THE GROOM VIEWS HIS BRIDE AS INCOMPARABLE AND EXQUISITE
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The language of the garden has been dropped here probably because this metaphor focuses heavily upon sexual pleasure. In this canto, the tenor sings of his continuing devotion to her rather than of his sexual desire for her.
Tremper Longman: section marked by inclusio: “as awesome as an army with banners”
This waṣf is in the context of arguing that the woman’s beauty is superior, even unique, compared to the beauty of others—represented by the sixty queens, eighty concubines, and countless young women. At the conclusion, even they will join in their enthusiastic assessment of her beauty (6:10). The woman’s beauty is so great that it shakes the man to the very core (v. 5). She is surrounded by mystery. Geographical, military, floral, and faunal imagery are all evoked to give a sense of her hold on the man’s affections.
I. (:4) INCOMPARABLE
“You are as beautiful as Tirzah, my darling,
As lovely as Jerusalem,
As awesome as an army with banners.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The three lines in v 10 (“Beautiful as the moon, / bright as the sun, / awesome as the panoply of heaven”) answers the three lines of v 4 (“You are beautiful, my companion, like Tirzah, / lovely, like Jerusalem, / awesome, like panoplied cities.”).
MacArthur: The nation’s capital city was known as “the perfection of beauty, a joy to all the earth” (cf. Ps 48:1, 2; La 2:15).
Carr: The parallel between the two cities—one the capital, the other a northern ‘garden city’—is in keeping with the royal/rural elements in this unit.
Richard Hess: The further comparison with Jerusalem allows for a merism between two cities that would encompass all of Israel and Judah. While Jerusalem might be mentioned alone in a prose text, the parallelism of poetry allows for and expects a second city. By choosing a northern as well as southern center, the writer can include all the Israelites of both kingdoms as sympathetic readers or listeners. The contrast of the loveliness of these cities with the awe-inspiring fear of their power is manifest in the final line. Other than vv. 4 and 10, the term “fearful, terrible” (ʾym) occurs in this form only in Hab. 1:7, where it describes the Chaldean army. Thus the scene in Song 6:4 includes battlements that defend a city and standards that are raised over them as proud symbols of the identity and power of a nation and city. It is this theme that inspires both desire and fear, that radiates both beauty and power.
Tremper Longman: Tirzah: the capital of the northern kingdom from the time of Jeroboam (1 Kings 14:17; 15:21, 33; 16:6, 8, 9, 15, 17, 23) until Omri moved the capital to his new city of Samaria (1 Kings 16:24, 28).
Tom Gledhill: The comparison of the beautiful girl to capital cities falls somewhat strangely upon our modern ears. But the resemblance is not so much in physical beauty (who would these days think of likening a girl to a city?), but in royalty, power and stature.
Iain Duguid: Tirzah sounds like rāṣâ, ‘to desire, take pleasure in’. Like these famous cities, the woman is beautiful and desirable, the source of the man’s peace.
Bruce Hurt: This would be very apropos coming from a king and one who had seen impressive armies. And so looking at his bride was like surveying an awesome army with banners waving in full array and glory. As stated below the word Solomon chooses (ayom) combines a mixture of awe and fear at the beauty of his bride.
II. (:5-7) EXQUISITE
A. (:5a) Eyes
“Turn your eyes away from me,
For they have confused me;”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The point here is probably that her eyes so excite him that he can hardly keep a cool head and not that she makes him feel ashamed. So in the hipʿil should be taken to mean “embolden” or “excite” rather than “embarrass.” The meaning seems to be that he can hardly keep his head when near her; everything about her sweeps him away.
Richard Hess: It is not that they are dreadful to behold. Rather, they possess a power of attraction that the male cannot resist. They overwhelm him; their beauty enchants him. Unlike 4:1, where her eyes were likened to doves, here they possess a much greater power. The theme of the strength of their attractiveness, and its association with the image of martial power in the preceding verse, introduces a new aspect of the love that the male describes. From the desire emerges a strength in which the female holds him fast. Such is her power that he cannot avert his own gaze;
Iain Provan: There is wondrous beauty in all of this, but it is beauty with an edge—an awesome loveliness that induces trembling as well as devotion. It is this aspect of the woman’s beauty that is perhaps picked up also at the beginning of 6:5, where her eyes are said to “overwhelm” the man (although what this means precisely is unclear). He can hardly bear to look into them, so unsettling does he find them to be.
B. (:5b) Hair
“Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Gilead.”
C. (:6) Teeth
“Your teeth are like a flock of ewes
Which have come up from their washing,
All of which bear twins,
And not one among them has lost her young.”
D. (:7) Temples
“Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate
Behind your veil.”
III. (:8-10) INCOMPARABLE
A. (:8-9a) Uniquely Worthy of Praise for Her Perfection and Purity
“There are sixty queens and eighty concubines, And maidens without number;
9 But my dove, my perfect one, is unique: She is her mother’s only daughter;
She is the pure child of the one who bore her.”
Tremper Longman: He describes three classes of women in this verse: queens, concubines, and young women. These three categories may reflect different levels within the royal harem. . . The three classes of women in the court move from most important in terms of status to less important.
Tom Gledhill: However many royal beauties, consorts, maidens there may be, our girl outshines them all in the radiance of her dazzling splendour. . .
In these verses, our lover describes his girl as being unique. It is the extravagance of the language of love; that is the way he feels about her, for she is beyond all comparison; there is absolutely no-one else who can fill his life as she does.
Iain Provan: A mother knows her child as that specific child, however—one who is irreplaceable and for whom there is no substitute. Likewise, a man who truly loves a woman knows that woman as a specific person, whose identity cannot simply be collapsed into her gender and is certainly not summed up only in her sexuality and in her sexual relationship with him. She is not simply a woman but the woman. This uniqueness, it is claimed in verse 10, has even been grasped by the other women who have been mentioned (since this verse is best taken as representing their words). The man’s perspective is attributed to them, no doubt because he cannot think but that it is obviously the only possible perspective.
B. (:9b-10) Universally Praised by Her Peers for Her Beauty
“The maidens saw her and called her blessed,
The queens and the concubines also, and they praised her, saying,
10 ‘Who is this that grows like the dawn, As beautiful as the full moon,
As pure as the sun, As awesome as an army with banners?’”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: It is not absolutely necessary to read v 10 (“Who is this. . .”) as belonging to the chorus; the tenor could sing this strophe as well. On the other hand, a choral response is appropriate after v 9b declares that girls, queens, and royal concubines all praise her. For that matter, it is possible that v 10 is sung by both the tenor and chorus together.
Tom Gledhill: The use of the terms the dawn, the moon, the sun and the stars, gives an impression of the transcendental nature of the girl’s beauty. She is indeed a natural phenomenon, but almost out of this world.
Iain Duguid: In verse 10, we come full circle to the question that began this section back in 3:6: Who is this? The answer – that it is the woman, who is like the ‘bannered ones’ – forms an inclusio with the beginning of the man’s speech in verse 4. Once again, the answer to the question describes the woman, but this time, instead of coming up from the wilderness, she is ensconced in the heavens themselves looking down like the Ancient Near Eastern deities. . .
The man has gone from praising the woman to her face in verses 4–7, to boasting about her to others in verses 8–10. At the end of this poem of praise, as at the beginning, the focus is on her unique splendour and glory that set her apart from all other women. Of course, it is precisely her uniqueness that makes both his longing for her so intense and his fear of losing her favour so awful. Because she is the unique object of his fascination and desire, she is utterly irreplaceable.
Net Note: The common point in these four comparisons is that all are luminaries. In all four cases, each respective luminary is the focus or center of attention at the hour at hand because it dwarfs its celestial surroundings in majesty and in sheer brilliance. All other celestial objects pale into insignificance in their presence. This would be an appropriate description of her because she alone was the center and focus of his attention. All the other women paled into the background when she was present. Her beauty captured the attention of all that saw her, especially Solomon.
John Schultz: So must God see us from above. In God’s eyes we surpass the radiance of the heavenly bodies. The elders of the churches are, in Jesus’ hands, represented as seven stars. And in Dan. 12:3 we read, “Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever.” But of the New Jerusalem, which is the bride of the Lamb, we read, not only, that it shone with the glory of God but that the city doesn’t need any sun or moon because of the glory of God within it. We have more eternal value for our Creator than the rest of creation.