HEALTHY SEXUAL DEVELOPMENT PROTECTS VIRGINITY UNTIL YOU CAN ENJOY YOUR PARTNER IN A COMMITTED RELATIONSHIP
Tom Gledhill: What is being compared and contrasted here is the administration of two different vineyards and the disposal of their fruit. On the one hand, we have King Solomon’s literal vineyard in Baal Hamon, which he lets out to tenant farmers. On the other hand (8:12), we have the girl’s own metaphorical vineyard which unlike Solomon’s is not to be let out for hire. Her person, her body, her sexuality are not to be made an object of a commercial transaction; she cannot be wooed with money. She herself is in sole charge of her future destiny, and she will only give herself freely to the man of her choice.
Jack Deere: Verses 8-12 are a flashback explaining (a) the protection of the beloved by her older brothers when she was young and (b) her subsequent initial meeting with Solomon [I do not adopt this historical drama approach]. The Song concludes in verses 13-14 with statements that show the couple’s love has not lost its intensity.
I. (:8-10) IMPORTANCE OF GUARDING THE GIFT OF VIRGINITY
A. (:8-9) Reflections on Her Physical Development from the Perspective of Her Brothers and Their Concern for Her Virginity (Chorus)
1. (:8) Guarding the Sexually Immature
“We have a little sister, and she has no breasts;
What shall we do for our sister on the day when she is spoken for?”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The chorus describes the little sister by saying that she has no breasts. She could therefore be anywhere between a small child and a preadolescent. The sexual nature of the depiction is striking; it defines her in terms of her sexual maturity. This contrasts with the more typical way of defining childhood in terms of mental capacity, as in Isa 7:15–16 (ability to make moral choices), Isa 8:4 (ability to say “father” and “mother”), Jer 1:6 (ability to speak with eloquence), and Jonah 4:11 (ability to distinguish left from right). But the description is appropriate because it is precisely the sexual life of the girl that is the focus of the chorus’s concern.
Tom Gledhill: The brothers were watching their developing young sister protectively. As in the allegory of Ezekiel 16, they watched her grow up and develop and become the most beautiful of jewels. Her ‘breasts were formed and her hair grew’. In Ezekiel 16:8 we read, ‘Later I passed by, and when I looked at you and saw that you were old enough for love, I spread the corner of my garment over you . . .’
2. (:9) Guarding Her Virginity
a. Analogy to a Wall
“If she is a wall,
We shall build on her a battlement of silver;”
Tom Gledhill: The next point at issue is to decide whether the metaphors of the wall and the door are saying the same thing, or the opposite. For a door can be either open or shut, a means of entry, or a barring of access. Are the two halves of the verse in synonymous [cf. Duane Garrett / Paul House] or antithetic parallelism [cf. Richard Hess]? It is impossible to be certain and it is probably best to leave the matter open. In any case, the question of the brothers is one of self-deliberation, of speculating about her potential for chaste or unchaste behaviour.
Iain Duguid: Since the accoutrements which the brothers to add to her, a battlement of silver and boards of cedar, both seem to be more decorative than functional, it is probably best to take the metaphors as parallel. Thus far, her purity is unblemished, and the brothers propose to adorn that feature (perhaps to make up for the lack of other physical attributes, such as developed breasts) as their marketing strategy.
b. Analogy to a Door
“But if she is a door,
We shall barricade her with planks of cedar.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The “tier of silver” and the “plank of cedar” are both meant to fortify the castle (the virgin) against assault (loss of virginity). The metaphor does not concern how she might lose her virginity (whether by force or by consent); it only indicates that the chorus intends to prevent loss of virginity. Silver and cedar, however, are ornamental; they are not materials one would typically use for defensive bulwarks. This is self-evident in the case of silver, but cedar is associated with palatial dwellings as well (e.g., 2 Sam 7:2, 7; Jer 22:14–15; 1 Kgs 5–7; Ezra 3:7). The implication of using expensive and decorative materials (as opposed to iron, stone, or generic wood) to secure the virginity of the girl is that her status as virgin is to be honored and maintained in a way that enhances her dignity. She is not placed in a prison like a criminal; she is protected like a precious treasure. The historical analogy is how the virgin daughters of David were honored with decorative clothing (2 Sam 13:18).
Richard Hess: The metaphor of a wall describes an image of a city wall that protects the inhabitants. Here its contrast with the door in the second half of the verse may suggest that this describes two different situations, the first where the female resists (like a wall) and the second where she acquiesces (like a door). In the first case, the brothers will build a silver battlement along and on top of the wall. In addition to the added security that they wish to provide their sister, and so protect the honor of their family, there is also the beauty or adornment that this brings. Its translation from the metaphor to the reality of their sister’s condition means that the brothers remain watchful to guarantee that her honor is not compromised and that her beauty is adorned in the best way possible. The same is true of the picture in the second part of the verse, but here the female is more inclined to yield to her lover’s advances. The cedar panels (lûaḥ) of the door would provide both protection and strength, giving the door increased security. It would add beauty to the entrance so that all who pass through would be impressed by the home. The same is true of the brothers’ concern for their sister. They wish to protect her and to add to her beauty as well as to the nobility of their home.
Tremper Longman: Playing with these images of wall and door, the brothers speak to their response to either of these theoretical possibilities. If she is a wall, that is, chaste, they will build a silver battlement (ṭîrā) for her. A ṭîrā refers to either a “camp protected by a stone wall” or “a row of stones.” In other words, they will reinforce her will to be chaste by further protecting her. The fact that this battlement (ṭîrā) is silver (kesep) may be a way of indicating that they honor her for her decision.
However, if the woman proves to be a door, then they will watch over her with a cedar board. In other words, they will plug up her opening. They will force her to cease being sexually open. In the biblical world, the brothers often played the role of protector of their sister’s sexuality.
Tom Gledhill: the brothers are performing their duty of protection, preservation and public presentation towards their sister.
B. (:10) Reflections from Her Own Perspective on Her Transition into Sexual Maturity While Protecting Her Virginity (Female)
1. Sexual Maturity While Protecting Her Virginity
“I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers;”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: The soprano turns the image of the wall in an unexpected direction by describing her breasts as the towers on the wall. This obviously conveys the fact that, unlike the little sister, she has attained sexual maturity and has full breasts. But it also indicates her resistance to seduction. In the defense of a city, the towers are the proud symbols of its resistance to all attackers; the taking of the towers implies that the last vestiges of resistance have collapsed and the city is in the hands of its enemies.
Iain Provan: She is now a “wall,” however, that has assuredly been breached, as a matter of her own free choice. She has no need any longer of their ornamental “silver towers,” for she has towers of her own—her mature breasts; these “towers” are by no means defensive fortifications but themselves draw her lover into her “city.” In these towers he finds “contentment” (šalom in 8:10, a sense of well-being and peaceful satisfaction).
2. Satisfying Her Romantic Partner at the Appropriate Time
“Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.”
Richard Hess: “peace” — it suggests the absence of conflict and the readiness to pursue good relations. The female appears to suggest that she will not avoid the pursuit of her lover; instead, she will be open to his advances. Rather than using her powers to resist him, she intends to pursue their mutual well-being and delight.
Tremper Longman: Though they do not address themselves to her, the woman responds to the speech of her brothers. She disputes their perceptions of her maturity and asserts her chastity, a virtue prized greatly in women in the world of the Old Testament. She does the latter by simply saying “I am a wall” (see previous verse for meaning of this image). She does the former by responding to their comment about her lack of breasts with “my breasts are like towers.” She is sexually mature and has, up until this point at least, kept herself from men. As a result, she is ready for an intimate and satisfying relationship with a man. . . It is because of her sexual maturity and exclusiveness that she will bring peace (šālôm) to her lord/husband. The term šālôm has a rich connotation, including not only the absence of strife but also fulfillment, contentment, satisfaction, and wholeness.
Daniel Akin: This woman made this man complete, whole. She was that divinely sent companion, the helper who is his complement (Gen 2:18, 20). In her presence he finds peace; he is set at ease. For him, the wall comes down and her towers fall into his hands. His banner over her is love (2:4), and her banner over him is peace (8:10). O’Donnell says it well: “His victory over her virginity (ironically) brings peace – to her, to him, to them, to everyone around them” (Song, 129). So we see in marriage holiness is a path to happiness. Purity is a path to peace, just another gift ultimately provided by the Prince of Peace, our Lord Jesus Christ (Isa 9:6-7).
II. (:11-12) INCOMPARABLE VALUE OF EXCLUSIVE LOVE COMMITMENT – RECALLING HER INITIAL COMMITMENT
A. (:11) Exclusive Love Cannot be Shared with Others (Chorus)
“Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
He entrusted the vineyard to caretakers;
Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit.”
Richard Hess: Verse 11 prepares the reader for v. 12, in which the speaker claims sole possession of a vineyard, in contrast to Solomon, who with all his wealth must share the produce of his vineyard with his caretakers. The point thus is not who the caretakers are or how they relate to the metaphor of the harem. Instead, the vineyard is a picture of true love in which the couple shares one another’s bodies in an exclusive commitment.
Tremper Longman: This may well describe the large stable of women that King Solomon had in his harem (1 Kings 11:3: “He had seven hundred wives and three hundred concubines”). The next verse makes the contrast with the couple at the center of the Song.
Iain Duguid: He employs others to take care of his wives as if his harem were a commercial farming enterprise, rather than actually knowing and loving his wives intimately himself.
Dennis Kinlaw: There is always the possibility, though difficult for us, that the reference to Solomon’s vineyard is to be taken literally while the reference to the spouse’s vineyard is metaphorical. Jesus did the same kind of thing when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (John 2:19). That would be consistent with the double entendres of the book. It would also be fitting that the text come to its climax with a passage of such ambiguity and possible double meaning.
B. (:12) Exclusive Love Cannot be Bought (Female)
“My very own vineyard is at my disposal;
The thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
And two hundred are for those who take care of its fruit.”
Richard Hess: the vineyard belongs to the female, the most natural and most frequent speaker throughout this Song. When the female claims the vineyard for herself (8:12), she claims that she alone takes care of it (contra 1:6) and that she alone opens her locked garden to the one whom she loves (cf. 4:12, 16). The true and committed love of this couple thus contrasts dramatically with the harem of Solomon. He can have the great wealth and the appearance of great pleasure that is demonstrated by, and (supposedly) comes with, his harem. However, the female regards her body and her love as her own and of greater worth than all of Solomon’s wealth. This theme, placed in the concluding verses of this great poem, is so important. The pleasures of sex, as great and praiseworthy as they are, do not become ends in themselves. All the joy, all the sensuality, is subsumed beneath the respect for the woman and her right to use her body in a committed relationship of love.
Tom Gledhill: Love cannot be coerced; the response of love is given freely. Awakening love is the dawning realization of the worth and dignity of the other, which blossoms into the desire for mutual self-surrender and self-giving and is not merely a relationship of convenience, for mutual self-gratification.
Today in the Word: [The bride] compares what she has to offer with the vineyard in Baal-hamon that Solomon already possesses. Just as Solomon had the right to let his vineyard out to tenants, she has the right to give herself to the one she chooses. The Song of Solomon concludes with her offering herself to the one she loves, as a treasure unequaled.
III. (:13-14) INTIMACY OF SEXUAL UNION IS AN UNENDING JOURNEY – REVELING IN THEIR ONGOING JOURNEY
A. (:13) Anticipation (Male and Chorus)
“O you who sit in the gardens,
My companions are listening for your voice—
Let me hear it!”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Scholars are unsure about who the singer is in v 13, but, since the woman is the focus and protagonist of the Song, the chorus and tenor are understood to sing together to her here. They in effect throw the spotlight on her in order to celebrate her transformation. This blending of voices is the counterpart to the introduction in Song 1:2–4, where the soprano and chorus compete with one another in declaring their admiration for the man. The woman responds in v 14 by calling on the man to resume his role as lover under the guise of the stag on the mountains of balsam. As the Song had begun with a call for the man to “kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” (1:2), it ends with a call for him to exult in the love of the woman. . .
Here, as the lady who inhabits the gardens, she is the domain of love. The joys and desires of love have her at the center and all look upon her in wonder. Certainly the man is enchanted by her.
Richard Hess: The male had earlier described his lover as a garden (gan; 4:12; 5:1) and as a fountain in the garden. The female had invited him to come and taste the fruits of the garden, a metaphor for the sexual delights of her body (4:15–16; 6:2). So for the male to describe her as residing in a garden suggests that the delights of her garden are now made permanent for him.
B. (:14) Invitation (Female)
“Hurry, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle or a young stag
On the mountains of spices.”
Duane Garrett / Paul House: Here she focuses her attention wholly on him and ignores all others. When she tells him to “flee” she does not mean that he should run away from her. Under the metaphor of the stag on the mountains, she is calling on him to come away from the crowds and give all his attention to her. The phrase “mountains of balsam” refers to the woman’s breasts and by metonymy to her whole body (with focus on her sexuality). She is calling on him to make love to her.
Richard Hess: Thus the female counsels the male to depart, but not for a distant land. Instead, he is to depart from the noise and commotion of the surrounding society and to taste her own mountains of spice. As he “flees,” so she “flees.” But it is only so that they may join one another in the privacy of their own love.
Tremper Longman: The Song ends abruptly, leaving the reader begging for more. Again, that is the intention of the poet or the collector of the poems. His literary expression thus matches love itself, never satisfied with enough, but longing for more.
Iain Duguid: Rather, the open-ended conclusion to the Song reminds us that love is not a destination at which we arrive, but a journey to be undertaken together, a song that truly never ends (Munro 1995: 89). . . Love is a journey, not a destination. It is two people united into one, travelling together, but confident enough to be apart when necessary. At the centre of this union is a delightful physical relationship, but this is merely one aspect of knowing each other completely. The man longs to hear the woman’s voice, as well as to hold her in his arms. Her desire to kiss him, with which the poem began, has been fulfilled but not satisfied: it never can be. The note of yearning and longing persists in their relationship, wonderful as it is. This longing is intended to remind us all of a love greater than any human love, a love for which marriage provides the best picture that the world affords. This jealous love of God for his people has triumphed over death and Sheol through the cross, and now invites his bride into his eternal embrace, to embark on a journey together that stretches beyond our own deaths and the grave, onwards and upwards forever.