SEXUAL COMPATIBILITY CAN BE A STRUGGLE – GIVEN THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MEN AND WOMEN
Dennis Kinlaw: This is a remarkable picture of the kind of adjustments that are necessary in life style in marriage. Our natural sloth the differences between a man and a woman, our uncertainty about the other’s thinking, the variations in our life rhythms, our unwillingness to alter our preferred patterns for the other, our own self-consciousness – all contribute to the problem of reading each other’s advances. The lover misunderstands and departs. She is sick now with longing for him.
POSB: This is a common scene in marriages. Men and women have different sex drives and different sexual needs. Men usually desire sex more frequently than women do. Psychologist and marriage coach Willard F. Harley, Jr. lists the top five needs of men and women in his best-selling book, His Needs, Her Needs: Building an Affair-proof Marriage.” The top five needs of men, in order of priority, are…sexual fulfillment, recreational companionship, physical attractiveness, domestic support, admiration. The top five needs of women are: affection, conversation, honesty and openness, financial support, family commitment. Notice that sexual fulfillment is man’s number one need, but it is not even on the list for women. Most men have a continuing appetite for sex. Though most women have a sexual appetite, it is usually not as strong. If a wife has a long, hard day, the last thing she feels like doing is having sex. If a man has a long, hard day, he may need to have sex to relive some tension! In this area and countless others, marriage partners must adjust to each other. Considering only one’s own desires and needs makes these adjustments impossible, and leads to serious marital problems and often divorce. Attitudes other than selfishness are just as dangerous: indifference, emotional withdrawal, lack of consideration, failure to communicate, bitterness, impatience, and so many more. These “little foxes” (Song 2:15) can do great damage to marriages. Every couple experiences problems in their marriage—even kings and queens! In fact, any time there is more than one person, problems will arise….The honeymoon is over when the problems start.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: it is impossible, I will argue, to give this passage a literal reading without the text becoming nearly incomprehensible. Even if one should claim to make sense of the literal gist of these lyrics, one is left with a love song that is horrifying: A man pounds at his lover’s door; after some hesitation, she arises to let him in, but he has already run away; she frantically looks for him, but the night watchmen find her, strip her, and beat her up! As a love song (if taken literally), this is a monstrous parody. The only way to interpret this material meaningfully is to take its surreal imagery and incongruous twists for what they are: a metaphor symbolizing something altogether different from the quasi-story on the surface of the text.
Tremper Longman: The point is that this poem, like all the other poems in the Song, are not focused on a real life occurrence. They are creating moods and sensations. We can debate whether the poem intends for us to understand this as the woman’s dream or not, but we cannot insist that these are real experiences. They are dream-like and poetic. This poem, especially the first part, utilizes some of the most erotic imagery in the Bible, but it does so very tastefully, through the use of double entendre.
I. (5:2-8) THE STRUGGLE FOR SEXUAL COMPATIBILITY
A. (:2a) Female Perspective: Slow to Perceive Her Lover’s Desire for Sex
“I was asleep, but my heart was awake.
A voice! My beloved was knocking:”
Perhaps this section gives new depth to the cry of the groom in Rev. 3:20 to His desired bride: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with me.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: it may be that “I am asleep, but my heart is awake” is a signal to the reader to expect a text that is dreamlike in its use of bizarre but emblematic images.
B. (:2b-3) Male’s Perspective: Shut Out but Aroused for Sexual Activity
1. (:2b) His Urgent Plea
“Open to me, my sister, my darling,
My dove, my perfect one!”
Tremper Longman: The door is clearly a euphemism for a woman’s vagina, and an open door denotes a sexually available woman. In the context of the Song and the intimate, exclusive relationship described here, there is no question of promiscuity, just sexual openness (see also Song of Songs 8:9).
Jack Deere: The fact that the lover no longer addressed her as “my bride” indicates there is a time lapse between Song 5:1 (the wedding night) and Song 5:2. The couple should no longer be regarded as newlyweds. But he did address her by other affectionate terms.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: This rapid-fire string of affectionate terms implies that the man is trying to be as tender as possible but is in a desperate hurry for her to “open.”
[I do not agree with their conclusion that this is dealing with her loss of virginity on her wedding night. I think this refers to sexual tension that comes later in the marriage. But I do agree with much of the obscure sexual imagery and double entendres which they propose.]
2. (:2c-3) His Physical State of Sexual Readiness
“For my head is drenched with dew,
My locks with the damp of the night.
I have taken off my dress [garment], How can I put it on again?
I have washed my feet, How can I dirty them again?”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The man is pleading that his sexual stimulation is so strong at this point that further delay is unbearable for him. In modern English parlance, head is sometimes a euphemism for the penis, and this text seems to be employing the same circumspection in its language. The “drops of the night” refer to semen. . . it is apparent that the man’s primary concern is not that his hair is getting wet with dew. Rather, his words symbolically describe an urgent desire for sexual release. . .
This verse  is almost always taken to be part of the soprano’s lyrics. Interpreters generally assert that she is making the excuse that she cannot get up to open the door because she has already gone to bed. This is improbable, however, since the man is not asking her to come outside; he wants to come inside. She would have no reason to claim that she had washed her feet and therefore could not get them dirty. There is no indication that these words are anything but a continuation of the man’s lyrics. That is, they are further entreaties for her to let him in. We should note that the “tunic” is rarely women’s clothing; it is more frequently used of male apparel in the OT (e.g., Gen 37:3; Exod 28:4; 40:14; 2 Sam 15:32; Isa 22:21; Ezra 2:69).
Taken as the man’s words, the phrase that he had washed his feet may imply that he had washed them with a basin of water provided outside the door and did not want to go back out on the street, having just gone through the trouble of washing his feet. We should also note that “foot” in the dual is also used as a euphemism for the genital area. The statement that he had stripped off his tunic gives the startling image of him standing naked outside the door. . . The reality is that he is naked as he seeks to join himself to her; the metaphor is that he is standing outside the door. The sense of urgency implied in the metaphor is all the more vivid if one imagines him standing naked outside the door and desperately trying to come in.
[If you take the last line as spoken by the female:]
Tremper Longman: She has washed her feet, and she doesn’t want to walk across the floor and dirty them again. . . Perhaps again we are justified in suggesting double entendre. After all, feet are a well-known euphemism for genitalia, both male (Exod. 4:25; Judg. 3:24; 1 Sam. 24:4 [24:3]; Ruth 3:4, 7) and female (Deut. 28:57; Ezek. 16:25) in the Old Testament. If this is double entendre, then she is expressing her reluctance to engage in physical intimacy at this point.
C. (:4-6a) Female’s Response: Too Hesitant to Open Up to Her Lover in Time
1. (:4) Beginning of Her Emotional Arousal
“My beloved extended his hand through the opening,
And my feelings were aroused for him.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The intended significance, the sexual union of the man and woman, is at the surface of the text.
2. (:5) Realization of Her Physical Arousal
“I arose to open to my beloved;
And my hands dripped with myrrh, And my fingers with liquid myrrh,
On the handles of the bolt.”
Tremper Longman: the mention of the sweet smelling ointment and the sensuous description of a thick-dripping liquid certainly adds to the erotic atmosphere of this section.
3. (:6a) Moment for Physical Engagement Has Passed
“I opened to my beloved,
But my beloved had turned away and had gone!
My heart went out to him as he spoke.”
Iain Provan: What are we to make of these opening verses of chapter 5? The imagery of verses 2–5 is plainly erotic and speaks to us of sexual intimacy. What is at one level a dream about the opening (or not) of a “door” is in fact at another level a dream about the consummation (or not) of the lovers’ physical relationship. This is perhaps most clearly seen in the reference to the man’s “hand” that lingers in the region of the “hole” in the door, causing his beloved’s insides to seethe (v. 4). The implication of intimacy is already apparent even before one realizes that the Hebrew word yad (hand) can also be used as a euphemism for “penis,” as in Isaiah 57:8–10 (although obscured there by the NIV in both verse 8, where yad is rendered “nakedness,” and verse 10, where “renewal of your strength [hand],” ḥayyat yadek, probably refers to sexual potency).
The “feet” (raglayim) can also be used euphemistically of genitals, as in 2 Samuel 11:8, where Uriah is commanded by David (who hopes to cover up his sin with Bathsheba) to “go down to your house and wash your feet” (his own or Bathsheba’s?). There may therefore also be a playful double entendre in Song of Songs 5:3, when the woman “complains” that if she lets her lover in, she will have to wash her “feet” all over again. She lies naked in bed as he, wet with dew (surely an image of sexual arousal here), presses his attentions upon her. She feigns disinterest, and he hesitates, even as she herself is aroused and moves to unbar the door. The moment is lost, however, and consummation never occurs. It is a dream about deep and mutual sexual desire and yet about misunderstanding, loss, and separation.
D. (:6b-8) Travails of Sexual Frustration (Female)
1. (:6b) Searching But Not Finding
“I searched for him, but I did not find him;
I called him, but he did not answer me.”
2. (:7) Struck by the Watchmen
“The watchmen who make the rounds in the city found me,
They struck me and wounded me;
The guardsmen of the walls took away my shawl from me.”
Iain Provan: The function of these watchmen, therefore, may not be so much to keep an eye on the outside world from the city walls as to ensure that the “walls” (i.e., the women) within the city are not “breached.” If it was unclear in 3:1–5 that they are actively interested in what occurs in love under their jurisdiction, it is now plain that they represent powers intent on keeping the lovers apart.
Dennis Kinlaw: Does this treatment by the watchmen reflect the girl’s guilt and sense of failure at the slowness of her response to her husband?
Tom Gledhill: She then begins her panic-stricken search. Seeking, seeking but never finding. Calling, calling but never an answering reply. She flits around the empty streets and squares in desperation, and bumps into the city watchmen. They obviously take her for a loose woman, and begin to beat her up and strip her of her clothes. The public judgment of a prostitute was the ritual exposure of her nakedness. But it is unlikely that there was any formal judicial act here. In her struggle to free herself, her flimsy garments were torn from her, leaving her battered, bruised, shivering and half naked. This is a picture of her defenselessness, without her clothing as a covering, without her lover as a protection.
3. (:8) Seeking Assistance from the Daughters of Jerusalem
“I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, If you find my beloved, As to what you will tell him: For I am lovesick.”
Bruce Hurt: I adjure you –This phrase translates the Hebrew verb normally associated with making an oath and here calls upon the maidens to make a solemn promise. In the Old Testament the person swearing an oath does so by calling on a divine being or power, or even some part of the body (cf. Amos 8.14; Mt 5.36) in this way the oath-takers indicating how serious they are about fulfilling what has been promised. The young woman is seeking their help to find her beloved and tell him she was lovesick.
Tremper Longman: What is it that she makes them promise? She makes them promise to give her lover a message if and when they find him. That message is I am sick with love. She used this exact phrase (kî-ḥôlat ʾahăbâ ʿanî) in 2:5, but there, we would argue, with a slightly different nuance. In chapter 2, she was physically spent from the exercise of love. She needed the sustenance of food, of aphrodisiacs, to carry on. In other words, he is present in the poem in chapter 2. Here, however, he is absent, and so here the translation “sick” rather than “faint” is appropriate. She pines for him. She needs him desperately. Her message is an exclamation of desire and a plea for union.
II. (5:9-16) THE SENSUALITY OF ATTRACTIVENESS
A. (:9) Question: What is so Desirable about Your Beloved (Chorus)
“What kind of beloved is your beloved, O most beautiful among women?
What kind of beloved is your beloved, That thus you adjure us?”
B. (:10-16a) Answer: Desirable in Every Way (Female)
1. (:10) Complexion
“My beloved is dazzling and ruddy, Outstanding among ten thousand.”
2. (:11) Head and Hair
“His head is like gold, pure gold;
His locks are like clusters of dates, And black as a raven.”
3. (:12) Eyes
“His eyes are like doves, Beside streams of water, Bathed in milk, And reposed in their setting.”
4. (:13a) Cheeks
“His cheeks are like a bed of balsam, Banks of sweet-scented herbs;”
5. (:13b) Lips
“His lips are lilies, Dripping with liquid myrrh.”
6. (:14a) Hands
“His hands are rods of gold Set with beryl;”
7. (:14b) Abdomen
“His abdomen is carved ivory Inlaid with sapphires.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The meaning of “his loins are a piece of ivory hung with sapphires” is transparent, and one is tempted to hide behind a more innocuous, traditional translation (e.g., “his belly is a plate of ivory inlaid with sapphires”). As far as I can tell, however, evidence indicates that this is indeed a piece of ivory hung with sapphires. This naturally suggests the male genitals, and one might well look at this and wonder if there is the kind of phallic humor going on here that one would expect to find among the Greek comedians. This imagery, however, does not relate to having an enormous penis, as in Greek comedy (as described above, the word does not mean “tusk,” contrary to Longman, 164). Instead, the woman describes his private parts as having high value to her. She does not focus any more on these parts than she does on his eyes, arms, or legs, and she uses precious metals and gems to describe these body parts as well. It is not inappropriate for a woman in love to take pleasure in the anatomy of her husband, including his sexual parts. The tone here is not comic.
8. (:15a) Legs
“His legs are pillars of alabaster Set on pedestals of pure gold;”
9. (:15b) Overall Appearance
“His appearance is like Lebanon, Choice as the cedars.”
10. (:16a) Mouth
“His mouth is full of sweetness.”
11. (:16b) Overall Desirability
“And he is wholly desirable.”
C. (:16b) Conclusion (Female)
“This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem.”
III. (6:1-3) THE SATISFACTION OF RENEWED SEXUAL COMPATIBILITY
A. (:1) Reflecting on the Reality of Separation and Reunion (Chorus)
“Where has your beloved gone, O most beautiful among women?
Where has your beloved turned, That we may seek him with you?”
Iain Duguid: As she describes him, she realizes that even though the man has turned and gone from her, in a sense he has never left her. Their separation is only temporary, for they are two halves of the same coin, ultimately inseparable. Though the daughters of Jerusalem now profess their readiness to join her in the search, she doesn’t require their assistance. The final twist in the dream is that the difficult and dangerous search that she went through was ultimately unnecessary, since she discovers that she knows precisely where to find her beloved.
B. (:2) Reveling in Sexual Satisfaction (Female)
“My beloved has gone down to his garden, To the beds of balsam,
To pasture his flock in the gardens And gather lilies.”
Richard Hess: The verse concludes with the metaphor of gathering lotuses, suggesting the beautiful, delicate, and intoxicating effects of physical love.
C. (:3) Reunited in a Committed Relationship (Female)
“I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine,
He who pastures his flock among the lilies.”
Iain Provan: Yet now it transpires that the search is unnecessary and the fears that have come to expression in the dream are groundless. The woman knows where her lover is. He was never really lost to her. He is to be found in his own garden (6:2)—that female “place” where he is accustomed to spend his time (4:12; 5:1) and whose fragrances are complementary to his own (cf. “beds of spice[s]” in 5:13 and 6:2). He has returned to his characteristic activity of “browsing” there, especially among the lilies (6:2–3; cf. 2:16). All is as it was before—the lovers caught up with each other and committed to each other (“I am my lover’s and my lover is mine,” 6:3; cf. 2:16).
Richard Hess: Once more a section concludes with the lovers reunited in a committed relationship (6:2–3). However difficult the search, however hopeless the cause, the lovers’ desire for each other assures that they will find one another. Love between couples, and between God and his people, never surrenders hope (1 Cor. 13:7).
Tremper Longman: we can find significance in the fact that a poem that begins with the problem of alienation between the man and the woman ends with an affirmation of togetherness.