Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.1. By night] Lit. In the nights. In Psalm 16:7 the same phrase is translated “in the night seasons,” and some understand it here of the night hours. But in none of the few passages in which the plural lçlôth occurs, is it used in this sense. In all it refers to more nights than one, not to the several parts of one night. It would therefore seem that she means to say, that one night after another she dreamt that she missed and sought her lover. More than once that had come to her, so that more than one night must have passed before she told the dream.
on my bed] This means that the dream came to her when she was in her bed. The repetition of I sought expresses well the continued and repeated searching always ending in failure, which is so characteristic of dreams and so painful. The place where she first looked for him is left indeterminate as it often is in dreams.
Chap. Song of Solomon 3:1-5. A Dream
Almost all commentators agree that we have here a dream narrated to some persons, in which the Shulammite seems to herself to have sought her lover in the city and failed to find him. Those who take the dramatic view think of it as narrated to the women of the court. Oettli’s view is that the Shulammite expected her lover to return at sunset. He did not come, and so her agitated heart sought him in this dream, which she tells to her companions, adding the refrain already used in Song of Solomon 2:7, which deprecates the stirring up of love before it arises spontaneously. Ewald, who regards the end of ch. 2 as dealing only with a waking dream, and not a real incident, thinks of this as a narrative of what she remembered to have dreamed during her sad night in the king’s palace. Delitzsch again, who thinks of the lover as Solomon, considers the dream to be one that came to her night after night, when she had become doubtful of the king’s love for her. Budde’s view is one that entirely contradicts his theory that lovers could not meet and have such intercourse as is depicted in the book before marriage. He makes this a strong point in his criticism of the dramatic theory, yet here he says of this section, “The bride speaks. She narrates a dream she had as a girl, for what she narrates can be understood only as a dream. She had so loved her husband for a length of time that she dreamt she was married to him.” Martineau, because of a misunderstanding of the passage and on other insufficient grounds, would strike out the verses altogether. In any case they describe a dream, and of all the suggestions as to the occasion Oettli’s seems the best.
I will rise now, and go about the city in the streets, and in the broad ways I will seek him whom my soul loveth: I sought him, but I found him not.2. R.V. rightly inserts I said at the beginning of the verse. It is a vivid presentment of what happened, when her hope of her lover’s presence was disappointed. She said in her dream not I will rise now, but Come let me arise and let me go about in the city. The hortative forms of the verb beautifully express the energy, and perhaps the anxiety, with which she seemed in her dream to seek for him whom her soul loved.
the city] Not necessarily a ‘city’ in our sense of the word, but any place of any size which had defences, as distinct from the mere village. Cp. 2 Kings 17:9, “They built them high places in all their cities, from the tower of the watchmen to the fenced city,” where ‘cities’ must include the tower of the watchmen. Consequently, Jerusalem need not here be intended; more probably it is either Shulam or some place in the neighbourhood where her lover resided. Thither she had travelled in her dream.
in the streets and in the broad ways] Better, in the streets and in the open spaces. In ancient cities in Palestine the streets were exceedingly narrow, but just within the gates there were wider spaces, as also where the streets began, and where they crossed each other. These all would be called rěchôbôth. As the mention of the watchmen indicates that even for the dreamer the search takes place at night, the streets and squares cannot be referred to as places of public resort. The refrain, but I found him not, expresses well that feeling of distress at the frustration of our efforts which is the chief pain of dreams.
The watchmen that go about the city found me: to whom I said, Saw ye him whom my soul loveth?3. The watchmen] For the practice of having watchmen in cities, cp. Psalm 127:1, “Except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain.” Grätz supposes that the mention of watchmen favours his very late date for the book. But probably this very obvious precaution was taken in Palestine from the earliest times, and in any case the passage quoted above shews that it was an established custom comparatively early. Cp. also Isaiah 21:11.
Saw ye, &c.] The A.V. rightly inserts to whom I said, but in the Heb. her dream-question is introduced with the same vivid abruptness as her previous utterance, Come let me arise, and without any interrogative particle. She also, as we all do in dreams, takes it for granted that all men know what the object of her preoccupation is. It would however be possible to translate ye have seen in the sense ye must have seen.
It was but a little that I passed from them, but I found him whom my soul loveth: I held him, and would not let him go, until I had brought him into my mother's house, and into the chamber of her that conceived me.4. It was but a little that I passed from them] i.e. Hardly had I gone from them when I found him whom my soul loveth.
I held him] Rather, I laid hold on him.
and would not let him go] Better, either as Oettli, I did not let him go until, &c., or as Driver, Tenses, § 42 β and § 85 note, I would not let him go until, &c. In the former case the impf. form is held to be an impf. consec., though the consec. waw has been separated from its verb by the negation. Cp. Psalm 8:6 and Job 33:4. Bringing him to her mother’s house must signify that he was to be her acknowledged lover.
I charge you, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, by the roes, and by the hinds of the field, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, till he please.5. As in ch. Song of Solomon 2:7. Probably here as there the significance of the adjuration is, that after such a demonstration of her deep-seated love the daughters of Jerusalem should not seek to arouse in her love for another by mere extraneous solicitations.
Who is this that cometh out of the wilderness like pillars of smoke, perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all powders of the merchant?6. Who is this that cometh out] In the Heb. as it stands, this is feminine, and the participles coming up and perfumed are in agreement with it. Hence many hold that the verse is spoken of a woman, either of a princess whom Solomon, even in the midst of his wooing of the Shulammite, is about to marry, or of the Shulammite, who is seen approaching Jerusalem with Solomon as her husband in a bridal procession. But it need not necessarily be so. This may be taken as neuter, the fem. often representing the neuter, as there is no special neuter form in Heb. In that case the translation here would be literally ‘Who is that which cometh up?’ This is strictly parallel to Esau’s question to Jacob, Genesis 33:8, “Who is all this camp?” i.e. ‘Who are the human beings in it?’ (Cp. Davidson, Heb. Synt. § 8, R. 1, and Ewald, Heb. Synt. E. T. p. 196.) This view is more in accord with the following words: for, obviously, the procession is too remote to permit of the spectators who speak here knowing that any lady in it is perfumed with myrrh, &c. It must, therefore, be the thing seen, not any person, which is perfumed. The idea is that something surrounded with incense, naturally supposed to be perfumed, is approaching. “The pomp is like that of a procession before which the censer of frankincense is swung” (Del.). Song of Solomon 3:7 tells us that this is the miṭṭâh of Solomon.
out of the wilderness] i.e. from the pasture lands as distinct from the cultivated lands. This is quite unintelligible on Budde’s hypothesis. Cp. Appendix ii, § 9.
like pillars of smoke] This expression strengthens the view taken of the last clause. This which is like pillars of smoke cannot be a person, but must be a litter or procession which is overhung by, or surrounded with, columns of smoke. The word for columns tîmǎrôth occurs again in the O.T. only in Joel 2:30 (Heb., 3:3). The LXX translate it by στελέχη, ‘trunks’ of smoke, evidently connecting the word with tâmâr, ‘a palm tree,’ to which a rising column of smoke has a great resemblance. It spreads out only at the top of the column-like stem, like a palm tree above its trunk. More probably, however, it is derived from a verb yâmar = ’âmar, the original meaning of which was ‘to rise high.’
perfumed] Lit. incensed, i.e. having incense burnt before it. The couch or litter, or the procession, is having perfume burnt before it, viz. myrrh and frankincense. For the former cp. ch. Song of Solomon 1:13, and for the latter Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 355. Frankincense is the gum of a tree which grows in the hill country of India, the Boswellia serrata of botanists. Probably it came to Palestine through Arabia, cp. Isaiah 60:6. The resin is obtained by simply slitting the bark.
with all powders of the merchant] i.e. with all the aromatic preparations which the wandering merchants brought from foreign lands.
Chap. Song of Solomon 3:6-11. The King’s Return
King Solomon must be supposed to be coming from Jerusalem, to the royal residence in the North where the Shulammite is, or to be returning thither after an absence. Apparently he comes in special splendour, seeking to overawe her thereby. She notices the approaching train, and asks what it may be, Song of Solomon 3:6. In the remaining verses a watchman or attendant tells her that it is the litter of Solomon surrounded by his guards, Song of Solomon 3:7-8. He then describes the litter, Song of Solomon 3:9-10, while in Song of Solomon 3:11 he exhorts the court ladies to go forth to see the king in all his splendour, crowned as he was by his mother in the day of his espousals. In Song of Solomon 3:6 the speaker might be a spectator or the watchman, but the fact that in every one of the lyrics hitherto the Shulammite has spoken leads us to suppose that she is the speaker here.
Behold his bed, which is Solomon's; threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel.7. Behold his bed, which is Solomon’s] This is an answer to the question of the last verse, “Who or what is this which cometh up,” &c. It should be, Behold, it is Solomon’s palanquin, and it is spoken either by the same person who asks the question, or by another bystander. The word miṭṭâh, translated ‘bed’ by the A.V., has that meaning, but it is used also of couches at table, Esther 1:6 (R.V.), of sofas, Amos 3:12, and of biers, 2 Samuel 3:31. Here it means a litter or palanquin. The A.V. rendering, his bed, which is Solomon’s, is simply a literal translation of a pleonastic way of expressing the genitive which is constant in Aramaic, and which may have been common in the popular speech of Northern Israel.
threescore valiant men are about it, of the valiant of Israel] Gibbôr, the word translated valiant man, is the intensive of geber = ‘a man,’ and denotes a strong, bold man, hence a hero in war. Solomon’s litter is surrounded by his bodyguard.
They all hold swords, being expert in war: every man hath his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night.8. They all hold swords] This is a circumstantial and descriptive clause, and their holding swords is not meant to be explained by expert in war, as the insertion of ‘being’ in the A.V. might suggest. Rather it should be rendered, Threescore valiant men—all of them with swords in their hands, and trained to war, each with his sword upon his thigh because of fear in the night, i.e. to ward off danger that might arise in the night. The mention of ‘night’ here probably suggested the translation of miṭṭâh as ‘bed.’ The Heb. word translated ‘hold’ in the A.V. has the form of a passive participle, but must be translated as active. Cp. Ges.-K. Gramm. § 50 f.
King Solomon made himself a chariot of the wood of Lebanon.9. In this verse we have a continuation of the spectator’s or warder’s call to those who are looking out at the royal cavalcade from the house or palace where the Shulammite is. The speaker must be conceived as uttering an aside to those about him, giving a description of the miṭṭâh from his previous knowledge. Here he calls it an appiryôn, which the LXX translate by phǒreion, which means a litter in which one is borne. This is undoubtedly the correct meaning, but the derivation of the word is uncertain. It may be, as Cheyne says, Encycl. Bibl., art. ‘Canticles,’ a mere corruption.
the wood of Lebanon] Lit. the woods, i.e. the cedar and the cypress.
He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem.10. the pillars thereof] The supports of the canopy or roof.
the bottom thereof] Rather, the back, that upon which one leans. Cp. LXX ἀνάκλιτον, Vulg. reclinatorium.
the covering of it] the seat of it.
purple] i.e. the seat of it is upholstered with purple, argâmân. This is the red purple, which is sometimes so dark as to be almost black. It is to be distinguished from the violet or cerulean purple which is těkhçleth. Both words are found in Assyrian inscriptions as argamannu and takiltu. Attempts to derive argâmân from a Heb. root are practically abandoned, and Benary’s suggestion that it is the Sanscrit râgaman = ‘red,’ an adj. derived from râga, ‘red colour,’ with the formative syllable mat or vat (cp. Addit. Ges. Thes. p. 90), is probable; more especially as the Aramaic form of the word, argěwân, can be explained by another adj. form of the same word, viz. râgavan, which is identical in meaning with râgaman.
the midst thereof being paved with love, for the daughters of Jerusalem] This is a very difficult phrase to understand, and it has been very variously interpreted. The A.V. can hardly be right in rendering ‘love for the daughters of Jerusalem,’ for the preposition is min which cannot mean for. The R.V. has, more correctly, from the daughters of Jerusalem.
paved with love] Lit. paved as to love, the word being an adv. accus. The translation is grammatically correct. (Cp. Davidson, Synt. § 78, R. 2.) But what does ‘paved with love from the daughters of Jerusalem’ mean? Gesenius in his Thes. translates, “paved in a lovely manner by the daughters of Jerusalem,” but besides that the prep. min cannot be used for the causa efficiens with the passive, the word ‘love’ is not found elsewhere in such a sense. Del. translates, made up as a bed, from love on the part of the daughters of Jerusalem, and explains it to mean that they, from love to the king, have procured a costly tapestry which they have spread over the purple cushion. Oettli, following the LXX, takes love to mean, ‘a mark of love,’ and translates, “the middle of it adorned as a mosaic, a love-gift on the part of the daughters of Jerusalem.” Budde would change the order of the words, and reading hôbhânîm = ‘ebony’ for ahăbhâh = ‘love,’ would translate, “its seat is inlaid with ebony, its centre purple.” If the text is corrupt this may perhaps have been its original form. But of the text as it stands Delitzsch’s rendering seems to be the best, except that wrought as a mosaic would be better than made up as a bed.
Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.11. the day of his espousals] Either this day, or another, so that the meaning may be either that he was to be married on this day, or that he had been married formerly, and now was wearing the crown his mother then gave him. The latter is the more probable. Budde maintains that this verse proves that Solomon here means only the bridegroom, since an actual king was not crowned on his wedding-day, nor by his mother. But he gives no evidence for his opinion, and at king Solomon’s wedding the queen-mother may have played an important part. She may quite well have put a wedding crown on his head, for it is the custom at Jewish weddings now that the bridegroom should be crowned.