Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.
Verse 1. - Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? Whither hath thy beloved turned him, that we may seek him with thee? The dialogue still continues, possibly because, as Delitzsch suggests, the effect of the dream which Shulamith narrates is not passed away in the morning. Under the influence of it she goes forth and meets the daughters of Jerusalem, who offer their assistance. But there is no necessity for this. The poetry merely demands that the idea of the dream should be still kept before the mind of the reader. The scene is still in the palace. The ladies playfully carry on the bride's cue, and help her to pour out her feelings. The bridegroom, they know, is near at hand, and is coming to delight himself in his bride; but the bride has not yet drawn him back completely to her side. This is evident from the fact that there is no distress in the language of the bride. She is not complaining and crying out in agony under a sense of desertion; she is waiting for the return of her beloved, and so she calmly sings of his love and his perfect truthfulness, even though absent from her. He is where his perfect beauty and fragrance might well be.
My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
Verses 2, 3. - My beloved is gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies. I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth his flock among the lilies. In Ecclesiastes 2:5, 6 Solomon says, "I planted me vineyards; I made me gardens and parks, and I planted trees in them of all kinds of fruit; I made me pools of water, to water therefrom the forest where trees were reared." In Revelation 7:17 it is said, "The Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall be their Shepherd, and shall guide them unto fountains of water of life: and God shall wipe away every tear from their eyes." We can scarcely doubt that the meaning is - The bridegroom is not gone far; he is where he is congenially employed; where his pure and lovely nature finds that which is like itself - beauty and fragrance and innocence. It is his resort, and it corresponds with his perfection. Delitzsch thinks "thoughtfulness and depth of feeling are intended" (cf. Psalm 92:5). "His thoughts are very deep." But it would seem more fitting, in the lips of the bride, that she should dwell on the aspects of her beloved which correspond with her own feelings. She is one of the lilies. The king is coming into his garden, and I am ready to receive him. The shepherd among his flock. They are all like lilies, pure and beautiful. The bride has nothing but chaste thoughts of her husband: because she knows that he is hers, and she is his. Surely such language is not inaptly applied to spiritual uses. Tennyson's lovely poem, 'St. Agnes' Eve,' has caught the spirit of Shulamith. A few of his lines will illustrate this -
"The shadows of the convent towers
Slant down the snowy sward,
Still creeping with the creeping hours
That lead me to my Lord.
Make thou my spirit pure and clear
As are the frosty skies,
Or this first snowdrop of the year
That in my bosom lies.
He lifts me to the golden doors;
The flashes come and go;
All Heaven bursts her starry floors,
And strews her lights below,
And deepens on and up! the gates
Roll back, and far within
For me the heavenly Bridegroom waits,
To make me pure of sin.
The sabbaths of eternity,
One sabbath deep and wide,
A light upon the shining sea -
The Bridegroom with his bride."
I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.
Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.
Verses 4-7. - Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners. Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me. Thy hair is as a flock of goats that lie along the side of Gilead. Thy teeth are like a flock of ewes which are come up from the washing, whereof every one hath twins, and none is bereaved among them. Thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate behind thy veil. The king is not far off. The bride knows that he is near. She prepares herself for him with words of love. He is coming among his "rosebud garden. of girls." His voice is heard as he approaches. And as he enters the chamber he bursts forth with lavish praises of his bride. Tirzah and Jerusalem, two of the most beautiful cities of the world, are taken as symbols of the surpassing beauty of the bride - doubtless also with an intended reference to the symbology of Scripture, where the people of God are compared throughout to a city. Tirzah was discovered by Robinson in 1852, on a height in the mountain range to the north of Nablus, under the name Tulluzah, high and beautiful, in a region of olive trees. The name itself signifies sweetness, which might be so employed even if there were no actual city so called. Jerusalem is said to have been "the perfection of beauty" (Psalm 48:2; Psalm 50:2; Lamentations 2:15). Cities are generally spoken of as females, as also nations. The Church is the city of God. The new Jerusalem is the bride of the Lamb. If the prophets did not take their language from this Song of Solomon, then the phraseology and symbology which we find here must have been familiarly known and used among the people of Israel from the time of Solomon. The beauty of the bride is overwhelming, it is subduing and all-conquering, like a warrior host with flying banners going forth to victory. Solomon confesses that he is vanquished. This, of course, is the hyperbole of love, but it is full of significance to the spiritual mind. The Church of Christ in the presence and power of the Lord is irresistible. It is not until he appears that the bride is seen in her perfection. She hangs her head and complains while he is absent; but when he comes and reveals himself, delighting in his people, their beauty, which is a reflection of his, will shine forth as the sun forever and ever. The word which is employed, "terrible," is from the root "to be impetuous," "to press impetuously upon," "to infuse terror," LXX., ἀναπτεροῦν, "to make to start up," referring to the flash of the eyes, the overpowering brightness of the countenance. So the purity and excellence of the Church shall delight the Lord, and no earthly power shall be able to stand before it. Heaven and earth shall meet in the latter days. Wickedness shall fly before righteousness as a detbated host before a victorious army. Is there not something like a practical commentary on these words in the history of all great revivals of religion and eras of reformation? Are there not signs even now that the beauty of the Church is becoming more and more army-like, and bearing down opposition? The remainder of the description is little more than a repetition of what has gone before, with some differences. Mount Gilead is here simply Gilead. The flock of shorn sheep is here the flock of ewes with their young. Perhaps there is intended to be a special significance in the use of the same description. The bride is the same, and therefore the same terms apply to her; but she is more beautiful than ever in the eyes of the bridegroom. Is it not a delicate mode of saying, "Though my absence from thee has made thee complain for a while, thou art still the same to me"? There is scope here for variety of interpretation which there is no need to follow. Some would say the reference is to the state of the Church at different periods - as e.g. to the primitive Church in its simplicity and purity, to the Church of the empire in its splendour and growing dominion. The Jewish expositors apply it to the different stages in the history of Israel, "the congregation" being the bride, as under the first temple and under the second temple. Ibn Ezra, and indeed all expositors, recognize the reason for the repetition as in the sameness of affection. "The beloved repeats the same things here to show that it is still his own true bride to whom he speaks, the sameness in the features proving it." So the Targum. The flock of goats, the flock of ewes, the piece of pomegranate, all suggest the simple purity of country life in which the king found so much satisfaction, he is wrapt up in his northern beauty, and idolizes her. One cannot help thinking of the early Jewish Church coming forth from Galilee, when all spoke of the freshness and genuineness of a simple-hearted piety drawn forth by the preaching of the Son of Mary - the virgin-born Bridegroom whose bride was like the streams and flowers, the birds and flocks, of beautiful Galilee; a society of believing peasants untouched by the conventionalities of Judaea, and ready to respond to the grand mountain like earnestness and heavenly purity of the new Prophet, the Shepherd of Israel, "who feedeth his flock among the lilies." There is a correspondence in the early Church, before corruption crept in and sophistication obscured the simplicity of faith and life among Christians, to this description of the bride, the Lamb's wife. There must be a return to that primitive ideal before there can be the rapturous joy of the Church which is promised. We are too much turned aside from the Bridegroom to false and worthless attractions which do not delight the Beloved One. When he sees his bride as he first saw her, he will renew his praises and lift her up to himself.
Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.
Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them.
As a piece of a pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks.
There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.
Verses 8, 9. - There are three score queens, and four score concubines, and virgins without number. 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 called her blessed; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her. The account given us of Solomon's harem in 1 Kings 11:3 represents the number as much larger. Is not that because the time referred to in the poem was early in the reign? The words are an echo of what we read in Proverbs 31:28 and Genesis 30:13. Perhaps the general meaning is merely to celebrate the surpassing beauty of the new bride. But there certainly is a special stress laid on her purity and innocence. There is no necessity to seek for any exact interpretation of the queens and concubines. They represent female beauty in its variety. The true Church is in closer relation to the Bridegroom than all the rest of the world. Even in the heathen and unconverted world there is a revelation of the Word, or, as the ancient Fathers of the Church said, a Λόγος σπερματὶκος. He was then as light, though the darkness comprehended him not. The perfection of the true bride of the Lamb will be acknowledged even by those who are not professedly Christian.
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.
Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?
Verse 10. - Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, terrible as an army with banners? This, of course, is the praise which comes from the lips of the queens and concubines, the ladies of the harem, the daughters of Jerusalem. The word rendered "looketh forth" is literally "bendeth forward," i.e. in order to look out or forth (cf. Psalm 14:2), LXX., ἐκκυπτοῦσα Venet., παρακυπτοῦσα (cf. James 1:25, "stooping down and looking into the Word as into well"). The idea seems to be that of a rising luminary, looking forth from the background, breaking through the shades of the garden, like the morning star appearing above the horizon (ὡς ἑωσφόρος, Venetian) (cf. Isaiah 14:12, where the morning star is called הֶן שַׁחַר). The moon is generally יָדֵח, "yellow," but here לְבָנָה, "white," i.e. pale and sweet, as the lesser light, with true womanly delicacy and fairness; but the rest of the description, which plainly is added for the sake of the symbolical suggestiveness of the figures, removes all idea of mere weakness. Clear (or, bright) as the sun. And the word for "sun" is not, as usual, shemesh, but chammah, "heat," the warming light (Psalm 19:7; see Job 31:26; Isaiah 49:2). The fierce rays of the Eastern sun are terrible to those who encounter them. The glory of the Church is a glory overwhelming as against all that opposes it. The description is pure hyperbole as applied to a fair bride, referring to the blazing beauty of her face and adornments, but symbolically it has always been felt a precious contribution to religious language. Perhaps no sentence in the Old Testament has been more frequently on the lips of devout men, especially when they have been speaking of the victories of the truth and the glowing prospects of the Saviour's kingdom.
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.
Verses 11, 12. - I went down into the garden of nuts to see the green plants of the valley, to see whether the vine budded and the pomegranates were in flower. Or ever I was aware, my soul set me among the chariots of my princely people. There cannot he much doubt as to the meaning of these words. Taking them as put into the lips of the bride, and as intended to be a response to the lavish praises of the bridegroom, we may regard them as a modest confession that she had lost her heart immediately that she had seen King Solomon. She went down into her quiet garden life to occupy herself as usual with rustic labours and enjoyments, but the moment that her beloved approached she was carried away - her soul was as in a swift chariot. Delitzsch thinks that the words refer to what occurred after marriage. He supposes that on some occasion the king Look his bride with him on an excursion in his chariot to a plain called Etam. He refers to a description of such a place to be found in Josephus, 'Ant.,' 8:07, 3, but the explanation is far fetched and improbable. The nut or walnut tree (Juglans regia, Linn.) came originally from Persia. The name is very similar in the Persian, AEthiopic, Arabic, and Syriac. One cannot help comparing the lovely simplicity of the bride's description with the tender beauty of Goethe's 'Herman and Dorothea.' The main point is this, that she is not the mere captive of the king, taken, as was too often the case with Eastern monarchs, by violence into his harem; she was subdued by the power of love. It was love that raised her to the royal chariots of her people. She beholds in King Solomon the concentration and the acme of her people's glory. He is the true Israel; she is the glory of him who is the glory of God.
Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.
Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.
Verse 13a. - Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. Shulem is the same as Shunem (see 1 Kings 1:3; 2 Kings 4:8; Joshua 19:18). Shulamite will, therefore, mean "lady of Shulem." It is the first occurrence of the name. It cannot be a pure proper name, says Delitzsch, because the article is attached to it. It is a name of descent. The LXX. has ἡ Σοοναμῖτις, i.e. "she who is from Shunem." Abishag was exceedingly beautiful, and she came from the same district. It is the country in the tribe of Issachar, near to little Hermon, to the southeast of Carmel and south of Nain, southeast of Nazareth, southwest of Tabor. It is found at present under the name Sawlam, not far from the great plain of Jiszeal (now Zer'in), "which forms a convenient way of communication between Jordan and the seacoast, but is yet so hidden in the mountain range that the Talmud is silent concerning this Sulem, as it is concerning Nazareth." It is impossible to resist the impression of the fact that this part of Galilee so closely associated with our Lord and his ministry should be the native place of the bride. Delitzsch thinks that the Shulamite is on her way from the garden to the palace. That the words are addressed to her by the admiring ladies can scarcely be disputed; hence the "we" of the address. "The fourfold 'come back' (or, 'turn') entreats her earnestly, yea, with team, to return thither (that is, to the garden) with them once more, and for this purpose, that they might find delight in looking upon her." But Delitzsch is scarcely right in thinking that the garden of nuts to which the bride referred is the garden of the palace. She is, perhaps, turning to leave the company of ladies, Solomon himself beingamong them, as though she would escape from their gaze, which is too much for her in her simplicity, and the ladies, seeing her intention to leave them, call her back. Another view is that the word "return" is for "turn round;" that is, "Let us see thee dance, that we may admire the beauty of thy form and movements." This would explain the appropriateness of the bride's reply in the latter haft of the verse. Moreover, the fourfold appeal is scarcely suitable if the bride was only slightly indicating her intention to leave. She would surely not leave hastily, seeing that Solomon is present. The request is not that she may remain, but that they may look upon her. It would be quite fitting in the mouth of lady companions. The whole is doubtless a poetic artifice, as before in the case of the dream, for the purpose of introducing the lovely description of her personal attractions. Plainly she is described as dancing or as if dancing. Delitzsch, however, thinks that the dance is only referred to by the ladies as a comparison; but in that case he certainly leaves unexplained the peculiarity of the description in Song of Solomon 7:1-5, which most naturally is a description of a dancing figure. Verse 13b. - Why will ye look upon the Shulamite as upon the dance of Mahanaim? The Shulamite, in her perfect modesty and humility, not knowing how beautiful she really is, asks why it is that they wish still to gaze upon her, like those that gaze at the dance of Mahanaim, or why they wish her to dance. But at the same moment, with the complaisance of perfect amiability, begins to move - always a pleasure to a lovely maiden - thus filling them with admiration. Mahanaim came in later times to mean "angels," or the "heavenly host" (see Genesis 32:3), but here it is generally thought to be the name of a dance, perhaps one in which the inhabitants of Mahanaim excelled, or one in which angels or hosts were thought to engage. The old translators, the Syriac, Jerome, and the Venetian, render, "the dances of the camps" (choros castrarum, θίωσον στρατοπέδων), possibly a war dance or parade. The word, however, is in the dual. Delitzsch thinks the meaning is a dance as of angels, "only a step beyond the responsive song of the seraphim" (Isaiah 6.). Of course, there can be no objection to the association of angels with the bride, but there is no necessity for it. The word would be, no doubt, familiarly known in the age of Solomon. The sacred dances wore often referred to in Scripture. and there would be nothing degrading to the dignity of the bride in dancing before the ladies and her own husband. "After throwing aside her upper garment, so that she had only the light clothing of a shepherdess or vine dresser, Shulamith danced to and fro before the daughters of Jerusalem, and displayed all her attractions before them."