Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes within thy locks: thy hair is as a flock of goats, that appear from mount Gilead.1. my love] my friend.
thou hast doves’ eyes] thine eyes are (as) doves. Cp. Song of Solomon 1:15.
within thy locks] from behind thy veil. The translation locks is that of the Jewish commentators, Kimchi and Rashi. The burqu‘ or face-veil of a lady is thus described in Lane’s Modern Egyptians, vol. 1. p. 57. It is a long strip of white muslin, concealing the whole of the face except the eyes, and reaching nearly to the feet. It is suspended at the top by a narrow band, which passes up the forehead, and which is sewed, as are also the two upper corners of the veil, to a band which is tied round the head. Lane remarks that though worn for the purpose of disguising whatever is attractive in the wearer, it fails in accomplishing its main purpose, displaying the eyes, which are almost always beautiful, making them to appear still more so by concealing the other features which are seldom of equal beauty. But as it was not the custom that Hebrew women should be secluded, as is now the custom in Syria, the veil must have been used as part of full dress. This would account for its being worn in the house as it appears to be here.
thy hair is as a flock of goats] i.e. each braid in its glossy blackness is like a separate goat of the herd. The usual colour of goats was black.
that appear from mount Gilead] Literally, that recline from mount Gilead. The picture the words suggest is that of a herd of goats reclining on the slopes of mount Gilead, and raising their heads when disturbed. This gives a picture of rows of goats reclining on an undulating slope, and this latter is the point of comparison. For, if the Heb. gâleshû is connected with the Arabic galasa, as seems likely, it means ‘to sit up after lying down.’ It may be doubted however whether so much can be legitimately put by pregnant construction into the from. Budde connects the word with the movement of the herds, and refers to the late Heb. gâlash, which means ‘to boil up,’ and is used of water. Levy also, sub voce, translates this passage, “which go by in waves”; F. Delitzsch’s “swarm forth from,” quoted in the Variorum Bible, is practically the same. Budde says mount Gilead is the S. portion of the range called now the Belqa, which is mostly pasture land. It lies within view of Judah and Jerusalem.
Chap. Song of Solomon 4:1-7. The Royal Suitor
King Solomon is here the speaker, and in these verses he presses his suit anew by praise of the Shulammite’s beauty. The whole song is evidently modelled, as several of the succeeding songs are, on the wasf or description of the bride, which is so prominent a thing at marriage festivals in Syria to this day. To have established this is Wetzstein’s great merit, for until his Essay on the Threshing-Board appeared these descriptions were to a large extent inexplicable. But the discovery that the wasf is an ancient form of song connected by prescription with love and marriage explains its appearance here. In a series of love-songs disposed so as to give scenes of a connected narrative, it was natural and almost inevitable that the wasf should be imitated. It has been noticed by many that the spontaneity and originality of the other poems disappear in these descriptions. This is due to their being written according to a stereotyped form. That the wasf was imitated when no regular marriage wasf was intended, but only a love-song, is proved by the fact that in one of the Mu‘allaqât, the seven poems said to have been hung in the Caaba at Mekka in pre-Islamic times, that viz. of Amru ibn Kulthum, in Song of Solomon 4:13-16 inclusive, there is a description of a woman much in the tone of this.
Thy teeth are like a flock of sheep that are even shorn, which came up from the washing; whereof every one bear twins, and none is barren among them.2. The A.V. has supplied a great deal in the first clause, and has diverted the comparison thereby from the whiteness to the evenness of the teeth. The comparison is really this, Thy teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep which have come up from the washing, i.e. they are white as a flock of sheep in their most spotlessly white condition. The smoothness of the teeth may also be referred to in the simile.
whereof every one beareth twins, and none is barren among them] There is a play on words here such as Orientals love. ‘All of whom’ is shekkullâm, and ‘a barren,’ or rather, ‘a childless one,’ is shakkûlâh. In the R.V. margin the clause is translated, which are all of them in pairs, and undoubtedly that is the idea meant to be conveyed. The teeth run accurately in pairs, the upper corresponding to the lower, and none of them is wanting. But the Hiph. participle math’îmôth can hardly mean anything, according to O.T. usage, but ‘producing twins.’ Cp. the word for ‘producing a firstborn’ in Jeremiah 4:31. Consequently the leading commentators retain this meaning. It would also seem to be demanded by the use of the word shakkûlâh, ‘bereaved,’ for that too implies that the individual teeth are compared to mothers. The only thing in favour of the R.V. margin is that in the Talmud this same Hiph. is used in the meaning ‘to be twins.’ (Cp. Levy, Neuhebr. Wörterb. IV. 622.) As the language of the Song has in some respects affinities with late Heb., the word may have the same signification here. Certainly, if that view be not taken, the last clause of the verse can be only a rhetorical expansion of the simile, to indicate that the sheep to which the teeth are compared are in full health.
Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely: thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.3. like a thread of scarlet] i.e. she has thin red lips. The word for ‘red’ here is shânî=‘cochineal.’ In Arabic its name is qirmiz, hence our word ‘crimson.’
thy speech] thy mouth. The word used here, midhbâr, is an unusual one in this sense.
thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks] Better, thy cheeks are like the rift of a pomegranate behind thy veil. Properly raqqâh means the thin part of the skull, from râqaq=‘to be thin,’ i.e. the temple; but, as in other languages, both cheeks and temple may be included in the one term. The meaning here is either that the temples strictly so called gleam through the slit of the veil, as the mingled white and red of the inside of a pomegranate gleam through the cracks of the rind, or if pelach means ‘a piece,’ the comparison is of the cheeks to the rounded form and ruddy colour of a section of this fruit.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.4. for an armoury] lěthalpiyyôth. This rendering of a very difficult word follows the Talmud, which takes it to be a compound of tal, a form of the const. of tel, and piyyôth = ‘edges,’ i.e. swords. That gives ‘a mound in which swords were stored,’ ‘an armoury.’ But to compare a beautiful neck to a mound is impossible, and to call swords simply edges in a common name like this, would be very strange. Ewald renders ‘built for war hosts,’ connecting talpiyyôth with a similar Arabic word having that meaning. Delitzsch on the other hand translates, ‘built in or according to terraces.’ Perhaps the best rendering is Rothstein’s, built for trophies. He takes the root to be lâphâh, which in late Heb. in Aphel means to set in rows. Talpiyyôth would then be ‘repetitions of the act of setting in rows,’ and then ‘the things so set.’ The bride’s neck would, in that case, be compared to a tower adorned with trophies. Margoliouth in the Expositor, Jan. 1900, p. 45, takes the word to be a proper name. He points out that the LXX take it for the name of a place, and that the Arabic geographer Yakut says, Talfiatha is one of the villages of the ghutah or plain of Damascus. He would therefore translate, ‘the tower of David built towards Talpioth,’ and compares Song of Solomon 7:4, “the tower of Lebanon which looks towards Damascus.” But can built to mean built so as to face?
whereon there hang a thousand bucklers] Heb. the thousand bucklers, denoting that those referred to were known as belonging to the tower of David. For shields hung as adornments, cp. Ezekiel 27:11, where of the gallant ship which is Tyre, it is said, “they hanged their shields upon thy walls round about, they have perfected thy beauty.” Cp. Davidson, in loc., and 1Ma 4:57.
shields of mighty men] The Heb. here is shiltç hag-gibbôrîm. Shelet is generally translated shield, but Dr Barnes in the Expository Times, Oct. 1898, p. 48, deals very exhaustively with the word, and comes to the conclusion that it means armour, or equipment. In that case the translation would be, ‘all the equipments of the heroes.’ But shields hung round a tower might be used as a comparison for a beautiful neck adorned with jewels; suits of armour would not be so appropriate.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins, which feed among the lilies.5. two young roes, &c.] two fawns that are twins of a gazelle.
which feed among the lilies] pasturing among the lilies. Probably the comparison is meant to be limited merely to the twin fawns, and the feeding among the lilies is simply a familiar and somewhat conventional background (cp. Song of Solomon 2:16 and Song of Solomon 6:2-3), intended to complete the picture of the fawns in their native haunts.
Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, I will get me to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense.6. Until the day break] As in Song of Solomon 3:7 we must translate, Until the day cool and the shadows have fled, i.e. until the evening. This verse, by its transition to action on the part of one of the chief speakers, a thing that does not occur in the bridal wasf, shews that we have not here a regular wasf. Budde and Bickell would consequently omit it.
to the mountain of myrrh, and to the hill of frankincense] This is taken by Oettli to mean, ‘I will get me into a garden of spices in hilly ground.’ He supposes that Solomon, thinking he has triumphed, says he will go away to a garden where he has planted exotic plants, and will return in the evening. This seems much preferable to the interpretations which find in these words allegorical references to the person of the bride. Cheyne would read Hermon for ‘myrrh’ (Heb. mor) and Lebanon for ‘frankincense’ (Heb. lebhônâh). But no one could say that he was going on one afternoon to both Lebanon and Hermon, which is the highest peak of Anti-Libanus. The emendation would be feasible only if the whole complex of mountains were included in the name Lebanon.
Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee.
Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse, with me from Lebanon: look from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards.8. The order of the words in the Heb. is specially, emphatic, With me from Lebanon, O bride, with me from Lebanon do thou come. Evidently a contrast between the speaker and some other is here intended. Come with me, do not remain with him. This strongly supports the view that Solomon is endeavouring to win the maiden’s love which has been given to another. Budde, finding the verse quite unintelligible on his hypothesis, excises it, but violence of that kind is not necessary. The Shulammite is at this point in some royal residence in the Lebanon, and her lover calls upon her to leave Solomon and come with him to her home. The reference to lions and leopards may be intended to indicate also her hostile surroundings in other respects. Cp. the Mo‘allaqa of Antar, Song of Solomon 5:6, where the loved one among a hostile tribe is said to be “dwelling among the roaring ones,” i.e. the lions. Lions formerly inhabited Bashan at least, cp. Deuteronomy 33:22. Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 116, says they lingered in Palestine till the time of the Crusades, and they are mentioned as living about Samaria by historians of the 12th century. Leopards are and always have been common in Palestine. They are a pest to herdsmen in Gilead even now. (Tristram, p. 113.)
look from the top of Amana] The verb shûr has generally in Heb. the meaning ‘to look round’; but in common with other verbs of looking in a direction, it also means ‘to go in a direction’ (Isaiah 57:9). Occurring as it does in this passage in parallelism with ‘come,’ it most probably has the latter meaning. Cp. R.V. marg. We should therefore translate depart from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, from the lions’ dens, &c. In this way too the lions’ dens and the mountains of the leopards gain a significance which they have not if the word be translated look. He warns her to flee from Lebanon as being full of dangers. Ămânâ is generally held to be the district in which the river Ămânâh (2 Kings 5:12, Qěrç for the Kěthîbh, Ăbânâh) rises. This is either the Barada which flows from Anti-Libanus, or the other river of Damascus, which flows from the slopes of Hermon. Others, as Budde, think of the Amanus of the ancients, i.e. the spur of the Taurus lying to the north of the Orontes. The former is much the more probable.
Shenir] or Senir. Hermon is the highest peak of the Anti-Lebanon range. It is called Sion in Deuteronomy 4:48. By the Amorites it was called Sěnîr, and by the Sidonians Siryôn (Deuteronomy 3:9). It has three peaks, and the names Hermon and Sěnîr, distinguished in 1 Chronicles 5:23, Song of Solomon 4:8, may refer to two of the peaks. Cp. the Hermons of Psalm 42:6 (Oxf. Lex. p. 356).
Chap. Song of Solomon 4:8–Chap. Song of Solomon 5:1. A true Lover’s Pleading
With Song of Solomon 4:8 a new song, representing another scene, begins. In it the peasant lover of the Shulammite comes to beseech her to flee from the mountain region where she is detained, the home of wild beasts and the scene of other dangers. In Song of Solomon 4:9-15 he breaks forth into a passionate lyric, expressive of his love for her, and in Song of Solomon 4:16 she replies, yielding to his love and his entreaties. Ch. Song of Solomon 5:1 contains his reply.
Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck.9. Thou hast ravished my heart] This clause is represented by one word in Heb., a denom. Piel verb, formed from the noun lçbhâbh = ‘heart.’ According to usage this might mean either ‘thou hast heartened me,’ i.e. as R.V. marg., given me courage, or ‘thou hast disheartened me,’ or stolen my heart away. The latter is the view of the A.V. and the preferable view. The translation, ravish, with its primary meaning ‘to carry off by violence,’ and its secondary one ‘to enchant’ or ‘charm,’ exactly corresponds to the Heb.
my sister, my spouse] R.V. my bride. The double name, as Budde remarks, can hardly have any other signification than an increase of tenderness, cp. Song of Solomon 8:1, “O that thou wert my brother.” My sister bride occurs only in this chap. and in ch. Song of Solomon 5:1, but, as Budde observes, in the ancient Egyptian love-songs, edited by Maspéro and Spiegelberg, ‘my sister’ and ‘my brother’ are the standing names for the lovers.
with one of thine eyes] From the use of the prep. min=‘from,’ with eyes here, and from the fact that in the text achaih, the masculine form of the numeral, stands, it is probable that some word such as ‘glance’ should be understood. Then we should translate, with one glance of thine eyes.
with one chain of thy neck] Chain here means a part of the necklace, but whether it means a single chain of the necklace, or a pearl or pendant is uncertain. Usage, in the only passages where the word occurs again, Jdg 8:26, and Proverbs 1:9, certainly is in favour of chain.
How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices!10. How fair is thy love] How sweet are thy caresses. In the next clause also, love should be caresses.
spices] Better, perfumes.
Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.11. drop as the honeycomb] Rather, drop virgin honey. Nôpheth is honey that drops from the comb of itself. Budde understands this verse of the sweetness of kisses. Oettli and others think the ‘virgin honey’ means loving words. Analogy, both in the Scriptures and in profane poetry, is in favour of the second view. In Proverbs 5:3 we have the very same phrase as here. “The lips of the strange woman drop honey.” That kisses are not meant there, is clear from the second clause, “and her palate is smoother than oil.” Cp. Theocritus, Idyll xx. 26, quoted by Ginsburg:
“More sweet my lips than milk in luscious rills,
Lips whence the honey, as I speak, distils.”
Cp. also Proverbs 16:24, “Pleasant words are as a honeycomb.”
the smell of Lebanon] Owing to the aromatic shrubs of a peculiarly penetrating and pleasant odour which grow everywhere in Lebanon, anyone who has once lived there would recognise where he was, even if he had been suddenly transported thither again blindfold. This odour, and not the perfume of the cedars, is probably the ‘smell of Lebanon’ here referred to.
A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.12. a spring shut up] The word rendered spring is gal, not found elsewhere in this sense. Another derivative from the same root is used in Joshua 15:19 and Jdg 1:15 in a similar sense. Some MSS., the LXX, the Vulg. and Syr. have gan=‘a garden,’ repeated, and Budde with others prefers this reading. But it is difficult to see why the perfectly simple and satisfactory gan should have been changed into the more difficult gal. The only argument for gan which seems to have much weight is that the ‘spring’ is mentioned again immediately under another name. But that is met by Delitzsch, who distinguishes the ‘spring’ from the ‘fountain’; the latter being the place whence the former issues forth.
a fountain sealed] Cp. Proverbs 5:15-18. The fountain is the condition precedent of the garden, so that the metaphor is not changed. Perhaps the three nouns of the verse should be distinguished thus: A garden shut in is my sister my bride, a streamlet shut in, a sealed spring. Del. points out that chôthâm, ‘a seal,’ is used directly of maiden-like behaviour.
12–15. These verses are a further comparison of the bride in her beauty to a garden in its splendour of colour and its fertility, but a garden shut or closed to all but its lawful owner. The reference is to her modesty and chastity. Nâ‘ûl is properly shut and bolted.
Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,13. Thy plants are an orchard] Better, Thy shoots make an orchard. These shoots denote all the bride’s charms. Orchard is in Heb. pardçs, which is merely a grander word for gan, and is originally Persian=‘a paradise.’ It is found elsewhere in the O.T. only in Nehemiah 2:8 and Ecclesiastes 2:5. It is usually and rightly regarded as a proof of the late origin of this book. Cp. Introduction, § 4.
pleasant fruits] Lit. fruits of excellence, R.V. precious fruits.
camphire] Properly, henna. See note on ch. Song of Solomon 1:14.
spikenard] Cp. ch. Song of Solomon 1:12. Grätz for nerâdhîm reads werâdhîm = roses. Rather than that Budde would strike out the last three words as a repetition. But either suggestion would detract from the poetical character of the passage.
Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:14. saffron] Heb. karkôm occurs in the O.T. only here, but its meaning is clear from the Arabic kurkum = the Crocus sativus. There are many species of crocus in Palestine, and from most of them saffron is obtained. The women and children gather the pistil and stigma from the centre of each flower. These are dried in the sun and then pounded. It is used for a condiment. The name ‘saffron’ is merely the Arabic zafran = ‘yellow.’ The best saffron is of an orange-red colour. See Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 480.
calamus] Heb. qâneh, i.e. ‘aromatic reed.’ According to Tristram, p. 438, who makes a careful collation of all the passages in which the word occurs, this is not a sweet cane like the sugar-cane, but an aromatic cane imported from the East, either from Arabia Felix, or more probably from India. It is the same as the qeneh bôsem, the ‘sweet calamus’ of Exodus 30:23.
cinnamon] Heb. qinnâmôn, our cinnamon, a plant unknown in Syria. It is a native of Ceylon, and belongs to the family of the laurels. The tree attains to the height of 30 feet and has a white blossom. The spice is simply the inner rind separated from the outer bark and dried in the sun. See Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 346.
trees of frankincense] For frankincense see ch. Song of Solomon 3:6.
aloes] A stately tree (Numbers 24:6) from which some aromatic substance was derived. It has generally been identified, according to Tristram (p. 333), with the Aquilaria agallocha, the eagle wood, found in Cochin China and Silhet in Northern India. This tree attains a height of 120 feet, and from it a costly perfume is extracted, which yields a fragrant odour when burned. The Enc. Brit., sub voce, supposes that it more probably is the Aquilaria malaccensis, found in the Malayan Peninsula, from which it would more easily find its way into Palestine in Biblical times than the other from North India. Cp. article ‘Aloes,’ Encycl. Bibl. vol. 1. p. 121.
the chief spices] i.e. the chief spice-bearing trees. It is notable that all the trees of this ‘paradise’ are rare exotics, probably to hint that the bride’s charms are as rare and as much to be admired as such plants are. But the rare and foreign character of all the objects to which the bride is compared is entirely incompatible with the supposition that our book is a collection of popular songs (Volkslieder). In them the comparisons are always with homely well-known objects.
A fountain of gardens, a well of living waters, and streams from Lebanon.15. a fountain of gardens, &c.] Some take these words as vocatives, but more probably thou art is to be understood as in R.V. Budde would read ‘my garden’ (gannî) for ‘gardens’ (gannîm), and would translate, “The fountain of my garden is a well of living waters.” This is supported by the reading of the LXX, for they, from their having πηγὴ κήπου καὶ would seem to have read not gannîm but gannô, i.e. ‘his garden,’ the Heb. letter waw being the sign for both his and and. But that would give no meaning here. The probability therefore is that the reading the Greek translators really had before them was gannî, i and o being hardly distinguishable in the writing then in use. Moreover, it would give a better arrangement of the text. In Song of Solomon 4:12 the bride is compared to a garden and a spring. Song of Solomon 4:13-14 expand and particularise the garden simile. By Budde’s reading Song of Solomon 4:15 becomes a similar expansion of the spring simile. We should then read, thou art the fountain of my garden, a well of living, i.e. flowing, waters, and rushing Lebanon streams. She is the source of all the joy and refreshment of his existence, just as a fountain is the cause of all the coolness and shade of the garden which it waters.
Awake, O north wind; and come, thou south; blow upon my garden, that the spices thereof may flow out. Let my beloved come into his garden, and eat his pleasant fruits.16. It is doubtful whether this whole verse is spoken by the Shulammite, or the latter clause only, her lover being still the speaker in the first half of the verse. That he is still the speaker in the first clause is suggested by ‘my garden’ in Song of Solomon 4:16 b and ‘his garden’ in Song of Solomon 4:16 c. But the change of pronoun is quite compatible with the view that the bride is the speaker throughout. My garden would then be ‘myself,’ ‘my person,’ as in ch. Song of Solomon 1:6, ‘my vineyard.’ His garden again, in the mouth of the Shulammite indicates, as Oettli well remarks, “a certain shamefast modesty.” Probably the view that the bride speaks the whole verse is preferable.
Awake, O north wind] The north wind is cool in Palestine, and the south or south-west wind is warm. They are here called upon to bring forth, by their alternation, the perfumes (not the spices) of the garden, that they may flow out, i.e. she desires that the graces of her person and her mind may come to their highest perfection. This would be more appropriate in the mouth of the bride, who like all true lovers would desire to be nobler and more beautiful than she is, that her lover might find her worthy, than in the mouth of her lover, who would naturally think of her as being altogether fair.
Let my beloved come into his garden, &c.] This last clause of the verse is spoken, it should be remembered, by a loving woman shut up in a royal dwelling away from her lover, and expresses her longing for the time when she shall be wholly his.
pleasant fruits] R.V. precious fruits, as in Song of Solomon 4:13.