Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.IV.
(1) Locks.—Heb., tsammah, only besides in Song of Solomon 6:7 and Isaiah 47:2. The derivation, and the existence of cognate Arabic words, leave no doubt that it means veil. So, in Isaiah 47:2, the LXX. understood it, though here they have given the strange and meaningless translation, “out of thy silence,” which the Vulg. has still further mystified into “from that which lies hid within,” a rendering which has been a fruitful source of moral allusion to the more hidden beauties of the soul. If the veil was worn in ancient times in Palestine, as by Eastern ladies now, covering the lower part of the face, but allowing the eyes to be seen, the description is very appropriate.
That appear.—Marg., that eat of; Heb., galash: only here and in the corresponding passage, Song of Solomon 6:5. The word has had a variety of most contradictory interpretations. The Authorised Version follows the LXX., and has the support of Ewald’s great authority. The marginal eat of rests only on the existence of cognates in Syriac and Arabic = obtained, collected (see Lee’s Heb. Dict.), which would rather point to such a rendering as, “which they obtain from mount Gilead.” The Vulg., quœ ascenderunt, is followed by some commentators, though the bulk give the exactly opposite: “come down,” or “run down,” or “hang down from.” In such a difficulty only the context can decide, and any translation suggesting the dark hair flowing in masses round the shoulders is allowable. At the same time, from a tendency of the author to accumulate, and sometimes to confuse, his figures (Song of Solomon 4:12; Song of Solomon 4:15, Song of Solomon 5:12-13), probably here it is the long, soft, delicate, generally black hair of the Oriental goat which is compared to that of the lady, as well as the general appearance presented by the whole flock suspended on the mountain side.
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) Thy teeth . . . —i.e., white as newly washed sheep. The word translated shorn is only used as a synonym for sheep, as we see by comparison with Song of Solomon 6:6. The only other place where it is found is 2Kings 6:6, where it is used of cutting wood.
Bear twins.—The Hebrew word means “to make double.” But this may either be “to produce twins,” as in the text, or “to make pairs,” or “to occur in pairs,” a rendering which gives far better sense. The perfect and regular rows of teeth are exactly paired, upper to lower, like the sheep coming two and two from the washing, not one being bereaved of its fellow.
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) Speech.—Rather, mouth, as the parallelism shows.
Thy temples . . .—Rather, like a piece of pomegranate thy cheeks behind thy veil. (See Note to Song of Solomon 4:1.) “The pomegranate brings to my mind the blushes of my beloved, when her cheeks are covered with a modest resentment” (Persian Ode, quoted by Ginsburg from Sir Wm. Jones). For the pomegranate see Exodus 28:34. It naturally supplied to the Eastern poet the image for which the Western poet goes to the apple. “Her cheeks like apples which the sun hath rudded” (Spenser).
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury, whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.(4) Tower of David.—This is not likely to be identified, when even the towers of Phasaelus and Hippicus, minutely described by Josephus, cannot be found. The structure at the north-west angle, known since the Crusades as the “Tower of David,” is Herodian. No clue would be given by the words in the text, “builded for an armoury,” even were it certain that this is their right rendering. The LXX. regard the Heb. thalpiôth as a proper name. Rabbinical authority is in favour of “as a model for architects,” but most modern commentators, though differing as to the etymology, agree in giving the sense of the English Version, which the context seems to require. (Comp. Ezekiel 27:11 : “They hanged their shields upon thy walls round about; they have made thy beauty perfect.”) The shields and targets made by Solomon for the house in the forest of Lebanon may have suggested this addition to an image which is repeated in Song of Solomon 7:7, and, indeed, is too common to need remark. “Her snowy neck like a marble tower” (Spenser). “Her neck is like a stately tower” (Lodge).
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.—See Note, Song of Solomon 2:17. Until the day breathe = when evening is come. Commentators have tried to identify the mountain of myrrh and hill of frankincense, but these only carry on the thought of Song of Solomon 4:5 under another figure. We have come to another break in the poem, the end of another day, and, as before, though the metaphor is changed, the curtain falls on the complete union of the bridegroom with his bride.
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) Come with me.—Better, to me. LXX., hither; so Vulg. and Luther, reading athî, imperative of athah, instead of ittî = with me, or more properly, as regards me. The reading involved only a difference of vowel points, and is to be preferred. We have here another reminiscence of the obstacles which had attended the union of the pair under another figure. The course of true love, which never yet, in East or West, ran smooth, is beset here by tremendous difficulties, symbolised by the rocks and snows of the range of Lebanon, which shut in the poet’s northern home, and the wild beasts that haunted these regions. Like Tennyson’s shepherd, he believes that “love is of the valleys,” and calls to her to come down to him from her inaccessible heights. The word Shûr translated in English Version look, has properly in the LXX. its primitive meaning, come. To suppose a literal journey, as some do, to these peaks of the mountain chain one after another, is absurd. They are named as emblems of height and difficulty. Shenîr (Senir, 1Chronicles 5:23) is one of the peaks of Hermon. Amana has been conjectured to be a name for the district of Anti-Libanus in which the Abana (Barada) has its source, but nothing is certain about it. The appellative spouse first occurs in this verse. In Hebrew it is khallah, and is translated in the Authorised Version either “daughter-in-law,” or “bride,” or “spouse,” according as the relationship, now made complete by marriage, is regarded from the point of view of the parents of the bridegroom or of himself (e.g., daughter-in-law, Genesis 11:31; Genesis 38:11; Leviticus 20:22; Micah 7:6, &c; bride, Isaiah 49:18; Isaiah 61:10; Isaiah 62:5, &c.). Its use does not by itself prove that the pair were united in wedlock, because in the next verse the word sister is joined to spouse, and it may, therefore, be only a stronger term of endearment, and in any case, when put into the lover’s mouth while describing the difficulties in the way of union, it is proleptic; but its presence strongly confirms the impression produced by the whole poem, that it describes over and over again the courtship and marriage of the same couple. For lion see Genesis 49:9. The leopard was formerly very common in Palestine, as the name Bethnimrah, i.e., house of leopards (Numbers 32:36) shows. (Comp. Jeremiah 5:6, Hosea 13:7.) Nor is it rare now. “In the forest of Gilead it is still so numerous as to be a pest to the herdsmen” (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bibl., p. 113).
The LXX. translate amana by πίστις, and this has been turned into an argument for the allegorical treatment of the book. But it is a very common error of the LXX. to translate proper names. (Comp. Song of Solomon 6:4.)
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) Ravished.—Marg., taken away, whereas many (including Herder, Ewald, &c) give an exactly opposite sense: “thou hast given me heart, emboldened me.” The literal, “thou hast hearted (libabtinî) me,” if we can so say, may mean either; the language of love would approve either stolen my heart or given me thine. But the reference to “chain”—anak (a form occurring also in Judges 8:26; Proverbs 1:9) seems to confirm the rendering of the Authorised Version. His heart has been caught, the poet playfully says, by the neck-chain. Tennyson’s
“Thy rose lips and full-blown eyes
Take the heart from out my breast,”
gives the feeling of the passage.
A garden inclosed is my sister, my spouse; a spring shut up, a fountain sealed.(12) A garden inclosed.—Comp. with this passage Song of Solomon 4:12-15; Proverbs 5:15; Proverbs 5:21. The closed or walled garden and the sealed fountain appear to have been established metaphors for the pure and chaste wife. For the latter, at least, there is not only the above passage in Proverbs, but a prayer still in use in Jewish marriages: “Suffer not a stranger to enter into the sealed fountain,” &c
Thy plants are an orchard of pomegranates, with pleasant fruits; camphire, with spikenard,(13) Thy plants.—Some have thought the offspring of the marriage intended here; but the poet is plainly, by a new adaptation of the language of flowers, describing the charms of the person of his beloved.
Orchard.—Heb. pardes; LXX. παράδεισος; found only elsewhere in Nehemiah 2:8 (where see Note), Ecclesiastes 2:5. The pomegranate was perhaps an emblem of love, having been held sacred to the Syrian Venus. (See Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 389.)
Camphire.—See Note, Song of Solomon 1:14.
Spikenard and saffron; calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense; myrrh and aloes, with all the chief spices:(14) Spikenard.—See Note, Song of Solomon 1:12. Saffron; Heb. carchom; only here. The Arabic name is still kûrkûm = Crocus sativus, a well-known bulb of the order Iridaceœ. The pistil and stigma. dried, form the saffron.
Calamus.—Heb. kâneh. (Comp. kâneh bosem = sweet calamus, Exodus 30:23; k. hottôv—sweet cane, Jeremiah 6:20.) There are many sweet grasses in India and the East. Andropogon calamus aromaticus has been identified (Royle) with the “reed of fragrance” of Exodus, and Jeremiah’s “good reed from a far country,” but the identification is not to be implicitly accepted. (See Bible Educator, Vol. I., p. 245.)
Cinnamon.—Heb. kinnamôn probably included Cinnamomum Zeylanicum (cinnamon) and Cinnamomum cassia (Cassia lignea). (See Bible Educator, Vol. I., p. 245.) The rind of the plant is the “cinnamon” in use. The plant belongs to the family of laurels, and grows in Ceylon, on the Malabar coast, and in East Indian Islands. It attains a height of from twenty to thirty feet, having numerous boughs, bearing leaves of a scarlet colour when young, but changing to a bright green, and white blossoms.
Aloes.—See Note, Numbers 24:6.
With all the chief spices.—“That in thy sweet all sweets encloses” (H. Constable).
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) Blow upon my garden.—After the description of his beloved’s charms under these figures, the poet, under a companion figure, invokes the “airs of love” to blow upon the garden, that its perfumes may “flow out” for him—that the object of his affections may no longer keep herself reserved and denied to him. Tennyson’s melodious lines are recalled which describe how, when a breeze of morning moves,
“The woodbine spices are wafted abroad,
And the musk of the roses blown.”
Let my beloved . . .—This should form a separate verse, being the reply made to the appeal in the first part of the verse. The maiden yields to her lover’s suit.