Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.VI.
(1-3) Whither is thy beloved gone . . . By a playful turn the poet heightens the description of the lover’s beauty by the impression supposed to be produced on the imaginary bystanders to whom the picture has been exhibited. They express a desire to share the pleasures of his company with the heroine, but she, under the figure before employed (Song of Solomon 4:12-16), declares that his affections are solely hers, and that, so far from being at their disposal, he is even now hastening to complete his and her happiness in their union. Difficulties crowd on the dramatic theory at this passage. Most of its advocates have recourse to some arbitrary insertion, such as, “here the lovers are re-united,” but they do not tell us how the distance from the harem at Jerusalem to the garden in the north was traversed, or the obstacles to the union surmounted. In the imagination of the poet all was easy and natural.
Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.(4) Beautiful . . . as Tirzah.—There is no sufficient reason for the employment of Tirzah side by side with Jerusalem in this comparison but the fact that they were both capitals, the one of the northern, the other of the southern kingdom. This fixes the date of the composition of the poem within certain limits (see Excursus I.). Jeroboam first selected the ancient sanctuary of Shechem for his capital; but, from some unexplained cause, moved the seat of his government, first to Penuel, on the other side Jordan, and then to Tirzah, formerly the seat of a petty Canaanite prince. (See 1Kings 12:25; 1Kings 14:17; 1Kings 15:21; 1Kings 15:33; 1Kings 16:6; 1Kings 16:8; 1Kings 16:15; 1Kings 16:18; 1Kings 16:23; Joshua 12:24.) Robinson identified Tirzah with Tellûzah, not far from Mount Ebal, which agrees with Brocardus, who places Thersa on a high mountain, three degrees from Samaria to the east. Tirzah only remained the capital till the reign of Omri, but comes into notice again as the scene of the conspiracy of Menahem against Shallum (2Kings 15:14-16). The LXX. translate Tirzah by εὐδοκία, Vulg. suavis; and the ancient versions generally adopt this plan, to avoid, as Dr. Ginsburg thinks, the mention of the two capitals, because this made against the Solomonic authorship.
As Jerusalem.—See Lamentations 2:15. As to the idea involved in a comparison so strange to us, we notice that this author is especially fond of finding a resemblance between his love and familiar localities (see Song of Solomon 5:15; Song of Solomon 7:4-5); nor was it strange in a language that delighted in personifying a nation or city under the character of a maiden (Isaiah 47:1), and which, ten centuries later, could describe the new Jerusalem as a bride coming down from heaven adorned for her husband (Revelation 21:9, seqq.).
An army with banners.—Heb. nidgalôth, participle of niphal conjugation = bannered. (Comp.—
“And what are cheeks, but ensigns oft,
That wave hot youth to fields of blood?”)
Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.(5) Overcome.—Marg., puffed up; Heb. hirîbunî, from the verb rahab, a word whose root-idea seems to be to show spirit against oppression or prejudice. (See Isaiah 3:5; Proverbs 6:3.) The Hiphil therefore = make me spirited, or bold. (Comp. Psalm 138:3.) The LXX. and Vulg., however, followed by many moderns, take it in the sense of scare or dazzle.
For the rest of the description, see Note, Song of Solomon 4:1, seqq.
There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.(8) There are threescore queens.—Presumably a description of Solomon’s harem (from comp. with Song of Solomon 8:11-12), though the numbers are far more sober than in 1Kings 11:3. Probably the latter marks a later form of the traditions of the grand scale on which everything at the court of the monarch was conducted, and this, though a poetic, is a truer version of the story of his loves. The conjunction of alamôth with concubines, pilageshîm (comp. παλλακή, pellex), decides for translating it puellœ rather than virgines.
My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.(9) My dove . . . is but one.—“While the monarch’s loves are so many, one is mine, my dove, my perfect one: one, the delight of her mother, the darling of her who bore her.” It is impossible not to see in this a eulogy on monogamy, which, in practice, seems always to have been the rule among the Jews, the exceptions lying only with kings and the very rich. The eulogy is made more pronounced by putting an unconscious testimony to the superiority of monogamy into the mouths of the “queens and concubines,” who praise and bless this pattern of a perfect wife.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?(10) Who is she.—This verse is supposed to be spoken by the admiring ladies. The paragraph mark in the English Version should rather be at the beginning of the next verse. (Comp.—
“But soft, what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the East, and Juliet is the sun!
Arise, fair sun,” &c—Romeo and Juliet.)
But the poet heightens his figure by combining both the great lights of heaven with the dawn, and putting the praise in the mouth of “the meaner beauties of the night,” who feel their own inferiority “when the moon doth rise,” still more before the “all paling” sun.
I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded.(11-13) I went down into the garden . . .—For a discussion on this obscure passage in its entirety, see Excursus III.
(11) Nuts.—Heb. egôz; only here. (Comp. Arabic ghaus = the walnut, which is at present extensively cultivated in Palestine.)
Fruits.—Heb. ebi=green shoots; LXX. ἐν γεννήμαι.
Valley.—Heb. nachal; LXX., literally, χειμάρρου, the torrent-bed. It is the Hebrew equivalent of the Arabic wady. Here the LXX. insert, “There I will give thee my breasts”; reading, as in Song i, 2, dadaï (breasts) for dôdaï (caresses).
Made me like . . .—Marg., set me on the chariots; but literally, according to the present Hebrew text, set me chariots, &c.
Ammi-nadib.—Marg., of my willing people, as though the reading were ammî hanadib, since the article ought to be present after a noun with suffix. For ammî = my fellow citizens, comp. Genesis 23:11; Lamentations 2:11. A better interpretation, instead of taking the yod as the suffix my, treats it as an old genitival ending, and renders, companions of a prince. But this does not make the passage more intelligible.
(13) O Shulamite.—Heb. hashulammît. This vocative, with the article, indicates a Gentile name rather than a proper name (Ges., § 108, Eng. Trans.), and no doubt the LXX., ἡ ἐρχομένη, “the Shunamite”—that is, maiden of Shunem—is correct.
Shunem was discovered by Robinson in Sôlam, a village on the declivity at the western end of Little Hermon (Dûhy), and which answers to all the requirements of Shunem in 1Samuel 28:4, 2Kings 4:8 (comp. Joshua 19:18), and with a slight correction as to distance with the Sulem which Eusebius (Onomasticon) and Jerome identify with Sunem. For the interchange of n and l, comp. Zerin—Jezreel; Beitun = Bethel; lachats = nachats, to burn.
The fact that Abishag was a Shunamite, and that Adonijah sought her in marriage (1Kings 1:3), has given rise to the conjecture that these two are the heroine and hero of this poem.
From a comparison with Song of Solomon 8:10, “then was I in his eyes as one that found favour” (Heb. shalôm, peace), arises the untenable theory that Shulamite is a feminine of Solomon = the graceful one: untenable, because the feminine of Shelomah would be Shelomît.
As it were the company of two armies.—Marg., of Mahanaim; LXX., “she coming like dances of the camps;” Vulg., “unless dances of camps;” Heb. khimcholath hammachanaim. Mecholath is fem, of machol, which (see Smith’s Bib. Dict., under “Dance”) is supposed to be properly a musical instrument of percussion. The LXX. generally translate, as here, χορός; but in Psalm 32:11 (Hebrews 10:12) χαρά,, joy; Jeremiah 31:4; Jeremiah 31:14, συναγωγή, assembly. In Psalm 149:3, cliv. 4, the Margin suggests pipe instead of dance; and many scholars derive it from chal = to bore (comp. chalil, a flute). (See Bible Educator, Vol. II., p. 70.) Its associated meaning would naturally be dance.
Machanaim is either a regular dual = of two camps, or there is some reference, which we cannot recover, to local customs at the place of that name. To see any connection between this passage and Genesis 32:2, and still more to think of angelic dances, borders on the absurd. But the connection between military sports and dancing has always been close in the East, and the custom now existing of performing a sword-dance at weddings possibly gives the clue to this curious passage.
Some conjectural interpretations will be found in the Excursus, but the whole passage is hopelessly obscure.
EXCURSUS III.—ON THE PASSAGE, Song of Solomon 6:11-13.
Translated word for word this passage runs as follows:—“Into the garden of nuts I descended to see the verdure of the valley, to see if the vine was shooting, if the pomegranates flourished. I did not know,—my soul,—put me,—chariots of my people—noble. Come back, come back the Shulamite. Come back, come back, in order that we may see thee. What do you see in Shulamite? Like the dance of two camps.”
This the LXX. translate:—“Into the garden of nuts I descended to see among the vegetation of the torrent bed, to see if the vine flourished, if the pomegranate sprouted, there I will give thee my breasts. My soul did not know, the chariots of Amminadab put me—return, return, Shunamite, return, return, and we will contemplate thee. What will you see in the Shunamite? She that cometh like choruses of the camps.”
The Vulgate does not insert the promise of love, and reads: “and I did not know, my soul troubled me on account of the four-horsed chariots of Amminadab. Return, return, Shulamite, that we may look at thee. What wilt thou see in the Shulamite; if not the chorus of camps.”
A comparison of the above seems to show—
(1) That the Hebrew text has not come down to us in its integrity.
(2) That the Greek translators had before their eyes another text.
(3) That neither they nor St. Jerome understood the text which came to them already incomplete.
Yet this impossible passage, “the rags of a text irremediably corrupt,” has become for many scholars the key to the entire book. The heroine in a moment of bewilderment strays into the midst of a cortége of King Solomon, who instantly falls in love with her; or perhaps into the midst of a detachment of his troops, who capture her for the royal harem, after a comparison of her simple country style of dancing with that of the trained court ladies. This, or some similar device, is resorted to by most of those who construct an elaborate drama out of this series of love-lyrics, the whole structure falling to pieces when we see that on this, the centre, the only passage giving a possible incident on which to hang the rest, no reliance whatever can be placed, since it is so obviously corrupt.
The following are a few of various suggested translations of this piece:—
“My heart led me—I know not how—far from the troop of my noble people. Come back, come back, they cry, that we may see thee, Shulamite. What do you see in me, a poor Shulamite?”
“My desire made of me, so to speak, a chariot of my noble people,” &c.
“My desire brought me to a chariot, a noble one,” &c.
“Suddenly I was seized with fright,—chariots of my people the Prince!”
As to “the dance of Mahanaim,” even if by itself intelligible, as a, reference to an old national dance, as we say “Polonaise,” “Scotch dance,” or as a dance performed by two choirs or bands (see Note ad loc.) the connection with the context is almost inexplicable. The only suggestion which seems worthy of consideration, connects the words not with what precedes but with what immediately follows. If a word or words leading to the comparison, “like,” &c, have dropped out, or if “like a dance of Mahanaim” may be taken as a kind of stage direction, to introduce the choric scene, the passage will become clear in the light thrown on it by the analogy of the modern Syrian marriage customs.
The question, “What do you see in Shulamite?” may be understood as a challenge to the poet to sing the customary “wasf” or eulogy on the bride’s beauty, which accordingly follows in the next chapter. But before it began, a dance after the manner of the sword dance that forms at present a customary part of a Syrian wedding, would in due course have to be performed, and the words “(dance) like the dance of Mahanaim” would be a direction for its performance. See end of Excursus II. on the form of the Poem.