THE INCOMPARABLE ECSTASY OF ROMANTIC LOVE MAKES IT DESIRABLE
Richard Hess: vv. 2–4 hold together structurally. They form ten lines, where each of the first nine contains three words and the tenth has two. This is not followed in vv. 5–7. Thus these verses serve as an introductory unit.
The sense created is the (paratactic) piling on of one descriptive phrase after another. Indeed, the one theme that does run through vv. 2–4 is the appeal to every one of the senses in describing the love envisioned by the female and shared by the couple.
Iain Duguid: In this way, the poet begins by showing us vividly what he will later declare to us explicitly: the ferocious power of love (see 8:6–7). There are many connections between the opening and closing chapters of the Song, which create an inclusio. Yet the end is not merely a return to the beginning, as if love were part of an eternal round (so LaCocque 1998: 190); the similarities also highlight the differences and encourage us to observe the progression that has taken place in the experience of love through the Song, from entirely unsatisfied longing to desire that is partially fulfilled.
David Guzik: Charles Spurgeon preached 59 sermons on this book (in Victorian England) and Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) preached 86 sermons on chapters one and two alone.
I. Being Passionate for Your Mate Is a Good Thing (1:1-3).
II. Desiring Intimacy with Your Mate Is a Good Thing (1:4).
Iain Provan: [Don’t] assume too quickly that a “real” change of speaker in the text is being indicated—a particular mistake of some commentators on Song of Songs. It is entirely likely, in fact, that all of verses 2–4 is spoken by this same female individual, the plurals of two of the lines in verse 4 notwithstanding.
“The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s.”
Iain Duguid: The title verse stands alone, separated not merely by its content but by linguistic style: it is prose, while the rest of the Song is poetry. . .
The singular form, ‘song’ (šîr), suggests that this book comprises a single song, rather than being a diverse collection of disparate materials in the way that the book of Proverbs is a collection of proverbs. . .
The poem’s unity is primarily a lyric or poetic unity rather than that of a strict, chronological narrative. . .
The title also tells us that what follows is a song rather than some other genre of writing, such as a proverb, a prophetic vision or a historical narrative. It is lyric poetry, which means that what C. S. Lewis said about the Psalms (1958: 3) applies equally to the Song of Songs:
“What must be said … is that the Psalms are poems, and poems intended to be sung: not doctrinal treatises, nor even sermons … Most emphatically, the Psalms must be read as poems: as lyrics, with all the licenses and all the formalities, the hyperboles, the emotional rather than logical connections, which are proper to lyric poetry. They must be read as poems if they are to be understood; no less than French must be read as French or English as English. Otherwise, we shall miss what is in them and think we see what is not.” . . .
Since the glorious and idealized events described in Song of Songs are difficult to connect with the harsh realities of Solomon’s love life as described in the book of Kings, it seems best to see the man in the poem as an idealized figure, a poetic persona rather than an historical individual. The focus of the Song is, in any event, not on the specific identity of the lovers so much as it is on the nature of their love (Walsh 2000: 7). . .
Solomon points us on to Christ, the true Son of David and perfect Lover, in whom true blessing may be received by those who (like David and Solomon) have deeply blemished personal sexual histories. In Christ, we may all find a husband who is both true King and true Shepherd, the physical embodiment in flesh of the God who is himself Love.
Tremper Longman: The Song of Songs is a single poem composed of many poems, literally then, a song of songs.
Edwin Good: The Hebrew is remarkably alliterative and musical
Duane Garrett / Paul House: In contrast to many of the psalm superscripts, however, the Song of Songs lacks both musical directions and reference to any historical incident. . . It would appear that the framers of the canon included historical notations in the superscripts if they felt they had reliable information regarding their historical provenance. One might suggest, therefore, that they had no information linking the Song to any actual episode or simply did not consider the Song to be a presentation of historical events. This is not, of itself, a decisive argument for abandoning the historical/dramatic interpretation of the Song, but at the least it tells us that one does not find evidence for such an interpretation where one might expect it to be found. . .
The phrase functions as a superlative and could legitimately be translated, “The finest of the songs that belong to Solomon.” At the same time, it can be read more literally as “the song of songs,” a single musical production that is a collection of smaller songs, analogous to the oratorio tradition in Western music.
Richard Hess: Who would define this song as the best? The answer lies in a careful study of the song and an understanding of the physical love praised here as sharing in the greater love of God, which he created for all those in his image to enjoy. . .
This association with Solomon provides an anchor for the Song in the biblical wisdom tradition and relates to this material in the canon. No longer separated from the Bible as a collection of love songs, the book takes on a unified significance that cannot be reduced to secular humanism. Nor can its imagery within the context of physical love be ignored and give way to purely allegorical interpretation. The connection to Solomon places the book within a historical wisdom tradition of literature recognized by the church as possessing divine inspiration. . .
Here Solomon, as the king and symbol of wisdom and love, becomes an image for the male lover in the poem. Thus the female speaker, who dominates the poem, dedicates it to her Solomon, a figure who embodies her greatest desires for the fulfillment of love.
Tom Gledhill: King Solomon was famous for his skill as a composer of songs. In 1 Kings 4:32 we read, ‘He spoke three thousand proverbs and his songs numbered a thousand and five.’ So it is quite natural to presume that here, in the title, Solomon is being taken as the author of the Song. . .
One indication that the title in 1:1 is a late editorial attribution, from a different hand from that of the main body of the poem, is the fact that the Hebrew word for the relative particle ‘which’ (’ašer) is only used here. In the poems themselves, another form of the word (še) is used throughout. . .
The phrase, the Song of Songs, is generally recognized as a superlative of quality. The meaning, thus, is something like the most beautiful of songs, the most musical of songs, the number one, the top of the charts.
I. (:2) THE LONGING FOR ROMANTIC LOVE [Female]
Richard Hess: In v. 2 the female speaks first, and her speech dominates throughout the Song. Whether or not the author was a female, this text is unusual in the OT (though not unique; cf. Ruth and Esther) in the prominence that it gives to the female voice. She begins by referring to her lover in the third person (he). This gives prominence to her prayer and the expression of desire for her lover. However, the second half of the verse switches to the second person (you) to dramatize the direct address to her lover. The intimacy in the address and the declarations of love will continue for several verses and recur throughout the Song.
Tremper Longman: The Song proper begins with an explosion of words. Bernard of Clairvaux noted that the woman’s speech presupposes a conversation and relationship that has already begun, and he calls this line a “beginning without a beginning.” It sets a dynamic tone that never ends throughout the book. Indeed, the last poem, as we will see, does not impart a distinct sense of closure.
A. The Passion of Romantic Love
“May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!”
Iain Duguid: It is thus a particular kind of ‘love’ that she desires – sexual love – yet at the same time, the word also connotes a particular kind of sex – passionate sex, not simply an act of procreation. She wants the man for himself (and for herself), not just so that she can bear his children.
Tom Gledhill: What matters is that the girl is giving vent to her deepest feelings. She wants to be kissed by her lover, and not just a formal peck on the cheek from cold, passionless lips. She wants to feel his mouth’s deep kiss inside her own, and to know his fond embrace. ‘O, that he would kiss me . . .’ gives the depth of her longing. She is very tactile. She wants to be touched and to be held; not just as an object of his desire, but because she wants to be stirred to give herself to the one whom she loves. . .
In the Hebrew, the words for kiss and kissing may be onomatopoeic; that is, they portray the sound of what they describe. ‘O that he’d give me some of his smacking kisses’ that take her breath away.
Edwin Good: we belong to a culture that has its own ideas about kissing, just as the ancient Hebrews had their own ideas about it. Our problem is that we don’t really know what their ideas were, though we do know what ours are. We have several well-known words that suggest several different kinds of “mouth-kisses,” such as “peck,” “smooch,” and “tongue” kissing. I have seen nothing corresponding to such different kinds of kissing in the Hebrew Bible. So we can only guess at what the Hebrew culture thought about kissing. My guess in this poem is that the female speaker of the poem really liked her fellow’s kissing, and that is why I have substituted “delicious” for the words “of his mouth.” The latter phrase seems to me, in fact, rather boringly obvious.
Iain Provan: It is possible that in verse 2 we are supposed to understand the first line as an unexpressed private thought and the second line as the beginning of the woman’s speech to her beloved (note the similar transition from thought to speech in vv. 12–17).
B. The Intoxication of Romantic Love
“For your love is better than wine.”
Richard Hess: As a picture of love here, its properties of delight and intoxication certainly would have come to mind.
Iain Duguid: This desire is clearer still when the woman compares his caresses to wine, a symbol often connected with the good life and rich feasting in the Bible. Good wine is tasty and intoxicating, leaving the drinker with a desire for more. So too are the kind of intoxicating embraces that the young woman desires from the man (Barbiero 2011: 55). The image is particularly fitting as a description of the sweetness of kisses, and the link between kissing and wine recurs later in the Song (7:9; 8:1–2).
Tom Gledhill: Also wine is savoured, its memory lingers long (1:4d).
II. (:3) THE ATTRACTION OF ROMANTIC LOVE [Female]
A. Attraction Based on the Senses
“Your oils have a pleasing fragrance,”
B. Attraction Based on Reputation and Character
“Your name is like purified oil;”
Richard Hess: Verse 3 hinges on the reference to “your name” (šĕmekā), located in its center as the sixth of ten words. . .
The verse focuses on the senses of smell and hearing. The first line emphasizes the fragrance that the male lover wears, a cologne that is memorable in the senses of the speaker. The cologne is made with the best of oils, and this moves attention to the name of the beloved. More than a means of identity or a symbol of him, the name evokes the presence of the male lover despite his absence. And when he is present, the sound of the name makes him all the more vivid. Indeed, both the address of the female to her lover and the evocation of fragrance that can be sensed only when physically close suggest that the saying of the name, like the aroma of the cologne, provides one more sensual bond between the two. Hence the image is that of the name poured out. Note that there is no preposition or other grammatical indication of a simile here. The name itself is not merely stated; it is “poured out.” In a manner similar to the fragrance, its pouring overwhelms the lover as she repeats it and hears it again and again.
Iain Duguid: The woman’s desire for her beloved is not purely physical, even though she begins with desiring his kisses and longing for his scent. She also finds his character (šēm ; literally, name) as enticing as flowing perfume (ESV: oil poured out ; the Hebrew plays on an alliteration between šemen [oil] and šēm [name]). It is the whole person with whom she wishes to be united, body and soul. She is intoxicated by everything about him, not just his physical appearance.
C. Attraction Based on the Desires and Judgments of Others
“Therefore the maidens love you.”
Richard Hess: The verb for “love” (ʾāhâ) occurs seven times in the Song (1:3, 4, 7; 3:1, 2, 3, 4), always translated in the LXX by the same verb (agapaō, which appears in the Song only in these seven verses). Other than here and in the following verse, where it is used of the chorus of maidens who love the male, it occurs elsewhere always with reference to the feelings of the female lover for her partner (1:7; 3:1, 2, 3, 4). His cologne and name excite her. Perhaps her descriptions and songs, or perhaps a direct encounter with the male, lead her friends to express love for him. Although the emphasis of this love now extends beyond the couple, its purpose at this stage is to increase the arousal toward passionate love. However, it suggests that the male is the desired object of many eligible women, not only the female speaker. He is a valued commodity for whom other females will compete. Thus she loves him all the more, as her prize above all others who desire him. This love of dedication and commitment, this same Greek word (in noun form, agapē), is picked up by the apostle Paul as the distinctive type of love he wishes to emphasize in all relations with others and as the greatest of all God’s gifts (1 Cor. 13). No longer physical or sexual desire, its intensity and solidarity make it an appropriate term for the apostle to apply to Christian love.
Iain Duguid: The ‘ălāmôt are specifically those young women who have recently reached the age of sexual maturity and are thus ready for marriage. . .
This class of young women tend to be the arbiters of what constitutes male desirability in every culture. The woman in the Song can record the positive opinion of the ‘ălāmôt about the attractiveness of her man without fear or jealousy, because she is secure in the fact that her beloved has chosen her above all others. As a result, the other young women form an audience before whom she can boast of the attractiveness of her lover, rather than rivals for his affections who are to be feared. They all love (’āhab) him, but she alone will receive his caresses (dôdîm).
III. (:4a) THE SATISFACTION OF ROMANTIC LOVE [Female]
A. Satisfaction from Being Pursued and United
“Draw me after you and let us run together!”
Iain Duguid: Desire seeks satisfaction. So she asks her beloved to carry her off with him – and swiftly! The verb māšak is forceful, though not necessarily violent. It is used for pulling someone out of a pit (Gen. 37:28) or for carrying a heavy load of seed (Ps. 126:6), as well as for subduing Leviathan (Job 41:1 [Heb. 40:25]). She wants to be swept off her feet, we might say.
Richard Hess: The female lover can no longer bear the wait and invokes a command for her partner to come and take her. Yet this is not enough, for she adds at the end of this desire, “Let us run,” expressing a need to end the longing at this instant.
B. Satisfaction from the Anticipation of Love in Intimacy and Privacy
“The king has brought me into his chambers.”
Iain Duguid: I take this to be a metaphorical reference to her beloved’s status in her eyes, rather than a literal reference to an actual king. What is not in doubt is the woman’s longing to have her desire for physical intimacy completely satisfied, which can only take place in the privacy of the inner chamber.
Trevor Longman: It is best to take the reference neither historically nor ritually, but rather as a poetic device. It is love language. She refers to him as king, but this must not be taken literally. In her eyes, he is a king, the best and most powerful male in her life, worthy of the highest honor. Elsewhere, she calls him a shepherd (1:7), but again that is not literal either. These are terms of endearment. The Song is best understood as creating a poetic world, not as describing actual events.
Tom Gledhill: But the Song, as it were, draws down the curtain here, as elsewhere in the poem, leaving the lovers in their secluded intimacy, and leaving the reader to speculate as to what they get up to. This is part of the literary artistry of the Song; it keeps us in suspense, and sets us imagining, and usually draws a veil over the most intimate scenes.
Iain Provan: In verse 4 the woman seems in part to identify herself with this wider group of female admirers, while in part distinguishing herself from them. Only thus is it possible to understand the strange mixture of first-person singulars and plurals in the verse, which the NIV partially disguises by choosing to ignore the Masoretic accentuation in the first line of the verse. This accentuation indicates the translation: “Draw me, let us hurry after you.” All maidens love (ʾhb, v. 3) this man, and they are right to love him (ʾhb, v. 4; NIV “adore”) and pursue him. Our speaker speaks as one of this wider group, who are all thought of as rejoicing and delighting in the man and are said to join her in praising his lovemaking more highly than wine (cf. v. 2).
IV. (:4b) THE REJOICING IN ROMANTIC LOVE [Female]
A. Inward Rejoicing
“We will rejoice in you and be glad;”
Tom Gledhill: A number of commentators, on the basis of the plural ‘we’, assign this verse to a group of bystanders (the daughters of Jerusalem of verse 5?). But as Pope says, ‘Virtually any difficulty, real or supposed, may be obviated by invoking additional characters to whom the troublesome words may be assigned.’ So the shepherd hypothesis here puts these words on the lips of the harem, addressing the absent lover in the presence of King Solomon. We need not resort to such an unsatisfactory expedient. It is enough for the girl to continue speaking in praise of her lover, including in the ‘we’, herself and all the nubile maidens who admire him. She wants her lover to absorb the greatest amount of praise possible, and she can only contribute her own portion to that. Again, if it seems too improbable that the love-intoxicated girl wants all the world to praise his love-making capacities, we must remember once again that this is a literary device, not anchored concretely in the real world, only in the mind of the author.
Richard Hess: Both verbs, “to rejoice” and “to be happy” (śmḥ), occur only here in the Song. Their associations elsewhere with the salvific work of God suggest, not that this scene has suddenly shifted to a predominantly spiritual reality, but that the strongest possible language of joy occupies the mind of the female lover as she anticipates physical love with her partner. If the king here is understood as the male lover rather than a third member of a love triangle, then in this single phrase the male is both a participant with the female in joy and celebration and also the object of that joy (“for you”). As the female speaks concerning the joy, so the male is the natural object of her rejoicing and love.
B. Outward Boasting
“We will extol your love more than wine.”
C. Security of Evaluation
“Rightly do they love you.”