Song of Solomon 8
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised.
Ch. Song of Solomon 8:1. O that thou wert as my brother] As should probably be omitted, as the accidental repetition of the last letter of the preceding word. She wishes that her lover were her brother. That she should wish that being her lover he were in the same position in regard to her as a brother would have occupied, does not seem to be likely. What she desires is freedom to love him and to express that love. Had he been her brother she would have had that liberty. Only the uterine brother and the father’s brother’s son have among the Bedawin the right to kiss a maiden. Cp. Wetzstein, ZDMG. XXII. pp. 93, 108. Such a wish as this seems quite incompatible with the view that the Song is a collection of songs sung at weddings after the marriage has been consummated.

when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee] Better, so that, should I find thee without, I might kiss thee, and yet none would despise me. She would in that case be doing nothing unmaidenly, nothing for which she could be held in contempt, in shewing her love.

I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.
2. The bride thinks with delight of the close familiar intercourse she would in that case have had with him.

who would instruct me] The verb here may be either 3rd pers. sing. fem. as the A.V. takes it, or 2nd pers. sing. masc. as the Vulgate and Targum take it. In the latter case the translation would be, ‘thou wilt instruct me,’ or as R.V. margin, ‘that thou mightest instruct me.’ If we adopt the former view, the meaning must be that the Shulammite’s mother would instruct her how to play a maiden’s part to her betrothed lover; if the latter, that her lover would be able to impart to her his wisdom. But in both cases the wish that he had been her brother must be understood to have been given up, or lost sight of; and in the latter it may be doubted whether this exaltation of the wisdom of the beloved is an Eastern trait at all, unless the instruction is instruction in agriculture, as Oettli suggests, comparing Isaiah 28:23-28 and ch. Song of Solomon 7:12. That is surely too prosaic. But in ch. Song of Solomon 3:4 the clause “until I had brought him into my mother’s house” is followed by the words, “and into the chamber of her that conceived me,” and the LXX and the Syriac actually have these words here in place of who would instruct me. This reading would keep the whole clause in harmony with the wish in Song of Solomon 8:1, and probably should be accepted.

of the juice of my pomegranate] Rather, my new pomegranate wine. Âsîs is the juice of grapes or other fruit, trodden out in the wine-press and fermented quickly; cp. Isaiah 49:26, “As with ’âsîs they shall be drunk with their own blood”; Joel 1:5; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13. Tristram (Nat. Hist. p. 388) says of the pomegranate, “The juice was and still is expressed for a cooling drink, or sherbet, and sometimes also fermented into a light wine. It is now commonly used in the East with sugar or spices, and then strained before being fermented. The wine of the pomegranate does not keep long and is very light.”

His left hand should be under my head, and his right hand should embrace me.
3. The bride here repeats in other words what she has already spoken of in Song of Solomon 8:1, and losing herself in the anticipation of that which she had before regarded only as a possibility, she drops into the use of the third personal pronoun in her rapture, though she has been addressing her lover hitherto.

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.
4. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem] Rather, as in R.V., I adjure you … nor awaken love, until it please. This verse is a repetition of Song of Solomon 2:7 and Song of Solomon 3:5 with the difference that, instead of im = that … not, we have here mah = why. The A.V. translates this mah as ‘not.’ Cp. Job 31:1, where an interrogative mah is translated οὐ by the LXX and non by the Vulg. But in form our clause is interrogative, ‘Why would ye stir up or awake love until it should please?’ i.e. you see it was quite unnecessary to try to rouse love before its time. Your experience must teach you how vain it has been to attempt to arouse it prematurely, and how certain it would be to awake at the proper time.

Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? I raised thee up under the apple tree: there thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee.
5. the wilderness] i.e. the uncultivated open pasture lands round the village. This again is an insurmountable difficulty for Budde, as the same word in Song of Solomon 3:6 was. Siegfried boldly tries to get over the difficulty by saying that the threshing-floor lay in the midhbâr, and in Wetzstein’s account the marriage procession is said to move from the chaff-barn towards the threshing-floor. But unfortunately, the procession, if procession it be, is described as coming from the midhbâr. Moreover, to make the threshing-floor a part of the midhbâr is unheard of.

leaning upon her beloved] i.e. she was supporting herself as weary with the journey.

I raised thee] The pronouns thee and thy in the last clauses of this verse are masculine in the Massoretic text, and consequently make the Shulammite address the bridegroom. But the Syriac, which is followed by many commentators, reads the pronouns as feminine. The question is one of vowels, as the consonantal text is the same for both readings, and in all probability the feminine suffixes are correct, for no one’s mother but the bride’s has hitherto been spoken of, and the words are better suited to the bridegroom than to the bride. The clause should be rendered as in the R.V. I awakened thee. The lover, as he approaches the maiden’s home, points out places that are memorable to him. Under this apple tree he had, perhaps, kissed her awake. Cp. Tennyson’s Sleeping Beauty. This is better than, ‘here I first aroused thy love.’

there] i.e. yonder, not under the apple tree, but in the house they are approaching.

thy mother brought thee forth: there she brought thee forth that bare thee] Better, as in the R.V., thy mother was in travail with thee, there was she in travail that brought thee forth.

Chap. Song of Solomon 8:5-7. The Return in the Might of Love

The scene depicted in these verses is the return of the Shulammite with her lover to the village. As they draw near she leans upon him in weariness, and they are observed by some of the villagers, who ask the question in Song of Solomon 8:5 a. The lovers meantime come slowly on, and as they come he points out an apple tree under which he had once found her sleeping and awaked her, and then as they come in sight of it, he points to her birthplace, her mother’s home. In Song of Solomon 8:6-7 the Shulammite utters that great panegyric of love which is the climax and glory of the book. Because of this power of love which she feels in her heart she beseeches her lover to bind her closely to himself. For the Wetzstein-Budde theory these verses are full of insuperable difficulty. Such personal details as we have here cannot be made to fit into a collection of general wedding songs, and the advocates of that view have simply to give them up as a mere congeries of fragments. Taken as above, everything is simple, intelligible and natural.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame.
6. As seals are not impressed upon the heart, nor upon the arm, we must understand here the ring seals which were bound round the neck with a cord (Genesis 38:18) and carried in the bosom, or which were worn on the finger (Jeremiah 22:24). This last passage interprets the bride’s request. She wishes to be united in the closest way with her lover, and to be valued as his most precious possessions were valued. Cp. Haggai 2:23. Budde, perhaps rightly, would put for the second châthôm=‘seal,’ some word like tsâmîdh, signifying a bracelet. Cp. Tennyson’s Miller’s Daughter, where the lover longs to be a jewel in his lady’s ear:

“It is the miller’s daughter,

And she is grown so dear, so dear,

That I would be the jewel,

That trembles in her ear.”

strong as death] Love is as irresistible as death, which none can escape.

jealousy is cruel as the grave] Jealousy is as unrelenting as Sheol, the place of the dead, from which none can ever escape; cp. Proverbs 27:20. The meaning is that love and jealousy have irresistible power over those whom they bring under their sway. Her reference to jealousy would seem to shew that she fears the effect of her love upon herself, if he should not join himself indissolubly with her.

the coals thereof are coals of fire] R.V. The flashes thereof are flashes of fire. Love glows and burns in the heart like flame.

a most vehement flame] Heb. shalhebheth yâh, a flame of Jah, i.e. a flame of supernatural power, one that is kindled and cherished by God. Ewald with fair probability suggests that we should read, its flames are flames of Jah. For the thought compare Browning’s Any Wife to any Husband,

“It would not be because my eye grew dim

Thou couldst not find the love there, thanks to Him

Who never is dishonoured in the spark

He gave us from his fire of fires, and bade

Remember whence it sprang, nor be afraid

While that burns on, though all the rest grow dark.”

Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned.
7. Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it] Better, neither can rivers drown it. The word translated drown may also mean sweep away (cp. Isaiah 28:17): but as love has just been compared to a fire, and the waters in the first clause are said not to be able to quench it, it seems necessary to give to the verb in this clause the similar meaning of drown which it also has. Cp. Psalm 69:2. All this she has felt, and she beseeches her lover never to let her go, since otherwise she would be utterly forlorn and given up to the fury of unrelenting jealousy. In these verses we have the climax of the book. Even Budde says Song of Solomon 8:6-7 undoubtedly contain the deepest thing said of love in the book. The sensuous aspect of love falls entirely into the background, the whole nature is irresistibly seized and indissolubly bound to the beloved one. But that is not enough. It is towards this declaration that the author has been making from the first. Consequently this ethical conception of love should be regarded as underlying all that goes before, and the book thought of as a unity. The writer of these words must have had an ideal of love, with which the coarseness, inevitably found even in the most simple and deeply felt descriptions of natural scenery by those who regard the book as a collection of professional laudations of the more sensuous side of marriage, is totally incompatible. And this ideal must have been an elevating influence of very great importance for the moral life of a people among whom marriage was a mere matter of contract, and the price given for the bride a subject of pride, as it still is among Orientals. Immediately and inevitably this statement of the nature of love leads on to a condemnation of the common point of view in an arrow-like phrase, which having first transfixed the gorgeous and voluptuous Solomon, goes straight to the heart of the ordinary practice of the time.

if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be contemned] Better, he would be utterly despised. Literally, the words are ‘men would utterly despise him,’ or, ‘it.’ In this Budde sees only an ordinary commonplace of popular poetry. But surely its connexion with the previous verses raises it far above that level. It is the practical application of the deepest thing said in the book. But in any case it could not have been a commonplace at marriages such as have been described. To sing words like these at an ordinary Oriental wedding would have been little short of unseemly.

We have a little sister, and she hath no breasts: what shall we do for our sister in the day when she shall be spoken for?
8. she hath no breasts] She is not yet of marriageable age.

in the day when she shall be spoken for] i.e. when she is asked in marriage. Cp. 1 Samuel 25:39, R.V. This conversation too does not fit in well with Budde’s view, for it clearly implies some special story told of particular persons. How it could appear in a collection of songs for use at weddings in general it is difficult to see. The anger of the brothers mentioned in ch. Song of Solomon 1:6, and the sending of their sister into the vineyards, together with their over-anxiety here, can hardly be circumstances which regularly occurred and were regularly introduced in the songs at weddings. Budde says indeed that we have nothing here but an Oriental version of what is found in popular songs in Europe where the mother is informed very plainly that the daughter is grown up and seeks marriage. But that is by no means a parallel case. It is not the general fact of growing up unnoticed from childhood to womanhood that is dealt with here. It is such circumstances as can be accounted for only by events which were related in some well-known story.

8, 9. The Shulammite recalls her brothers’ scornful speeches.

Chap. Song of Solomon 8:8-14. Reminiscences and Triumphs

This section is one of those which weigh heavily on the side of the view that the Song is a series of dramatic lyrics rather than a connected drama. For as Oettli admits, it is very difficult to find place for such a scene as this in a drama. But taken as a dramatic lyric it has an almost exact analogy in Tennyson’s Maud, which he calls a melodrama, and which is made up of separate but connected poems. There we have in Part VII a song of four verses, referring to a conversation remembered by the hero of the poem as having taken place between his father and Maud’s, regarding his future marriage, if the child of the latter, at that time only expected, should prove to be a daughter. It is introduced quite abruptly as this song is here, and the circumstances have to be gathered from the words:

“Men were drinking together,

Drinking and talking of me,

‘Well, if it prove a girl, the boy

Will have plenty, so let it be’ ”;

and so on. Following that analogy, we have to imagine the bride now returned to her home and recalling what she had heard her brothers (Song of Solomon 1:6) say of her in the past (Song of Solomon 8:8-9). For the little sister is the Shulammite herself, as the choice of the figure of a wall for herself in Song of Solomon 8:10 shews. She recalls it, however, only to point out how unnecessary their anxiety about her had proved. In Song of Solomon 8:11-12 she finally shews her scorn for Solomon and his wealth. In Song of Solomon 8:13 her lover calls upon her to sing to his comrades; Song of Solomon 8:14 contains the words she sings.

If she be a wall, we will build upon her a palace of silver: and if she be a door, we will inclose her with boards of cedar.
9. If she be a wall] i.e. if she resist attacks and preserve her innocence, they will reward her by building upon her a battlement or turret of silver, i.e. they will adorn her, perhaps for her marriage, as the bride in ancient times wore a crown.

and if she be a door] i.e. if she be ready to permit an enemy to pass her defences, then they will fasten her up with a plank of cedar. The meaning is, that as men prevent a door from opening by fastening a plank across so that it cannot move, so they will take measures to prevent her from yielding to her weakness. The Heb. deleth means always strictly a door, never a doorway, which is pethach.

cedar] The plank is to be of cedar, because the wood of that tree is specially tough and indestructible, not at all like the soft red American cedar.

I am a wall, and my breasts like towers: then was I in his eyes as one that found favour.
10. I am a wall] or, I have been a wall. The bride here proudly claims that she has proved herself the sufficient guardian of her own honour. All her brothers’ anxieties were idle.

then was I in his eyes, &c.] The most obvious explanation of this phrase is that the Shulammite explains her return in safety by saying, ‘I have been, throughout, a wall and my breasts like towers, then was I in his (my oppressor’s) eyes as one finding peace’: that is to say, he dealt with her as a king deals with a city which he cannot capture, he made peace. This fits in admirably with the view that the bride had been besieged by Solomon’s attentions, and that she had resisted them. It also accounts for the mention of Solomon again in Song of Solomon 8:11-12. If ‘his’ be taken to refer to the lover, then the meaning would be: ‘When I had shewn my chastity and constancy, then I was in his eyes as one finding peace,’ i.e. I was favoured in my lover’s eyes. Budde, Siegfried, and Delitzsch can find no satisfactory explanation of this clause on their theories of the book.

Solomon had a vineyard at Baalhamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver.
11. Following up the same train of thought, that love could not be bought, she speaks of Solomon as a vineyard proprietor of exceptional wealth, who, as she implies, had attempted to add her to his possessions. He had failed in this, for her vineyard, the only wealth she has, viz. her person and her love, are in her own power, and Solomon will have to be content with the material riches he possesses. Some think that these verses are spoken by the bridegroom, but that is hardly so natural as that the bride, who has just been recalling her victory over Solomon, should continue her reminiscences.

Solomon had a vineyard] The meaning of this sentence might be expressed with or without the verb hâyâh. The verb being used here, some insist that Solomon is thereby thrust away back into the past, and cannot therefore be an actor in the book. But that is not necessary; cp. Isaiah 5:1, where the verb in the past tense is used of a vineyard still in its owner’s possession. The effect of the verb there is to shew that the possession of the vineyard extends over some considerable time. It involves a retrospect. That would seem to be the case here also. The bride is looking back over her past. She has just been speaking slightingly both of her brothers’ watchfulness and of Solomon’s wealth. If we might suppose that her brothers were the keepers of the king’s vineyard at Baal-hamon, then it would be very natural that her thoughts should turn at this point to the vineyard in which Solomon’s wealth and her brothers’ care as guardians were both exhibited.

at Baal-hamon] Oettli, following Rosenmüller, thinks this place is identical with Belamon or Balamon in Jdt 8:3, which, he says, was not far from Shunem, Dothan, and the plain of Esdraelon. If the keepers are the Shulammite’s brothers, Baal-hamon would naturally be in the neighbourhood of Shunem.

he let out] This is simply he gave, without any indication that it was rented; he gave it in charge to keepers.

every one … was to bring] Better, as Budde excellently translates it, anyone would gain 1000 shekels by its fruits, i.e. anyone who might sell the fruit would get 1000 shekels for it. Isaiah 7:23 is not parallel, since the price there mentioned is not the value of the produce as here, but the price of the vineyard, which would be sold for as many silver shekels as there were vines.

My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.
12. My vineyard, which is mine] This is an emphatic expression for my vineyard, in contrast to Solomon’s, and also as being her own exclusive possession.

is before me] is still in my possession, neither given away nor sold (Oettli), and is sufficiently guarded by me.

thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred] More literally, the thousand be to thee, O Solomon, and two hundred to those keeping (or watching) the fruit. The meaning seems to be, ‘O Solomon, you may keep the income of your vineyard, and the keepers may have their reward for their guardianship, but my vineyard is beyond your reach, and I have no need that my brothers or any others should guard it.

Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.
13. Here the bridegroom calls upon the Shulammite to let his companions, i.e. his friends who have come to congratulate him on his bride’s safe return, hear her voice.

Thou that dwellest in the gardens] She must be supposed to have gone into the garden. That was her chosen spot formerly, and it has become so again. Grätz would read, and probably rightly, instead of chabçrîm, chabçraî = ‘my companions.’ The absence of the article is anomalous with the former, while the m might easily arise from a doubling of the initial m of the next word.

hearken to thy voice] Rather, as R.V., for thy voice.

Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.
14. She sings this verse in answer to this demand.

Make haste] This should be flee. Oettli thinks this implies that as the bridegroom thought her voice lovely, and asked her to exhibit it to his friends, so she also desired him to shew his elastic gait. But probably the object of the verse is to end the poem with a repetition of the bride’s answer in Song of Solomon 2:17, when he formerly asked her to let him hear her voice. When he calls upon her to let his companions hear her voice, she sings the request she had formerly made to him in similar circumstances.

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