THE BRIDE’S DREAM OF LOSING HER LOVER LEADS TO AN ANXIOUS SEARCH AND RECOVERY
Tremper Longman: The setting of the present poem begins in the woman’s bed (v. 1), moves to the public areas of the city (vv. 2–4b), and then to the privacy of the mother’s bedroom (vv. 4c–5). The whole scene is somewhat surreal, and indeed it has been debated on the basis of the opening words of the poem (on my bed at night) whether or not this was a dream fantasy rather than reality. Our own view of the song undercuts this discussion, as explained in the commentary on the first verse, since we believe the poet is creating a world rather than describing an actual event. . .
She is pining for her absent lover and she pursues him until she finds him and brings him back to a place of intimacy where they can experience union. Thus, again, we get a pattern that we have seen and will see repeated numerous times in the Song: absence and longing leads to search and discovery, which results in intimacy and joy.
Tom Gledhill: It is unlikely that the scenes in 3:1–5 represent actual reality, for it is highly improbable that the young woman would go off in the middle of the night all by herself to search for her absent lover in the city streets and squares. Also the speed of the action seems too compressed to represent an actual event.
Constable: Some scholars believe that the Song is not a sequential narrative. [Note: Hess, p. 34.] Other writers have seen chronological progression in the experiences of the lovers in view. [Note: e.g., Delitzsch.]
Iain Duguid: This poem corresponds in many ways to the night-time scene in 5:2–8, where the similar themes of searching and eventually finding recur. Both scenes have a dreamlike quality, in that they are describing events that are outside the realm of normal experience, while nonetheless seeming disturbingly familiar. Of course, a poem about a dream is not the same thing as a dream; nor is either of them the same as an actual experience (Longman 2001: 127).
Henry Morris: The experience described in Song 3:1-5 is evidently a dream, perhaps brought on by her concern over the “little foxes” which might eventually separate them (“Bether” in Song 2:17 means “separation”).
Bruce Hurt: Note that many but not all commentaries interpret this as a dream which seems to express the young woman’s fear of losing her young man – some see it as something that literally happened, while others see it as symbolic descriptions. The fact that it begins with the location “on my bed night after night” would tend to support that this is a dream. Even in the context of this first verse, how could she be on her bed on one hand and seek him on the other hand? He could hardly be lost in or on her literal bed!
I. (:1) SEEKING AND NOT FINDING IN THE BEDROOM
A. Seeking in the Bedroom
“On my bed night after night I sought him whom my soul loves;”
Richard Hess: The first four verses are linked by the repetition of “the one whom my heart loves.” As the key object of each of these verses, its frequent appearance acts as a refrain, drawing the reader/listener back again and again to the object of the female’s search. . . The seeking without finding gives way to finding, and all has as its source and goal “the one whom my heart loves,” a phrase that remains constant and unchanged throughout the story.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: means not “all night long” but literally “in the nights” or “night after night” or simply “by night.” The point is that it is a regular nocturnal occurrence, not that it is an event that took place during the course of one specific night. She seeks her lover night after night on her bed but does not find him. This indicates nocturnal yearnings for sexual fulfillment and for the companionship of a man. It should not be taken to mean that she actually expected to find her lover in her bed. What she describes, simply enough, is the desire one experiences when sleeping alone. She wants “the one whom [her] soul loves.” Her words both reflect desire for the specific man whom she already loves and refer to her loneliness in bed and to her desire for affection and a husband. The yearning and agitation of the young woman are the actual focus here.
B. Not Finding
“I sought him but did not find him.”
David Guzik: There is something good in the maiden’s seeking of her beloved; yet it came after their relationship was well established. The relationship did not begin nor was it founded upon her pursuit of him.
II. (:2) SEEKING AND NOT FINDING IN THE CITY
A. Seeking in the City
“I must arise now and go about the city;
In the streets and in the squares I must seek him whom my soul loves.”
Tremper Longman: The city is a place hostile to intimate relationship (see similar theme in 5:2–7), particularly when compared with the safety and privacy of the bedroom. After all, the city, especially the street (šûq) and the public square (reḥôb), is a place teaming with people, hardly conducive to romance.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: She stops her idle, romantic fantasizing and actually goes after him with all the emotional risks that this action entails (again, this is all metaphorical). . . the words describe a movement from a passive desire to a focused determination to bring her lover to her bed. In fantasy, the pleasures of sex are easy, uncomplicated, and come of themselves to a passive subject. In reality, sexual pleasure and the fulfillment of a relationship require effort, maturity, active participation, and a determination to overcome obstacles. . .
The woman of the Song shows herself to be the true protagonist of Song of Songs by metaphorically embarking on a heroic journey. The wandering in the streets of Jerusalem represents the ideal of the quest. Reading these lyrics as actual events misses the deeper point. The woman takes upon herself the responsibility of nurturing her love by courageous determination to take the man to herself. Nevertheless, she does not immediately find him; she must first deal with the guards of the city.
B. Not Finding
“I sought him but did not find him.”
III. (:3-4) INQUIRING, FINDING AND HOLDING
A. (:3) Inquiring of the Watchmen
“The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me,
And I said, ‘Have you seen him whom my soul loves?’”
B. (:4a) Finding
“Scarcely had I left them
When I found him whom my soul loves;”
Richard Hess: Note the courage and daring implicit in the opening phrase of this verse. The expression (lit.) “I had passed over from/behind them” (ʿābartî mēhem) suggests that she does not at this point return to her home. The female has met the guardians of the city, and they have nothing to tell her. The reasonable thing to do would be to give up her search and return home, perhaps with their escort. However, her love and dedication will not allow this. She will go further, down the street, around the corner. Whatever the risk, she will not be deterred from the object of her desire. With this additional leap, brought about solely by her devotion to her lover, she finds her lover. How this speaks of love at every level: the devotion of the lover to the object of her desire.
C. (:4b) Holding
“I held on to him and would not let him go,
Until I had brought him to my mother’s house,
And into the room of her who conceived me.”
Tom Gledhill: Motion to my mother’s house leads us in two opposing directions; to the literal homestead, which is an unlikely place for the secret love-making of the unmarrieds; and metaphorically to the girl’s own secret place, to the entrance to her womb, the ‘chamber’ (1:4), the innermost sanctum of intimacy to which she longs to bring her lover. That this is the meaning is confirmed by the request the girl (or is it the author?) makes, that love should not be awakened or aroused until there is an appropriate opportunity for it to be fulfilled.
Carr: Immediately after leaving them she finds her lover. Held (NEB seized) is satisfactory (cf. Song 2:15 catch the foxes), but ‘clutched and refused to slacken her embrace’ catches the urgency and relief of the discovery better. Still clinging to him, she leads him gently but forcefully to her mother’s house and into the maternal bedroom (cf. Song 1:4, and Song 8:2).
Duane Garrett / Paul House: She then seizes her lover and will not loosen her grip. The language is dramatic and speaks of determination, decision, and steadfastness. She has in her mind stepped across a border. She has turned away from her virginity and instead clings tightly to her lover. That is, she has chosen him over her virginity. . .
Therefore, the mother’s “house,” and the “room,” of the woman who conceived her are again representative terms. They can only be the womb; this is the house and room where all are conceived. She is determined to bring her lover into her maternal chamber, so to speak. More than that, the woman identifies with her mother in the matter of confrontation with the loss of virginity. Her mother, in effect, has become a role model for her and gives her the strength to face this event. . .
She has in her mind confronted the issue of her virginity and has resolutely decided to take her lover rather than retain her virginity. Understood in this way, the sudden charge to the Jerusalem girls suits the context perfectly. She is in effect saying that this is a very big decision and that her friends should not rush into it. Wait for the right time and right man, she suggests.
John Schultz: The girl brings her lover to her paternal home. “To my mother’s house, to the room of the one who conceived me.” Had her intend been on sexual intimacy, she would not have done so. The reference to the place establishes in a poetical way, a chain of life. The sexual reference is not to her own experience, but to that of her parents. It is the place where she was created, the place where she came into the world. The suggestion is that the fruit of the marriage she anticipates will be the birth of their own children. She sees herself as a link in the miracle chain of life. The picture she paints is more than one of mere enjoyment of intimacy with her lover; it is a picture of life. This is not the typical attitude of people in love. Young lovers tend to forget the consequences of their behavior. This girl is level-headed enough to realize that if she and her lover would have pre-marital sex it would spoil the reality of their love. This we understand from the following exhortation in vs. 5, “Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
Dennis Kinlaw: It may be that the reference to the maiden’s bringing her lover to her mother’s home reflects Genesis 2:24, where the husband is to leave father and mother, but no like command is given to the woman. This passage may also reflect ancient Israelite marital customs now unknown to us. Perhaps we should notice that Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of his mother, even though Sarah was deceased, and there consummated their marriage (Gen 24:67).
IV. (:5) REFRAIN – DON’T RUSH LOVE
“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.”
Richard Hess: As in 2:7 (cf. also 8:4) the poetry reaches a high point of erotic celebration and union and then suddenly interrupts with a message of caution. The caution betrays not only the awareness of an element of control in this poem; it also suggests that the Song portrays a picture that itself is a fantasy, a poetic celebration of carnal love as a gift.
Tremper Longman: That this poem culminates in the act of love is underlined by the warning that the woman brings to the circle of young women around here. Her passion led her in an energetic pursuit of her man. Once she found him, she brought him to a place of intimacy. What woman would not want to feel her passion and find its satisfaction? Yet the woman wisely tells the others not to rush into love, but rather to wait for the right moment, the moment indeed she has apparently found.
Sierd Woudstra: Love can be a mighty force in the lives of men and women. Unanswered and unsatisfied it can cause untold pain and great grief to the human heart. But love requited gives unspeakable joy. The Shulamite in her dream experiences both in some degree – both love unsatisfied and love fulfilled. Hence this refrain (cf. 2:7) is not an anticlimax to the reunion of the two lovers in the dream. Rather, it indicates recognition of the fact that because these are the effects which love can have, it must be handled with the utmost care and should not be aroused before its proper time.