs of Wady Sudeir, which are the highest along the whole Western coast. About one mile up the mountain side, and at an elevation of some 400 feet above the plain, is the fountain from which the place gets its name. The water is pure and sweet though the temperature is as high as 81 degrees Fahr. The plain is very fertile, and anciently its vineyards, and palm groves, and balsam plants were celebrated, but now none of these are to be seen there.”
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.15. thou hast doves’ eyes] Rather, as R.V., thine eyes are (as) doves, i.e. are dove-like. As a rule in such comparisons the particle of comparison ke = as stands before the predicate (see Ges. Gramm. 141 d, note). But this form is more emphatic. The absence of the particle does not consequently compel us to translate as Oettli following the LXX does, thy eyes are doves, i.e. are glancing and shimmering in various colours, so as to resemble doves. That seems an improbable simile; more probably it is the innocence which is associated with doves’ eyes which is the point of comparison.
15–17. In these verses the king continues his praises of the Shulammite, while she continues to think only of her absent lover. In Song of Solomon 1:15 the pronouns and the corresponding adjectives are feminine, while in Song of Solomon 1:16 they are masculine. Consequently in Song of Solomon 1:15 Solomon is represented as addressing the Shulammite, while in Song of Solomon 1:16 the Shulammite speaks, addressing however not Solomon but her absent lover.
Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.16. our bed is green] R.V. rightly, our couch. She recalls the green sward of the meadows, or possibly some leafy arbour where she had reclined with her beloved. Siegfried would understand the words of the marriage bed, sprinkled with sweet smelling substances; but that is incompatible with the following verse, and is moreover not supported by Psalm 92:10, where the word translated ‘green’ here is rendered by ‘fresh,’ for in all probability it ought to be translated ‘green’ there also, since the best kind of olive oil is green. Cp. Riehm’s Hdwb. 11. p. 1123.
The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.17. Render, The beams of our houses are cedars, and our rafters are cypresses. The meaning is not that their houses are built of cedar, but that the cedar trees and fir trees form the roof over their heads as they seek shelter under them. Perhaps the plural houses may be significant. They have not one, but many palaces in the forest glades. The country maiden speaks as a country maiden whose couch was often in the green grass, and who had cedars and cypresses for walls and roof at her meetings with her lover.
our rafters] Heb. râchîtçnu. This word is not found elsewhere, and its meaning can only be conjectured. The context suggests some portion of the woodwork of the roof, hence the ‘rafters’ of the A.V. LXX, φατνώματα = laquearia, lacunaria, i.e. ‘panelled ceilings.’
of fir] are cypresses. The form of the Heb. word here is běrôthîm, which is supposed to be the North Palestinian pronunciation for the usual berôshîm. The Vulgate everywhere renders abies = pine, the LXX and Syriac give in many places ‘cypress.’ But the cedar and cypress were trees of Lebanon, and the most valued among them, and Solam, at the S.W. foot of Jebel-ed-Dahi (Oettli), was not very far from the forests of Lebanon. Probably therefore the cypress is meant.