The Agora
Bible Commentary
Song of Songs

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Song of Songs 1

Song 1:1

THE SONG OF SONGS: Heb "shir hasshirim". That is, the greatest of all songs [cp "holy of holies"; "King of kings"; "Lord of lords"; "heaven of heavens"]; the epitome of all songs, and all rejoicing. A song, as one writer puts it, "before which all other songs hide their faces". "There are many songs in Old Testament Scripture -- the song of deliverance from the Red Sea (Exo 15); the song of the well (Num 21:17,18); the song of Moses (Deu 32); the song of Deborah (Jdg 5); the song (pre-eminently such) of David, in Psa 18; and the song of Isaiah (Isa 5). But this... is described as the Song of Songs, ie of all the most excellent, as it is the richest in imagery, the intensest in feeling, the most complete in poetic form" (Pulpit).

The other title, "Canticles", is from the Latin Vulgate: "canticum canticorum".

It follows that, if this is the very best song of all, it must therefore have the noblest theme, and deal with the purest emotions, and be adorned with the richest ideas. And that is so. This song expresses the overflowing of joy; the inevitable product of (spiritual) beauty and (spiritual) love. The "most excellent song" (NET) -- echoing the Song of Moses and the Lamb, and echoed by the Song of the 144,000 on Mount Zion (cp Rev 5:9; 14:3; 15:2-4). Because it is a song of true beauty and love, which -- Biblically understood -- has to do with eternity, it is also the preeminent song of redemption.

Contrast the "song of songs" with Ecclesiastes, which expresses the "vanity of vanities". Their placement and order in Scripture must surely be significant also. Just as the one, Ecclesiastes, articulates the absolute meaningless (frustration, futility) of life without God -- so the following book, the Song of Songs, epitomizes the fullest meaning and final purpose of a God-centered life. Just as the "sons of God" (the angels) -- the "morning stars" -- sang together and rejoiced when God finished His first creation (Job 38:6,7), just so will all the "new creation" sing together when Divine love and Divine beauty has reached the apex of its purpose, and the Divine purpose has been realized in full. Then, surely, in the midst of the new heavens and the new earth, in which righteousness will eternally dwell, THIS Song will be sung in all its glory!

SONG: There are numerous Heb words for the various types of songs. The Heb "shir" is a general word for any sort of happy song, and is often used of the music at celebrations (Isa 24:9; 30:29) -- this song was traditionally sung at Passover celebrations.

SOLOMON'S SONG OF SONGS: "The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's (or pertains to Solomon)." The preposition -- in Heb: l' (the letter in Heb is "lamed") -- could be translated "of", signifying the "of" of authorship or origin. But it could just as easily signify the "of" of connection or subject (NETn). "From comparative Semitics we now know that it can indicate far more than authorship. It can designate subject matter, literary genre, or who edited the text" (EBCn). The most that can be safely assumed from the use of Solomon's name in this first verse is that the Song is ABOUT him in some way -- not necessarily that he is the author. We are told elsewhere that Solomon composed 1,005 songs (1Ki 4:32), but this is not necessarily one of them; rather, we ought to think of it as in an entirely different class of its own.

"There was no such good day known to Israel as that whereon they were given the Song of Songs, for all the Scriptures are holy, but the Song of Songs is the holy of holies" (Rabbi Akiba). It represents the inner sanctuary of God's revelation, and the profoundest expression of His love. It is divine love, typified and patterned by the most noble of loves between man and woman. It is precisely because so many cannot enter into an appreciation of such a love, that they would scoff at the "indelicacies" and the "intimacies" of the Song, and dismiss it as nothing more than Jewish love poetry or "drinking songs".

These same qualities of the Song have brought about the advice of some of the rabbis: that the study of the Song should not even be attempted by young people (teens and 20s), but only by someone over the age of 30 (some say 40!). In other words, its study requires some maturity in spiritual love before the imagery of natural/physical love is not distracting, but can be meaningful to its readers.

The Song of Songs is unique in all Scripture. It portrays: (1) God's love for His people Israel, and vice versa (Isa 54:5-8; 62:4; Jer 2:32; 3:1), and (2) Christ's love for his ecclesia, and vice versa (Psa 45:7,10,11,13-15; 2Co 11:2,3; Rev 19:7-9; Eph 5:25-27,32).

Song 1:2

Vv 2-6: Introduction: The end of the story is told first? (This is the same device as used in Rev, several times, for example.) The bride is brought by her husband ("Solomon", "prince of peace") into his royal palace. She speaks with awe of her surroundings, and apologizes for her sun-burnt complexion. She has gone through many trials, but now (at last) she has reached her destination: the home of her Beloved.

Now... how did this come about? In answer, the next section (beginning v 7) returns to the beginning of the story...

V 2 sets the tone of the whole Book: the young woman sees her Beloved, ie Christ, as real, personal, and desirable.

"It is significant to this work that the girl speaks first. This young lady is not extremely diffident. She seems to see herself as of equal stature with the male. She longs to express her love to him, and she wants him to reciprocate. There is a sense in which she is the major character in this poem. This is one of the aspects of this work that makes it unique in its day. Much more of the text comes from her mouth and mind than from his. It is more her love story than it is his, though there is no failure on his part to declare his love and admiration for her" (EBC).

LET HIM KISS ME WITH THE KISSES OF HIS MOUTH: Cp Song 5:16. "That he may smother me with kisses" (NEB), or "kiss me passionately" (NET). This is passion of the deepest and tenderest kind, at the very beginning of the Song of Songs -- where we are reminded of the erotic nature of this song.

Yet, at the same time, such language is expressive of the deepest desire to have the closest communion with God, and with His Son: "As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Psa 42:1,2). "O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water" (Psa 63:1). And especially is this reminiscent of Num 12:8 -- where God speaks "face to face", or more literally "mouth to mouth", with Moses. The Bible does not, as we Westerners might, shy away from using the most intimate of expressions to describe man's love and desire for his Creator and his Saviour. In the minds of the writers of the Bible, the natural love of a man for a woman is not so much kept separate from the spiritual love, but is made to do service on a higher plane: 'As a man loves a woman (or a woman loves a man), yet much more so, in like manner do I love thee, O God!'

HIM... HIS: "She names him not, as is natural to one whose heart is full of some much desired friend: so Mary Magdalene at the sepulchre (Joh 20:15), as if everyone must know whom she means, the one chief object of her desire (Psa 73:25; Mat 13:44-46; Phi 3:7,8)" (JFB). This intensity of love is best demonstrated in the woman -- who had lived a very sinful life -- who fell at Jesus' feet, weeping, and wiped those feet with her hair, kissing them and pouring perfume on them (Luk 7:37,38). The Saviour's verdict: "Her many sins have been forgiven -- for she loved much" (Luk 7:47)!

KISS: In Bible terms, a kiss may signify peace (Isa 9:6; Eph 2:14), pardon (Luk 15:20), submission (Psa 2:12), marriage (Hos 2:9,10), friendship (1Sa 20:41), and affection (Rth 1:14). But this is a kiss of "peace", or "shalom", especially -- "peace" here meaning not just the absence of conflict, but unity and fellowship. And especially in this song, which is about the prototypical "Solomon" -- the one who is, and brings, "peace" -- then this kiss is the token of peace from the Prince of Peace (cp Luk 15:20); the one who is "our peace" (Psa 85:10; Col 1:21; Eph 2:14) -- having made us one with the Father.

LOVE: "Loves" (AV mg). Enduring, continuing. May signify multiple acts of lovemaking (Song 4:10; 5:1; 7:12; cp Pro 7:18; Eze 16:8; 23:17), in an enduring relationship.

YOUR LOVE IS MORE DELIGHTFUL THAN WINE: The LXX ("For thy breasts are better than wine") is based on a wrong Gr reading, and is -- besides -- unseemly if not confusing as to gender of speaker; it is the woman who is still addressing the man!

Wine is often associated with joy and gladness (Deu 14:26; Jdg 9:13; Psa 104:15; Pro 31:6; Ecc 10:19). It is a means to reviving the spirit (2Sa 16:1,2; Pro 31:4-7; Zec 10:7). It can also express the spiritual joy that comes from possessing the gifts of the grace of God (Isa 55:1; Joel 3:18; Amos 9:13).

A man is to be "intoxicated" with the love of his wife (Pro 5:19). Such love is viewed as a gift from God, given to enable man to enjoy life (Ecc 2:24-25; 5:18).

(NT) This wine may symbolize the new covenant, confirmed in Christ's shed blood: "Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends" (Joh 15:13). The love of Christ is sweeter far than anything else the world might imagine. Wine is produced only when the grapes are harvested, are crushed underfoot, and "bleed" out their juice; the grapes "die" so that, in the fermentation process, "new life" may be produced -- this is wine! And in the antitype, this is Christ too: crushed and bleeding out his life, so that in him new spiritual life may be produced, through repentance and faith and renewal: "This wine represents my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins" (Mat 26:28).

Christ's love is more delightful than wine: unlike wine, one may never have too much of Christ's love; unlike wine, Christ's love will never sour or go bad; unlike wine, Christ's love costs nothing (cp Isa 55:1) and will never do anyone harm!

"The love of Christ is reviving, and counteracts the debilitating effects of sin... A more powerful stimulant than the love of kindred, the love of money, or the love of fame, it so revolutionizes the heart as to make the ambitious man sacrifice his vanity, the proud man his reputation, the vindictive man his vengeance, the drunkard his drunkenness, the sensualist his lust, the miser his gold, for the name of Jesus Christ. It changes the parched ground of the selfish soul into a limpid pool of beneficence, and the thirsty land of the sensual heart into water springs of holy affections. Unlike the pleasures of sense, this love is more than a temporary stimulant... when age enfeebles the body, palsies the hand, and makes cold the heart, this love, so powerful, so reviving, keeps the spirit vigorous, the mind active, the affections warm" (Burrowes).

"Let him give me ten thousand kisses whose very fruition makes me desire him more, and, whereas all other pleasures sour and wither by using, those of the Spirit become more delightful" (Reynolds).

"Jesus, the very thought of thee
With sweetness fills my breast;
But sweeter far thy face to see
And in thy presence rest.

"No voice can sing, nor heart can frame,
Nor can the memory find
A sweeter sound than thy blest name,
O Savior of mankind.

"O hope of every contrite heart,
O joy of all the meek,
To those who fall how kind thou art!
How good to those who seek!

"But what to those who find? Ah, this
No tongue nor pen can show --
The love of Jesus, what it is,
None but his loved ones know.

"Jesus, our only joy be thou,
As thou our crown wilt be;
Jesus, be thou our glory now
And through eternity"
(Bernard of Clairvaux).

Song 1:3

PLEASING IS THE FRAGRANCE OF YOUR PERFUMES: Perfumes or colognes (Ecc 7:1; 10:1; Song 3:6; 4:10; 5:5,13; 2Ch 28:15; 2Sa 14:2; Dan 10:3; Mat 6:17). In Israel such oils were expensive (1Ki 17:12..; 2Ki 2:4..). Possession of oils and perfumes was a sign of prosperity and luxury (Deu 32:13; 33:24; Job 29:6; Pro 21:17; Eze 16:13,19). Wearing colognes and oils was associated with joy (Psa 45:8; Pro 27:9; Ecc 9:8; Isa 61:3) because they were worn on festive occasions (Pro 27:9).

"The sense of smell furnishes much of the imagery of this poetical book. Perfumes not only gratify the smell, they awaken the emotions, and have a remarkable power of reviving, by association, bygone scenes and far distant friends and companions, in whose society the fragrant wild flowers or blooms of the garden have been enjoyed. Perfumed unguents were in the East employed for anointing the body, for health and comfort. Their use was associated with hospitable reception and entertainment. The Name of our Saviour is as the unguents poured upon his form, diffusing sweet fragrance abroad" (Pulpit).

Christ was anointed with the oil of gladness, above his fellows (Psa 45:7). So the perfumes here signify pleasing qualities of character, not acquired miraculously, but through loving struggle (Phi 2; Heb 5:8). See the anointings of Christ, in Joh 12:3; 19:38.

YOUR NAME IS LIKE PERFUME: Play on words: "shem" (name) and "shemen" (perfume) -- just as in Ecc 7:1. Since, in the Bible, "name" is synonymous with character (cp, eg, Exo 34:5-7; 2Sa 7:9; Psa 89:16; Isa 9:6; 61:6; Jer 23:6; Mal 1:11; Mat 1:23; Phi 2:9,10), the woman is stating that her affection for the man is much more than physical -- she finds his whole person immensely attractive.

POURED OUT: Christ's name is "Messiah", or "Anointed". Christ is anointed as the true High Priest (Psa 133). The beauty of the anointing described in Psa 133 is that the anointing oil flows down from the head, all the way down to the hems of the High Priest's garments -- in other words, it is not only poured out, and diffused for the benefits of others, but it is unifying and all-inclusive: it covers all who aspire to it. Thus the grace with which the Father blessed the Son is yet all-sufficient to bless all those who are in him!

We may notice here the strong indication that the King whom she loves (for so he is seen to be later) has also been anointed as a Priest! He is truly the great priest after the order of Melchizedek -- that is, he is both king who rules and priest who saves (cp Psa 110).

Also, God's sending His Son into the world (Joh 3:16) may be likened to the pouring out of precious ointment; while the ointment was shut up in the bottle or flask, it had no effect on others; but once it was poured out, then the aroma would be a benefit and a blessing to all. Moreover, Christ's death was like the breaking of the flask, so that the aroma of the spices might be shed abroad. Cp this with Mary's anointing of Jesus "for his burial": "So Mary brake the box of precious ointment over Him, appropriately (Mar 14:e), the broken box typifying His body, which, when broken, diffused all grace: compounded of various spices, etc (Col 1:19; 2:9); of sweet odor (Eph 5:2)" (JFB). In this connection, see also Luk 7:37-50.

Furthermore, the lesson for us is that the blessings of Christ must be "poured out", or spread abroad, and shared with others. Just as the Shullamite tells her companions of the one whom she loves, so we should tell our friends of the One whom we love -- whose love surpasses that of all others.

The High Priest's anointing oil is described in some detail in Exo 30:23,24 (cp Lev 8:30). It was the scent of sacrifice! The resurrected Jesus smelled like a holy priest. Further, Song 4:14,16 -- about the Bride -- demonstrates that she has about her the scent of sacrifice and resurrection as well! for she has been closed associated with the Bridegroom!

The High Priest's anointing oil included myrrh, aloes, and cassia: (1) Myrrh was a well-known gum resin, used in perfume (Pro 7:17) and for purification (Est 2:12). It was a present from the wise men to the child Jesus (Mat 2:11), and it was used in the anointing of his dead body (Joh 19:39,40; Mar 15:23). It suggests sacrifice, which is bitter (the meaning of "myrrh" -- cp "mara" and "Miriam") in its experience yet purifying and cleansing in its effect (see also Song 1:13; 4:6.) (2) Aloes (Heb "ahalim": Num 24:6; Pro 7:17; Song 4:14) -- this refers to a large tree with a very fine wood, containing a resin, and an essential oil, constituting a perfume greatly prized. It was used, along with myrrh, in the burial of Christ (Joh 19:39,40). The Heb sig "tents", suggestive of the wilderness wanderings and trials of the children of Israel. (3) Cassia (Exo 30:24) was a tree whose bark, when stripped off, had the flavor and aroma of cinnamon. From a Heb root "to bow down", thus sig humility (ie Psa 110:7; 2Co 8:9; Phi 2:5-8).

As with the wine in v 2, so with the oil in v 3: cruel pressings and bruisings were necessary to produce the cleansing and sanctifying oil and perfumes -- and so it was with the Spirit upon our Lord Jesus Christ: he was bruised, he was crushed, for OUR sins and iniquities, and only by identifying with that affliction may we find true peace!

NO WONDER THE MAIDENS LOVE YOU: Even though the song describes an intensely personal and private love between one woman and one man, there is an indication -- here at the beginning -- that he is loved by many others as well. This suggests that she knows herself to be especially blessed and favored out of many other candidates. But it may also suggest -- quite obliquely -- that she is but one of many whom he does love, intensely and personally -- ie, that, as the typical Bride of Christ, she is a multitudinous Bride (cp Rev 14:4; 2Co 11:2).

"The saint has every reason to love Christ. He is in all respects beautiful in himself to such as have learnt the first and the great commandment to 'love (and fear) the Lord with all the soul, and mind and strength.' By any other class, his beauty is not appreciated. His beauty is not such as would answer to the world's ideal -- moral, artistic, or religious. It is not the beauty of a statue or of a 'gentleman born.' Christ is more than kind; he is holy. He is more than forgiving; he is just, and with wickedness angry. He is more than gentle; he is exacting of supreme affection. He is more than good; he is zealous of the Father" (RR).

MAIDENS: "Alamoth" = young girls. The word is used of a girl of marriageable age who is still unmarried (Gen 24:43; Exo 2:8; Isa 7:14; Mat 1:23; Psa 68:25; Pro 30:19). This word does not absolutely define virginity (in Heb, "bethulah" is that word) -- although in the absence of information to the contrary, it probably presumes virginity. The plural here is of course suggestive of the virgins of Mat 25:1; they are the Bride's companions (cp Psa 45:14).

Song 1:4

TAKE ME AWAY WITH YOU: "Draw me": cp Joh 6:44: "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him." Also cp Joh 12:32; Mat 11:28; Hos 11:4 (sw); Jer 31:3 (sw); Eze 32:20 (sw: a victor leading his captive). First there is selection, and then there is the following of Christ. We are drawn, or constrained, by the love of Christ (2Co 5:14,15). "Come near to God and he will come near to you" (Jam 4:8).

We cannot claim the close fellowship symbolized by the royal courts and inner chamber of the king if we cling to the idolatrous lusts of the world. "Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world -- the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does -- comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever" (1Jo 2:15-17). James is even stronger in his rebuke: "You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God" (Jam 4:4).

LET US HURRY!: "We will RUN after thee" (AV). Not content with a slower pace. The most eager desire of the faithful of Israel to see the Messiah -- as demonstrated by Simeon and Anna in Luk 2. Those who hope in the LORD will "run and not be weary" (Isa 40:31). They "run in the path of [God's] commands" (Psa 119:32,60; cp Heb 12:1).

LET THE KING BRING ME INTO HIS CHAMBERS: As it stands in the NIV (and NET), this is an expression of longing for intimacy not yet consummated. On the other hand, it may be an expression of fact: "The king hath brought me into his chambers" (AV; cp RSV, ASV). Either translation is possible; which is chosen will depend on where this verse is placed in the story line: is it an early desire for what is yet future? or is it the realization of all her desires (as, perhaps, the end of the story given at the beginning)? In a book such as this, it is sometimes difficult to judge (although the outline favored by the author would suggest the second possibility).

Either way, the words are spoken almost with a whisper of awe -- "the king's CHAMBERS"! It is the most special and sanctified place.

This coming into the inner chambers is comparable to Psa 45:14,15 in the companion-psalm to the Song of Songs.

CHAMBERS: Used frequently in reference to a bedroom (Gen 43:30; Jdg 15:1; 16:9; 2Sa 13:10; 1Ki 1:15; Psa 105:30; Isa 26:20). It refers explicitly to a bedroom when used with the noun "bed" in the expression "bedroom chamber" (Exo 7:28; 2Sa 4:7; 2Ki 6:12; Ecc 10:20).

This would be the natural and most literal meaning in the first instance. Beyond this, and on a spiritual level, the "chambers" signify the inner recesses of God's truth --the deep things of the Spirit, which even "angels have desired to look into" (1Pe 1:12). A knowledge of the things of the kingdom is reserved for the children of the kingdom. As the bridegroom would lead his new bride from chamber to chamber of his palace, to show her his wealth, to display his treasures, and to unlock his cabinet of most precious gifts, so does Christ delight to lead His people into all truth, to conduct them from knowledge to knowledge, from promise to promise, and from glory to glory -- sharing, as we are able to receive them, all his most precious gifts.

She is brought into the innermost pavilion, where Eastern kings admitted none but the most intimate friends (Est 4:11; 5:2; Psa 27:5; 91:1). The completion and dedication of the temple of Solomon was the first bringing of the "bride" -- that is, Israel -- into the permanent, instead of migratory, chambers of the King. Then, when Christ dwelt among Israel, it was as though he himself were this temple (Joh 2:21), the place and the means whereby believers are brought inside the veil, and into "heavenly places", the most holy places of fellowship with God (Eph 1:3; 2:6; Heb 10:19,20). So for us today, the "closets" or hidden places of prayer -- by which we approach the throne of grace -- are the "chambers" of the king (Psa 27:5; Isa 26:20; Mat 6:6) -- sufficing us until we come to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, and the fullest communion of immortality.

WE... WE: This suggests that these words are spoken by the Bride's companions -- who approve of the marriage. Or, possibly, by the bride AND her husband together. Then again, as in v 3, this may be an oblique allusion to the multitudinous character of the bride of Christ.

WE REJOICE: Inward praise (Col 3:16).

AND DELIGHT IN YOU: Outward praise (Mal 3:16; Heb 10:25; 1Pe 2:9).

WE WILL PRAISE: "Extol" (RSV), or "remember" (AV). The memorials, of the bread and wine, are appointed to believers as a means of remembering the work of Christ: "Do this in remembrance of me" (1Co 11:25; Luk 22:19).

WE WILL PRAISE YOUR LOVE MORE THAN WINE: As in v 2, wine refers to the shed blood, and the sacrifice of Christ.

YOUR LOVE: Literally, "your loves" -- plural -- as in v 2.

HOW RIGHT THEY ARE TO ADORE YOU!: An allusion back to v 3: "No wonder the maidens love you!" Or, as KJV, the "upright" -- or righteous -- will adore you! Even amongst the virgins in attendance to the bride in Christ's parable, only 5 of 10 -- the "upright" -- proved to be wise, and thus faithful (Mat 25:1-13)!

Song 1:5

DARK AM I: The "Bride" speaks. She is embarrassed and she apologizes for her sun-burnt complexion, and her "country" ways. (In contrast, the "bridegroom" is described as "radiant", or white, and "ruddy": Song 5:10; cp Lam 4:7)

DARK: This Heb word "sahor" -- which means "swarthy", not necessarily "black" (sw Lev 13:31,37; Zec 6:2,6; Song 5:11) -- although the last usage of the word, in Song 5:11, would certainly suggest jet black. It is not the same word as in v 6 here (though, perhaps, it is related).

YET LOVELY: WM Thomson, who traveled extensively in the Holy Land in the 1800s, observes that "even black tents, when new, and pitched among bushes of liveliest green, have a certain 'comely' appearance, especially when bathed in a flood of evening's golden light" (LB 171). And so it was with the young woman: there was about her an "unconventional" beauty and loveliness -- which may speak to her character and conduct, and not just to outward superficiality. (Is this phrase, "yet lovely", an interjection by the shepherd into the speech of the young woman? as might be the next phrase as well: "like the tent curtains of Solomon"? As the story develops, it becomes evident that it is he, and not she, who might know more about the palace -- or temple -- of Solomon. Or -- another possibility -- are these interjections the words of the young woman's companions, whom she seems to be addressing in this verse? Or, thirdly, it is just possible that the young woman is providing her own point AND counterpoint.)

Hannah -- and later Mary the mother of Jesus (see Luke 1:46-55) -- gave special praise to the God who raises the poor from obscurity, and reduces the self-important to nothingness: "My heart exults in the LORD; my strength is exalted in the LORD... The bows of the mighty are broken, but the feeble gird on strength... The LORD makes poor and makes rich; he brings low, he also exalts. He raises up the poor from the dust; he lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with princes and inherit a seat of honor..." (1Sa 2:1-10). Here, in the Song of Songs, begins an acted parable expressing this same truth. It is those who are weak whom the LORD God strengthens, those who are of no consequence whom He elevates, those who are of no personal beauty whom He beautifies -- provided there is found in them a faith with which He might work. "For the LORD... crowns the humble with salvation" (Psa 149:4). "For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2Co 12:10).

And what about the Bride of Christ? "By nature, the Betrothed in black with the darkness of sin, but by union with the Beloved she is comely with the comeliness of Christ... The Betrothed [is] still subject to sin and its consequence -- death -- in whose flesh dwelleth no good thing, and with no abiding place in this constitution of things. But clad in the comeliness of Christ she may justly be compared to the rich and costly curtains of fine tapestry which were to be found among the magnificence of Solomon" (Atwell). This is precisely the point Paul makes in Eph 5:27, when he speaks of the church as "without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish" (citing Song 4:7) -- yet he knows that she is so, not by her own merit, but because "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy..." (Eph 5:25,26). All the loveliness of the Bride is directly due to the work of her Beloved, who has made her so! Praise God.

O DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM: The "Jerusalem girls" are addressed a number of times in the Song (Song 2:7; 3:5,10,11; 5:8,16; 8:4). In the story itself, they appear to be friends and companions of the Bride, with whom she shares her thoughts and reveries. But in the allegory, whom do they represent? Paul provides a clue when, in Gal 4, he speaks of "Jerusalem" who is "above": "she is our mother" (v 26; citing Isa 54:1). This suggests that the "daughters of Jerusalem" may refer to the natural seed of Abraham, in addition to the spiritual seed -- who surely have some connection to the spiritual "seed", the Bride, but who are also some distance separated from her, and cannot quite comprehend her "infatuation" with her shepherd-lover. In this they seem to be symbolically related to "my mother's sons" of Song 1:6 -- who are "angry" with the young woman.

DARK LIKE THE TENTS OF KEDAR: Their tents were of black, or dark brown, goat skins. The dark color, as though they were burnt by the sun, suggests the idea of affliction.

TENTS: Heb "ohel"; temporary structures (Psa 15:1). Transitory, as the tabernacle in the wilderness, made of goatskins (sig that which is mortal, cursed) -- cp this with the ecclesia of today.

KEDAR: The Heb word itself means "to be dark". Kedar was a son of Ishmael (Gen 25:13; Isa 21:16; 42:11; Eze 27:21; Psa 120:5; Jer 2:10). The Kedarites were nomads who lived in northern Arabia se of Damascus (cf Isa 60:7).They perhaps stand for all Arabs, who generally hate Israel. In Paul's allegory of natural and spiritual Israel, in Gal 4:21-31, Hagar and Ishmael (Arabs, broadly understood) stand for natural Israel -- in contrast to spiritual Israel, symbolized by Sarah and Isaac -- it may be for this reason that the young woman diffidently compares herself to Kedar, an Arab tribe; she is so conscious of her imperfections.

LIKE THE TENT CURTAINS OF SOLOMON: The affliction she has gone through results, finally, in the beauty of God's temple. Indeed, this verse may be an allusion to the wilderness tabernacle (40 of 48 uses of this word in the OT pertain to that tabernacle). This tabernacle appeared dark on the outside, but inside having the most glorious embroidered curtains and hangings -- not unlike those of Solomon's later temple. Thus the tabernacle itself might be its own parable, having an outward appearance -- to the eyes of the world -- of that which is very ordinary, but whose very ordinariness belies the wonderful spiritual beauty to be found within.

And other passages complement this picture: in Psa 45:14, the Bride is arrayed in "embroidered garments" -- reminiscent of the curtains and fabrics of the tabernacle and temple. Likewise, in Isa 61:10, both bride and bridegroom are pictured as brilliantly attired, in "garments of salvation... like a priest", and with "jewels" -- just as the priest wore an ephod of precious stones, symbolizing the twelve tribes of Israel; in the joy of the marriage they become the embodiment of God's temple and God's priesthood. So much is this true that in the Age to come, there will no longer be any (other) temple (Rev 21:22) but Christ and his own "body", the beloved Bride.

Song 1:6

DO NOT STARE AT ME BECAUSE I AM DARK, BECAUSE I AM DARKENED BY THE SUN: Literally, as the AV, "because the sun hath looked upon me." The sun in the lands of the Middle East (as in Texas!) had great heat, as may be seen in Jon 4:8, where the beating of the sun upon the prophet brought him considerable discomfort; Jacob also says that the sun's rays and heat burned him by day (Gen 31:40; cp Lam 4:8; Psa 121:5-8; Rev 7:16). Compare Christ's parable about the seed newly sprung up, and burned by the sun -- by which he expressed trials and persecutions (Mat 13:6,21; Mar 4:6).

DARK: "Sahorhor" occurs only here in the OT, although some scholars take it to be the diminutive of the "sahor" that occurs in the previous verse. Thus here it could signify "a little dark"! The RSV has "swarthy".

Various writers and commentators appear to make an issue, and draw analogies, from the apparent fact of this young woman being of a dark-skinned race. Although this verse seems to make it clear that her darkness of skin was solely due to the rays of the sun, it is certainly not amiss to remark -- in passing -- that a dark skin, no matter how produced, should certainly be no detriment, in any particular, to a believer. The multitudinous bride of Christ is -- and will be -- composed of people of every race.

CHS compares these verses with the story of Moses' marrying a "Cushite", or Ethiopian, woman: "Strange choice of Moses [in marrying the dark-skinned Ethiopian], but how much more strange the choice of him who is a prophet like unto Moses, and greater than he! Our Lord, who is fair as the lily, has entered into marriage union with one who confesses herself to be black, because the sun has looked upon her [Song 1:6]. It is the wonder of angels that the love of Jesus should be set upon poor, lost, guilty men. Each believer must, when filled with a sense of Jesus' love, be also overwhelmed with astonishment that such love should be lavished on an object so utterly unworthy of it. Knowing as we do our secret guiltiness, unfaithfulness, and black-heartedness, we are dissolved in grateful admiration of the matchless freeness and sovereignty of grace. Jesus must have found the cause of his love in his own heart; he could not have found it in us, for it is not there. Even since our conversion we have been black, though grace has made us comely... Most tender and faithful Husband of our souls, pursue thy gracious work of conforming us to thine image, till thou shalt present even us poor Ethiopians unto thyself, without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. Moses met with opposition because of his marriage, and both himself and his spouse were the subjects of an evil eye. Can we wonder if this vain world opposes Jesus and his spouse, and especially when great sinners are converted? for this is ever the Pharisee's ground of objection: 'This man receiveth sinners' [Luk 15:2]. Still is the old cause of quarrel revived, 'Because he had married an Ethiopian woman' [Num 12:1]." (Pope writes that "the term Cushite is still used in modern Israeli Hebrew with derogatory and racist overtones.")

"It's her dark face which makes her smile
Shine so gleaming white.
What other race could so beguile
With countenance as bright?

"His lips kiss hers and proclaim protest
Against colour-blinded eyes;
His embrace stirs love just the same
Beneath her dark disguise.

"There's no doubt, too, that when the great
Decision's made on all,
That with the throng who shall elate
Both will receive a call.

"Not Jew, not Greek, not bond, not free,
Not white, not black the choice;
But God will seek variety
And in us all rejoice" (Walter Draper).

MY MOTHER'S SONS: Mother = Jerusalem (Gal 4); cp the "daughters of Jerusalem" in v 5.

WERE ANGRY WITH ME: Psa 69:8: "I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother's sons." Cp also Jer 12:6; Mat 10:22,25,35,36; Luk 12:51-53. Those who embrace and follow Christ may expect that their relatives after the flesh will be angry with them, and perhaps even mistreat them; at first, even our Lord's own brothers did not believe in him, but rather angrily opposed him (Joh 7:5; Mar 3:21).

MADE ME TAKE CARE OF THE VINEYARDS: "Great care was taken to preserve the clusters of the vine from the intrusion of birds; and boys were constantly employed, about the season of the vintage, to frighten them with the sling and the sound of the voice" (Burrowes). It was the poor of the land whom the Babylonians left behind to care for the vineyards and the herds (2Ki 25:12). One of the blessings of the age of the Messiah will be that God's people will be free of such menial labor (Isa 61:5). Undertaking such menial and laborious work, like a common servant, the young woman felt herself to be downtrodden and oppressed by her own closest relatives.

MY OWN VINEYARD I HAVE NEGLECTED: She was made to serve others to her own personal disadvantage. She has been unable to care for her personal appearance, due to her hard labor outdoors. "She had not had available to her the luxurious baths and toiletries or fashionable clothing of the court. There had been no opportunity for her to take care of her hair, skin, or hands according to the obvious courtly style" (Patterson).

(Cp the young woman's use of "vineyard" in Song 8:12.) The true ecclesia does not look to its own good. Cp Rth 2:22: as Ruth was warned by Boaz, so it was true of this young woman: she did find misfortune in other fields (or vineyards)!

To make a different, and spiritual, application of this last phrase: the young woman caring for other vineyards, but neglecting her own, may symbolize the believer who is rushing about here and there, in "service" to God and the "church", yet is neglecting the personal spiritual exercises, reading and meditation and prayer and self-discipline, by which his or her own spiritual life is nourished (cp idea, 1Co 9:27). Hudson Taylor writes: "Our attention is here drawn to a danger which is pre-eminently one of this day: the intense activity of our times may lead to zeal in service, to the neglect of personal communion; but such neglect will not only lessen the value of the service, but tend to incapacitate us for the highest service. If we are watchful over the souls of others, and neglect our own -- if we are seeking to remove the motes from our brother's eye, unmindful of the beam in our own, we shall often be disappointed with our powerlessness to help our brethren, while our Master will not be less disappointed in us." Likewise Paul writes that, in selecting ecclesial leaders, one prerequisite is the care to govern their own families well; for "If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church?" (1Ti 3:4,5). In other words, Paul says, "keep your own vineyard first"!

Song 1:7

Song 1:7 -- 2:17: The real beginning of the story: a sequence of courting scenes. A conversation between the maiden and a strange "shepherd". The humble shepherd whom the maiden loves (vv 7,8) is in fact a king (notice how HE speaks in vv 9,10,12; although he appears as a shepherd, the imagery and figures of speech he uses betrays his true, royal, identity). As time passes, she is weary of waiting, and desperate for his company. She imagines their home and their life together (vv 16,17). Then they are alternately together, apart, and together, and apart, etc (Song 2).

TELL ME, YOU WHOM I LOVE: "O thou whom my soul loveth" (AV). As the Song progresses, the love expressed becomes more and more intense: first, it is the "virgins" who love him (v 3); then, "the upright love thee" (v 4). But now it is my very "soul" ("nephesh") that loves thee! "The idiom 'my soul' includes the whole of the life and the person of the individual" (Pope).

So this -- "my beloved", or the like -- is the common way the young woman speaks of the shepherd: cp Song 2:3; 3:1-4; 5:8,10,16.

"It is well to be able, without any 'if' or 'but', to say of the Lord Jesus -- 'Thou whom my soul loveth.' Many can only say of Jesus that they hope they love him; they trust they love him; but only a poor and shallow experience will be content to stay here. No one ought to give any rest to his spirit till he feels quite sure about a matter of such vital importance. We ought not to be satisfied with a superficial hope that Jesus loves us, and with a bare trust that we love him. The old saints did not generally speak with 'buts' and 'ifs', and 'hopes' and 'trusts', but they spoke positively and plainly. 'I know whom I have believed,' saith Paul. 'I know that my Redeemer liveth,' saith Job. Get positive knowledge of your love of Jesus, and be not satisfied till you can speak of your interest in him as a reality" (CHS).

TELL ME... WHERE YOU GRAZE YOUR FLOCKS AND WHERE YOU REST YOUR SHEEP AT MIDDAY: 'Tell me where the pastures are, where you provide food to your flocks; and tell me where the quiet, shady places are where you provide them comfort and refreshing' (cp Psa 23:1,2; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Eze 34:11,12; Mic 5:4; Rev 7:17).

Was this not exactly what the would-be disciples asked Jesus (the "good shepherd": Joh 10:11,28,29) when first they became acquainted with him?: "They said, 'Rabbi' (which means Teacher), 'where are you staying?' So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent that day with him" (Joh 1:38,39).

MIDDAY: "In the tropic and semi-tropic areas of the world -- including ancient as well as modern Palestine -- the oppressive heat of the middle of the day drives people and animals to rest in shady places. Note the contrast with the cool of the dawn and evening elsewhere in the Song (Song 2:17; 4:6; 5:2; 7:12)" (Pope).

WHY SHOULD I BE LIKE A VEILED WOMAN BESIDE THE FLOCKS OF YOUR FRIENDS?: "Tell me, lest I wander around beside the flocks of your companions" (NET). This emendation is adopted by many translations: "like one who wanders" (RSV, NASB), "like one who strays" (JPS) and "as one that turneth aside" (KJV). This would make nice sense contextually: she begs her beloved to tell her where to find him because she does not want to wander around aimlessly, like someone who is lost.

If the other translation is adopted -- ie, "a veiled woman" (cp AV mg; RV) -- then two possibilities exist: (a) 'Why should I veil myself like a widow in mourning?' (cp 2Sa 15:30); or (b) 'Why should I be mistaken for a cult prostitute -- like Tamar was?' (cp Gen 38:13-15). She is not a loose woman following the flocks looking for any lover; she has made a commitment to one and one only.

The young woman, though a shepherdess herself, is putting herself in the place of a lamb. The phrase appears to allude to two separate, but related, dangers: (1) Why should she wander aimlessly, having no "shepherd" to follow? Such a course would be extremely dangerous -- for there were lions and bears and wolves that might fall upon her. Or (2) why should she be tempted to follow other, less worthy, "shepherds" -- who could not give her the same pasture and protection and rest, or who might even abuse her?

There is a devotion, as well as a quiet kind of desperation, to be heard in these words. These same two qualities are captured in the words of Peter, when his Lord suggests that he and the other disciples might go away: "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life" (Joh 6:68).

THE FLOCKS OF YOUR FRIENDS: It looks as though this should mean something like "professed friends" -- for if they were real associates with Christ, they would keep company with him, and be attached to his word and ordinances. So these should be false friends, hypocrites and heretics, rivals with him, who set up their own societies and schemes in opposition to him.

Having said this, it must be admitted that -- in v 8 -- the other "shepherds" appear to be righteous and honorable ones! So how to explain this?

"Not 'did love yesterday'; or, 'may begin to love tomorrow,' but 'thou whom my soul loveth' -- 'thou whom I have loved ever since I knew thee, and to love whom has become as necessary to me as my vital breath or my native air.' The true Christian is one who loves Christ for evermore. He doth not play fast and loose with Jesus; pressing him today to his bosom, and then turning aside and seeking after any Delilah who may with her witcheries pollute him. No, he feels that he is a Nazarite unto the Lord; he cannot and he will not pollute himself with sin at any time or in any place... If [the Christian] had no Christ to love he must die, for his heart has become Christ's. And so if Christ were gone, love could not be; then his heart would be gone, too, and a man without a heart were dead. The heart, is it not the vital principle of the body? and love, is it not the vital principle of the soul? Yet, there are some who profess to love the Master, but only walk with him by fits, and then go abroad like Dinah into the tents of the Shechemites. Oh, take heed, ye professors, who seek to have two husbands; my Master will never be a part-husband. He is not such a one as to have half of your heart. My Master, though he be full of compassion and very tender, hath too noble a spirit to allow himself to be half-proprietor of any kingdom" (CHS).

Song 1:8

IF YOU DO NOT KNOW: Implying, but quite gently, that she should know... It is true enough that there are spiritual things, things about our great Shepherd, of which each of us is ignorant; however, it must be our business not to leave it at that, but to inquire diligently and find out all that we need to know.

MOST BEAUTIFUL OF WOMEN: Heb "yaphah" and its variant "yapheh" -- "bright, fair, beautiful" -- is used approx twelve times of the Bride: nine times in the absolute sense: "you are fair" (here; Song 2:10,13; 4:1,7; 6:4,10; 7:1,6; cp also Psa 45:11,13), and three times in the superlative expression, "the fairest of women" (Song 1:8; 5:9; 6:1).

And how has the one who is "dark" in her own eyes become the "most beautiful" of all women? Such beauty is not natural in its origins, but is due to the divine working, as Ezekiel's parable about Israel shows (cp Eze 16:3-10). It is surely by the love and labor of the great shepherd that the young woman has attained this loveliness, not (alone) by her own efforts. This is Paul's glorious theme: "Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." (Eph 5:25-27; cp Rev 19:8). It is the blood of Christ -- the great shepherd -- that has washed away every blemish, every stain, and every sin; and it is his continuing ministration, through his word, that has kept her clean and pure and holy.

FOLLOW THE TRACKS OF THE SHEEP AND GRAZE YOUR YOUNG GOATS BY THE TENTS OF THE SHEPHERDS: Is this response spoken by the young woman's friends (as the NEB suggests), or by the shepherd himself (as vv 9-11 surely are)? If the shepherd, then it looks as though he gives a rather evasive answer: 'Just keep on following the flocks...' Is this an attempt to keep his true identity hidden -- ie, that he is a king? (If so, then it may parallel the "hidden Messiahship" principle, which is evident in the gospels, especially at the beginning of Jesus' ministry.)

However, in a spiritual vein, there may be reason and truth in such an answer. If we would be fed, we must follow the Shepherd through the whole breadth of his teaching and word, and not stay on one spot alone. Wherever the Shepherd has gone, and his flock has followed him, will be suitable paths for our feet: walking in these byways, listening to the flock, and seeing how they are cared for by the one whom THEY also love, will be the way by which we come to know more of their Shepherd -- and ours! Or, as Bunyan put it, "Wherever I have seen the print of his shoe in the earth, there I have coveted to set my foot too."

Other Scriptures agree: "To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps" (1Pe 2:21). "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1Co 11:1). "Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls" (Jer 6:16). "Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path" (Psa 119:105).

GRAZE YOUR YOUNG GOATS: Symbolic of training up the young (Pro 22:6; 23:13). "Let her show her love to her Lord by feeding his sheep, by caring for his lambs (Joh 21:15-17), and she need not fear to miss his presence. While sharing with other under-shepherds in caring for his flock she will find the Chief Shepherd at her side, and enjoy the tokens of his approval" (Taylor). Rachel was caring for her father's sheep when she first met her husband-to-be Jacob (Gen 29:9). And it was while she was caring for her flock, as a shepherdess with her sister-companions, that Zipporah found her husband Moses (Exo 2:16-21). Such incidents are surely types for us.

It is worthwhile also to be careful that, when we set out to feed the sheep, we do not lose sight of the need to feed ourselves too -- for we are also the sheep of his pasture (Psa 100:3). We should not lose our own spirituality while trying to make others spiritual. And so we must learn how to sit at his feet, like Mary, even while we are working in the house, like Martha (Luk 10:38-42). Each role is necessary.

BY THE TENTS OF THE SHEPHERDS: The "dwellings" of the prophets and apostles? (But is this consistent with the symbolism of the "shepherds" in v 7?)

This view, however, is well expressed by Durham: "Shepherds here in the plural number, are the servants of that one Shepherd, whose own the sheep are. So ministers are called often shepherds, or pastors, both in the Old and New Testament, (1) because of their relation to Christ, by whom they are intrusted to feed his sheep; he is the owner, they are but shepherds (Eze 34:2); (2) because of their relation to the flock, which is committed to their care, and for which they must give an account (Heb 13:17); and (3) because of the nature of their charge, as being... difficult, and tenderly to be gone about; for, such is the work and care of a shepherd, as we may see by what Jacob speaks of himself, when he had the charge of Laban's flock (Gen 31:40)."

The Hebrew for "tent" or "dwelling" here is "mishkan", which -- while it may have ordinary associations as well -- is especially, and often, used of the tabernacle of worship. This suggests that this particular shepherd is a special shepherd, since he dwells in God's house!

Song 1:9

I LIKEN YOU, MY DARLING: "Ra'yah" (ie Ruth!) -- my friend (sw Song 1:15; 2:2,10,13; 4:1,7; 5:2; 6:4). "You are my FRIENDS if you do what I command" (Joh 15:14).

A MARE HARNESSED TO ONE OF THE CHARIOTS OF PHARAOH: "On first hearing it seems a clumsy compliment for a lover to compare his beloved to a horse, and moreover one harnessed to a chariot. But once we appreciate the basic difference between eastern and western poetry in regard to comparisons we shall see it is high praise indeed. Western poets make comparisons which are visually pleasing to the imagination or which evoke parallel emotions; their images are often conventional: 'My love is like a red, red rose...'; but the eastern method is to appeal to the intellect, using symbols rather than pictures, the mind being exercised by the excellence of the object" (Waddoup).

Such chariot-horses as alluded to here were strong, majestic, fearless, militant, highly-trained, obedient, spirited, eager, unified, stately, and noble (cp the description of the war-horse in Job 39:19-25, and the prophecy of Zec 10:3). They suggest the imagery of the cherubim in Eze 1 (there is also a close verbal link: "chariot" or "chariot-horse" is the Hebrew "rekeb", whereas "cherub" is transliterated from the Hebrew "kereb").

It was not unusual in ancient times to compare a beautiful woman to a beautiful horse -- nor would it be considered coarse, as it might be today! The poet Theocritus famously described Helen of Troy, reputedly the most beautiful woman in the world, to a "Thessalian steed".

A bridled horse echoes the exhortation of Jam 3:2-3,6-8, about the controlling of the tongue.

But such chariot-horses were stallions, not mares! And this word is plainly "mare" (NET, RSV, NIV, Roth -- the KJV ignores this distinction).

HARNESSED TO ONE OF THE CHARIOTS: "The noun 'rekeb' has a wide range of meanings: 'chariots, war-chariots' (Exo 14:17,18,23; 15:19; Deu 11:4; 20:1; Jos 11:4); 'chariot crews, chariot troops' (1Ki 9:22; 16:9; 22:31; 2Ki 8:21)... and 'chariot-horses' (Exo 14:9; 2Sa 8:4; 1Ch 18:4; Eze 39:20) (HAL)" (NETn). So, possibly, this should be "a mare let loose among the chariot-stallions" (cp idea, Song 6:12) -- ie, a serious distraction (because of her beauty)! "A passage from Egyptian literature demonstrates that mares were sometimes released in battle to allure and distract the pharaoh's chariot-harnessed stallions" (Parsons, cited in Const; cp also Pope). The young shepherd meant that his love was a woman whom many men would have pursued. As if to say, 'You have the kind of beauty that will turn men's heads, and leave them breathless!' His praise would have bolstered his beloved's confidence that he loved her.

At the same time, by this figure of speech, he seems inadvertently to reveal something of his background -- a wilderness shepherd would scarcely think of such an analogy. But this is what a king might say!

OF PHARAOH: At this time, the best horses in the world were reputedly those of Egypt (2Ch 1:14-17; 1Ki 10:28; Isa 31:1) -- as were those of Arabia at a later date. And the best horses in Egypt would surely be those in Pharaoh's stables. "The allusion may be to the horses brought at a high price by Solomon out of Egypt (2Ch 1:16,17). So the bride is redeemed out of spiritual Egypt by the true Solomon, at an infinite price (1Pe 1:18,19)... As Jesus Christ is both Shepherd and Conqueror, so believers are not only his sheep, but also, as a church militant... his chariots and horses (Song 6:4)" (JFB).

Song 1:10

"We have forgotten what a thing of beauty a horse can be when compared to other animals. We are also unaware what valuable creatures they were in the ancient world. They were beautiful in themselves, and the ancient royal courts insisted on brilliantly caparisoning [adorning with rich trappings] the ones that pulled the king's chariot. The beloved's jewelry, earrings, and necklaces make him think of such" (Kinlaw, cited by Const). For that matter, the camels of rich men often had chains of gold about their necks (Jdg 8:26).

The description given here is continued with still greater detail in Song 4.

YOUR CHEEKS ARE BEAUTIFUL WITH EARRINGS; YOUR NECK WITH STRINGS OF JEWELS: Cp the garlands (Gr "stephanos") of Rev 2:10; 3:11. The conferring of jewelry can indicate an elevation to higher status (Gen 41:42).

EARRINGS: Heb "towr" = strings, or rows, or borders -- as a necklace, with several strings of beads, jewels, or coins. Sw v 11.

YOUR NECK: The neck is the part that unites the body and the head. Then it must be the covenant of grace that is the neck; the living union between Christ and his church. It is the strength, the support, and the medium of communication. See also Song 4:4,9n; 7:4.

STRINGS: Heb "charuwz" -- which signifies "to pierce", ie pearls or jewels pierced and threaded and strung together to form a necklace.

YOUR NECK WITH STRINGS OF JEWELS: The instruction of a father and mother, faithfully followed, is like a chain to adorn the neck (Pro 1:8,9; 3:21,22). The links or jewels in the chain answer to the fruits of the Spirit, as enumerated in Gal 5:22,23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Put another way, the adornment of the bride is a modest and quiet spirit, which is of far greater value than gold and jewelry (1Pe 3:1-5; 1Ti 2:9). The bride is adorned with jewels which are gifts from her beloved, but she also works to develop and "polish" these jewels -- so that they reflect her love and devotion to him, as well as his to her.

Song 1:11

WE WILL MAKE YOU...: Are the bride's companions speaking again? Or is the shepherd speaking on behalf of himself and others? (Spiritually, the "we" of Christ could be his Father as well as himself.) Either way, such beauty as that of the young shepherdess/bride calls for more and more adorning (cp Eze 16:11-13). (Of course, as stated already, the true "beauty" of the Bride is that which is provided by her Husband: Eph 5:25-27; Rev 19:7-9. And in this connection, consider the word "make": "We will MAKE for you", not just "give to you"... "For we are God's workmanship": Eph 2:10.)

EARRINGS OF GOLD: "Earrings" is sw v 10; here, with the gold (instead of jewels), it may suggest "borders" or "rows" of beaten gold, as in a crown. Gold is emblematic of a tried faith (1Pe 1:7; Rev 3:18).

STUDDED WITH SILVER: The circlets of gold are embossed with studs of silver, which set off the color and give a sparkling appearance. "Silver was used in Israel as coin current in commerce. Many instances can be found in Scripture of its being so employed: Gen 23:16; 2Sa 24:18-25... Again, we have two noticeable instances when life was bartered for silver: (1) Joseph was sold to the Midianites for 20 pieces of silver (Gen 37:23-28); (2) Jesus, the greater Joseph, was sold for 30 pieces of silver (Mat 27:1-10). It is plain, then, that the idea attached to silver, actually and typically, in Scripture is that of a price paid, silver being typical of Israel's redemption (Exo 30:12-16), being but the picture of a Greater and Better Offering" (Hall).
So silver signifies atonement, as in the redemption price paid for Israel (Exo 30:12-16; Lev 5:15).

Song 1:12

An Interlude of unknown duration now follows. When the story resumes the shepherd/king and his bride are in the intimate chambers of love in the palace. The bride resumes speaking.

Now she seems to recognize that the shepherd whom she has loved is also a king. "The maiden now muses in response to her lover's affection and praise. The ambience and the language change. The context up to now has been pastoral. The discussion has been of flocks, herds, shepherds, and vineyards. Now it is of a table, expensive and exotic perfumes, spices from far away places, and a king. The context is royal" (EBC).

Much later in the Song (Song 3:7,9,11; 6:12) she seems only just to be discovering this. Several possibilities may resolve this difficulty: (1) These verses are part of the "end at the beginning" scenario, discussed in the introduction. (2) She is simply beginning to "suspect" that the shepherd whom she loves is more than a shepherd. Or (3) In the ancient Near East, lovers and spouses might speak, affectionately, of their partners as royalty -- as we might do today (cf "Prince Charming", or "queen of the house", or "my little princess").

Quite possibly, the lowly shepherdess does not possess any of the expensive perfumes she mentions here, but merely uses them as convenient similes to describe her own desires and the sweetness of her beloved.

WHILE THE KING WAS AT HIS TABLE: In spiritual terms, the "king's table" may describe the Lord's supper, or the memorial feast (1Co 10:21; Mat 26:26-28; Luk 22:29,30), where the "feast of fat things" (Isa 25:6) -- ie, the gospel -- is shared with those whom he loves (Pro 9:1; Mat 22:4; Psa 23:5; Rev 3:21). It is called his table, because he both provides the "nourishment" served there, and is the host of the feast. It is at this table that we come closest to the experiences of the one whom we love, of a suffering and death born out of his love for us, and a new life which is a glimpse of eternal joy.

TABLE: The lexicons suggest that "mecab" refers to a round banquet table (HAL) or divan with cushions or pillows (BDB), where the guests might recline as they eat.

MY PERFUME SPREAD ITS FRAGRANCE: She wore "nard" (RSV; or "spikenard": AV, ASV, NEB; or "perfume": NASB, NIV; cf Mar 14:3; Luk 7:37,38; Joh 12:3), which was an ointment that came from a plant grown in northern and eastern India.

The prayers of the saints are likened to incense or perfume (Rev 5:8; 8:3,4; cp Psa 141:1,2; Luk 1:9,10). This verse also suggests Mary's anointing of Jesus with "nard" in the home of Lazarus, for his "burial" -- surely this was a kind of "prayer" (Joh 12:2,3,6), as well as a "fragrant offering, and an acceptable sacrifice" (Phi 4:18). And so, when we meet at our Lord's table, our prayers -- of praise, and thanksgiving, and supplication -- rise as a sweet-smelling incense to our LORD in heaven.

Song 1:13

MY LOVER IS TO ME A SACHET: Heb "seror" = "pouch" or "bundle", as in AV, probably a small bag with a drawstring. To liken one to such a pouch is to imply that all the costly and pleasant and purifying qualities of myrrh are not scattered loose in the world, but bound up in one place and one person -- in the young woman's lover (or -- spiritually, for us -- in the Lord Jesus Christ).

OF MYRRH: Myrrh is a very expensive Arabian gum from the bark of a tree, used in oils and perfumes. The wise men who came to Bethlehem brought gifts of gold and frankincense and myrrh to the newborn Messiah (Mat 2:11). On the cross Jesus was offered wine mingled with myrrh (Mark 15:23). To prepare the body of Jesus, "Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds" (Joh 19:39). Myrrh is "an expensive luxury item, which had to be imported into Israel. In liquid form it could be carried in small bottles like nard, but it was also used in solid form in which it was carried in a small cloth pouch or sachet worn next to the body. The myrrh was mixed with fat and shaped into cones and as the fat melted from the body heat, the aroma of myrrh and the anointing oil would perfume a woman's body. Because it had a very strong aroma which would last for long periods of time, women often wore it to bed to perfume themselves for the next day. Because of its beautiful fragrance, it is associated with romance (eg Isa 3:24)" (NETn). Myrrh is also an ingredient in the sacred anointing oil (Exo 30:23), and signifies purification (Est 2:12) as well as suffering and crucifixion.

RESTING BETWEEN MY BREASTS: "The Hebrew women were accustomed to carry little bags or bottles of myrrh suspended from their necks and hanging down between the breasts under the dress, diffusing an attractive fragrance round them" (Pulpit). "The impact of the girl's lover on her is encompassing and inescapable. Her consciousness of him sweetens her life the way the aroma of a sachet of perfume placed between the breasts makes a girl move in a cloud of fragrance... Love has its own hallowing touch on all of life" (EBC).

The AV reads: "he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts" -- thus making this last phrase refer even more directly to the shepherd/king himself. Thus being placed between the breasts is being taken, symbolically, into the closest and most lasting communion. This is the language of love and passion, of a most personal and intimate nature. It is the story of lovers, lying in one another's arms; yet it is intended to evoke the believer's longing and desire for the closest association with the Saviour (see introduction, Song of songs, erotic element).

In a spiritual sense, this signifies Christ dwelling in our hearts (Eph 3:17-19; cp Col 1:27; Joh 4:14), and the expectation of the most glorious fellowship with him in the future. "Christ must dwell in the heart (Eph 3:17), and, in order to that, the adulteries must be put from between the breasts (Hos 2:2), no pretender must have his place in the soul" (Henry). "The Church does not say, 'I will put this bundle of myrrh on my shoulders' -- Christ is no burden to a Christian. She does not say, 'I will put this bundle of myrrh on my back' -- the Church does not want to have Christ concealed from her face. She desires to have him where she can see him, and near to her heart. It is an expression of desire -- her desire that she may have the consciousness of Christ's love continually" (CHS).

"As the warmth of the bosom draws forth the fuller and richer fragrance of the perfume, so likewise the warmth of our love to Christ draws forth for us a fuller and deeper revelation of the beauty and perfection of the Beloved Lord. Those who belong to him would have him ever near by night as well as day" (Atwell). "The knowledge of, and love for, Jesus is not something to be used merely as an ornament, but to be kept in the bosom night and day; too much valued, too precious, too well cherished to be laid aside for a moment" (Ask). "By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me -- a prayer to the God of my life" (Psa 42:8).

Song 1:14

MY LOVER IS TO ME A CLUSTER: The word "cluster" -- like the "sachet" or "bundle" of v 13 -- suggests a binding together, or conjoining, of all good qualities or virtues in one place or one person -- even as grapes are found in clusters. As Gill puts it, "The Jews call a man, eminent for virtue, and a large share of knowledge, a 'cluster'... and they interpret 'eshkol', as 'a man that has all things in himself' [a pun of sorts: replacing 'eshkol' (cluster) with 'ish se hakkol' (literally, 'the man who has everything'!: GB]; such an one is Christ, in the highest sense, having all perfections, excellencies, and virtues, in himself."

OF HENNA BLOSSOMS: AV "camphire" (Heb "kopher"). Also sometimes called "cypress" (AV mg), but bearing no likeness to our cypress tree -- the "cypress" here is a tall shrub, the henna bush. Thomson writes, "Dr Kitto argues that this 'kopher' was the 'henna', and certainly the long 'clusters' of henna flowers are very fragrant. The Orientals, also, are extravagantly fond of their odour, and they have an intimate association with love and marriage" (LB 603). Henna plants -- common in Palestine -- bore white blossoms, but their leaves produced a red-orange cosmetic dye (in fact, it is still used today in hair dyes).

The Hebrew "kopher" is also translated "ransom" (cp Exo 21:30), ie the mercy seat, or "covering" -- pointing to the redemption in Christ (cp Rom 3:24,25).

FROM THE VINEYARDS: Suggesting Christ the true vine (Joh 15).

OF EN GEDI: En Gedi signifies "the fountain of a kid" (cp v 8). In the steep hills near Bethlehem, where David hid in a cave from Saul (1Sa 23:29; 24:1), there was a lush oasis, hemmed in and sheltered by the ravines on either side and sustained by a warm spring. It was in the midst of the desert wilderness on the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea region. The whole surrounding region is hot and bleak; its dry sands extend monotonously for miles. Nearby, the Dead Sea region is a salty desert covered with a dusty haze and characterized by almost unbearable heat during most of the year. And then there is the oasis of En Gedi -- the only sign of greenery or life for miles around, standing out as a surprising contrast to the bleak desert all around. In the En Gedi oasis indescribable beauty is found. The profuse vegetation and sparkling waterfall bring welcome relief and refreshment to the weary desert traveler.

For the spiritual significance of "fountain", consider Zec 13:1 -- where the fountain was the source of cleansing for Israel, to be opened up by Christ in his atoning sacrifice. As stated above, "En Gedi" = "the fountain of the kid", and the kid represents the sin offering (Lev 16:5): thus it points to the offering of Christ, which provides a refreshing oasis of salvation in the midst of a barren wilderness of sin and death!

"The Scriptures, this precious volume, the visible means of our communion with Christ, with the exquisite network of its literary materials and style, filled with words fitly spoken, is more beautiful and valuable than a basket of silver filled with apples of gold; and no golden vase on a centre-table of the purest marble, containing clusters of camphire mingling their fragrance with the odour of distilled myrrh, can diffuse as pleasant an incense as that filling the retired room of the believer, in which the central ornament is this book of life, this golden urn of salvation, filled with the pure water of life, with clusters gathered in the heavenly Paradise, and fragrant with truths in unfading bloom" (Burrowes).

Song 1:15

The shepherd speaks to the young woman. Now begins an exchange of endearments and compliments between the two.

HOW BEAUTIFUL YOU ARE: Heb "yaphah" and its variant "yapheh" -- "bright, fair, beautiful" -- is used approx twelve times of the Bride: nine times in the absolute sense: "you are fair" (here; Song 2:10,13; 4:1,7; 6:4,10; 7:1,6), and three times in the superlative expression, "the fairest of women" (Song 1:8; 5:9; 6:1).

And again, as to the spiritual and forward-looking application: "He sees her fair, not as she is, but as she will be, and he is able to make her. How fair, how beautiful will she be when he bestows upon her glorious immortality, angelic grace, the gift of God" (Atwell).

MY DARLING!: Echoed from v 9.

OH, HOW BEAUTIFUL! YOUR EYES ARE DOVES: To have the "eyes" of a particular animal must surely be to have the appearance and demeanor of, and to show forth the characteristics generally associated with that animal. So it is here. Generally, eyes imply light and understanding, intelligence, discernment, and perception.

ARE DOVES: The dove here is the common Rock dove (not the "turtle-dove" of Song 2:12); referred to many times in the Song. It was the only sacrificial bird (Psa 74:19), which symbolized simplicity, sincerity, gentleness, harmlessness, and purity. Whilst various commentators have hit upon any number of characteristics of the dove as support for this analogy, the words of Jesus point toward one aspect especially: "Be... innocent as doves" (Mat 10:16). The Holy Spirit is compared to a dove in Joh 1:32; Mat 3:16. Cp Song 4:1; 5:12. Here is clarity of spiritual insight; discerning of the Truth; seeing with gentleness and understanding, and sympathetic desire to help and not destroy.

"In the ancient Near East there was an unusual emphasis on beauty of a woman's eyes. This was probably due to the practice of women veiling themselves and wearing long robes so that no portion of their body or face was exposed to sight except for their eyes (eg, Gen 26:17). In such instances, the only indication of a woman's beauty was her eyes. There was no better (and no other, in light of the attire) way to praise a woman's beauty in the ancient Near East" (Carr). "The doves of Syria have eyes that are remarkably large and beautiful" (Burrowes). Cp generally the descriptions of Rachel, who was "lovely" and "beautiful", and Leah, who was "tender eyed" (Gen 29:17).

The eyes were considered the mirror of the character -- whether for good or ill. "We read of the 'evil' eye (Mat 20:15); of 'eyes full of adultery' (2Pe 2:14); and of the 'high look and proud heart' (Psa 101:5). But what a contrast to all these have we here! Eyes of gentleness, of purity, of heavenly mindedness" (Pulpit). "Those are fair, in Christ's account, who have, not the piercing eye of the eagle, but the pure and chaste eye of the dove, not like the hawk, who, when he soars upwards, still has his eye upon the prey on earth, but a humble modest eye, such an eye as [reveals] a simplicity and godly sincerity and a dove-like innocency" (Henry).

In the last instance in the Song of comparisons to doves' eyes (Song 5:12), it is the bride who praises her husband: "HIS eyes are like doves..." And so they are! But here in Song 1:15 HE sees in HER eyes some dawning reflection of his own dove-like qualities in her -- peace, purity, and love. Eyes answer to eyes, and the king sees and recognizes his beloved, who is... a mirror image of himself!

Hall, following Durham, points out the dove has the extraordinary quality of being able to see and find its way back to its nest, or cote, from a great distance -- and for this reason appears prominently in the story of Noah's ark (Gen 8:8-12). Also he notes that the dove is clean in nature (Song 6:9), swift of wing (Psa 55:6), beautiful of plumage (Psa 68:13), and constant in love (Song 5:12).

Song 1:16

The young woman responds to her beloved.

HOW HANDSOME YOU ARE, MY LOVER!: Though translated differently ("handsome" instead of "beautiful" in the NIV), the Hebrew word is the same -- "yapah" -- as in v 15 (cp Psa 45:2, sw).

OH, HOW CHARMING: "Charming" is "naiym" = delightful, agreeable, or pleasant (AV, ASV, NEB); it can refer to physical attractiveness or to personal character (BDB; HAL). "Truly lovely" (RSV) perhaps best captures the intensity of the expression.

"From every point our Well-beloved is most fair. Our various experiences are meant by our heavenly Father to furnish fresh standpoints from which we may view the loveliness of Jesus; how amiable are our trials when they carry us aloft where we may gain clearer views of Jesus than ordinary life could afford us! We have seen him from the top of Amana, from the top of Shenir and Hermon, and he has shone upon us as the sun in his strength; but we have seen him also 'from the lions' dens, from the mountains of the leopards,' and He has lost none of His loveliness. From the languishing of a sick bed, from the borders of the grave, have we turned our eyes to our soul's spouse, and he has never been otherwise than 'all fair.' Many of his saints have looked upon him from the gloom of dungeons, and from the red flames of the stake, yet have they never uttered an ill word of him, but have died extolling his surpassing charms. Oh, noble and pleasant employment to be for ever gazing at our sweet Lord Jesus! Is it not unspeakably delightful to view the Saviour in all his offices, and to perceive him matchless in each? -- to shift the kaleidoscope, as it were, and to find fresh combinations of peerless graces? In the manger and in eternity, on the cross and on his throne, in the garden and in his kingdom, among thieves or in the midst of cherubim, he is everywhere 'altogether lovely.' Examine carefully every little act of his life, and every trait of his character, and he is as lovely in the minute as in the majestic. Judge him as you will, you cannot censure; weigh him as you please, and he will not be found wanting. Eternity shall not discover the shadow of a spot in our Beloved, but rather, as ages revolve, his hidden glories shall shine forth with yet more inconceivable splendour, and his unutterable loveliness shall more and more ravish all minds" (CHS).

AND OUR BED IS VERDANT: "Bed" here is a resting place, a couch with a canopy (Psa 6:6; 41:3; 132:3; Pro 7:16) or a marriage couch (BDB).

VERDANT: Green, living, refreshing, as the green pastures of Psa 23:2, in which the shepherd's flock finds rest (cp Psa 92:12,13; Jer 17:8) -- as in a lush oasis in the midst of a desert.

"The word 'green' is very suggestive in the Hebrew. It is said to 'combine in itself the ideas of softness and juicy freshness, perhaps of bending and elasticity, of looseness and thus of overhanging ramification, like weeping willow' " (Pulpit). The impression is that the young man and young woman are reclining together on the grass in the woods enjoying the delights of their caresses. They liken the grass below and the green leaves above to a marriage couch or canopied bed.

This natural setting for their union hints of a return to Eden (Gen 2:18-25), with its simplicity, naivete, equality, and purity. It is as if this were the original couple -- set free again in a primeval paradise, a new world without sin and death! And so it is in the spiritual realm especially, where Christ and his multitudinous Bride are the "Adam" and "Eve" of Yahweh's "new creation". The glorious description of Psa 110:3, with its freshness of spring, and new life and new beginnings, evokes the same imagery as here: the saints are raised from the dead, or born "from the womb of the dawn", to "receive the dew of youth", and to be united with their Beloved King. "The curse cannot encroach on the spot where the Lamb slain reposes with his redeemed; the earth, cursed for the disobedience of the first Adam, receives through the righteousness of the second Adam, a deliverance from the bondage of corruption [Rom 8:19-23]; the first fruits of which we now feel clustering around us in hours of communion with Jesus... [Such] pleasures can no more be separated from the presence of Jesus, than flowers can be separated from the spring. He is to this blighted world, what spring is to the dreariness of winter, the resurrection AND the life" (Burrowes).

Notice that the "bed" (v 16), as well as the "house" and the "rafters" (v 17), are all "ours"! Not "his", or "yours", but "ours". She is an equal partner along with her husband. All that he has belongs equally to her. "All things are yours... and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God" (1Co 3:21,23).

Song 1:17

The shepherd/king speaks to his bride.

THE BEAMS OF OUR HOUSE ARE CEDARS: "Whose house are we" (Heb 3:6; cp 1Pe 2:5; 1Ti 3:16). The word for "house" is actually plural here -- probably what is called the Hebrew plural of majesty or greatness. This forest retreat is a very "great" house: and why not, with the forest floor beneath and the branches of the mighty cedars for a roof! This "house" is of God's own design; in contrast to the movable "tents" of vv 5,8, it is permanent, and it is theirs to share, together.

CEDARS: The cedars of Lebanon were strong, noble, and stately trees. They speak of the glory of Lebanon with their aromatic smell (Hos 14:6). They were used in Solomon's temple (1Ki 5:8) -- which is suggestive here: the shepherd and his bride see themselves as dwelling in God's temple; in fact, in the spiritual sense, they ARE God's temple (cp Rev 21:22)! See also Isa 60:13; Psa 1:3. Cedars are a symbol of incorruptibility, and hence of the righteous who are redeemed into immortality (Psa 92:12; cp Isa 65:22). All other palaces and temples -- yes, even the temples of the LORD -- have perished or will perish, even those constructed of supposedly imperishable cedar. But that which the cedar symbolizes, the true eternal "house of God" -- built around Christ and his redeeming work -- will endure to endless ages, and be a refuge and a repose and a delight to his "bride"! In fact, she will be an integral part of that house (cp Rev 3:12)! The king himself is described in terms of cedars in Song 5:15.

OUR RAFTERS ARE FIRS: The word for "rafters" occurs only this once in the OT -- hence, its exact meaning is somewhat uncertain -- although the parallelism with "beams" makes "rafters" a reasonable choice.

FIRS: "Berot" is translated "fir" by AV, ASV, NEB, and NIV (but as "pine" by the RSV and "cypress" by the JB -- a large tree, not, of course, to be confused with the other "cypress", which is the "henna bush"). At the very least, we know that one of the great and fragrant evergreen trees is intended. The fir (and the cypress, for that matter) is similar to the cedar; it is known for its symmetry and grace; it is upright and rigid.

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