BE AGGRESSIVE AND INTENTIONAL IN SPENDING TIME WITH YOUR LOVER
Iain Duguid: After affirming her own beauty in the face of potential detractors, the woman asks her beloved to give her directions to find him. In keeping with the shifting kaleidoscope of metaphors that is characteristic of the Song, the image of her beloved shifts from a king (v. 4) to a shepherd. These are not completely unrelated images, of course, since kings in the Ancient Near East were often regarded as the shepherds of their people (e.g. Ezek. 34:23–24). Yet this verse represents her beloved as a literal shepherd, who would actually be found out in the fields day by day with his flocks. In the countryside, away from the sophisticated terrain of the city and the palace, perhaps her physical deficiencies would be less threatening and her beauty more easily affirmed.
Tom Gledhill: In verses 5–6 the controlling metaphor is that of cultivating a vineyard, whereas in verses 7–8 it is that of shepherding or pasturing.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Commentators frequently treat the second strophe (v 8) as the man’s line, no doubt because the text refers to the woman as the “most beautiful of women” and especially because she addressed her question to the man. Thus, it may be a tease by him (e.g., Murphy, 134). But there is no reason to think that the chorus could not answer her question or refer to her as beautiful.
Exum (ZAW 85  72) demonstrates a pattern in vv 5–10 that indicates that the chorus sings in v 8 (see figure 6). So construed, this strophe is the response of the chorus to the woman, notwithstanding the fact that she addressed her question to the man. In addition, elsewhere only the chorus calls her “most beautiful of women” (“the most beautiful among women”; the phrase also appears in 5:9 and 6:1, both of which belong to the chorus). The tenor does not employ this sobriquet; he characteristically calls her “my companion”; “my sister”; and “bride.” Thus, it is fairly certain that v 8 belongs to the chorus.
α (“beautiful”; vv 5–6; woman to daughters/chorus)
β (“you shepherd”; v 7; woman to man)
β´ (“and shepherd?”; v 8; daughters/chorus to woman)
α´ (“they are beautiful”; v 10; man to woman)
Fig. 6. Exum’s analysis of Song 1:5–10
David Guzik: the picture is clear: she wanted to know where her beloved was, because she simply wanted to be with him.
Daniel Akin: This glorious future Shepherd-King is anticipated in the bridegroom-shepherd-king of the Song of Songs. He is the One who pastures well His sheep and gives them rest. His presence banishes all fears and insecurities, for He has promised those who love Him, “I will never leave you or forsake you” (Heb 13:5; cf. Deut 31:6). We may draw near to this Shepherd-King and find protection, provision, security, and shade. First Peter 2:21 teaches us to follow in the steps, the tracks (Song 1:8), of the one who is “the Shepherd and Guardian of [our] souls” (1 Pet 2:25). Here in Song of Songs we find a faithful and loving Shepherd, a Shepherd-King, whom the people can love, trust, draw near to, and follow. Here we find a shepherd-king who points us to Jesus.
I. (:7) INVESTIGATIVE QUESTION – WHERE CAN WE RENDEZVOUS AT NOON? (Female – Addressing the Shepherd)
A. Soliciting the Where
“Tell me, O you whom my soul loves,
Where do you pasture your flock,
Where do you make it lie down at noon?”
Richard Hess: Of the five lines in v. 7, the first three have verbs in first position that address the male. The female seeks knowledge from her lover. He is also a shepherd who grazes his flock. He takes them out to pasture and gives them rest from their traveling during the heat of the midday. This term is emphasized by the two questions. Both have the same interrogative, “Where?” (ʾêkāh), followed by a verb in the same form. This parallelism of syntax and content is then followed by an adverb that functions to indicate the time, “noon” (ṣohŏrāyim). The female desires to join him at that time so that they may be alone together. The sun’s heat (v. 6) that caused her physical appearance contrasts with the midday sun of v. 7 that brings the need for rest and an opportunity to enjoy the company of her lover. Thus the negatives are turned into possibilities of something much better. In order to achieve her goal, however, she must know where he takes the flocks. Twice she repeats the key question: “Where?”
Tom Gledhill: She asks him (literally) ‘Where do you pasture, where do you cause to lie down at noon?’ The verbs to pasture and to cause to lie down normally would take an object. He would pasture his flock, and cause his sheep to lie down. But here in the words of the girl, the verbs are intransitive. No objects are given. Now this indicates a subtle undercurrent to her words. For the verb to pasture, or to graze the flock (rā‘â) has the same consonantal root as the word meaning darling or intimate companion (rā‘yâ). Not only so, but to ‘graze’ is also used metaphorically as a description of some sort of erotic activity (6:3, ‘He grazes among the lilies’). Elsewhere in the Old Testament, the phrase ‘One who pastures harlots’ has clear sexual connotations. So there is perhaps a veiled double entendre here. The girl is asking for a secret rendezvous with the possibility of some loving encounter between them. She may have herself in mind as the object of his causing to lie down at noon.
Tremper Longman: M. Falk suggests that “because the garden and its flowers are associated with female sexuality, pasturing is usually symbolic of male sexual activity.”
B. Specifying the Why
“For why should I be like one who veils herself
Beside the flocks of your companions?”
Iain Duguid: She is also aware of the social risks that come with searching for him. She does not want to have to conceal her identity as one who veils herself, which might lead to her being regarded as a loose woman or a prostitute (like Tamar in Gen. 38:14; Fox 1985: 103). She wants to be able to find the one whom her soul loves on his own, so that she can be with him with unveiled face, able to pursue a deeper relationship with him.
Tremper Longman: The question and the answer are both playful; indeed, the unit might be called a “tease.” The question exposes the woman’s yearning for the man’s company; the language expresses a concern that their meeting remain hidden from others. She needs to know where he will be so that she does not have to ask directions. She indicates that if he does not give her directions, then she will have to pursue him while wearing a veil, to hide her identity from others.
Tom Gledhill: If she has no specific directions, she will be wandering around blindly in search of him, and she will be in danger of being mistaken for a prostitute, plying her trade amongst the other shepherds. A veiled woman has been the subject of much discussion. Literally it means ‘like one who wraps herself up’. Others have emended it to a similar verbal root meaning ‘like one who wanders’ or ‘goes astray’. Now not all prostitutes were veiled, as Tamar was, and not every veiled woman is a prostitute. But it does seem likely that the implication of the girl’s words is that she does not want the shame of being thought a harlot. Perhaps it is a veiled threat to her lover. ‘If you don’t tell me, I’ll be taken as a loose woman. Now you wouldn’t want that, would you?’ Or perhaps it gives an indication of the depth of her urgency, a throwing of caution to the winds, as she throws herself with bravado into this reckless act in which she has to brave the wolf-whistles of the shepherds.
David Guzik: In this the maiden shows that she is both humble (in that she doesn’t want to make an ostentatious search for her beloved) and she has integrity, not wanting to even appear like one of these “loose girls.” She understood that when it comes to sexual attraction and reputation, what others think does matter.
[Alternate translation advocated for by Duane Garrett / Paul House:
“You don’t want me to be like a woman picking at fleas
among the flocks of your companions!”]
II. (:8) INTELLIGENT ADVICE – FOLLOW THE COMMON SENSE TRAIL (Chorus – Advising the Female)
A. Teasing the Answer
“If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women,”
B. Telling the Obvious – Go where you would expect him to be
“Go forth on the trail of the flock,
And pasture your young goats By the tents of the shepherds.”
[Alternative: some commentators take the advice instead as ironic and disdainful:]
Peter Pett: Their reply is probably ironic. They are saying that she may be the fairest among women, but, if she is so naive and insensitive that she cannot immediately identify the king’s tent, perhaps it would be better if she spent her time following the sheep tracks and feeding her young kids besides the other shepherd’s tents, for she does not deserve him. It may be that there is here a hint of jealousy here, and also a suggestion that if the king really had summoned her he would have ensured that she would know the way.
Jack Deere: the verse seems too cold and distant in tone for Solomon. So it may be a disdainful reply by the friends: “If you, of all people, do not know where he is, go to the other shepherds where you really belong anyway.”