ANTICIPATION AND INVITATION TO ROMANTIC LOVE CLIMAXES IN PASSIONATE CONSUMMATION
Tom Gledhill: The verses of this poem have such simple evocative power that any comment seems almost superfluous. The text is so marvelously alive, that any comment will appear to be very pedestrian. Beautiful poems can too often be reduced to dust and ashes by dry academic analysis. But, for the purposes of our exposition, we can divide the poem quite naturally into the girl’s eager anticipation (verses 8–9) and the boy’s urgent invitation (verses 10–14).
Richard Hess: On a larger level, 2:8–17 begin with mountains, gazelle, and stag, and they end with gazelle, stag, and mountains. . .
Contrary to some commentators, the Song does not portray sex as the great and final goal in order to experience true joy. Nor does it suggest that mutual admiration of the lovers, their physical bodies and sensuality, is the source of joy. Rather, the Song directly associates the joy of the heart with the final commitment of marriage. It is only within this commitment that all the joys of the male and female lovers come together, for it is only here that they realize the freedom to express those joys without restraint, knowing that the marriage bond seals their love in a lifetime commitment to each other.
Iain Duguid: The reference to gazelles and does (v. 9) links this poem to the preceding one (v. 7).
Kinlaw: We have seen in the text thus far the beginnings of a very free expression of love between a maiden and a man. The courtship has begun, and the desire for each other is intense. She is weak with passion.
Jack Deere: [Views the woman as anticipating this consummation of physical union in her mind … rather than yet experiencing it physically]
Her thoughts of their mutual possession of each other naturally led to her desire for physical intimacy. So in her mind she invited him to turn (i.e., to her) with the strength and agility of a gazelle or . . . young stag (cf. v. 9; 8:14). Rugged hills is literally, “hills or mountains of separation or cleavage.” . . . It seems preferable to take this as a subtle reference to her breasts (cf. 4:6), thus an inner longing that they consummate their marriage. If that is the meaning, then she wanted that intimacy to last during the night till the day breaks (lit., “breathes”) at dawn and the night shadows vanish. When their marriage was consummated they did this (see 4:5-6). As already stated, in expressing their love in their courtship, the beloved and her lover used restraint. Yet because of their deep love and commitment to each other they longed for their wedding day to come.
I. (:8-9) EAGER ANTICIPATION – HERE COMES MY STUD (Female)
(:8a) His Awakening Call
“Listen! My beloved!”
Or alternatively: “Ah, I hear him – my beloved!” (The Living Bible)
A. (:8b) His Approach – Fervency of Love
“Behold, he is coming,
Climbing on the mountains,
Leaping on the hills!”
Trevor Longman: He is moving with agile grace and speed toward his beloved. The scene evokes a sense of excitement and eagerness. . . The excitement of the lover is communicated by the fact that he is leaping and bounding over mountains and hills. These two words are found together frequently in Hebrew poetry, and they are roughly to be taken as synonyms. They communicate that the lover overcomes obstacles in his desire to reach his beloved. This is an indication of his loving commitment, his determination to make a rendezvous.
Daniel Akin: His aggressiveness, agility, and attractiveness all are recognized by Shulammite. He is motivated (running, leaping) and he is interested. His actions scream loud and clear, “I want this woman!” His is a holy passion, a righteous desire, as the Song makes clear. He is enthusiastic for her. He is not ashamed to let anyone and everyone know what he feels in his heart for this lady. Her excitement for him, in return, cannot be hidden either.
B. (:9a) His Appeal – Aggressiveness and Sexual Power
“My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.”
C. (:9b) His Arrival and Attentiveness
“Behold, he is standing behind our wall,
He is looking through the windows,
He is peering through the lattice.”
Richard Hess: the lover is seen to approach the female like an animal that moves rapidly across the terrain. Indeed, that is what happens in a series of verbs, actually participles. These forms can extend the action as an ongoing reality while additional verbs describe what is happening. In both verses an initial identification of the female’s partner gives way to an introductory participle that describes the basic purpose of the action: “comes”/“stands.” This is followed by two lines, each beginning with a participle, which express in a synonymous manner a picture of the male as a gazelle leaping and then remaining motionless: “leaping”/“springing” and “standing”/“peering.” This parallelism and the overall structure serve to emphasize the approach of the female’s partner and her eager anticipation for his coming. She longs for his voice, but before she can hear it she witnesses his approach.
Trevor Longman: The fact that he stands quietly and looks intently after such agitated movement also evokes a mood of romantic tension. Will she go with him? How quickly?
Duane Garrett / Paul House: It is more likely that the peeking through the window is a function of the metaphor of the deer. The image of a young woman who is excited to see a deer outside her window is merged with the image of a young woman who is excited at the coming of her lover. He is outside, “our wall,” that is, the wall of her parents and brothers. The lover is thus a beautiful outsider, a gazelle, who comes to take her away from her childhood home. Her domestic environment, the home, is thus contrasted with the wilderness, the domain of the gazelle. The point is that the man is wooing the woman; he wants her to leave her childhood home and run with him in the wilderness—here suggesting the wilds of sexual maturity and the danger of abandoning the security of her childhood home.
Peter Pett: We are reminded here also of another Shepherd-King, Who came into the world that He might seek and save the lost. He too loves His true people. And we are reminded here of His persistence when He begins to seek us. One moment we are aware of Him behind the wall of our unbelief, then of Him looking in through the window. We cannot escape Him. He just will not let us go until we are sought and found. For He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love (Ephesians 1:4), and loves us with an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3). In a similar way He had called to Jerusalem but in their case they would not hear Him (Matthew 23:37). For they were not of His sheep (John 10:26).
II. (:10-13) URGENT INVITATION – RENDEZVOUS WITH ME (Male)
Tremper Longman: Verses 10 and 13, part of the quoted invitation, provide a unit within the broader poem, separated by an inclusio formed by the request expressed by “Rise up, my darling, my beautiful one, and come.…”
The main part of his invitation in verses 10 through 13 has the form of a chiasm (a-b/b´-a´). The two outside members (a/a´) are the verbs asking her to move toward him. The middle members of the chiasm are his names for her (my darling, my beautiful one), both indicating his affection and passion for her.
(:10a) Response of the Beloved Introduced
“My beloved responded and said to me,”
Richard Hess: This section, in which the male speaks, begins with a comment by the female introducing his words. This is the first such introduction in the book. Although there have been changes of speaker before, these have been signaled by the alteration of the gender of verbs, nouns, and pronouns.
Iain Duguid: At this point, the woman finally hears the sound that she has been listening for, her lover’s voice. The man speaks to invite her to arise … and come away with him, declaring that springtime, the time for love, has now fully come.
A. (:10b) Rendezvous with Me
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along.”
B. (:11) Recognize the Season of Love
“For behold, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.”
Spurgeon: Behold is a word of wonder; it is intended to excite admiration. Wherever you see it hung out in Scripture, it is like an ancient sign-board, signifying that there are rich wares within, or like the hands which solid readers have observed in the margin of the older Puritanic books, drawing attention to something particularly worthy of observation. Bruce Hurt: I would add, behold is like a divine highlighter, a divine underlining of an especially striking or important text. It says in effect “Listen up, all ye who would be wise in the ways of Jehovah!”
Richard Hess: The opening lines that constitute 2:11 affirm that the period of remaining indoors has ended. The initial kî hinnēh suggests that all that follows provides the reason for the male’s call to his lover to come out. It also directs her attention to look, in this case neither at the male nor at their love, but at the beauty that the outdoors provides. The cold and rain of the winter months have now gone. No longer need one remain inside. No longer does one go out only because of necessity. Now the warm sun of the summer has come. The picture here assumes the climate of Palestine, in which there are two primary seasons during the year: the summer with its heat and dryness, and the winter with its showers, storms, and cold. The latter lasts from October to March, and then the summer begins. There is no autumn or spring, because the appearance and disappearance of precipitation provide the main markers for the two seasons. Thus the male lover declares null and void any former reasons that would have kept the lovers from a rendezvous in the fields and forests. He explains that the period of mourning and separation has ended.
Trevor Longman: Springtime is the universal time for love: warmer weather, the fragrance of flowers—a time to go outside, a time for the removal of clothes and intimacy. The couple can leave the urban setting and go out to the countryside, the place of lovemaking and union.
Edwin Good: He invites her to come out of the house into which he is peering and enjoy the arrival of spring with all of its inducements to love-making. He recites the signs of spring: the new growth of plants, attractive fragrances, pleasant sights and bird-songs, all suggesting new and renewed life.
C. (:12) Renewal’s 3 Key Signs of Spring
“The flowers have already appeared in the land;
The time has arrived for pruning the vines,
And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land.”
Richard Hess: each line appeals to the senses: seeing the blossoms, hearing the song [translation: “the time for song has arrived”], and listening to the sound of doves. Only in the springtime do these events occur.
Trevor Longman: It’s springtime, the right time for love. Springtime is signaled by three events associated with its beginning. First, flowers appear. After the rainy season, the countryside of Israel is filled with wild flowers. Second, there is singing in the land. The root of zāmîr is debated. Is it from zmr “to sing” or zmr “to prune”? While the floral context might suggest the latter, many point out that the timing is wrong for pruning, which takes place in July through August. Both renditions have an old pedigree, and Gordon suggests that there may be a double reference here. Third, there is the cooing of the turtledove, a bird known to return to Palestine in early April.
Jack Deere: In a sense when one falls in love the feeling is like spring for everything seems fresh and new. The world is seen from a different perspective, which is how Solomon felt when he was with his beloved….So spring stimulates the senses of sight, sound, taste, and smell.
D. (:13a) Ripeness and Sweetness Abound – Time for Love to Blossom
“The fig tree has ripened its figs,
And the vines in blossom have given forth their fragrance.”
Continuing the theme of fruitfulness
E. (:13b) Rendezvous with Me
“Arise, my darling, my beautiful one,
And come along!”
III. (:14) LONGING FOR INTIMACY (Male)
A. Accessing Secret Places
“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the secret place of the steep pathway,”
Tom Gledhill: Some have seen in the references to clefts and crannies, some sexual innuendo. We cannot be certain. The whole purpose of double entendres is that the ambiguities are unresolved. To plant the suggestion is a kind of tease. Hills, valleys, mountains of incense, mountains of ‘Bether’ (separation) all occur in the Song and can be interpreted at different levels of meaning. However, here, at the surface level of meaning, it is possible that the girl is playing ‘hard to get’, and she is deliberately setting a challenge to her lover. She knows she will ultimately be caught, but wants to sustain the thrill of anticipation by delaying the act of self-giving by prolonging the chase. . .
The imagery of the dove in the rocks may lead us to infer that he wants to be alone with her, far from the maddening crowds, alone in the secluded crags, the overhanging hiding places of the rocky outcrops of the wilderness, there to make love to her, there not just to gaze on her face, but also to see and gently touch the rest of her beautiful and wondrous form, and to hear her shy and mellowed responses. Perhaps they murmur ‘sweet nothings’ to each other, private love-talk on which it is improper to intrude, the sweet verbal nonsense and irrationalities of the communication of the lovers.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The motif of the woman’s inaccessibility appears repeatedly in the man’s songs. He cannot get to her; for them to come together, she must come out to him, or open the door to him, or descend to him. But he does not attempt to gain her by force or entrapment. His only means of attaining her are his words. He appeals to her, praises her, calls her by many pet names, and speaks fervently of the pleasures that she has the power to give.
B. Activating All of the Senses
“Let me see your form,
Let me hear your voice;”
Tom Gledhill: There is a language between lovers which is appropriate for their ears only. Similarly, there are sights which only lovers are allowed to see, such as the various stages of the intimacies of undress. The boy wants to see her beautiful ‘form’, her breasts, her body, her thighs. He is so easily aroused by what he sees. He would like to undress her in the secrecy of the wilderness and to explore her form. For he knows, like every male, that a partially clothed female figure is more alluring than a fully displayed body. The partial concealment is partial disclosure.
C. Appreciating Sweetness and Beauty
“For your voice is sweet,
And your form is lovely.”
IV. (:15) OBSTACLES TO LOVE MUST BE ERADICATED – BLOSSOMING VINEYARDS MUST BE PROTECTED (Couple)
“Catch the foxes for us,
The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards,
While our vineyards are in blossom.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: What is unacceptable, however, is to take this as a verse addressed by the man to the woman or as addressed by the woman to the man. This interpretation disregards entirely the plural form of the imperative. Clues to the identity of the singers of the parts of the Song of Songs are few enough as it is; nothing is gained by disregarding the indications that are explicit in the text. . .
Conclusion: One must decide between the Speakers being:
– The Chorus
– The Couple together = my view here
Richard Hess: Verse 15 provides no hint as to whether it belongs to the male’s previous address or should be part of the female’s response. The former option seems out of character with either the descriptions of nature in the heart of the male’s speech or the exhortations to his lover, which are filled with encouragement interspersed with terms of endearment (“my darling, my beauty”). Neither appears here. On the other hand, there is not a lot of similarity with what follows. Although the female does exhort her lover to do something (v. 17), she does not address him in the plural as in the initial command in v. 15. In fact, the whole meaning of the verse is difficult. Nevertheless, the preferred option is to understand here metaphors for those who would threaten the couple and their love. Therefore, it seems best to attach this to the words of the couple, an intermezzo that both sing. . .
The symbolic meaning of the relationship between the lovers suggests a preparedness for sexual relations. The vineyard is a metaphor for the female’s body as well as a picture of their union of love. Their mutual desire to share their love with one another is expressed by the use of “our.” This is a powerful statement about the need to protect the love that the lovers possess. Those in romantic relationships know all too well how quickly a relationship can be upset, especially by interlopers.
Trevor Longman: the presence of the foxes implies a threat to the relationship.
Glickman: Lists several “little foxes” that may trouble couples:
• Uncontrolled desire that drives a wedge of guilt and mistrust between the couple.
• Mistrust and jealousy that strains or breaks the bond of love.
• Selfishness and pride that refuses to acknowledge wrong and fault to one another.
• An unforgiving attitude that will not accept an apology.
These foxes have been ruining vineyards for years and the end of their work is not in sight.
Daniel Akin: I believe the basic thrust of Solomon’s command is two-fold.
Trouble in Marriage Is Usually in the Small Things
Foxes are not large creatures. They are small and sly, sneaky and quick. They usually come out at night when you can’t see them, and they are especially gifted at hiding. Often you only recognize their presence after the damage has already been done. Two sinners saved by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ are still sinners. There are details and issues we must learn to navigate and resolve. Communication, role responsibilities, finances, sex, children, in-laws, aging parents, and conflict resolution don’t always (in fact, seldom!) naturally come together in a marriage relationship. What at first seems small can blow up into something big over time if it is not dealt with. Little foxes love to ruin a vineyard with bitterness, criticism, jealousy, and neglect. In addition, ignoring them (thinking they will just go away and resolve themselves) will only encourage the foxes to mate and multiply! Recognize from the very start that the health and success of your marriage is bound up in the little things of life.
The Relationship of Marriage Is a Uniquely Sensitive Thing
The HCSB says we must be on guard against the little foxes because “our vineyards are in bloom.” The NKJV says “our vines have tender grapes.” A marriage needs time to grow and bear fruit. It also needs protection because it is a tender and sensitive relationship, perhaps the most tender and sensitive of all. The fact is we all come into marriage with baggage. Open the trunk of your life and you will see both the baggage of your past and the baggage of your personality. The odds are overwhelming that you are unaware of all the things in these two bags.
V. (:16-17) SATISFY YOUR SEXUAL PASSION IN THE CONTEXT OF MUTUAL RELATIONSHIP (Female)
A. (:16a) Reaffirmation of Mutual Relationship (Love and Commitment)
“My beloved is mine, and I am his;”
Tom Gledhill: The female expresses her love in a simple but elegant statement that defines the relationship as one of commitment and possession of each other. . . He belongs to her just as much as she belongs to him. They own, they possess each other. Their relationship is totally symmetrical. The whole of each belongs, and is available to the whole of the other. As Paul says of the marriage relationship, ‘The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone, but also to his wife.’ But here in the Song we are not just talking about bodies. Their bodily sharing is an expression of their mutual love and loyalty, of their determination to treat each other as whole persons, and not just as instruments for mutual self-gratification. This reciprocity, this mutuality is something that shines out from the Song, something of a protest against the male dominance and macho-masculinity which sin brought into the world. But this sensitivity towards the female is known to the prophets of the Old Testament. Hosea especially was aware of the delicacy and fragility of this mutuality. There was the tendency for a woman to call her husband ‘my Ba’al’. This word has connotations of ownership, authoritarianism, of domination rather than complementarity. But Hosea, mouthing the words of Yahweh to his people, says ‘You shall no longer call me my Baal, but you shall call me my husband.’ Of course, all this is in the context of Israel’s apostasy away from Yahwism, when they embraced the indigenous Canaanite fertility cult. Yahweh was viewed by the prophet Hosea as the rejected husband, and Israel was viewed as the unfaithful wife. So the whole idea of the covenant between Yahweh and his people Israel was pictured as marriage, with all that that involves, namely loyalty, faithfulness, mercy, compassion, and so on. This is looked at in detail in the whole of Hosea’s prophecy. But for the moment, we see in Hosea the difference between a husband/wife relationship based on mutual loyalty and compassion, and a master/servant relationship, based on authority, submission and fear. The whole ethos of the Song is far removed from any hint of the latter.
David Guzik: These lines have been repeatedly allegorically applied to the relationship between Jesus and His people. Charles Spurgeon preached eight sermons on Song of Solomon 2:16–17, and in one of them titled The Interest of Christ and His People in Each Other, he meditated on the meaning of each aspect.
Ways that I belong to Jesus; ways that “I am my beloved’s”:
• I am His by the gift of His Father.
• I am His by purchase, paid for by His own life.
• I am His by conquest, He fought for me and won me.
• I am His by surrender, because I gave myself to Him.
Ways that Jesus belongs to me; ways that “He is mine”:
• He is mine by connection in the same body; He is the head and I am part of His body.
• He is mine by affectionate relationship; He has given me His love.
• He is mine by the connection of birth; I am born again of Him.
• He is mine by choice; He gave Himself for me.
• He is mine by indwelling; He has decided to live inside me.
• He is mine personally, He is mine eternally.
B. (:16b) Romanticization of Sexual Intercourse
“He pastures his flock among the lilies.”
Tom Gledhill: to browse among the lilies is a metaphor to represent some very close intimate behaviour such as kissing or fondling some tender part of each others’ bodies. It is totally speculative to attempt to be more precise in this matter. The metaphor, drawing as it does from the realms of gardening and shepherding, and combining them in such a surrealistic way, is meant to evoke an atmosphere of fantasy and make-believe.
C. (:17) Ravishment Invited
[“Until the cool of the day when the shadows flee away,
Turn, my beloved,
and be like a gazelle Or a young stag on the mountains of Bether.”]
I prefer this alternate translation by Duane Garrett and Paul House:
“Until the day comes to life
and the shadows flee,
Take your fill!
Make yourself, my lover, like the gazelle
or like the stag of the deer on the cleft mountains!”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: [I like this approach] –
She is inviting him to love her all night, until the morning dawns. His enjoyment of her body is described under the metaphor of eating, like the grazing of the gazelle in v 16, but she represents the eating in more human terms when she tells him to “recline and eat.”
[Verb] has been translated as “turn” or “return,” but neither makes sense in this context. It is more likely that the verb here has the same sense that it has in 1 Sam 16:11, to sit or recline at a meal; v 16 speaks of the man as a gazelle that feeds on the lotuses. Of course, gazelles do not literally lie down to eat, but this is not supposed to be a literal portrayal of the natural history of gazelles. The language of this verse melds several images, including the gazelle or deer, the taking of a meal, and making love. Reclining was a normal human way of taking a meal and also of making love.
Tom Gledhill: The basic question about 2:17 is, is it an invitation to her lover to intimacy, or is it a command to him to depart and then return later?
Examples of following the traditional translation:
Richard Hess: How can it be that in the midst of passion and pictures of erotic love, the female should send her lover away? The full explanation must await the completion of the Song. However, she is not ready to participate with her partner in a time of amorous pleasure, despite her strong feelings for him. One therefore suspects that lovemaking is anticipated but not yet consummated. Instead, the poetry, with all its suggestive imagery, awaits fulfillment at a future time. This picture of delayed gratification challenges all who would see this book either as a biblical license for free sex or as a manual for a successful marriage. It is neither, although it may have insight for marriage. It is erotic love poetry that makes no apology for appealing to all of the senses that God has created. Yet it also affirms that there is an order to this wonderful gift of sex. Its potency and wildness does not mean that there is no restraint.
Iain Duguid: Are the lilies her lips (cf. 5:13), or another part of her anatomy (7:2), or is this simply a description of his literal shepherding activities (1:7)? In context, it seems best to see this image as an affirmation of her continued physical desire for him. However, in spite of that continued desire, it is not yet time for the consummation of their relationship. The day has not yet fully come and so, picking up on the imagery used to describe the man in verse 8, it is time for her gazelle or young stag to turn around and go back to the mountains. ‘Turn’ (sōb) cannot mean turn towards her; it invariably has the sense of to turn away (see Hess 2005: 99).
Daniel Akin: The couple longs for marital union and sexual consummation. Because they belong to each other they want each other with no barriers standing in the way. Thinking ahead to what they will enjoy, Shulammite invites Solomon to come into her with the agility, strength, and beauty of a gazelle or young stag (cf. 2:9). Her invitation includes an episode of all-night lovemaking. Would any red-blooded, sane male say no? “The divided mountains” could be translated “the mountains of Bether” (NIV, “the rugged hills”). Literally it is “hills or mountains of separation.” This would seem to be a not-so-subtle reference to the woman’s breasts (cf. 4:6). With all of his desire and passion before her, she welcomes him. “Before the day breaks [lit. “breathes”] and the shadows flee” (in other words, “all night”), be my lover and enjoy the fruits of our love. Shulammite has come a long way in her own personal self-evaluation. The unreserved love of this man who has entered her life has effected a great change. She is now the woman God created her to be. Together the two of them are far better and more beautiful than they ever could have been alone (Gen 2:18). Love will do that when we pursue it God’s way and with all our heart.