RESPONSIVE EXCHANGES OF MUTUAL ADMIRATION ENHANCE THE PROGRESSION OF THE ROMANTIC RELATIONSHIP
Richard Hess: Situated within the canon of the Jewish and Christian Bible, the Song celebrates physical desire and carnal love between a man and a woman as created and blessed by God. The Song explores this divine blessing. The female begins the exchange with appeal to each of the senses in her praise of their love. She moves from this description to a desire to be with her lover (1:2–7). The male’s response serves to reassure and confirm her appeal to him, by extolling her great physical beauty (1:8–11). The female takes up the dialogue with her “king” on his couch and moves quickly to a picture or fantasy of greater intimacy as he spends the night between her breasts (1:12–14). Following the reaffirmation of the female’s beauty (1:15), the female (1:16–2:1) and then the male (2:2) use repeated and intensive images of the natural world and especially the most beautiful and sensual flora of ancient Israel. Here, as well, the beauty created by God in nature corresponds to God’s creation of the love that the couple enjoys. The section concludes with the lovers united and with the adjuration of the female to her companions that love will come at its proper time (2:3–7). In the Song of Songs, which almost never refers directly to God, this suggests yet another divine blessing, that God’s greatest gift of physical love comes according to his own timing and within the natural world that he has also created.
Daniel Akin: Solomon had learned, or was at least in the process of learning, to speak her “love language.” Gary Chapman, in The Five Love Languages, points out that we all speak at least one of five love languages. Some are even equipped to speak several, and with varying dialects! However, it is rare that a husband and wife speak the same love language. After all, opposites do attract. Dr. Chapman identifies the five love languages as:
• Words of Affirmation
• Receiving Gifts
• Acts of Service
• Quality Time
• Physical Touch
The following verses will leap with personal applications if we will keep this insight in mind. As a couple grows in their knowledge of one another, they will also learn to hear, understand, appreciate, show love to, and respond to one another.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The governing topic is the question, What enhances the woman’s beauty? The man and the chorus desire to adorn her with expensive ornaments of gold and silver. This sentiment is not bad, and it is born of love for her, but it substitutes a superficial embellishment for true adornments. She asserts rather that her desirability is enhanced by her fragrances of spikenard, myrrh, and henna and that her beauty is enhanced by the love of her lover. She gives off the fragrance of spikenard as she waits for him to come to her. She will have him, like her myrrh, between her breasts. He is like henna in that he adorns the beauty of her, the vineyard. The fragrance of these perfumes is like love itself; it is invisible but powerful and sweet. Her real adornment, she asserts, is the groom and the love she has for him.
I. (1:9-11) FIRST STANZA — THE ADMIRATION OF THE GROOM FOR HIS BRIDE – HER SENSUALITY AND EXQUISITE BEAUTY
A. (:9) Her Sensuality
“To me, my darling, you are like My mare
among the chariots of Pharaoh.”
Richard Hess: these animals were used to pull chariots around the battlefield. This provided the quickest and surest means to gain a strategic position from which archers on the chariots could fire their weapons. Therefore, the comparison of the female lover with a mare would first and foremost emphasize her nobility and her value. . .
It is no surprise that [darling] is always used of the female lover. However, its occurrences also suggest that it forms a special term of endearment between the male lover and his partner. He alone uses it of her. This term “darling” also provides a wordplay with the pastoral images of the shepherdess who “tends” her flock in v. 7, since both words derive from verbal roots spelled with identical consonants (rʿh).
Iain Duguid: Just as those cherished royal horses often had decorative bridles, so too the woman’s cheeks were adorned with ‘earrings’ (NIV) and her neck with a jeweled necklace (or perhaps an Egyptian-style jeweled collar; Munro 1995: 57).
Tremper Longman: Pope, however, puts forward an attractive hypothesis for the meaning of this verse. He first reminds us that chariot horses were usually stallions, not mares. He then describes an attested defensive strategy against chariot attack. As the stallions rush toward their intended target, a mare in heat is let lose among them, driving them to distraction so that they cannot proceed with the attack. He appeals specifically to the report of an Egyptian attack against Qadesh where this technique was used. It failed, though, when the mare was killed by an Egyptian soldier. To paraphrase the thought of the man, he is saying that she drives all the men crazy with her attractiveness, with the implication that she drives him to distraction as well. He will voice a similar sentiment in 4:9. I find Pope’s proposal not only interesting, but persuasive.
Tom Gledhill: So if our lover is saying that the effect his beloved has on him is the same as that which a mare has amidst a host of military stallions, pawing the ground and neighing lustily, then that puts a very different light on the picture. He is saying that his beloved sends him into a frenzy of desire, that is the ultimate in sex appeal.
The horse is a very sensual animal. No-one can stand close alongside a large magnificent race horse, or a ceremonial parade horse, without sensing something of the vibrancy, the thrill of so much potential power hidden within those large glistening flanks. There is a sense of awe at the aesthetics of such power.
Our lover senses a similar power within his girl, a kind of animal magnetism, and it unsettles him, by her sheer physical proximity. This allure, this attractiveness, is made more deadly by the exposure of skin; a thinly veiled body.
Bruce Hurt: Now Solomon inserts a surprising simile, comparing the Shulammite to a mare which was a reference to her strength, graceful movement, and beauty, which was a “positive” comment from Solomon who loved horses (cf 1 Kings 4:26). Furthermore, a horse in the Near Eastern culture was a cherished companion and not a beast of burden. In addition, stallions and not mares would pull a chariot of Pharaoh (“among the chariots…”). The presence of a mare among stallions in fact would be the ultimate distraction, and so in an indirect way Solomon pays the Shulammite an ultimate compliment regarding her sexual attractiveness!
Duane Garrett / Paul House: If this is the meaning of the metaphor, however, it is odd that the canto does not develop it at all. From the following verses, it appears that the ornamentation and stately appearance of the woman are the real point. The woman is likened to a mare rather than to a stallion for the simple reason that she is female, and the point that in the Egyptian order of battle the chariot corps actually used only stallions, even if true, is irrelevant. The text says nothing about a military setting for this verse, much less about a mare running loose among stallions during a battle.
B. (:10) Her Exquisite Beauty
“Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
Your neck with strings of beads.”
Richard Hess: The earrings and jewels provide enhancement of the woman’s beauty. Rather than a necessity to create an attraction that is not there naturally, these accoutrements serve to make more beautiful what already is desirable. They also do more. The earrings and jewels form appropriate adornments for one so noble and beautiful. The male lover wishes to further emphasize the incredible desire that he feels for the woman’s beauty. Therefore, he describes her physical form. Her cheeks and neck may be the only parts of her body, along with the rest of her head, that are visible to the public. The male lover thus praises his partner’s body in an initially modest manner. All the while he focuses on the physical form. . .
the male’s concern addresses the one element that threatens to mar the female’s otherwise perfect praise of their love. He uses it as a means to restore her confidence by reinforcing his love for her in the one area that she has displayed insecurity.
Iain Duguid: Instead of dismissing the woman’s fears about her appearance as unspiritual or ridiculous, the man responds kindly by repeatedly affirming her beauty and enhancing it through his gifts of jewelry. By his words of praise, the man is building the woman up and assuring her of his love.
Tom Gledhill: The girl in verses 9–11 is obviously dressed in her ‘Sabbath-best’. She is no longer in her work-a-day clothes, tending the vineyards. Her lover sees her in her festive outfit, decked out with all the finery of shawls, veils, sashes, bangles, headbands, ear-rings, tiaras, head-dresses and so on.
C. (:11) Promise of Additional Adornments (Chorus)
“We will make for you ornaments of gold
With beads of silver.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: One can argue, as many interpreters do, that Song 1:11 also belongs to the man, but the plural verb implies otherwise, and the interpretation of the wider context validates ascribing this verse to the chorus.
Reformation Study Bible: the “daughters of Jerusalem” echo the girl’s praise of her lover; here they respond similarly to his praise of her. The plural subject “we” goes against taking this verse as a speech of the girl’s lover using courtly language. The so-called “royal we” is not used in ancient Near Eastern literature.
II. (:12-14) SECOND STANZA – THE ADMIRATION OF THE BRIDE FOR HER GROOM – THE FRAGRANCE OF LOVE
A. (:12) Fragrance of Perfume in the Royal Setting
“While the king was at his table,
My perfume gave forth its fragrance.”
Richard Hess: In each of these three stanzas of two lines, the first line describes the male lover from the female’s perspective. He is introduced as a king on his couch. However, with the strong focus on the fragrances, he becomes the myrrh and henna of vv. 13 and 14. Of course, this is made clear by the equation of the noun clause in the first line of each of those verses: “A sachet of myrrh/bouquet of henna is my lover to me.” Further, the second word in each of the three verses is the king, the myrrh, and the henna. These three are the only words in the entire poem (1:12–14) that are preceded by the definite article. They are all related in the poem and identified with one another. . .
The royal couch would evoke thoughts of lovemaking and the joys the female would experience with her lover. The spikenard or pure nard was a fragrance native to the Himalayan region of India (the word “nard” appears in Sanskrit literature). Its scarcity and the difficulty of manufacturing and transporting it a long distance made it both valuable and exotic.
Tremper Longman: Lovemaking involves all the senses; here the emphasis is on smell. The sweet smell of perfume arouses other senses and emotions.
B. (:13) Fragrance of Myrrh in the Intimate Setting
“My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh
Which lies all night between my breasts.”
Richard Hess: The picture of lying between her breasts evokes a scene of sexual pleasure. And yet the verse is not a description of the event itself but the fantasy of the female as she expresses rhapsodies of the best of fragrances and the most desirable of physical experiences.
Tremper Longman: The sachet “lodges” (lyn) between her breasts, the verb denoting a lengthy, languorous stay.
This verse stretched the imagination of allegorical interpreters with its explicit sensuality. Cyril of Alexandria is at his creative best when he suggests that the verse describes what we today would call biblical theology. The breasts are the Old and New Testaments, presumably only linked by their two-ness. Jesus Christ is the sachet of myrrh. The New Testament is in the Old concealed; the Old in the New revealed. Jesus spans the testaments as the sachet spans the woman’s two breasts.
Daniel Akin: Nestled between her breasts against her beating heart, there is an intimate bond of love, longing, and loyalty that cannot be broken. There is a connection, a commitment that virtually transcends words. All night long he laid his head as a precious fragrance between her breasts. She trusts him so completely, she loves him so dearly, she can make available to him the most intimate and precious parts of her body. She holds nothing back. She knows she does not need to.
C. (:14) Fragrance of Henna Blossoms in the Romantic Country Setting
“My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
In the vineyards of Engedi.”
Richard Hess: The female has moved from the most exotic and valuable of perfumes, and its association with royalty, to the least expensive and most accessible of perfumes.
Iain Duguid: Once again there is movement in the poem from a domestic location to the countryside, as we travel from the king’s couch, which was presumably located in his chambers (v. 4), to the vineyards of Engedi, an oasis on the western shores of the Dead Sea. Engedi was the location of royal gardens, the home of some of these perfumes, and would have been all the more romantic for its isolation and the stark contrast between its lushness and the dryness of its wilderness location.
Tremper Longman: The surrounding landscape is desolate, but En-gedi is a delightful oasis with waterfall and stream. Hidden and private, it is a romantic place to be sure, contributing to the contrast developed through the Song between the countryside as place of love and the city as a place of alienation.
Iain Provan: We deduce that women of the time may also have secreted clusters of these blossoms about their person. It is perhaps also significant that a cluster of henna blossoms is shaped somewhat like the male sexual organ. The blossoms in question are said to derive from “the vineyards of En Gedi”—a famously fertile oasis on the western shore of the Dead Sea.
III. (:15-17) THIRD STANZA – MUTUAL PRAISE OF THE OTHER’S BEAUTY
Tom Gledhill: 1:15 – 2:3 — Here we have a series of short exchanges between the boy and the girl, of crisp point and counterpoint. The symmetry of the speeches is somewhat obscured by the NIV; but the Hebrew itself highlights the balanced structure of the verses. Verses 15 and 16 both begin with ‘How beautiful’. The girl in verse 16 then introduces the idea of their verdant bower, which is taken up in the next verse by the boy. In 2:1 the girl rather deprecatingly compares herself to a rose of Sharon and a lily of the valleys, which elicits the counter response from the boy, like a lily among thorns. The girl’s final response in 2:3 begins with a similar refrain, Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest. A division at the end of 2:2 is somewhat artificial, since 2:3 continues her admiration of her lover, though in soliloquy form–she addresses him in the third person. Perhaps she is dreaming or fantasizing as to how their love will be consummated. There is a progression of theme from 1:15 to 2:7; mutual compliments using the imagery from the natural order (doves, verdancy, cedars, firs, rose of Sharon, lily of the valleys, an apple tree) lead to dreams about being together in some leafy bower where they can be alone, undisturbed and relaxed. This privacy leads inevitably to the blossoming of desire (2:4–5) and to the intimate embrace and fondling of 2:6, concluding with the adjuration to the daughters of Jerusalem.
A. (:15) Beautiful Dove Eyes (The Groom)
“How beautiful you are, my darling, How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves.”
Richard Hess: the metaphor of the male lover describes his beloved as someone whose depth of love and desire is betrayed by her eyes. The dramatic image is that of the couple staring deeply and lovingly into one another’s eyes.
Iain Duguid: Gazing deeply into someone’s eyes is surely one of the most personal experiences possible.
Tom Gledhill: The human eyes, together with the mouth are the most eloquent expressions of our inner feelings. There are bright sparkling eyes, indicating a vivacious personality; there are shifty eyes, hiding guilt and deception, never holding the gaze of an enquirer for the necessary length of time for normal contact to be made; there are mocking eyes, contemptuous eyes; there are arrogant eyes; cruel, despotic eyes; eyes full of fear and apprehension; eyes that indicate exhaustion or hopelessness; eyes that are dead with despair or vacuity; dreamy eyes that focus on another unseen world; lustful, leering eyes, full of depraved intent. Our eyes mirror exactly our inner disposition. Did not Jesus say, ‘the eye is the lamp of the body’? Whatever this enigmatic saying may mean, surely it conveys at least the idea of our ‘inner light’ shining through our eyes? Of course, when the Song talks about the girl’s eyes, it refers to the totality of her eyes: the pupils, the iris, the eyelids, the eyebrows, the eye pouches, and the lines beneath the eye. Our eyes are the focus of attention in any act of communication. They are the initial means of contact.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Keel ( 7073) argues that iconographic evidence conclusively demonstrates that the dove was a symbol of sexuality across the ancient eastern Mediterranean world. He cites, among other examples: a Syrian cylinder seal from ca. 1750 showing the fertility goddess unveiling herself before her mate as a dove flies overhead; a Mitanni cylinder seal from the thirteenth century in which the goddess holds a staff with a flying dove; also, a scarab from eight- or seventh-century Lachish in which a dove is beneath the sign of the moon, a symbol of the goddess. This evidence seems to be sufficient to demonstrate that ancient peoples associated doves with sexuality, albeit not exclusively with sexuality (as the other biblical texts, cited above, indicate). It is possible that your eyes are doves is cultural code for “I find you sexually attractive.”
It is possible, of course, that we are trying too hard. The doves may not strictly symbolize anything. The phrase “your eyes are like doves” may be simply an expression of attraction and affection that transcends any logical connection. When one thinks of a dove, one thinks of soft cooing, fluttering wings, gentleness, and in the case of the white dove, brightness of color. Rather than bind the term in a metaphoric equation, we should perhaps simply take pleasure in the connotations.
B. (:16) Handsome Beloved in a Fruitful Setting (The Bride)
“How handsome you are, my beloved, And so pleasant!
Indeed, our couch is luxuriant!”
Richard Hess: With the NIV in v. 16, it might seem more appropriate to translate the term “beautiful” as “handsome” for a male, but such a translation would lose the sense of a repetition of precisely the same term in the Hebrew. This, as well as the verbal parallel with the male’s praise of her in v. 15, allows the female both to express her view of her partner and harmonize with him in a corresponding poetic line. . .
What does it mean for a bed to be a spreading tree? Perhaps it refers to the fruitfulness of the love that the couple enjoys. Perhaps it describes a kind of bed associated with trees or foliage.
C. (:17) Pleasant and Secure Setting (Combined Groom and Bride)
“The beams of our houses are cedars,
Our rafters, cypresses.”
Richard Hess: This text embraces the created world and its pleasures with the realization that this all is a gift and to be celebrated and appreciated as such. Even the house and the bed do not originate only from human labor, but have their ultimate source in raw materials that come from the natural and created world. Hence the Song never attempts to worship nature but instead looks to it as the good world that God has created. Within this context the natural joys of the world may be appreciated and celebrated. This is nowhere more true than in the case of the physical love that the couple enjoys. Their love is part of the natural world.
Tremper Longman: The figurative language of verse 16 continues in this verse. The woman describes the “house” where she will share a moment of intimacy with her lover. The picture is of a well-forested area, where there is a grassy opening. As they lie in the grass and look around and above, they are surrounded—that is, protected—by the trees. The trees provide privacy, and more: the cedar and the juniper are trees that produce a pleasant scent, making this spot a pleasant place for an intimate encounter.
IV. (2:1-3) FOURTH STANZA – UNIQUELY ATTRACTIVE
A. (:1) Self Praise from the Bride
“I am the rose of Sharon,
The lily of the valleys.”
B. (:2) Confirming Praise from the Groom
“Like a lily among the thorns,
So is my darling among the maidens.”
Richard Hess: The lotus continues the nature imagery of the preceding text, and it surely forms a tie with the previous verse as a means by which the male affirms the female’s boast of her attractions. Hence the lotus may well continue the theme of prosperity and success, as well as the natural form and beauty that this delicate flower possesses.
Iain Duguid: The man, however, turns her own image on its head, asserting that far from simply being one among many other equally attractive flowers, she is as uniquely attractive as a solitary lily would be when set among brambles. Brambles are the exact opposite of lilies: ugly and useless, a sign of curse rather than blessing. On the other hand, even though lilies are common enough, they are proverbially beautiful (Matt. 6:28); indeed, they formed a prominent part of the decorations of Solomon’s temple (1 Kgs 7:26). The man thus declares that his beloved is not merely the first in rank among many beautiful women; in his eyes, she is the one and only beauty among women.
Robert Rayburn: He says she is the fairest of ten thousand, a lily among the brambles. There is a lot of this characteristic language of love in the Song, by which I mean what is literally hyperbole, an exaggeration – the man wouldn’t want to be taken to mean that all other women are actually ugly (brambles) – but as an expression of love such language is a literal expression of his feeling. A man doesn’t have to believe that his beloved is literally the most beautiful woman in the world – and that objective observers would agree that she is, professional photographers, Hollywood casting directors, etc. – in order to say and mean that she is to him the most beautiful woman in the world. Beauty, like so many other things in life, is an effect, and the man’s love for her makes any woman the most beautiful in the world!
C. (:3) Distinctive Praise of the Groom by the Bride
“Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest,
So is my beloved among the young men.
In his shade I took great delight and sat down,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.”
Richard Hess: “apples” seem to be used less for sustenance and more for refreshment, the pleasure of their taste, and the accompanying odor. Thus, if the lotus enhances the pleasure of visual form and beauty, the apple tree stimulates the taste and olfactory senses. . .
The fourth line begins with “its fruit” as something desirable to the female. Together these descriptions portray the female’s relation to her lover as one who provides an abiding physical closeness and refreshment and as one whose physical touch and taste is a heady sweetness. As noted earlier, so here again the female expands the sensuality of the descriptions, accommodating more of them with lengthier and more complete explanations. In contrast, the male focuses on the visual aspect and draws from it his praise and appreciation of the female. However, this verse and the following description go beyond the sensual experiences and their excitement to include physical actions that will describe the closeness and support that the lovers provide one another.
Iain Duguid: It is striking that though both the woman and the man praise each other, they praise different things: he affirms that she is beautiful, while she affirms that he makes her feel safe and that his company is sweet. While stereotypes may be dangerous, it is worth noting that men and women are different and non-interchangeable in the Song, just as they are in the rest of Scripture. The ideal marriage involves not only the blending of two different people, but of two distinct genders into a greater whole, as Genesis 2:24 anticipated.
Tremper Longman: She continues to use the imagery to comment on their intimacy. She not only looks at the apple tree from afar, but she places herself, figuratively, under his protecting and comforting branches (I desire his shade and I dwell there). Their physical union is represented by the fact that she tastes his fruit. Pope cites the title of two relatively recent songs to suggest that the sensual nature of the apple tree as a place of romance continues down to the present: “In the Shade of the Old Apple Tree” and “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”
Tom Gledhill: Perhaps more importantly, however, she delights to sit in his shade. Here there is a strong indication of the role of the male as protector of the female. He provides the security in which she can shelter and blossom. It was considered an abnormal reversal of the established order that a woman should protect a man. This male role is not merely one of finance, or overall head of the family, but one of emotional and psychological strength to the woman.
V. (2:4-6) FIFTH STANZA – PROGRESSION OF DISPLAY OF AFFECTION
A. (:4) Reception and Commitment
“He has brought me to his banquet hall,
And his banner over me is love.”
Tremper Longman: The man has marked her out as his own and has stamped her with a public display of his love. The metaphor implies belonging, inclusion, and commitment.
Reformation Study Bible: Lit. “house of wine.” The setting is outdoors. The lovers’ “house” to this point has been the forest (Song 1:16, 17). Now they move to a different “house,” namely, the young man’s vineyard, his “house” of wine. The expression continues the royal imagery of Song 1:4, 12 (the shepherd is a king), and the comparison of love and wine in Song 1:2.
B. (:5) Refreshment and Revival
“Sustain me with raisin cakes, Refresh me with apples,
Because I am lovesick.”
Tremper Longman: Raisin cakes and apples may provide more than physical sustenance and may have been understood to be aphrodisiacs. . .
Love has made her faint. The noun ḥôlat from the verb ḥlh denotes a loss of physical strength. Often it denotes illness, not just weakness. This phrase could conceivably be translated “I am sick with love,” but the meaning is roughly the same. She is overwhelmed emotionally and physically by her love for the man. It is a strong statement of the power of love and may also contain a cautionary note to the effect that love is wonderful but not something to play around with.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The image of lying on a bed of raisins and apples has layers of meaning. Lying down implies rest for someone who is weary or ill, and the eating of food gives strength to such persons. On the other hand, lying down has sexual implications, and sweetmeats such as raisins and apples probably connote love play. Lying down in these foods also betokens luxuriant extravagance. Her request is thus an appeal for both strength and for affection, but it suggests a paradise setting.
Tom Gledhill: “Spread me out among the raisin cakes” — The raisin cakes have pagan cultic connotations. The cakes were made in the shape of a nude female with exaggerated genitalia. So there are strong erotic associations here. . . She is swooning with desire. She has that ache in the pit of her stomach, she has that loss of appetite which can only be cured by her being ‘spread out’ with her lover, and by eating and drinking of the delights of love-making. That is the only cure for her malady. She sees herself held in the strong embrace of her lover as they lie together under their leafy shade, her head locked in the strong left arm of the boy while with his right hand he gently caresses her. She allows him to explore her body, the smooth mountains and valleys of her shapely contours. She has surrendered to his advances.
Jack Deere: These three things—protection by her lover, intimacy with him, and obvious displays and expressions of love from him—are crucial factors that enable a woman to develop a sense of security and self-worth and thereby to enjoy a stable marriage.
C. (:6) Romantic Embrace
“Let his left hand be under my head
And his right hand embrace me.”
Richard Hess: Now they are physically close as only lovers may be. They melt into one another’s arms, and the dizziness of love’s overpowering sweetness is enhanced rather than removed.
(2:7) REFRAIN – DON’T RUSH LOVE (The Bride)
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, That you will not arouse or awaken my love, Until she pleases.”
Bruce Hurt: quoting Net Note: Frequently, when oaths were taken in the ancient world, witnesses were invoked in order to solemnize the vow and to act as jurists should the oath someday be broken. Cosmic forces such as the “heavens and earth” were often personified to act as witnesses to an oath (e.g., Deut 32:1; Isa 1:2; Mic 1:2; 6:1–2; Ps 50:2). In this case, the “witnesses” are the “gazelles and stags of the field” (Song 2:7; 3:5). These animals were frequently used as symbols of romantic love in the OT (Pr 5:19). And in Egyptian and Mesopotamian love literature and Ugaritic poetry the gazelle was often associated with sexual fertility. For instance, in the following excerpt from a Mesopotamian incantation text the stag is referred to in the context of sexual potency in which a woman urges an ailing male: “With the love-[making of the mountain goat] six times, with the lovemaking of a stag seven times, with the lovemaking of a partridge twelve times, make love to me! Make love to me because I am young! And the lovemaking of a stag…Make love to me!” (R. D. Biggs, Ancient Mesopotamian Potency Incantations [TCS], 26, lines 4–8).
Iain Duguid: The oath itself is to be sworn by the gazelles or the does of the field. At first sight, it may seem odd to swear an oath by a group of wild animals. These animals, along with stags, are clearly associated with lovemaking elsewhere in the Song, which suggests that to swear by these animals is to swear by love itself. Yet the sounds of the Hebrew words for gazelles (ṣĕbā’ôt) and does of the field (’ayĕlôt haśśādeh) also deliberately recall the divine names yhwh ṣĕbā’ôt (‘the Lord of Hosts’) and ’ēl šadday (‘God Almighty’), indicating clearly who the true God of love is. . .
There is nothing wrong with the passionate desire for sexual union, for the eager longing to be embraced by one’s beloved in the house of wine. However, as the rest of Scripture makes clear, the proper place and time for such union is only within marriage. Those who are as yet unmarried, such as the daughters of Jerusalem, are warned about the danger of stirring up such feelings before their time.
In our contemporary context, we live in a culture that spends much of its waking time seeking to stir up our desires for love and sex, a culture in which sex outside marriage is increasingly regarded as normal. The woman in the Song urges all of us to beware of those temptations, not because sex is dirty or insipid, but precisely because it is so beautiful and potent. It is a glorious gift given to us by God, intended to bond two people inseparably together for life by its unique and overwhelming power.
Richard Hess: The appreciation of love as a gift from God is the traditional theological understanding of this book. This verse captures the counterbalance. The full appreciation of the joys of physical love can happen only when love comes at the appropriate time with the partner that love chooses. For the Christian, here are the beginnings of a powerful message of physical love as God’s gift according to his will and timing. It is not a decision reached by the daughters of Jerusalem (any more than by the sons) but one that must be received when and in the manner that God has decided.
Tremper Longman: Wait for love to blossom; don’t try to stimulate it artificially. After all, in the preceding verses we have seen that love takes its toll on the woman. She warns the others not to arouse love until they are ready to meet its rigors, both physical and emotional. Love is not a passing fling but rather a demanding and exhausting relationship.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The passion of love and of the powerful emotions of the transition from virgin to sexually active woman are to be experienced with what the OT calls the “husband of your youth.” The woman is simply telling the younger girl to wait until she finds and marries the man she loves.
Tom Gledhill: What then is there to teach us here about our own love relationships and our thought-lives and fantasies? The first thing that needs to be said is that our imaginations often run far ahead of our physical reactions and they in turn run far ahead of what our actual relationship may be able to bear at that particular moment. When the physical outstrips the fully personal, emotional and psychological integration of two lovers, the danger signals should start flashing. Adulterous thoughts, thoughts of fornication are all too easy to entertain in the abstract, divorced from a relationship that is developing healthily at its own pace. It seems that the girl in the Song recognizes that here. She wants their love to be consummated, but she is in great tension, because she knows that the time is not yet ripe. In speaking to the daughters of Jerusalem, she is speaking to herself. She is basically telling herself to cool it, to wait for the appropriate time. For the Christian, the appropriate time is always within marriage, never outside it. We are all so clever at rationalizing our own desires, at excusing our own lack of self-discipline of our bodies and of our thought-lives. But we need to be ruthless in this matter, as Jesus himself taught.