WOMEN CAN STRUGGLE WITH INSECURITIES REGARDING PHYSICAL APPEARANCE – ESPECIALLY AS JUDGED BY OTHERS
David Guzik: The self-doubt the maiden had regarding her own appearance should not be overstated. She did feel, in some ways, unattractive and unworthy (Do not look upon me, because I am dark). Yet at the same time she could say she is lovely.
Iain Duguid: While the daughters of Jerusalem do not open their mouths, their disapproving eyes apparently speak volumes. There is a complex play on words in verse 6. The woman asks people not to gaze (rā’â) at her because the sun has looked (šāzap) upon her, causing her to become dark. Meanwhile, the word for the ‘sun’s glare’ sounds like the Hebrew word šādap, which means ‘to scorch’. Continuing the image of heat, the woman says, My mother’s sons were angry [lit. ‘hot’] with me, which provides the reason why they made her work in the vineyards, causing the situation of her distress. By naming these men ‘my mother’s sons’ rather than ‘my brothers’, the woman emphasizes her emotional distance from them (Provan 2001: 268). There is no father present in the Song to protect and provide for her. These features lend a ‘Cinderella’ motif to the Song (Gerleman 1965: 99–101): she feels trapped and oppressed as a servant in her own home, waiting for her handsome prince to come and carry her away to a life of happiness, abundance and love.
Tremper Longman: The unit is set off from the preceding and the following poems by its content and the fact that the woman addresses the daughters of Jerusalem. The mood is also different from what comes before and after, being defensive rather than outgoing. This short poem is a self-description, an apology of sorts for her appearance. Her brothers are introduced as a subject for the first time. They do not speak until 8:8–9.
Tom Gledhill: For the first time in the Song, the girl gives voice to her insecurities, her fears and her self-doubts. She is unsettled by the uncertain reaction of the daughters of Jerusalem to her deeply sun-tanned complexion. She is troubled by her relationship with her brothers, who were angry with her. She is conscious of her own low self-esteem, brought about by her enforced neglect of her own personal appearance. How can she accept herself, if she is not accepted by her friends and her relatives?
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The female solo sings this entire canto. As a speech-act, it is a self-appraisal set against the standards of her culture. It expresses an underlying fear that she will not attain love because she does not measure up to its standards of feminine beauty. . .
the ideal she yearns for—love and true freedom in a marriage relationship—is valid in all times and all cultures.
I. (:5) TENSION OVER PHYSICAL APPEARANCE
A. Color of Skin Tension — Black But Lovely
“I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem,”
Bruce Hurt: Daughters of Jerusalem – This is a common refrain found some 6 times in this book (Song 1:5; 2:7; 3:5; 5:8, 16; 8:4). The identity of these women is not disclosed. Options include friends and companions of the bride, attendants of the King’s palace or interested onlookers.
Tom Gledhill: The identity of the daughters of Jerusalem is uncertain. Most commentators take them to be the members of Solomon’s harem, or else to represent the cultured elite of the upper-class ladies of Jerusalem, the high-society ladies who move in court circles. For both of these cases, darkness would not imply beauty. They would be incompatible. Their beauty would be of the light-skinned variety, produced by weeks of cosmetic treatments. . .
They act as a foil, as a sounding board, for the expression of the girl’s deepest feelings and emotions. They draw out from the girl the articulation of her yearnings; seldom if at all do they play any active role in the drama. They may well be a literary fiction, like the wall through which the two lovers Pyramus and Thisbe speak in Shakespeare’s play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and which comments independently on the relationship of the lovers. Perhaps another role they play is in highlighting the city/country contrast which occurs throughout the Song. The city represents civilization, man-centred achievements, culture, sophistication, architectural splendour, wealth, power, affluence and self-assertive independence. The countryside in which the lovers live, represents the natural order of simplicity, of being at one with the created order, a passivity or at least a co-operation with the natural order of things, with no attempt to impose or dominate the way things are. The city/country contrast is illustrated here by the tents of Kedar and the tent curtains of Solomon.
B. Class Tension – Uncivilized vs. Civilized
“Like the tents of Kedar,”
“Like the curtains of Solomon.”
Dennis Kinlaw: The maiden is self-conscious about her darkness (v. 5). Kedar was a territory southeast of Damascus where the Bedouin roamed. Their tents were made of the skins of black goats.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: As the shelters of Arab bedouin, one may surmise, the tents of Kedar were probably made of tanned hides or coarse sackcloth and were dark in color. They also must have been very sturdy since they had to withstand the rigors of the wind, sand, heat, and the occasional storm as the only shelter these travelers would possess. They may have been proverbial as tough, reliable tents. The curtains of Solomon, by contrast, would have been of the finest craftsmanship and would have had exquisite detail. Perhaps the curtains had interwoven colors, beads, or even pearls, as well as lacelike patterns. Therefore, the woman claims that she is dark like the tents of Kedar—and she is equally as sturdy as those tents. But she is also beautiful, like the curtains of Solomon, and worthy to receive the admiration given to princesses.
II. (:6a) TENSION OVER UNFAVORABLE JUDGMENTS OF OTHERS
A. Misdirected Evaluations Based Solely on External Appearance
“Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,”
David Guzik: In that day (as in most of history), fair skin was considered more attractive than tanned skin, because it showed that one was of a financial or social status high enough to where they did not have to perform outdoor work; they lived a higher life than that of simple farmers.
Tom Gledhill: The girl is made self-conscious by the stares of the city girls. Any stare is an intrusion, it is an invasion of our privacy. If it is held too long, it provokes embarrassment, hostility and defiance. If we are the victims of a stare, we are threatened by a critical appraisal of our external credentials. The real ‘us’ is masked by our external appearance, and we feel the stare might penetrate behind that mask and threaten us at the deepest level of our being. So we turn away, or confront the one staring at us with our defiant questioning. We don’t like being weighed up by others, lest we be found wanting. We feel disrobed, defenceless and naked. Perhaps the girl in our Song is conscious of the fact that those of her own sex can be far more harsh in their criticism of her than her male companion can be. Yet that criticism is brought about by the threat of her beauty. Her wild, sensual, unkempt beauty is a threat to their artificially cultivated beauty. Her blackness is both enviable and contemptible. They envy her because they do not have this natural beauty. They despise it, because they know they can never have it. They are wary of each other, they are half envious of each other, half fearful of each other. Her beauty threatens their ordinariness. Yet she in half her heart would like to be in their place. So she is not at ease with herself. She fears her own vulnerability.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Also, this description of the woman’s appearance is strikingly similar to what we read of the young David’s appearance: “he was reddish [deeply tanned?] with beautiful eyes and good looks” (1 Sam 16:12). Even the reason for David’s reddened skin is similar: “he is looking after the sheep” (1 Sam 16:11). Perhaps the woman’s keeping of the vineyard is to be regarded as the feminine counterpart to David’s watching of the sheep. It is difficult to know what to make of this parallel; is it coincidental or deliberate on the part of the Song? If the latter, perhaps the point is to endow the woman with the same youthful vigor and heroic stature that the attentive reader associates with David.
B. Marked by Non-Intrinsic Blemishes
“For the sun has burned me.”
Dennis Kinlaw: She explains that her color is due to her exposure to the sun as she worked the vineyards for her brothers (v. 6). She obviously is from a family where the girls had to work.
Jack Deere: The beloved’s suntanned appearance (dark am I) revealed that she worked in the fields. This made her feel insecure (do not stare at me) among the city dwellers and in particular the woman of Jerusalem.
III. (:6b) TENSION OVER CONFLICTING PRIORITIES
A. Subjected to Family Mistreatment
“My mother’s sons were angry with me;”
Tremper Longman: The verse states that they required her labor because they were angry with her. However, the text does not give us an explicit motivation for their anger. Perhaps, given what we stated above about the brothers’ role in protecting their sister’s sexuality, they were suspicious of her in this area (again see 8:8–9).
Tom Gledhill: Why her brothers should have been angry with her we do not know. We can only speculate. Perhaps it was because they disapproved of her flirting or of her chosen lover, and they put her in quarantine as it were, out of harm’s way, where they could keep an eye on her. An alternative view is that the brothers, having allocated the girl to family duties in the vineyard, became angry because the girl’s inevitable neglect of her appearance would reduce her chances in the marriage stakes.
B. Subjected to the Selfish Priorities of Others
“They made me caretaker of the vineyards,”
John Schultz: So, the point the girl wants to make is that her brothers did not allow her to live her own life. In our day and age, were it is fashionable to search for one’s identity and where invasions of privacy are viewed as emotional abuse, this image is very powerful and relevant. It tells us that a lack of love and respect, such as the brothers of the girl demonstrated, leads to a sense of loss of identity. We only know who we are when we are loved. As the girl starts to experience this love she realizes what had gone wrong in her life.
C. Denied the Freedom to Prioritize Her Own Physical Appearance
“But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.”
Bruce Hurt: Although this could refer to a literal vineyard, more likely it is a metaphorical way of describing her inability to care for her personal appearance (my own vineyard) by virtue of the fact that she was caretaker of the vineyards. Her brothers kept her so busy tending the vineyard, that she had no time to go to the beauty salon!
Iain Duguid: She has not been able to expend the time and resources necessary for developing her appearance, yet nonetheless she is still beautiful. True beauty does not reside in the artificial standards of any society or culture, but may be recognized by all those who have eyes to see (rather than to stare).
Tom Gledhill: Her vineyard represents everything that conveys her essential femininity. Her looks, her complexion, her dress, her status, her sexuality–all those considerations which would make her attractive to a man. That she has not been able to keep up her appearances is a cause of her low self-esteem. She is a prisoner of her circumstances, and longs to be free to be herself. And yet there is the pride that she exhibits in her own natural beauty, a power which, as we shall see, she knows how to wield to good effect.