ONCE AWAKENED, ROMANTIC LOVE PROVES POWERFUL AND PRICELESS
Duane Garrett / Paul House: In the structure of Song of Songs, however, this unit looks back to 1:7–8, the Song of Finding the Beloved. There, the soprano despaired of finding her beloved and asked him where he might be, adding that she did not want to be a woman “picking fleas” among the flocks. The chorus in turn told her to go out to where the shepherds may be found. Here, however, instead of telling her to go out to the pastures, the chorus sings of the arrival of the woman. She begins her part with lyrics addressed to the man, “Under the apple tree I aroused you.” That is, instead of seeking her lover, she sings of where she found him. Furthermore, in Song 1:7 she asked where he made his flocks lie down at the heat of noon, but in 8:6 she sings of the heat of love, declaring it to be an unquenchable fire. Most importantly, whereas 1:7–8 describes her somewhat desperate desire to find her beloved, in this text she demands that he permanently set her as a seal on his heart and arm. She will never lose him again.
Richard Hess: The fulfillment of eros with the allusion to conception and childbearing leads to the climax of the entire Song, the emphasis on a commitment in love that is stronger than anything known.
Tremper Longman: First she declares (vs. 5b) that she aroused him under the apple tree (an erotic image), and then she asks him to proclaim his ownership of her (v. 6). This gives her the occasion to talk about the power of love with a series of profound and compelling metaphors (v. 7). She ends the section by proclaiming the value of love over money, reminiscent of the frequent claims in other wisdom books that wisdom itself is more precious than fine jewels or precious metals (cf. Job 28).
Tom Gledhill: Thus, the love in our Song is all-embracing. It embraces pleasure, it embraces pain. It is passionate, yet fearful. It possesses, yet lets go. It liberates, yet binds. It empowers, it weakens. It brings turmoil, it brings peace. It is solemn, yet playful. It is lofty in conception, yet earthy in expression. It is self-centred, it is totally other-centred. It gives, it receives. It longs to give pleasure, it hopes to receive pleasure. It is cautious and timorous, yet extravagant and brave. Such a union of opposites, such a conflicting array of incompatibles, alone can do justice to the immensely complex phenomenon of the love between a man and a woman. It transcends logic, rationality, definition and even sense. Yet this whole thing called love is there to be experienced in all its agony and ecstasy. It is this love about which our Song sings.
I. (:5) REMEMBERING THE AWAKENING OF ROMANTIC LOVE
A. (:5a) Arrival Motif (Chorus)
“Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
Leaning on her beloved?”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Lines 1A–B repeat verbatim a text from Song 3:6 (“Who is this coming up from the wilderness?”). The following line, however, is radically different. Where 3:6 has the theophany-like description “like a pillar of smoke,” the present text continues with “leaning on her lover.” The earlier text depicted the bride arriving with regal splendor where this text presents an image of the woman at peace drawing security and stability from her man. Also, where the former text moved into a section in which the chorus gave an elaborate portrayal of the military entourage of the Solomonic groom (Song 3:7–11), here the arrival imagery is dropped as quickly as it is mentioned. Instead, the woman sings of the passionate love that binds her to her husband. The motif in 3:6–11 was the man and woman in a formal ceremony; the motif here is of the man and woman in passionate love. . .
The choral prelude informs the audience that the woman has sufficient stature and experience to make the profound pronouncements on love that follow.
Richard Hess: As the female leans upon her lover, the themes of their physical closeness as a symbol of the love that they share continues the picture of v. 3, where they are seen in an embrace. It anticipates the intimate relationship concerning which the female will speak in the following verses.
Tremper Longman: We assume that it is the chorus, elsewhere identified as the women of Jerusalem, who asks this question. After all, what is seen in the distance is the lover and the one who is leaning on him, a fact that rules out the man and the woman as speaker. . .
The posture of the woman leaning on her lover denotes intimacy and mutual dependence and alludes to what they were doing in the wilderness.
B. (:5b) Arousal Remembered (Female)
“Beneath the apple tree I awakened you;
There your mother was in labor with you,
There she was in labor and gave you birth.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The Syr. renders the second sg. suf. in this verse as fem. and so requires that this be taken as the man’s lines, and some interpreters have followed suit. The Syr. alone, however, is slender basis for making the emendations, notwithstanding the extensive discussions on the part of some scholars (e.g., Murphy, 191). The Heb. is clear and widely supported; in these circumstances, emendation is ill advised. It appears that some interpreters found the notion that the woman would intentionally arouse the man to be offensive.
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The verb appears nine times in the Song of Songs, and four of these times, as here, it is in the poʿlel stem. In the qal, the verb means to “awaken” (cf. Song 4:16; 5:2). In the nipʿal it means to “be woken up.” The hipʿil means to “awaken” or more frequently to “set in motion” (e.g., Isa 41:2, 25; 45:13; Ezr 1:1). In the poʿlel it means to “set in motion,” “disturb,” or “arouse” (Ps 80:3; Job 3:8; Prov 10:12; Zech 9:13). The poʿlel frequently suggests arousing some kind of fury or passion. The three other poʿlel occurrences in the Song are in 2:7; 3:5; and 8:4, where the woman exhorts the Jerusalem girls not to “arouse” (poʿlel) or “awaken” (hipʿil) love. In short, the woman is not saying here that she simply woke the man when he was napping under an apple tree. Rather, “arouse” is the proper translation. . .
One can hardly doubt that “I aroused you” refers to sexual and reproductive activity, but the woman does not literally mean that all this took place under an apple tree. Rather, under the metaphor of the apple tree she speaks rather directly of sexual intercourse and what follows it, conception and birth. Sexual union and giving birth are times of intense physical and emotional pleasure and trauma. The woman has entered this kind of intense physical relationship with her husband, and she recapitulates the experience of their mothers.
Richard Hess: In addition to the sweetness of the apple’s aroma (7:9 [7:8 Eng.]) and its value as a source of strength (2:5), the female has previously compared her lover to the apple tree for his unique qualities in comparison with other young men and for the sweetness of his fruit (2:3). The comments on those verses discussed the erotic aspects of the apple tree. Here they appear in all their power as an aphrodisiac to awaken and arouse the young man for the love pleasures that the female has desired. That both senses, awakening from sleep and arousing sexually, may be present is indicated by the use of this root (ʿwr) earlier in the Song. The root occurs six times in the three verses where the female charges the young women of Jerusalem not to awake or stir love, most recently in the verse immediately preceding this one (2:7; 3:5; 8:4). In all these contexts it refers to romantic and sexual desire. . .
There is no doubt that the repetition in Song 8:5b is designed to emphasize the generational aspect, so that the erotic sense of lovemaking is set in the context of the family. It is not merely the nuclear family but especially the extended one, in which generation after generation is envisioned as safeguarding the family and perpetuating it. In the same place and manner as the current male begins a family with his lover, so his father and mother began their family. Hence the erotic tenor of the whole Song here moves beyond the inevitably selfish tendencies of pleasure seeking to describe the broader vista of fulfillment of the goal that God wishes for his people, to be fruitful and to fill the earth (Gen. 1:26–28). That this should be accomplished within the bounds of committed heterosexual marriage is the only possible understanding of the remainder of the biblical text. There was little respect and no inheritance for those born outside this marriage relationship (cf. Judg. 11:1–2). This is not mentioned here because it is not the concern of the book. Nevertheless, to assume that the lovers were unmarried and celebrating a sexual relationship, as many commentators do, runs against the assumptions of this verse in the context of Israelite society. The reference to the previous generation and the expectation of one to come assume that the erotic love of the couple does not lie outside the bounds of marriage but is integral to it.
II. (:6-7) CELEBRATING THE POWER AND VALUE OF ROMANTIC LOVE (Female)
A. (:6a) Preserving Power – The Covenant of Love
“Put me like a seal over your heart,
Like a seal on your arm.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Seals were especially important for indicating ownership or maintaining security. . . In this text, the woman calls upon the man to set her as a seal on his heart and arm. This is a sign of covenant commitment to marriage and is analogous to the wearing of phylacteries as tokens and reminders of Israel’s covenant fidelity to Yahweh (Deut 6:4–9; 11:13–21). In the Song, the “seal” could refer to the wearing of a seal around the neck or on an armband, but it is more likely to be purely metaphorical.
Daniel Akin: Believers in Jesus have a King who has set His seal on us, emblazoning it on our foreheads (cf. Rev 9:4) as a personal pledge of possession and protection. And we did not even have to ask. Indeed, through salvation provided for us in Christ, our God has “sealed us and given us the Spirit as a down payment in our hearts” (2 Cor 1:22). We have His seal on our foreheads and His seal in our hearts. We are “double-sealed” by our great Shepherd-King. The personal and intimate love He has for those who belong to Him is a pledge and promise we should never doubt.
Iain Duguid: Seals were objects of great personal value in antiquity and were therefore guarded carefully, carried on a cord around the owner’s neck or on an armlet (Hallo 1985: 22). They were used to identify possessions and to sign documents, by making an imprint on another object, as we might brand an animal or imprint a wax seal on a legal contract. In a similar way, the woman wants to be imprinted on the man’s heart and his arm. The heart was the seat of a person’s thoughts and feelings, their inner self (cf. Prov. 3:3), while the arm was the locus of a person’s actions or power. Together they represent the whole person (Longman 2001:210): the woman wants to be constantly by his side and in his thoughts, an integral part of his identity.
Tom Gledhill: She wants, perhaps not unreasonably, to be the very centre of his existence. For she knows without a shadow of doubt that he is the centre of her life. But is it true that she is the centre of his life? Perhaps she has a lingering doubt, for she needs constant reassurance and affirmation. She knows that she has already captured him (7:5, ‘a king . . . held captive by . . . tresses’) but will he escape? Will she lose him to someone or something else? Anna Louise de Stael has said, ‘Love is the whole history of a woman’s life; it is only an episode in man’s.’ This, as a generalization, probably polarizes too strongly the differences between the psychology of the male and female. It is sometimes said that a woman is seldom at the centre of a man’s life to the same degree as a man is to his beloved, and that she is but one aspect of his broad spectrum of interests. For a man may have his job, his hobbies, his club, his companions as well as his wife. But it may just be the simple fact that a man may often compartmentalize his life so that he devotes his full attention to each of his interests in turn, and seldom allows one area to overlap with another; whereas for a woman her equally varied interests spill over and enrich each other and her life becomes a more integrated whole. Thus her love relationship suffuses every part of her existence, whatever job, career or vocation she pursues. . .
It is this central theme of security that links the girl’s words to her lover to the theme of the following lines, namely, the strength and enduring nature of true love.
B. (:6b) Possessive Power – The Jealousy of Love
“For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: She claims that love, like death, is inescapable. The love the man and woman have experienced has bound them together permanently. The passion of their love for one another holds them as relentlessly as does death, and only death itself can actually separate the two lovers. Fury and destruction are implicit in these words. Those who passionately love are passionately possessive. One cannot trifle with love or with one’s lover. Yahweh himself is a jealous God (Exod 20:5). Although there are those who are paranoid about infidelity, neurotically dependent, or wrongly jealous (exemplified in literature by Othello), exclusivity is not of itself corrupt or oppressive. It is wrong, indeed perverse, for the lover to be indifferent to the presence of rivals. Also, jealousy in this context need not refer to the paranoid suspicion that one’s lover is faithless. If the jealousy of Yahweh over Israel is the model, the term refers to a proper possessiveness in the setting of a wholesome relationship. Rightly experienced by healthy souls, this exclusivity is part of the glory of love and further indicates the seriousness of entering this relationship.
Tremper Longman: There are only two relationships described in the Bible where jealousy is a potentially appropriate reaction: the divine-human relationship and the marriage relationship. These are the only two relationships that are considered exclusive. Humans can only have one God. If they worship another, it triggers God’s jealousy. God’s jealousy is an energy that tries to rescue the relationship. Similarly, a man and a woman can have only one spouse. If there is a threat to that relationship, then jealousy is a proper emotion. All this is because so much hangs on the integrity of relationship. It is so basic, so deep, that it stirs up strong emotions and passions.
Tom Gledhill: This unit also introduces new themes which have not previously arisen in the Song: death, sheol (the grave), jealousy, and the many waters. There is a new element of hostility here, dangerous forces which threaten the very existence of love. For many, this unit represents a high point in the Song. If 5:1 represents a climax in the lovers’ physical relationship, then these verses represent a climax in praise of the unconquerability of love in the face of all its foes.
C. (:6c) Passionate Power – The Strength of Love
“Its flashes are flashes of fire,
The very flame of the LORD.”
Iain Duguid: Love and jealousy are likewise compared with flames, which also have a life of their own and are not easily mastered. These are no ordinary flames, however, but the very flame of the Lord.
Richard Hess: The last word (šalhebetyāh) is the most controversial in the entire verse (8:6). It occurs only here, and its meaning is not clear. The construction of the word invites its division into possibly a prefixed relative pronoun followed by a word for “flame(s)” (lhb) and then the shortened form of Yahweh, the divine name. It could thereby be rendered as “flames of Yahweh.” This might reflect a superlative, the mightiest of flames (so Brin, “Superlative”), or it could imply that God is the ultimate author of this arousal of love and the heat of passion. The LXX renders it as “its flames,” whereas the Vulgate interprets it as “and of the flames.” Nevertheless, the characteristically shortened form of Yahweh, as found frequently in the major book of biblical poetry, the Psalms, suggests that here is mention of Yahweh. If so, in the entire book this is the only direct reference to God, by any name. It may well be that here at the climactic point of the whole Song, the poet chooses to mention the name of God, a name otherwise hidden and reflective of his operation behind the scenes. God is not in the conscious concerns of the couple as they celebrate their sexual love, just as he is not himself ever portrayed in a sexual sense. This would prevent the erotic poetry from somehow being applied to God as though he were sexual. . . Nevertheless, the absence of any direct reference to God, except at this point, suggests that here the erotic love of the Song reaches a level of the love that transcends all and through which God is known. Thus God is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and those who would know and worship him must know that love. The greatest physical pointer to such love is the committed sexual intimacy between a husband and wife.
Tremper Longman: This flame represents the intensity of passion and perhaps hints again that there is potential danger involved. Care must be exercised around something as powerful as love.
D. (:7a) Persistent Power – The Staying Power of Unquenchable Love
“Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor will rivers overflow it;”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The contrast between fire and water is so obvious that one hardly need look to mythological images of the waters of primordial chaos for an explanation of this line. The fury of the fire of love is so great that even great volumes of water cannot quench it. One cannot easily escape its power after one has entered this realm. Those who have admitted this fire into their lives will find it impossible to douse.
Tom Gledhill: For though water can quench any flame, there are no hostile forces which can quench the flame of love. It is inevitable that love will always be tested and tried, will always encounter forces that threaten to undermine and destroy it. These may be the outward circumstances that may erode love’s power: the pain of separation, the uncertainty of the present or future, the loss of health or means of livelihood. But the love which is fueled by the energy of God will triumph and overcome all these adversities and will emerge purer and stronger and more precious through the testing.
E. Priceless Value — The Inestimable Value of Love
“If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
It would be utterly despised.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Love is here valued above wealth and possessions, and it cannot be bought. Prov 16:16 proclaims, “To get wisdom, how much better it is than gold! / And to get understanding is preferable to silver!” Love, like Lady Wisdom, exceeds the value of gold (Prov 8:19). It is important to observe that in Song 8:7 it is the woman who demands fidelity of the man. In the ancient Near East it was a given that adultery by a wife was a heinous offense, but expectations of men were far less in this regard. Yet here, as in Prov 5:7–23, sexual devotion is demanded of the husband. The bride makes the same kind of claim on him as Lady Wisdom does on the young man (Prov 1:20–33). Fidelity to one’s bride is equated with fidelity to Wisdom; holding to the one preserves love, and holding to the other preserves life.
Richard Hess: The sense is that not even every possession of a householder could suffice to buy love. It is a commodity that cannot be bartered or bought. It is free but not cheap. There is no trade for it. Instead, its value is higher than all earthly possessions. Therefore, when it is found or acquired, it must be valued and preserved beyond anything else. That such an attempt to buy love would be despised is expressed emphatically by repeating the root with an infinitive absolute (bôz). It thus attests to what forms popular opinion: love has a greater value than anything else.
Tremper Longman: So far the woman has placed the power of death and even the power of the mythological waters against love, and she found the latter to be superior. Lastly, she pits love against another powerful force, money (the wealth of his house), with the same result. Money will bring many things, but not love. Love is not able to be bought. To even try brings shame. All the money at one’s possession will fail.