Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
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.VIII.
(1) O that thou wert as my brother.—The poet makes his beloved recall the feelings she had for him before the obstacles to their union were removed. She dared not then avow her affection for him as a lover, and wished that their relationship had been such as to allow of their meeting and embracing without reproach. Marg., “They (i.e., her family and friends) should not despise (i.e., reproach) me.”
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) Juice of my pomegranate.—“The Orientals,” says Dr. Kitto, “indulge largely in beverages made of fresh juice of various kinds of fruits. Among these, sherbet made of pomegranate juice is particularly esteemed; and from its agreeable and cooling acidity, the present writer was himself accustomed to prefer it to any other drink of this description.” The meaning of the verse is explained by Song of Solomon 1:2; Song of Solomon 5:1; Song of Solomon 7:9.
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, that ye stir not up, nor awake my love, until he please.(4) I charge you.—See Note, Song of Solomon 2:6-7.
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) Who is this that cometh.—This begins a new section, which contains the most magnificent description of true love ever written by poet. The dramatic theory encounters insuperable difficulties with this strophe. Again we presume that the theatre and the spectators are imaginary. It is another sweet reminiscence, coming most naturally and beautifully after the last. The obstacles have been removed, the pair are united, and the poet recalls the delightful sensations with which he led his bride through the scenes where the youth of both had been spent, and then bursts out into the glorious panegyric of that pure and perfect passion which had united them.
Leaning upon her beloved . . .—The LXX. add here shining white, and the Vulgate, flowing with delights.
I raised thee up.—Literally, aroused: i.e., I inspired thee with love. For this sense of exciting a passion, given to the Hebrew word, compare Proverbs 10:12; Zechariah 9:13. Delitzsch restores from the Syriac what must have been the original vowel-pointing, making the suffixes feminine instead of masculine.
There thy mother . . .—Not necessarily under the apple-tree, which is commemorated as the scene of the betrothal, but near it. The poet delights to recall these early associations, the feelings with which he had watched her home and waited her coming. The Vulg. has here ibi corrupta est mater tua, ibi violata est genetrix tua, which savours of allegory. So in later times the tree has been taken to stand for the Cross, the individual excited to love under it the Gentiles redeemed at the foot of the Cross, and the deflowered and corrupted mother the synagogue of the Jews (the mother of the Christian Church), which was corrupted by denying and crucifying the Saviour.
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) Seal.—See Jeremiah 22:24; Haggai 2:23, &c. A symbol of something especially dear and precious.
Jealousy.—Strong passion, from a word meaning to be red with flame; not in a bad sense, as the parallelism shows:—
“Strong as death is love,
Inexorable as Sheol is ardent passion.”
Grave.—Heb. sheôl. Perhaps, as in the LXX., Hades, with its figurative gates and bars (Psalm 6:5, Note).
A most vehement flame.—Literally, a flame of Jah, the only place where a sacred name occurs in the book, and here, as in the Authorised Version, adverbially, to express something superlatively great and strong. Southey’s lines are a faint echo of this:—
“But love is indestructible,
Its holy flame for ever burneth,
From heaven it came, to heaven returneth.”
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) It would utterly be contemned.—Better, he would be, &c, and literally, to despise, they would despise him; infinitive absolute before finite verb expressing intensity. (Comp. 1Samuel 20:6; Amos 9:8, &c)
This fine passage, with its reference to the invincible might and untempted constancy of true love, hardly leaves a doubt that the poem, while an ideal picture of the passion, is also a reminiscence of an actual history of two hearts that had been tried and proved true both against difficulties and seductions.
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) We have a little sister.—Commentators are almost all at one in the feeling that the poem properly ends with Song of Solomon 8:7. Those who construct the poem on the plan of a drama can find no proper place for what follows (unless as a meaningless epilogue), and the want of cohesion with the main body of the work is so evident that many scholars have rejected it as a later addition; others have tried to find a place for it by re-arranging the whole poem. But if the various sections are, as above explained, only a succession of different presentments of the same story of courtship and marriage, made without any regard to order, but simply as they occurred to the memory of the poet, this conclusion presents no difficulty, either from its position or its meaning. With a view to artistic form, we might wish it away or in some other part of the poem; but the author had no regard to artistic form, or not the same conception of it as we have.
A little sister . . .—The recollection is carried back to the childhood of the bride. Her brothers are supposed to be debating how to deal with her when an offer of marriage should be made for her.
In the day when she shall be spoken for?—i.e., asked in marriage (comp. 1Samuel 25:29). At present she is unmarriageable.
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.—The wall and door are emblems of chastity and its opposite. The palace of silver some commentators explain by reference to the custom (among the Druses) of wearing an ornament like a horn on the head. But this is unlikely. The metaphors of the wall and door are naturally expanded. If the maiden grows up virtuous and inaccessible to seduction we will build upon her a palace of silver, i.e., we will so provide for her in marriage that from her may spring an illustrious house; but if otherwise, we will enclose her with boards of cedar, i.e., the strongest precautions shall be taken to guard her honour. This passage is one of the strongest arguments for the theory that chaste wedded love is the theme of this book, the poet going on in Song of Solomon 8:10 to put into the heroine’s mouth a protestation of purity; and by which virtuous disposition, even more than by her beauty, she had won her husband’s love: “I have grown up to virtuous womanhood, and I have found favour in his eyes.”
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 . . .—The heroine interrupts with a protestation of her purity, and of her right to marry, being of age, and conscious of being beloved.
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, 12) Solomon had a vineyard . . .—Here the poet repeats the sentiment of Song of Solomon 6:8-9—the contrast of his love for one chosen bride with the state of feeling and morality fostered by polygamy. But while in the former passage the contrast lay in number only, here it lies also in the value which comes to be set on the possession. Any one member of the harem of Solomon is no dearer to him than one of his many vineyards, which has to be cultivated by hirelings (perhaps with allusion to the eunuchs who guard the seraglio), and is valued only for the return it yields. But the one wedded wife is a vineyard tended by the owner, loved for its own sake as well as valued. A certain obscurity arises from the abrupt transition from simile to metaphor. Long similes, so common in classical poetry, are almost unknown in that of the Hebrews. Complete, the simile would have run, “As Solomon, who possesses so many vineyards, does not keep any one, even the choicest, in his own hands, but entrusts it to keepers and only enjoys an annual rent, so, with such a large and costly establishment of wives, he has none that is to him what my one, my sole possession, is to me.” But after the first member of it in Song of Solomon 8:11, he breaks abruptly into metaphor, so much more natural to him, “My vineyard,” &c. For the figure comp. Song of Solomon 4:12-13.
Baal-hamon.—Many are the conjectures hazarded as to the locality of this place. It has been identified (1) with Baal-gad, or Heliopolis (Rosenmüller); (2) with Hammon, a place in the tribe of Asher (Joshua 19:28, Ewald); (3) with Balamo (LXX. Βεελαμων), a place mentioned in the Book of Judith, Song of Solomon 8:3, in connection with Dothaim, which (if the same as Dothan) has possibly been discovered to the south of the valley of Esdraelon.—Recovery of Jerusalem, p. 463 (1871). (Comp. Judith 4:10; Judith 3:9; Meier, Hitzig, &c) But no identification is necessary. If the poet had any definite place in his mind he merely used it for the play on words (Baal-hamon=lord of multitude). The correct translation is “a vineyard was to Solomon as lord of a multitude.” The particle be often has this force. Exodus 6:3 : “I appeared as God Almighty.” Comp. Proverbs 3:26; Isaiah 40:10; 1Chronicles 9:33, &c. We further note that Baal, as lord with us, often means husband, and Baal-hamon has a covert allusion to the polygamy of the king.
A thousand pieces of silver.—Supply shekels. The substantives denoting weight, measure, or time are frequently omitted (Genesis 20:16). (Comp. Isaiah 7:23 : a thousand silverlings, whence we see that it was customary to portion off vineyards into sections containing a certain number of vines.) For worth of shekel, see Genesis 23:15.
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) Thou, O Solomon . . .—i.e., “Let Solomon keep and enjoy his possessions (his harem of mercenary beauties), which cost so much to obtain and keep; I am happier in the secure love of my one true wife.” The mention of “two hundred to the keepers of the fruit” seems added to show the cost of a polygamous establishment on a great scale.
Thou that dwellest in the gardens, the companions hearken to thy voice: cause me to hear it.(13) Thou that dwellest.—In Song of Solomon 8:13 we have another brief reminiscence of the early days of courtship, when the lover envied every one near the maiden, the companions who could see and hear her, and sighed for tokens of affection which she lavished on them.
Make haste, my beloved, and be thou like to a roe or to a young hart upon the mountains of spices.(14) Make haste, my beloved.—Song of Solomon 8:14 recalls the answer made at last to the sighs. It repeats the metaphor of Song of Solomon 2:17, where we see that the Authorised Version, make haste, is more correct than the margin. Thus the poem ends with two short verses that compress into them all that has been over and over again related under different figures: the wooing and the wedding of two happy souls.