THE IDEALIZED BRIDAL PROCESSION WOWS EVERYONE WITH ITS DISPLAY OF ROYAL WEALTH AND POWER
Trevor Longman: Song of Songs 3:6–11 clearly stands out as a separate poetic unit. It begins with a question that draws the reader’s attention out to the wilderness where what is soon to be identified as a palanquin (and later a litter) is kicking up dust that looks like a pillar of smoke (3:6). The remainder of the poem describes this luxurious vehicle as well as the guards that accompany it. The poem concludes with a focus on the wedding crown of Solomon (3:11). . .
1) Mythological approach
2) Actual historical event
3) Poetic view — see below
Throughout the commentary, we have maintained an approach to the Song that appreciates its poetic quality. Here too, we understand that this poem offers not historical description but rather a poetic description that draws upon the traditional opulence of Solomon’s life and kingdom in order to celebrate love and marriage. The Solomon/royal fiction is being exploited here, not because of Solomon’s reputation in the area of love per se (where he has a dubious reputation!), but rather because of his incredible wealth. In other words, this poem expresses the woman’s poetic imagination as she reflects upon the wonders of love and, in the case of this poem at least, marriage.
Edwin Good: The entire poem may be a complex metaphor for the lover as Solomon, as king, providing his bride with all the trappings of queenship, attendant warriors, richly appointed palanquin, all the local women gathered to see them on “the day of his heart’s joy.” (And why not “her heart’s joy”?)
Richard Hess: The references to King Solomon, like the crowns worn up to the present day by Jewish brides and grooms on their weddings, represent the images that the male and female possess in the eyes of one another. The female here appears perfumed with the finest of aromatics, guarded by a retinue of the strongest of warriors, and housed in the most gorgeous and exotic of chambers. She presents an altogether magnificent spectacle of one who might well have come from the ends of the earth to her lover. The male is the greatest of all kings of Israel, whose crown and glory are unsurpassed. Previous sections have considered their passion and pure sensual desire for one another. Later chapters will turn to describe in detail their physical bodies. Here the erotic poetry pauses as it considers only the manner in which the lovers appear in the eyes of one another. They are queen and king. Is this hyperbole? Of course it is, from the perspective of those of us who read this poetry. Of course it is not, from the perspective of those of us who find here our own beloved and recall how beautiful or handsome they seemed to us on our wedding day. For the lover, the object of his or her love is one who exceeds everyone and everything else. We gaze upon the object of our love in desire, admiration, and ultimately joy because we want to do so, because we see there the fulfillment of all that we long for. In the Song it is the male and female lovers, the bridegroom and bride. For interpreters throughout history, it has been God and his people, and for Christians, Christ and the church.
I. (:6) IMPRESSIVE WEDDING PROCESSION OF THE BRIDE
“What is this [Better: Who is this]
coming up from the wilderness
Like columns of smoke,
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
With all scented powders of the merchant?”
I think it is best to take vs. 6 as referring to the procession of the perfumed bride as the chorus (the daughters of Jerusalem) watches in amazement. While vs. 7 refers to the accompaniment of the king-groom, the idealized Solomon, on his very opulent traveling couch, accompanied by his mighty men. I do not see this approach favored in any of the commentators quoted below. They all want to see the same character in vs. 6 as the one in the traveling couch of vs. 7 – though they differ as to whether it is the female or the male. Remember – this is all being viewed from the perspective of the Chorus.
Richard Hess: The male understands that what approaches is no ordinary group of people, but one whose opulence is signaled in advance by columns of smoke burning fine aromatics. Already in this first verse the male has addressed the senses of sight and smell. Whenever the senses go beyond what is seen and heard, the male directs his attention toward his lover or something wonderful that reminds him of her physical presence and lovemaking.
Tom Gledhill: there is a disjunction between verse 6 and verse 7. Verse 7 is not the answer to the question in verse 6. The whole verse represents an announcement of her dazzling appearance. Behold, she comes! It is an awesome manifestation, her royal epiphany.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The phrase means “Who is this (woman)?” Many scholars argue that context indicates that a man is at the center of the sight on the basis of v 11. In reality, however, the text never indicates that the “Solomon” of v 11 is in the palanquin of vv 6–10. The fact that v 7 says that it is Solomon’s palanquin, moreover, does not mean that he is inside. It is true that [Who] can be a neutrum, a feminine pronoun with a vague or undefined reference (IBHS, 692), and one might suggest that the word refers to the whole spectacle that is approaching and not to a single person. A problem with this interpretation is that the text does not have “What is this?” as in Exod 13:14; it reads “Who is this?” implying that the feminine pronoun is indeed a person. The phrase appears elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible only at Song 6:10 and 8:5, and in both of these the object of attention is the woman. The simplest solution is that the woman is in the palanquin (v 6) and that the man is awaiting her arrival (v 11). . .
From a canonical and literary standpoint, the wilderness is highly significant (see Garrett, Hosea, Joel, 88–91). The wilderness is the place of Israel’s sojourn with God, and from the wilderness Israel came into Canaan to seize the land of promise. It was there also that Moses resided during his years of formation and there that he had his mystical experience with the burning bush. Wilderness almost connotes images of Eden: Hosea invokes wilderness as the place of divine wooing, where God would win back the heart of the woman Israel (Hos 2:16 [ET 2:14]). Keel ( 126) observes that both Ashtarte and Ishtar were goddesses of the wilderness. This canto speaks of the arrival in these terms in order to endow the event with grandeur and wonderment. Like the armies of Israel or like God himself, the entourage appears from the wilderness with clouds of glory.
Iain Duguid: Following the suggestion of Assis (2009: 103–106), however, I believe that the key is to recognize that the crucial identifier of the person coming from the wilderness is that she is ‘perfumed with myrrh and frankincense, with all the fragrant powders of a merchant’ (3:6). Nothing in the description of Solomon’s bed corresponds to this emphasis on scent. Rather, we have to wait until 4:6 for myrrh and frankincense to recur in the man’s description of his beloved, whom he then invites to come to him from the wild and untamed regions of Lebanon.
This suggests that there is a twofold potential answer to the question: ‘Who is this?’ with each part introduced with hinneh (‘Behold’; 3:7; 4:1). The first potential answer draws our attention to the glory of Solomon’s bed and his wedding day (3:7–11), which are described in great detail. Yet the superficial glory that so appeals to Solomon is not what has captured the man’s heart. Instead, the sight that he longs to see with aching eyes is the simple beauty of his beloved, whom he describes in equal detail (4:1–7). Solomon can keep his bed and all of its glorious accoutrements: the man’s desire on his own wedding day is simply to behold his beloved, coming up out of the wilderness to share their new life together. . .
II. (:7-8) IMPRESSIVE WEDDING PROCESSION OF THE GROOM
A. (:7a) The Transported Groom on His Opulent Couch
“Behold, it is the traveling couch of Solomon;”
B. (:7b) The Accompanying Military Entourage
1. Sixty Mighty Men of Israel
“Sixty mighty men around it,
Of the mighty men of Israel.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: implies men chosen from the warriors of Israel—i.e., elite troops of an honor guard. Scholars have observed that the number is twice that of David’s guard, thirty (2 Sam 23:18–19). If the doubling is intentional, it is probably a hyperbole meant to imply that this spectacle is glorious beyond description. In reality, a bridal procession in a normal wedding probably was accompanied by some friends of the groom, but the royal trappings here add further spectacle to the scene. . .
While the warriors of this text are probably not strictly a metaphor for her virginity, the image may connote some of the same ideal. The woman must be delivered pure and safe to the man. The terrors of the night are ambiguous, but it is significant that they are of the “night.” This is the time of love, but it is also the time of treachery, stealth, ambush, and rape. The woman is protected so that she may come safely to her night with the groom.
Richard Hess: The “warriors of Israel” (gibbōrê yiśrāʾēl) first appear in Exod. 17:11, where they form the army that defeats the Amalekites. These battle-ready warriors form the honor guard for the passenger. For her to control a contingent of this size suggests great power and prestige.
2. (:8) All Expert and Equipped Fighters
“All of them are wielders of the sword,
Expert in war;
Each man has his sword at his side,
Guarding against the terrors of the night.”
III. (:9-10) IMPRESSIVE TRAVELING COUCH FOR KING SOLOMON
A. (:9) Constructed from the Strongest Materials
“King Solomon has made for himself a sedan chair
From the timber of Lebanon.”
Edwin Good: At v. 9, the “litter” is called a “palanquin” (‘appiryown, a word that occurs nowhere else and is apparently borrowed from Greek phoreion). A palanquin ordinarily held only one person—fitting for a king or a king’s bride—and was carried on poles like a sedan chair. The poet wants us to be interested in its materials and fittings: Lebanese cedar with silver posts, gold cushions (we would think of golden fabric, not gold metal, though the silver-gold parallelism might lead us to think the latter), purple fabric on the seats. At that point the meanings seem to fall apart. “The interior joined” seems all right, but suddenly it is followed by the word for “love,” which is sensible in the context only if we suppose that “love” is the mode of joining, at best difficult to understand.
B. (:10) Constructed from the Most Expensive Materials
“He made its posts of silver,
Its back of gold
And its seat of purple fabric,
With its interior lovingly fitted out By the daughters of Jerusalem.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: One might object to assigning these lines to the chorus on the grounds that in vv 10–11 they summon the girls of Jerusalem to come out, and therefore the singers are thus not themselves the girls of Jerusalem. But this objection is flimsy; the chorus is not all of the Jerusalem girls but a small, representative group. The people who are most likely to call out girls to come see a spectacle are other girls.
This canto has four strophes of six lines each, for twenty-four lines in total. . .
the pieces of the sedan chair are not fastened together with nails, ropes, or other materials but by means of carefully carved interlocking joints.
Trevor Longman: This object is luxurious; it radiates wealth and power. It is made out of the most precious of materials: silver, gold, and purple cloth, all associated with royalty. Purple cloth was particularly rare, being made from a pigment from the murex shellfish. According to R. L. Alden, the Phoenicians were the only ones who could make the dye.
David Guzik: It was clear from this that the beloved (Solomon) could do the two essential things a man must be able to do before he is ready to be married: he must be able to protect and provide for his maiden. The protection was shown in the armed men who surrounded this procession; the provision was shown in the opulence of Solomon’s entourage. Of course, he cannot protect or provide for his maiden (or bride) until he can protect and provide for himself; then they live a shared life, a oneness, with whatever belongs to him now also belongs to her also.
IV. (:11) IMPRESSIVE RECEPTION BY THE DAUGHTERS OF ZION
“Go forth, O daughters of Zion,
And gaze on King Solomon with the crown
With which his mother has crowned him
On the day of his wedding,
And on the day of his gladness of heart.”
Richard Hess: Here and only here in this section, and indeed in the whole of the Song, is a wedding (ḥătunnâ, 3:11) explicitly mentioned. The entire section has been building to this climax, the announcement of a wedding. This is what brings joy to the heart of the king, rather than wealth or power or anything else. So significant is this happiness that the term śimḥâ occurs only here in the whole of the Song, despite its frequency elsewhere in the Bible (some 95 appearances) and the joyous tone of the Song. 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.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The chorus calls on the girls of Jerusalem to come out and view “Solomon” but says little about the man himself. Instead, their words draw attention to
(1) the crown he wore on his wedding,
(2) his mother, and
(3) the joy that filled his heart at his wedding.
As suggested already, “Solomon” here is not a character in a story but serves as a symbol of regal majesty, a quality that every groom (ideally) partakes of. . .
The joy of “Solomon” at his wedding reminds the audience of the celebratory nature of the event. The joy is not simply a matter of the impending wedding night but is also a result of the exaltation of the bride and groom and of love itself. The young women of the city are called out to experience the excitement.
The marriage of a man and woman is here represented as an event that is both regal and divine. Of themselves, the man and woman are ordinary mortals, but the ceremonial bringing of the bride to the groom exalts both of them to the status of royalty. One might suggest that a marriage reenacts the story of Gen 2, when God brought the woman to Adam, the first “king.” It reminds us of the ideal that we were intended to fulfill and of this creation miracle, the union of man and woman, that was not altogether spoiled by the fall. The ceremonial trappings of the entourage convey the reality that the joining of man and woman is a thing of great glory. It is a celebration of love. . .
this is probably not a presentation of how a normal bridal procession in ancient Israel would have actually looked. It is an idealized image of a wedding procession under the metaphor of royal splendor.