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Bible Commentary
Song of Songs

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Song of Songs 2

Song 2:1

I AM A ROSE OF SHARON, A LILY OF THE VALLEYS: Many earlier commentaries see this verse as spoken by the shepherd/king, and even popular hymns follow this lead and sing of Jesus as "the lily of the valley". But modern scholarship has pointed out -- rather conclusively, it would seem -- that here the young woman is speaking.

There is debate whether the expressions are definite ("THE rose of Sharon...THE lily of the valleys") or indefinite ('A rose of Sharon... A lily"). Some translations adopt the definite sense (KJV, NASB); others the indefinite sense (ASV, RSV, NIV, NIB). In keeping with the modesty shown by the young woman earlier, the indefinite makes more sense: it would seem she sees herself as one of a class, not a distinctive and unique flower.

We may remark, at the beginning, that v 1 is rather extraordinary -- since, as we shall see, in this verse a "rose" is not a "rose"; a "lily" is not a "lily"; and "Sharon" is not "Sharon"; but we take heart in the apparent fact that "valleys" are actually "valleys"!

I AM A ROSE OF SHARON: "Crocus" (RV mg; NIV mg). "The 'rose of Sharon' probably refers to the crocuses (possibly narcissuses, lilies, or meadow saffrons) that grew on the plain of Sharon that bordered the Mediterranean Sea south of the Carmel mountain range. [Other less likely locations are the area in Galilee between Mount Tabor and the Sea of Galilee (KD), or the Sharon in Transjordan (cf 1Ch 5:16)]" (Const). "Hebrew 'meadow-saffron' or 'crocus.' The noun 'chabatstseleth' traditionally has been translated 'rose' (KJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NIV, and others); however, recent translations suggest 'crocus' (NIV mg), 'narcissus' or simply 'flower'. The LXX translated it with the generic term... 'flower, blossom'. Early English translators knew that it referred to some kind of flower but were unsure exactly which kind of flower, so they arbitrarily chose 'rose' because it was a well-known and beautiful flower. In the light of comparative Semitics, modern Hebrew lexicographers have settled on 'asphodel' [NEB], 'meadow-saffron', 'narcissus', or 'crocus' (BDB, HAL)... The location of this flower in Sharon suggests that a common wild flower would be more consonant than a rose. The term appears elsewhere only in Isa 35:1 where it refers to some kind of desert flower -- erroneously translated 'rose' (KJV) but probably 'crocus' (NASB, NIV)" (NETn).

In fact, most older commentaries go far wide of the mark here, for they wax eloquent about the exquisite beauty of the cultivated English rose -- when in fact nothing of the sort is intended.

OF SHARON: Sig "the plain": a pretty flower, but ordinary and common. Appropriately, the rustic maiden who grew up in the simplicity of rural life compares herself to a simple, common flower of the field. "Sharon is a low coastal plain stretching south from Mount Carmel. It is well watered due to the Kurkar ridges running parallel to the shore which trapped the water run-off from the Samaritan hills. The combination of low sandy hills and swampy lowlands produced heavy vegetation and an abundance of wild flowers in the area" (Pope).

A LILY: Heb "shoshannah" (sw Song 2:2,16; 4:5; 5:13; 6:2,3; 7:2). "There are many different species of the lily family. Botanists note that among the many different species of the lily family only one grows in Palestine. Reubeni, professor of botany in Jerusalem, suggests that this one species should be identified as... the chamomile, a white daisy-like plant, which was indigenous to Palestine. Reubeni further suggests that Jesus' statement about the lilies of the field was not describing an especially beautiful or conspicuous flower, but rather a small and insignificant one whose beauty would be missed by all but the most observant and appreciative (Mat 6:28; Luk 12:27)" (NETn). This white lily is certainly suggested by the simile of Song 4:5 -- where the shepherdess' breasts are compared to lilies.

Others, however, think that the "shoshannah" refers to the anemone, a bright scarlet wildflower that flourishes in Palestine -- as its color may be inferred from the comparison in Song 5:13 (Pope). This brightness of color agrees better with the words of Jesus: "Not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these" (Mat 6:29). "Whenever the glory of man and man-made clothing is placed in contrast with the beauty of God, even in the most common flower of the field, man's glory is seen to be tarnished and moth-eaten; and when the spiritual application is made the rift widens appreciably" (Hall).

The young woman does not depreciate her appearance here as much as she had earlier (Song 1:5,6), though she is still quite modest. (It is as though she said, 'I am no valuable orchid, but just a common daisy.') Perhaps her lover's praise (Song 1:9,10) had made her feel more secure.

Though a rather modest flower, however, the "shoshannah" has -- it might be said -- high aspirations: for its representations are to be found in Solomon's temple (1Ki 7:19,22,26; 2Ch 4:5)!

OF THE VALLEYS: She is a beautiful yet modest little flower, one that flourishes in "the valleys" -- the low places. As the symbolic ecclesia, she is not "proud" or "conceited", but willing to take a lower position (Rom 12:16; Luk 14:10,11) -- for she has learned of the one who himself is "gentle and humble in heart" (Mat 11:29). It is in such valleys that some of Christ's fairest flowers are found -- among the poor, the afflicted, and the persecuted.

Song 2:2

The shepherd/king speaks.

LIKE A LILY AMONG THORNS IS MY DARLING AMONG THE MAIDENS: The picture is of a beautiful flower growing in the midst of thorn bushes (2Ki 14:9; 2Ch 25:18; Job 31:40; Pro 26:9; Isa 34:13; 55:13; Hos 9:6; cp Psa 57:4). Spiritually, this could signify the righteous living, as all men do, under the Adamic curse (Gen 3:18; Heb 6:8)... or living in the midst of a thorny world, filled with the "worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth" (Mat 13:7,22). "The lily is pleasant, savoury, and harmless; thorns are worthless, unpleasant and hurtful. The lily's being compared with them, and placed amongst them, sets out both her excellency above them, and her sufferings from them" (Durham): "Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated -- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground" (Heb 11:36-38).

Yet, it must be noted, there is exhortation as well as commendation here: the lily retains its lily-like qualities -- even while it is among the thorns; it does not turn into a thorn! Even so, as Jesus says, the believers are "like sheep among wolves", yet they must not turn into "wolves" themselves, but remain "innocent as doves" (Mat 10:16)! Likewise, as Paul says, believers must shine like "stars" in the midst of a "crooked and depraved generation" (Phi 2:15; cp also 1Pe 2:12; Joh 15:19; 16:33; 1Jo 5:19).

If the lily is among the thorns, then he who would gather it must risk having his hands cut and torn on the sharp pricks. And so it was with Jesus! The one who spied the precious lily growing among the prickly thorns, and set out to claim it for his own, was subjected to the most cruel lacerations: "They have pierced my hands and my feet" (Psa 22:16). And, at the very end of his life, David looked forward in prophetic vision to the Messiah to come, and saw the vague outline... of thorns (which symbolize evil men!) (were they woven into a "crown"?: Mat 27:29; Mar 15:17; Joh 19:2,5)... of a tool of iron (piercing his flesh?)... and the shaft of a spear as well (2Sa 23:6,7) -- all these, he saw, would beset the man who seeks out his lilies among the thorns!

Song 2:3

The young woman speaks of her beloved.

LIKE AN APPLE TREE AMONG THE TREES: LIKE AN APPLE TREE AMONG THE TREES: APPLE: The Hebrew "tappuwach" is probably derived from the Hebrew root meaning "scent, breath" which is related to the Arabic root meaning "fragrant scent" (HAL). Hence, the term refers to a fruit with a fragrant scent. The term occurs four times in Song (Song 2:3,5; 7:8; 8:5) and twice outside (Pro 25:11; Joe 1:12). Although the KJV translates this, uniformly, as "apple", there is no certainty -- and a good deal of uncertainty -- about this identification.

The word "tappuwach" is "sometimes associated with the 'apple' tree, but while domesticated apple trees are now found in Israel, wild specimens are not believed to have grown there in biblical times since it is a tree native to the northern hemisphere. Apricots, however, grow in warmer climes and are native to China; they have long been abundant in Israel and most probably were introduced in Bible times. Apricots in Cyprus are still known as 'golden apples' [a possible reference to Pro 25:11?]" (ABD).

There is indeed some question as to which fruit tree is intended here. Older rabbinical writers seem to have used the Hebrew word "tappuwach" to refer to any fragrant, globular fruit.

On the one hand, the NETn assumes that it is the apple, and comments: "Apple trees were not native to Palestine and had to be imported and cultivated. To find a cultivated apple tree growing in the forest among other wild trees would be quite unusual; the apple tree would stand out and be a delightful surprise. Like a cultivated apple tree, the Lover was unique and stood out among all other men. In ancient Near Eastern love literature, the apple tree was a common symbol for romantic love and sexual fertility. The apple tree motif is used in the song in a similar manner (Song 8:5). Likewise, the motif of apples is used as a symbol of fertility (Joel 1:12) and sexual desire (Song 2:5,7,9)."

But other authorities suggest the apricot (NEB), as well as the quince, the citron (or other citrus trees -- such as orange, lemon, grapefruit, or lime), the plum, or the pomegranate -- all of which, in contrast to the apple, were and are indigenous to Palestine (cf Xd 56:450).

HB Tristam, in his book "The Land of Israel", writes: "Everywhere the apricot is common: perhaps it is, with the exception of the fig, the most abundant fruit of the country. In highlands and lowlands alike, by the shores of the Mediterranean and the banks of the Jordan, under the heights of Lebanon, in the recesses of Galilee, and in the glades of Gilead, the apricot flourishes, and yields a crop of prodigious abundance. Its characteristics meet every condition of the 'tappuach' of scripture. Near Damascus, and on the banks of the Barada, we have pitched our tents under its shade, and spread our carpets secure from the rays of the sun (Song 2:3). There can scarcely be a more deliciously perfumed fruit than the apricot (Song 7:8), and what fruit can better fit the epithet of Solomon, 'apples of gold in pictures of silver,' than this golden fruit as its branches bend under the weight in their setting of bright yet pale foliage."

Even if we are not sure which fruit tree is intended here, in any case the symbolism and the lessons involved remain relatively intact. (See Lesson, Apple, the "forbidden fruit"?, is the.)

IS MY LOVER AMONG THE YOUNG MEN: He is as unique among the sons, as she is among the daughters (v 2).

MY LOVER: Cp Song 5:9,10,16; Psa 45:2.

I DELIGHT TO SIT IN HIS SHADE: Used figuratively to depict protection and relief. This term is used in OT literally (physical shade from the sun) and figuratively (protection from something): (1) Literal: the physical shade of a tree offers protection from the heat of the midday sun (Jdg 9:15; Eze 17:23; 31:6,12,17; Hos 4:13; Jon 4:6; Job 40:22). Similar protection from the sun is offered by the shade of a vine (Psa 80:11), root (Gen 19:8), mountain (Jdg 9:36), rock (Isa 32:2), cloud (Isa 25:4,5), and hut (Jon 4:5). (2) Figurative: just as physical shade offers protection from the sun, the Israelite could find "shade" (protection) from God or the king (ie Num 14:9; Isa 30:2; 49:2; 51:16; Hos 14:7; Psa 17:8; 36:7; 57:1; 63:7; 91:1; 121:5; Lam 4:20; Ecc 7:12). During the summer months, the temperature often reaches 110-130 Fahrenheit in the Negev. Those who have never personally experienced the heat of the summer sun in the Negev as they performed strenuous physical labor cannot fully appreciate the relief offered by any kind of shade! Previously, the young woman had complained that she had been burned by the sun because she had been forced to labor in the vineyards with no shade to protect her (Song 1:5,6). She had urged Solomon to tell her where she could find relief from the sun during the hot midday hours (Song 1:7). Now she exults that she finally had found relief from the scorching sun under the "shade" which her lover offered to her (Song 2:3).

As a symbol of Christ, see Mat 11:28; Psa 91:1. And also 1Pe 1:8: "Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy."

I DELIGHT: The root word here may mean "to desire passionately" -- with sexual connotations. It is, for example, the "covet" in such passages as Exo 20:17; Deu 5:21; 7:25; Jos 7:21 (cp also Pro 1:22; 6:25; 12:12; Mic 2:2). It has been stated already that, throughout this Song, there is a conscious blending of the sensual and the spiritual. Our object should not be so much to segregate completely the one from the other, as to see how -- by God's inspiration -- the two sorts of desire are blended together, and how each is intended to supplement and enhance the other (see introduction, Song of songs, erotic element).

HIS FRUIT IS SWEET TO MY TASTE: Faith, in the Scripture, is spoken of under the emblem of all the senses. It is sight: "Look unto me and be ye saved." It is hearing: "Hear, and your soul shall live." Faith is smelling: "All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia"; "thy name is as ointment poured forth." Faith is spiritual touch. By this faith the woman came behind and touched the hem of Christ's garment, and by this we handle the things of the good word of life. Faith is equally the Spirit's taste. "How sweet are thy words to my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my lips." "Except a man eat my flesh," saith Christ, "and drink my blood, there is no life in him." Cp Song 5:16; Psa 119:103; 19:8-14; 1Pe 2:3.

SWEET: The Heb "mathowq" is used literally and figuratively. When used literally, it describes pleasant tasting foods, such as honey (Jdg 14:14,18; Pro 24:13; Psa 19:10) or sweet water (Num 33:28; Pro 9:17). Used figuratively, it describes what is pleasant to experience: friendship (Job 20:12; Psa 55:14; Pro 27:9), life (Ecc 11:7), sleep for the weary (Ecc 5:12), eloquence in speech (Pro 16:21,24), and -- especially -- the Word of God (Psa 19:10).

This fruit tree (whichever fruit it was) was found "among the (other) trees of the forest (Heb 'yaar' -- the forest, or wild place)" -- as though no one expected it to be there. We may assume, then, that the other trees had no fruit, and the traveler or wanderer, in the forest, had no expectation of finding a fruit tree. But there it was! So especially the weary one would enjoy ITS shade, while she savored its fruit. And in this little analogy we may see Jesus Christ -- he is, as it were, the one tree of life in the midst of many other trees which, though they might be pleasing to the eye, and might even give shade, cannot give the fruit of life (Gen 2:9; 3:22,24)! The other trees may give shade of a sort -- just as friends or family or riches or pleasures may give a sort of comfort in a dry and desolate land; yet all the other "trees" are like Jonah's gourd, that withered away when it was most needed. But the hungry one sits in the shade of THIS tree, a fruit tree, and "tastes, and sees, that the Lord is good" (1Pe 2:3; Psa 34:8). Cp, in this context, Eze 47:12; Rev 2:7; 22:2.

In like manner we may say that there were many crosses on which many men were put to death -- and they were all of wood, a veritable "forest" of "trees" of death. But in the midst of this forest there was one wooden stake of death that was, truly, a "tree of life", because the "fruit" that hung on this tree was the crucified body of the Sinless One. And in his death there was the divinely-provided fruit that gives sustenance to the hungry soul. We sit in the shade of this tree, and we partake of its fruit, when we break bread and drink wine representing the body and the blood of our Saviour. And nothing can be as sweet to our taste.

Sitting: for rest (Luk 8:35); for communion (Song 2:3), as disciples (Deu 33:3), in worship (2Sa 7:18-27), in resurrection (Eph 2:6), in glory (Rev 3:21).

Song 2:4

The bride passes from metaphor to facts. The bridegroom is no longer a fair and fruitful tree; he is once more the King of Israel who sought and loved the lowly maiden.

HE HAS TAKEN ME TO THE BANQUET HALL: "Beth hakkerim." Literally, "the house of wine" -- a place of favor (Est 5:4,6,12; 7:8). Cp Joh 15:1-4: Christ is the true vine, and the source of the "wine" of joy. The ecclesia is the "house of wine" (cp Pro 9:1-5), for it is the place where, with wine, believers remembers their beloved and his death for them.

"The literal translation brings to our thoughts the Lord's words, 'I say unto you, I will not drink henceforth of this fruit of the vine, until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father's kingdom' (Mat 26:29). It is he who must bring his people into his banqueting house; it is his presence manifested to faith which makes the holy communion what it is to the believer. He gives us then the wine that maketh glad the heart of man, when he saith, 'Drink ye all of it: for this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.' We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under his table; but when he brings us thither, when we come led by the Spirit, drawn by the constraining love of Christ, then we know that it is his banqueting house, the house to which he calls his guests, where he seats them at his own board. 'With desire have I desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.' There he bids us drink: 'Drink ye all of it;' we all need that cup, for it is the cup of the new covenant. When we take it in faith and love, the new covenant, the covenant of grace, is confirmed to us afresh; for he gives us the blood that was shed for the remission of sins, the blood that cleanseth from all sin those who walk in the light. But we must ask him to bring us; without him we can do nothing. If we approach without him, without his grace and guidance, without faith in him, we shall bring no blessing away with us" (Pulpit).

Of course, the idea of a banquet is not amiss here either. A banquet is not spread, and lavishly embellished with beauty, simply to satisfy hunger and thirst. It is a royal device for promoting joy. And the God who has given to us a great capacity for joy intends to fill that capacity to the very brim. If there are occasions in this life when joy overflows over us, then we do well to remember that these are only prophetic foretastes of the eternal joy of God's kingdom.

AND HIS BANNER OVER ME IS LOVE: "Degel" (banner) occurs also in Song 5:10 (where the lover is "outstanding", ie "lifted up, or exalted"); Song 6:4,10. As the pillar of fire and cloud overshadowed the camp of Israel like a banner, so the banner, ensign, or standard of Christ overshadows the camp of believers. And Christ himself is the banner of love -- lifted up so as to draw all men to himself (Joh 3:13; 12:32; cp Isa 11:10,12). The lifting up of a banner -- or "flying colors" -- indicates leadership in battle (Psa 20:5; Jer 51:12,27; Isa 59:19; Song 6:4), possession (Num 1:52; 2:2; etc), and protection (Exo 17:15). The banner over the cross read: "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews"! The young woman is ushered in triumph into the marriage feast under that banner, because her leader, her shepherd, her king, has won a great victory -- and she has been invited to share in the rewards of that victory. Fearlessly and without shame she can sit at his side, his acknowledged spouse, the bride of his choice.

An alternative rendering of "banner" here may be meaningful: Ask points out that the eminent old scholar Parkhurst suggests that "degel" (banner) may also refer to lights or lamps carried before the wedding party on the evening of the wedding. Of course, there is Bible corroboration of this in Jesus' parable of the wise and foolish virgins, who were to keep their lamps at the ready to light the bridegroom's way to the home of the bride (Mat 25).

Here is perhaps the first, but not the last, military reference in the Song. Such references seem at first look to be out of place in a celebration of love; but in fact they are not. Just as in Revelation, where the marriage supper of the lamb and the great kingdom-inaugurating victories of Christ and his heavenly army are closely juxtaposed (Rev 19:7-9,11-16; 21:1-3), so it is in the Song of Songs: the shepherd-king seems to have come from a great victory straight to his wedding feast (cp Song 3:6-8; 6:10,12). At times he is even pictured as being covered in the blood of his enemies -- what an extraordinary sight for a wedding feast! But the two themes are twins of one another: Christ shows his right to the Bride only because he has won the greatest of all victories -- the absolute conquest, in himself first, of sin and death. And the kingdom itself -- His kingdom, where he will reign with his multitudinous bride -- can be established only upon the ruins of all human governments. And the constituents of Christ's bride have shown themselves to be worthy of their honor, because they have themselves fought and overcome the great enemy: "The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ" (2Co 10:4,5).

Song 2:5

In trying to grasp the underlying story line, we have come to one of the difficult passages in the Book. There are at least options, and the one we choose is affected by, and affects, our overview of the whole Song: (1) Has the new bride actually been taken into the wedding chambers (cp Song 1:16,17; Song 2:4) -- so that the marriage has now been consummated? Or (2) Is she imagining -- and longing for -- that future consummation?

We must also keep in mind that the Song of Songs contains several distinct and self-contained songs, and that these are not necessarily arranged chronologically. Thus there may be "wedding night" scenes in the text, followed by "courtship" scenes later on in the Book.

And of course, the first question always remains: which scenes are remembrances of what has happened, and which scenes are anticipations of what may yet happen? Having considered all of the above, we may approach the verse itself with some trepidation.

STRENGTHEN ME: The normal meaning of the root is to place the hand upon something, as a sacrificial animal (Lev 1:4; 3:2; etc) -- or to lean upon something (2Ki 8:21; Amo 5:12). But in poetic portions of Scripture the meaning is to support or sustain (Psa 3:5; 51:12; Isa 26:3).

WITH RAISINS: The KJV has "flagons of wine"; this follows the rabbinical exposition, but it is quite unsupported by the critics. The NIV has "raisin cakes" -- an expensive delicacy made of dried compressed grapes (BDB). In ancient Israel they were eaten during festive celebrations (2Sa 6:19; 1Ch 16:3). They are also supposed to have aphrodisiac qualities. Such cakes also seem to have been used in certain idolatrous practices (Isa 16:7; Hos 3:1; cp Jer 7:18; 44:19).

REFRESH ME: Heb "raphad": "comfort me" (AV), or "restore me" (JB). The word occurs only three times in the OT: the meaning appears to be "to stretch out, or to spread" (Job 17:13; 41:30), and thus here it could signify to prepare, or stretch out, any kind of supporting couch or bed.

WITH APPLES: See Song 2:3n. Also regarded as an aphrodisiac.

FOR I AM FAINT WITH LOVE: "I am sick of love" (KJV) gives -- to our modern ears -- entirely the wrong impression. "Not as loathing it, but as wanting it" (Gill). She does not desire less of love, but more! (Cp the same phrase in Song 5:8.) The joy of the bridegroom's love is too great and overwhelming; she is fainting in delight too sweet for her powers. And she is asking for certain foods which may sustain and strengthen her in that love: she is, as the NIV expresses, "faint" with love, and eager to be nourished and strengthened to the end that she may enjoy that love yet further.

We may feel a certain hesitancy or embarrassment when reading such passages, as though the emotions and the activities of the marriage bed have no part in a study of spiritual things. But the place of the Song of Songs in holy scripture argues otherwise. As was discussed in the introduction, our appreciation of this unique book of the Bible may be enhanced if we see the two -- the physical love expressed in marriage, and the spiritual love the Ecclesia expresses for Christ -- as two sides of the same coin... and not as totally alien and disparate spheres of life.

But how to carry this physical love over into the spiritual realm? A hint of such excess of joy and profound spiritual experience may be found in the incident of the dedication of Solomon's Temple, when the priests could no longer stand to perform their service, because the cloud of God's glory filled the whole house (1Ki 8:10,11; 2Ch 5:13,14). The psalmist expressed something similar when he exclaimed to the LORD: "My soul faints with longing for your salvation" (Psa 119:81). And KD has this instructive passage: "This love-sickness has also been experienced in the spiritual sphere. [One of the 'saints'] was once so overcome by such a joy that he cried out: 'Lord, withdraw thine hand a little, for my heart is too weak to receive so great joy'... As the spiritual joy of love, so may also the spiritual longing of love consume the body (cf Job 19:27; Psa 63:2; 84:3); there have been men who have actually sunk under a longing desire after the Lord and eternity. It is the state of love-ecstasy in which Shulamith calls for refreshment, because she is afraid of sinking. The contrast between her, the poor and unworthy, and the king, who appears to her as an ideal of beauty and majesty, who raises her up to himself, was such as to threaten her life... If Pharaoh's daughter, if the Queen of Sheba, finds herself in the presence of Solomon, the feeling of social equality prevents all alarm. But Shulamith is dazzled by the splendour, and disconcerted; and it happens to her in type as it happened to the seer of Patmos, who, in presence of the ascended Lord, fell at His feet as one dead, Rev 1:17 [cp also Dan 10:8-19; Jdg 6:22]. If beauty is combined with dignity, it has always, for gentle and not perverted natures, something that awakens veneration and tremor."

And so, when the believer comes into the very presence of the Redeemer King, he will be oppressed with the deep sense of his own unworthiness, and the King's awesome holiness and adorable, incomprehensible love; he needs the support of the fruit of the Spirit; he needs to be strengthened with all might by the Spirit in the inner man -- so as to be able to express his love in ways that are fitting. When God reveals His great love to us, it makes us feel all the more the depth of our ingratitude, and the coldness and the hardness of this stony heart of ours -- and to yearn with all our souls and minds for the means better to express our love for Him:
"O Love Divine, how sweet thou art!
When shall I find my willing heart
All taken up by thee?
I thirst, I faint, I die to prove
The greatness of redeeming love,
The love of Christ to me."

Song 2:6

HIS LEFT ARM IS UNDER MY HEAD, AND HIS RIGHT ARM EMBRACES ME: The same phrase occurs in Song 8:3. On the natural level, there is surely the hint of sexual stimulation here (as with the sw in Pro 5:20). With his left hand he supports her head that had fallen backwards, and with his right he embraces and fondles her. Some translators read this: "May his left hand be under my head, and may his right arm embrace me." The appeal of this reading depends entirely on how we see the whole section: as present reality, or future hope and expectation and prayer.

HIS LEFT ARM IS UNDER MY HEAD: For the spiritual counterpart, see Deu 33:27: "The eternal God is your refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms."

HIS RIGHT HAND EMBRACES ME: Heb "chabaq" = to clasp, embrace or hug someone (Gen 29:13; 33:4; 48:10; Job 24:8; Pro 4:8; Ecc 3:5; Lam 4:5). A NT example of this is in the story of the Prodigal Son: "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him" (Luk 15:20).

"His right hand embraces me." And I know that he loves me, and holds me so tightly that no one can snatch me out of his hand (John 10:28-30)! In his hand are the seven ecclesias (Rev 1:16,20).

Song 2:7

Some commentators say that here the shepherd/king speaks again, but it is suggested that the verse reads more naturally as the culmination of the young woman's speech of vv 3-6.

DAUGHTERS OF JERUSALEM: See Song 1:5n.

I CHARGE YOU BY THE GAZELLES AND BY THE DOES OF THE FIELD: "Frequently, when oaths were taken in the ancient world, witnesses were invoked in order to solemnize the vow and to act as jurists should the oath someday be broken. Cosmic forces such as the 'heavens and earth' were often personified to act as witnesses to an oath (eg, Deu 32:1; Isa 1:2; Mic 1:2; 6:1–2; Psa 50:1). In this case, the 'witnesses' are the 'gazelles and stags of the field' (Song 2:7; 3:5). These animals were used as symbols of romantic love in the OT (Pro 5:19)" (NETn). The idea, however, that this is a solemn religious oath may be overstepping the bounds of the word itself; some tell us that it may simply mean "beg" or "beseech": the young woman begs her companions, by citing the example of the gazelles and does of the field, which are emblematic of love, and a timid, shy love at that, not to disturb her tryst.

"It may be this verse is being used like the fade-out scene in old-fashioned movies, gently and discreetly hinting at what is to follow. It is as if a couple of newlyweds enter their bedroom and ask the hotel porter to ensure that there is a notice pinned to the door saying, 'Do not disturb'. At least that is one interpretation of the last line of the verse" (Davidson). However, it is difficult to reconcile this suggestion with the rather indiscreet language already used in earlier vv 3-6; so why be discreet now?

GAZELLES... DOES OF THE FIELD: These animals are noted for their beauty, speed, and especially their elusiveness (Psa 18:33; Hab 3:19). "Both animals are skittish, and anyone who wants to get close to them must wait patiently. One cannot approach them aggressively. Similarly a man cannot awaken a woman's love clumsily" (Const).

"Upon the very surface of the figure lies the idea of delicate sensitiveness. The roes and the hinds of the field are soon away if anything occurs to disturb them. In this respect they set forth... the speediness with which the Beloved departs when he is annoyed by sin. The Lord our God is a jealous God. In proportion to the fire of love is the heat of jealousy, and therefore our Lord Jesus will not brook a wandering affliction in those greatly beloved ones to whom he manifests himself. It needs constant watchfulness to maintain constant fellowship. If we would be favoured above others we must be more on our guard than others are. He who becomes 'a man greatly beloved' must needs keep his heart with sevenfold diligence, for to whom much is given of him much will be required" (CHS). "[The roe is] quietly reposing, yet with a rest most watchful, and quickly broken by the slightest sound. The distraction could come either from the beloved herself or the startling impulse from an outside source. Undoubtedly we can take the lesson to ourselves. Ought we not to take that same careful watch when we approach our Lord's presence at all times? the same breathless lip, the same watchful eye, the same listening ear, the same circumspect step? We must always keep in mind that, though he is pleased to be the Bridegroom, at all times he is the Son, the Lord from heaven. He too has eyes of fire and of glory to search us out. We must never blunder into his presence, or, like the roe startled out of sleep, he will be gone" (Hall).

GAZELLES: These are often figures in Hebrew, and related languages, for mighty warriors or virile young men (eg, 2Sa 2:18; 1Ch 12:8; Psa 18:33; Hab 3:19; Song 2:17; 8:14). (The Hebrew word, "sebiot", sounds very much like "sabaoth" -- hosts or armies (the angels!) -- as in "Yahweh Sabaoth", "the LORD of hosts".)

DOES: "Hinds" (KJV). Refers to a young female deer, of which there are several species native to Palestine. (This Hebrew word, "ayalat", is from a root meaning "strength", and is related to the Name of God, Ail or El.) Some scholars, following the Targum, have gone so far as to assume, therefore, that this is an oath or adjuration under the name of "EL Sabaoth", the "Mighty One of Hosts" -- perhaps using, euphemistically, homonyms for the Divine Name. However, the agricultural and rural motifs of the Song of Songs argue against such an interpretation; it may suffice to note the similarities of the words, as the mildest hint of Divine things.

DO NOT AROUSE OR AWAKEN LOVE UNTIL IT SO DESIRES: This same phrase occurs also in Song 3:5; 8:4. "The allusion is to virgins, that sang songs at marriages; one in the evening, lulling to sleep; and another in the morning, awaking and stirring up from sleep" (Gill). As with other passages, the meaning here may be determined by the assumed time frame of this particular song, and its relationship, chronologically, to the other songs in the cycle.

Under the assumption that this whole scene is the actual realization of the wedding night itself... one commentator paraphrases: "The spouse charges herself and all about her, not to stir up, or awake, her love until he please, now that he is asleep in her arms, as she was borne up in his (Song 2:6)" (Henry).

Under the converse assumption, ie that this whole scene is an anticipation of the wedding night... another commentator summarizes: "The [shepherdess] is being carried away by her passions. She relishes the joy. Yet she knows that love should have its own rhythm and its proper progression. Too fast too soon would spoil it all. So she adjures the women of Jerusalem not to encourage love beyond its right and proper pace" (EBC).

LOVE: Not "my love" (as KJV), but simply "love" in general. And so the point may be (as above): do not artificially stimulate love. It must have time to develop naturally, out of an intelligent appreciation of qualities that please and bind one to another. It must be spontaneous and unfettered, the choice of the free will.

"Falling in love" as an experience of young lovers has a certain innocence and beauty about it, but seldom do the lovers see one another clearly. Time and further interaction are necessary for them to stop projecting their own feelings upon each other, and to properly assess what those feelings are, and to discover what -- if anything -- they really have in common. When a person, who does not know himself or herself very well, first discovers the opposite sex, the resulting awakening in the unconscious can be accompanied by feelings that are so powerful that they are very difficult to control or direct. One may push too far and too fast. This may result in hasty intimacies that cause guilt and emotional damage, in hurt feelings, in broken promises (that never should have been made in the first place), or in the beginning of a series of promiscuous affairs -- looking for love in all the wrong places, and in all the wrong ways.

Transferring this analogy to the spiritual realm: when a person first discovers the gospel of Christ, then again powerful feelings can be aroused. The new believer may be like the seed in Christ's parable, which springs up immediately, but has not depth of earth in which to put down proper roots -- and so at the first sign of adversity the tender plant may wither and die (Mat 13:6,20,21). In this case, a failure to assess the risks as well as the rewards of this new faith may lead to spiritual disaster -- and the new faith may be abandoned as quickly as it was discovered. 'When I was first baptized, I thought everyone would be as committed as I -- and then I discovered they weren't... they are just a bunch of hypocrites!'

A related outcome of this too-hasty conversion might be that the new believer -- being too easily "seduced" in the first place -- may continue to be tossed here and there by every "wind of doctrine" (Eph 4:14), lacking the maturity to evaluate each new idea as it arises. This could lead to a sort of "promiscuous" hopping about, from one church or movement or activity to another, and another -- always looking for a spiritual "high", but always being disappointed. Or it could lead to a "faith" that is subjective, and not objective: a "faith" that only wants to "feel good" or "find what is right for me"... but a faith that is simply not true, and ultimately does not satisfy, just because it IS subjective, and not based in reality! "Revival meetings provide a typical example of this dangerous kind of religion. The excitation of the mind under the influence of rousing music and a magnetic personality is but temporary, and soon the recipient lapses back into a more complete state of indifference to the requirements of God than was his original condition" (HPM).

Song 2:8

Song 2:8-17: The young woman continues speaking, but now there is a change of setting. This section is a good example of how difficult the Song can be for the interpreter. The maiden seems clearly to be in her own home in the city (v 9). [Or... do the wall, windows, and lattice refer back to the woodland retreat of Song 1:16,17, where they had had their earlier rendezvous?] She hears her lover's voice as he comes to visit her. He is like a gazelle or a young stag in his energy and in his passionate desire to be with her. He stands outside and calls her to go into the country with him to enjoy the beauty of spring as nature erupts with the passing of winter (vv 10-13). But is it an actual visit by her lover? Or is this a poetic imagining of the maiden's own consuming desires for his presence? The fact that his speech is reported at second hand (v 10) suggests the latter. But regardless of how we interpret it, there is no way we can miss the trauma of true love with its ecstasy of longing and fear.

LISTEN! MY LOVER! LOOK!: Exclamations of joyful surprise (cp Song 5:2). Literally, "The voice of my beloved!" (AV). The sheep know the voice of their shepherd (John 10:4,5,14,27; cp Isa 43:1) -- "by the majesty and authority of it; by the power and efficacy of it; by its directing them to himself, and by the pleasure it gives them" (Gill). Cp the friend of the bridegroom, who rejoices to hear his voice (John 3:29).

HERE HE COMES, LEAPING ACROSS THE MOUNTAINS, BOUNDING OVER THE HILLS: Bounding, as the gazelle might (v 9), over the roughest obstacles (2Sa 2:18; 1Ch 12:8). "It is the very nature of this lively animal to bound over the roughest heights with the greatest ease, it seems even to delight in doing so" (Burrowes).

The sun, as it rises, will seem to be leaping over the eastern hills -- its beams bouncing from one high point to another. And Christ of course IS the "SUN of righteousness" (Mal 4:1-3), and the "Light of the World" (Joh 8:12); his coming will transfigure with splendor the dark horizons of this world.

As mountains and hills sometimes symbolize sin (see Isa 40:3,4; 49:11; Luk 3:4-6; Zec 4:7; Mat 17:20; 21:21; Mark 11:23; cp Mic 7:19), so Christ comes quickly, seemingly disregarding the "mountain" hindrances raised by man's sin -- no such thing will stand in his way, so much does he love his Bride! As dark as the chasms and crags may be in the valley of the shadow of death, nothing can separate Christ from those whom he loves (Rom 8:35,39). "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those ['him': AV] who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' " (Isa 52:7; cp Isa 9:1,2; Mat 4:12-16; Psa 19:4-6; Luk 1:76-80).

LEAPING: Heb "dalag" is used in Isa 35:6 of the lame man leaping as a deer, in 2Sa 22:30 (cp v 34 also) / Psa 18:29 of leaping or scaling a wall, and in Zep 1:9 of leaping over a threshold.

Every "coming" of Christ has been surprising and sudden: he is always "leaping"! In a sense, the Father "leaped" out of heaven through the virgin conception and birth, and the Son "leaped" into the world in the manger -- the natural order of things was surmounted, and overcome, and bypassed, so that God might be miraculously manifested in the flesh of human nature! And the subsequent manifestations of Jesus -- to the faithful at his baptism, and to the nation in his "leaping" forth from the tomb -- were extraordinary and earth-shaking. Then, from the Mount of Olives, he "leaped" into heaven -- leaving behind the promise that he would return again, in the same way as his disciples had seen him go (Act 1:9,11)!

And when he returns, it will be the believers' turn to "leap for joy" (Luk 6:23; cp Act 3:8; 14:10)!

BOUNDING: Heb "qaphats", an unusual word which means literally "to draw together". It suggests any fleet four-footed animal, which as it runs appears to draw its four legs together, coiling and then recoiling like a spring, contracting and stretching, and thus bounding along the ground -- at times totally airborne. The AV "skipping" gives something of the same sense.

Song 2:9

MY LOVER IS LIKE A GAZELLE OR A YOUNG STAG: See Song 2:7n. These animals are evocative of grace, beauty, gentleness, fleetness, and surefootedness (Deu 12:15; Psa 42:1; Isa 35:6; Pro 5:19; Hab 3:19). "What elegant creatures these gazelles are, and how gracefully they bound!... We shall meet these graceful gazelles all through Syria and Palestine, and the more you see of them the greater will be your admiration... Persian and Arab poets abound in reference to them... I have often stopped to admire the grace, and ease, and fearless security with which these pretty animals bound along the high places of the mountains" (LB 171,172).

YOUNG STAG: The word "oper" occurs only in the Song (here; Song 2:17; 4:5; 8:14). Strictly speaking, it may mean the young male of various species -- although the close connection with the gazelle and the deer here and elsewhere surely points in that direction.

LOOK!: "Behold!" (AV). This interjection suggests that which, though expected in a sense, yet in its actual coming is sudden and startling. This is "his usual way; long promised and expected; [but] sudden at last: so, in visiting the second temple (Mal 3:1); so at Pentecost (Act 2:1,2); so in visiting an individual soul, [as] Zaccheus (Luk 19:5,6; cp Joh 3:8); and so, at the second coming (Mat 24:48,50; 2Pe 3:4,10... 1Th 5:2,3)" (JFB).

THERE HE STANDS BEHIND OUR WALL: As though the wall might symbolize our mortality, our sinfulness, and the law that emphasizes such, ie that which stands between us and the Lord even now (eg, Isa 59:2; Eph 2:14; 2Co 3:13; Heb 10:20).

GAZING THROUGH THE WINDOWS, PEERING THROUGH THE LATTICE: "Windows" and "lattice(s)" are both plural in the Hebrew, suggesting a timid creature flitting from place to place as it peers into the inner sanctuary, looking for its beloved. "Lattice(s)" suggests a wall of greenery, as in an arbor or gazebo -- possibly of an outside "house" or garden retreat (cp Song 1:16,17).

"The prophecies, types, etc, were lattice glimpses of him to the Old Testament Church... Even now, he is only seen by faith, through the windows of his Word and the lattice of ordinances (Luk 24:35; Joh 14:21); not full vision (1Co 13:12)" (JFB).

The gazing and peering make fascinating little echoes of other Bible passages: (a) the Targum suggests the passover angel inspecting the doorposts and lintels of the Jewish houses in Egypt, looking for the protective blood of the Passover lamb; (b) Peter looking eagerly into the tomb to see whether or not Jesus has risen from the dead (John 20:5); (c) the diligent enquiry of the prophets, and even the angels, searching to understand the prophecies of the sufferings of Christ and the glory that should follow (1Pe 1:10-12).

PEERING: Literally, "twinkling".

Song 2:10

Vv 10-13: She tells of his invitation to come away with him into the countryside. His "Arise... come" invitations (vv 10,13) serve as brackets to a beautiful description of spring. The coming of spring suggests a full flowering of their love, which has been previously held in check (as in v 7).

Spring also suggests the coming of the Kingdom of God, after the long "winter" of man's misrule: "No more beautiful description of Spring blossoming into Summer occurs in any poetry than that contained in these verses, and the spiritual beauty of them is even greater. The long winter of human ignorance and wilfulness is past, and the Summer of the Kingdom draws nigh. The rain of universal sorrow is over and gone. 'And God shall wipe all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain' (Rev 21:4). Then shall the flowers of peace and happiness appear on the earth. It is a time of singing and rejoicing, when 'the earth shall yield her increase, and God, even our God, shall bless us.' [Psa 67:6] O that we may be found worthy to partake of its blessings: that we may bring forth much fruit. 'Herein,' says Jesus, 'is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit.' [John 15:8] Thus may we have our fruit unto holiness, and in the end eternal life [Rom 6:22]" (Atwell).

Cp this with David's spring-like description of the Kingdom of God in 2Sa 23:3,4, and Christ's words in the Olivet prophecy: "Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near" (Luk 21:29-31).

MY LOVER SPOKE AND SAID TO ME, "ARISE... AND COME WITH ME": The invitation to "Come away" is comparable also to the invitations in Song 4:8; 7:11; and Psa 45:10. "To arise" is an obvious reference to resurrection (Isa 26:19; cp Mar 5:41; Luk 7:14,15; 8:54,55; Joh 11:43,44).

Other similar passages in Isaiah seem to speak of a national "resurrection" for Israel, after being downtrodden by Gentile powers: "Awake, awake! Rise up, O Jerusalem" (Isa 51:17). "Shake off your dust; rise up, sit enthroned, O Jerusalem. Free yourself from the chains on your neck, O captive Daughter of Zion" (Isa 52:2).

MY DARLING: Cp Song 1:9; 2:2.

MY BEAUTIFUL ONE: Cp Song 1:8.

AND COME WITH ME: To arise and come away with Christ may indeed refer to the return of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the invitation to enter the kingdom that has been prepared for his beloved ones. "And so will we be with the Lord forever" (1Th 4:17).

To retrace a step or two, however, it may also refer to the first stirrings of faith into obedience. Those whom Christ has called may "rise" out of the waters of baptism to walk in newness of life (Rom 6:3,4), and thus they may "come away" from our natural relations (ie, Gen 12:1-3) and the world (2Co 6:17,18), and "come" in faith's answer to his loving invitation (Mat 4:19-22; 9:9): "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost" (Isa 55:1; cp Rev 22:17). "He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty... No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him" (Joh 6:35,44; cp Joh 5:40).

Furthermore, in an intermediate sense, "arise" and "come away" may be Christ's call to the ones who have already believed and been baptized, but have sadly fallen into spiritual doldrums or apathy, having lost their first love (Rev 2:4): 'Repent, and do the works you did at the beginning' (Rev 2:5)... and 'Come aside into your inner chambers, where you might commune with me' (Isa 26:20; cp Mat 6:6). This same sense is exhibited by the prodigal son, who in his great straits finally says, "I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you'... So he got up and went to his father" (Luk 15:18,20).

Song 2:11

SEE! THE WINTER IS PAST: Heb "cethan" -- a loan-word from the Aramaic that only occurs this once in the OT. Nsw "winter" (Heb "horep") in Gen 8:22, although certainly referring to the same season. The winter is a time of hazardous travel (Mat 24:20), but now that time is past!

"We sometimes experience periods of spring-like weather very early, and we think that winter is over, only to find that bad weather is still to come before the eagerly awaited spring. So we are, sometimes, disappointed when the signs which we think herald the return of the Lord do not unfold in the way we expected. What a joy it is, and how our spirits lift, when after a period of dark and gloomy weather we awake one morning to a bright, fresh, and clear day; when the sun is high in the heavens and sheds light over all the earth; when the birds seem to sing twice as loud and everyone is cheerful. Perhaps it was a morning such as this when David was caused to give expression to his prophetic words concerning the coming of the Lord: 'He shall be as the light of the morning, when the sun riseth, even a morning without clouds; as the tender grass springing out of the earth by clear shining after rain' (2Sa 23:4). May God grant that we shall be there" (DM Matthews, Tes 48:111).

THE RAINS ARE OVER AND GONE: "Even the rain that drowned the world was over and gone at last (Gen 8:1-3), and God promised to drown the world no more, which was a type and figure of the covenant of grace: Isa 54:9" (Henry). And so He who has placed a rainbow in the skies, as a promise that such a flood will never occur again (Gen 9:12-17), has also placed a rainbow round the heavenly throne (Rev 4:3), as a promise of even greater import. One day all the "rains" of sorrow and suffering and deprivation and discouragement and death will have been ended for good -- and thereafter, the glories of God's Kingdom will shine forth forever.

WINTER... RAINS: In Palestine, winter and rains are virtually synonymous (Baly 44). Winter and the rainy season in Palestine usually end about mid-April, just at Passover time! The "latter rains" come at the end of this winter period, and are quite often especially heavy -- and so at last, when they are finished, the ensuing springtime is doubly welcome!

Spring is the season of resurrection, the period of renewed hope and quickened sensibilities, when the gloom of winter is forgotten in the anticipation of growing brightness and life. The spring is a season that awakens hope, that revives deadened sensibilities, that gives a man a new sense of life, and makes him feel young again:

"Now when thy voice
Makes earth rejoice,
And the hills laugh and sing,
Lord, teach this heart
To bear its part,
And join the praise of spring."

Spring was, and is, the perfect symbol of the renewal of life after death, and of light after darkness. And so the coming of spring may symbolize the coming of Christ, a light into a dark world, offering renewal and regeneration and life to a cold, dormant, insensible world: "The people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. [Isa 9:1,2] From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near' " (Mat 4:16,17). Cp also Isa 61:11: "For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign LORD will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations."

Song 2:12

FLOWERS APPEAR ON THE EARTH: Heb "nissanim" -- occurring only once in OT. This is probably a diminutive from the root meaning to "shine" or "sparkle" (BDB), as do small spring wildflowers amid the green of the foliage -- a tapestry in brilliant and varied hues.

THE SEASON OF SINGING HAS COME: The KJV has "singing of birds", but "of birds" is italicized, and not in the original. The songs are songs of rejoicing, at the coming of spring -- ie, the Kingdom itself! -- sung by men and women (Psa 40:3; 96:1; 148:7-13; Isa 42:10-12; 55:12; Eph 5:19; Col 3:16; Rev 5:9,10; 14:3). "The mind can conceive of nothing more magnificent than the worship of the heavenly host as opened to us in the visions at Patmos... The thoughts of hearing such deeds celebrated in such worship, of listening to such words set to appropriate harmonies, sung by such a chorus, under such circumstances; nay, of being one of the number who could learn and sing that song, may well-nigh overpower us" (Burrowes).

The word translated "singing" ("zamir") can also refer to pruning (cp LXX, and NASB); however, pruning in Israel typically occurred in the early autumn rather than the spring, and "singing" (rather than "pruning") better preserves the parallelism in the passage.

"We are not told why God causes the flowers to appear on the earth. Nothing is said of His purpose in calling this hidden world of beauty into the light. The silence is explained by the fact that the end is obvious and patent to every observer. The soil needs the work of their roots, and the chemicals of their tiny structures. The atmosphere needs the fragrance and the gases they exude. The world of mixed life which hums all day in their petals needs the food they provide. The man needs the sight of them to train his eye and culture the love of the beautiful. And dimpled childhood needs them, and many a sick home. God's end in their creation is not only adornment, but ministry, the serving and the satisfying of the needs of other created things. That is why God seeks to call the beauties out of man, because they are needed. Man wants the sight of a splendid faith to make it possible for him to believe. Man wants self-sacrifice, for he will die of his wounds if there is no self-forgetful soul to help him. Man wants love, for his lot is hard, and he will perish of heartbreak and loneliness without its gentle ministry. Man wants purity, that, amid the sensuality and immoralities of the age, he may see it is possible to master the flesh. Man wants hope, for his sky is often starless, and he needs the beacon of another's hope to guide him through the storm. The world needs these flowers of the soul; needs their fragrance, their colours, their help, their hints, their inspiration" (BI).

THE COOING OF DOVES IS HEARD IN OUR LAND: "The voice of the turtle" (KJV). The Hebrew "tor" refers to the migratory turtle-dove, which always returns to the land of Israel in early April -- at Passover (Jer 8:7). Its distinctive cooing call, subdued and somehow sorrowful, is one of the signs of spring. "The low plaint of the turtle-dove may be heard, all the day long, at certain seasons, in the olive groves and shady vales of the mountains" (LB).

The "dove" mentioned elsewhere in the Song (Song 1:15; 2:14; 4:1; 5:2,12; 6:9) is the "yonah", or Rock dove, which is a permanent resident in Israel in large numbers. The NIV use of "dove" to translate both "tor" and "yonah" is confusing.

IN OUR LAND: Notice the graciousness of Christ: this land is OUR land, he tells his bride, yours and mine to enjoy forever (Gen 13:15)!

EARTH... LAND: Both translations of Hebrew "eretz" (actually, the only occurrences of this word in all of the Song of Songs).

"Sweet is the season of spring: the long and dreary winter helps us to appreciate its genial warmth, and its promise of summer enhances its present delights. After periods of depression of spirit, it is delightful to behold again the light of the Sun of Righteousness; then our slumbering graces rise from their lethargy, like the crocus and the daffodil from their beds of earth; then is our heart made merry with delicious notes of gratitude, far more melodious than the warbling of birds -- and the comforting assurance of peace, infinitely more delightful than the dove's note, is heard within the soul. Now is the time for the soul to seek communion with her Beloved; now must she rise from her native sordidness, and come away from her old associations. If we do not hoist the sail when the breeze is favourable, we shall be blameworthy: times of refreshing ought not to pass over us unimproved. When Jesus himself visits us in tenderness, and entreats us to arise, can we be so base as to refuse his request?" (CHS).

Song 2:13

THE FIG TREE FORMS ITS EARLY FRUIT: The fig tree symbolizes the nation of Israel (Jer 24:8; 29:17; Joel 1:7; cp Luk 13:6-9). The blossoming of the early fruit is another sign of the approach of spring, and the blossoming of the nation of Israel is a prophetic sign of the nearness of Christ's return: "Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it [or 'he'] is near, right at the door" (Mat 24:32,33; Mar 13:28,29).

THE BLOSSOMING VINES SPREAD THEIR FRAGRANCE: The grapevine, which is a symbol of Israel (Isa 5:1-7; Psa 80:8-16; Mat 21:33-41), as it is also of Christ (Joh 15:1-7). Its blossoming produces a sweet fragrance, and the symbolism is similar to that of the fig tree producing fruit. Cp also Song 6:11; 7:8,12.

ARISE, COME, MY DARLING; MY BEAUTIFUL ONE, COME WITH ME: See Song 2:10n. The repetition of this invitation suggests the urgency, eagerness, and excitement that the young man feels.

Song 2:14

The shepherd/king speaks. He feels as though his beloved is hiding herself from him, like a dove hiding in the crevices of the rock cliffs. Is this because she is still reluctant to "come out" (vv 10,13) from her "house" of v 9? What is hindering her -- her fear of the "little foxes" (v 15)? Or is she afraid to leave her task, of guarding the vines from the little foxes? It is difficult to say.

There is an extended analogy between this upcoming vignette (Song 2:14 -- Song 3:4) and Mary Magdalene's first encounter with her risen Lord in John 20. (In the analogy, however, it is the young man, not the young woman, as in Song 2:14, who appears to be hiding in the "rocks"!):

Song 2:14 -- Song 3:4
John 20:11-17
"In the clefts of the rock"
"the tomb... stone"
"Show me your face"
Mary seeking the body of Jesus
"Day breaks... shadows flee"
"Early on the first day of the week... still dark"
"I looked for the one my heart loves"
"Where have you put him?
"Did not find him"
"We don't know where..."
"The watchmen found me"
"Woman, why are you crying?"
"I found the one my heart loves"
"Rabboni", the ecstatic cry!
"I held him and would not let him go"
"Do not continue holding on to me"


MY DOVE: This is the second time (Song 1:15 being the first) when he compares her to a dove. The figure will reappear in Song 4:9; 5:2,12; 6:9. In this context, cp Psa 74:19, where the dove is endangered by wild beasts; and Isa 59:11, where the dove mourns the absence of its mate.

IN THE CLEFTS OF THE ROCK: The Rock dove is, proverbially, a very timid creature. Its customary nesting place is, as one might suppose from the name, in the caves and clefts and ledges of rock of the low mountains of Israel (see Eze 7:16; and cp Oba 1:3 and Jer 49:16, where Edom's desert fortresses are so described). Being powerless, the dove must seek protection among the rocks: Deu 32:3,4,13; Psa 57:5; Isa 32:2; Jer 48:28. Cp Mat 16:16,18 (rock of confession in Christ); Col 3:3,4: "our life is hid with Christ"; and Mat 7:24-27: "build your house upon the rock".

Cp also Exo 33:22, which supports the analogy outlined above: as was Moses, so Christ is "hidden" in the cleft of rock, until God's glory passes by, and by that glory his life is renewed.

Likewise, many faithful have hidden themselves from their persecutors in the dens and caves of the earth (cp Heb 11:38), and -- when dead -- have, like their Lord before them, been buried in the caves and sepulchres hewn out of the stone. When the trumpet sounds, and the call of Christ goes forth through the angels, they will emerge from their rock hiding places, from their caves and tombs, to find the glorious springtime of God's reestablished kingdom.

ROCK: Heb "sela" -- a term applied to craggy cliffs as inaccessible refuge for both man and beast. The prototypical "sela" was Petra, the great rock castle and stronghold of the Edomites (see 2Ki 14:7). The cliffs serve also as the abode of the eagle (Job 39:28), and the rock badger or coney (Psa 104:18; Pro 30:26). God is also a "sela", or fortress, in 2Sa 22:2.

IN THE HIDING PLACES ON THE MOUNTAINSIDE: The KJV has "in the secret places of the stairs", but this scarcely seems to fit the parallel character of the analogy. BDB suggests that the Heb "madrega" is from a root meaning "to go up step by step" (hence the idea of "stairs" in the KJV), but this would seem to refer just as easily to climbing footholds and ledges and crevices on the mountainside, as the NIV puts it.

There are two localities known as the "Valley of the Doves" in Israel. One is near Jericho; Tristam saw immense flocks of doves breeding in the ravines near Jericho, and in the precipitous cliffs nearby thousands of doves appear with a rush that could be felt like a gust of wind (Pope). The other is in Galilee: "a wild pass closed in between two perpendicular rocky walls perforated with numerous caves" (LB).

Other saints have seen the face of God, or had encounters with the divine, whilst in the caves and crevices of the mountains: Moses at Horeb (Exo 3:1-22); Elijah at the same place (1Ki 19:9-13); the three disciples with Jesus on a "high mountain apart", at the transfiguration (Mat 17:1); and John in Patmos (Rev 1:9). Some of the most remarkable revelations of God's glory ever given to man have occurred in the most remote and desolate of regions. And it may be in such environs that even modern-day saints are blessed with visions of glory: when trials, illnesses, or other sufferings have left them desolate or alone, then it might well be that they are nearer God's glory than ever before. As Paul wrote, "But [Christ] said to me, 'My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.' Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong" (2Co 12:9,10).

SHOW ME YOUR FACE, LET ME HEAR YOUR VOICE; FOR YOUR VOICE IS SWEET, AND YOUR FACE IS LOVELY: He wants to feast his eyes on the loveliness of her whole person (cp Psa 45:11), and fill his ears with the pleasing sweetness of her voice (cp Song 8:13).

See here how, first, it is the shepherd/king who eagerly desires to see the face of the young woman. Later, and more frequently, it will be her with the overwhelming desire to see his face. This picture is beautifully true to the spiritual analogy: we love him, because he first loved us; Jesus has come and sought us out, each one of us, even when we were timid or reluctant or even indifferent -- and now we desperately seek him out, for he has become our heart's love, the soul and center of our very lives (cp, eg, Phi 3:7-12).

Song 2:15

Who is speaking here? Apparently it is the bride. To whom is she speaking? Possibly to her companions, as in v 7, or possibly to her beloved: "The imperative [for] 'catch' is plural in form... Some commentators suggest that the woman is speaking to a large audience, perhaps the maidens of Jerusalem mentioned in v 7. However, the Hebrew plural can function in an intensive sense when used in reference to a single individual... The bride often uses the plural in reference to herself or to her bridegroom in Sumerian love literature. Thus, the woman simply may be speaking to her beloved, as in vv 16,17, but with particularly intense passion" (NETn). In fact, since the verb "catch" is masculine plural, it may be that it is the shepherd/king who is speaking to HIS companions. In any case, the meaning would be essentially the same. (The blossoming vines come back into the story again, in Song 7:12.)

CATCH FOR US THE FOXES, THE LITTLE FOXES THAT RUIN THE VINEYARDS: Foxes (Heb "shual": the term may include "jackals" as well) are always spoken of in a negative light in the OT; in the ancient world they were particularly associated with their destructive tendencies toward vineyards (Jdg 15:4; Neh 4:3; Psa 63:10; Lam 5:18; Eze 13:4). [Vineyards, by the way, were often located in the "stairs", or "terraces" -- the "hiding places on the mountainsides" of v 17.] The description of these foxes as being destructive here seems to confirm that this is the point of comparison in mind. Here, foxes seem to be figures for obstacles, or annoyances or cares, that might threaten the couple's relationship -- potentially destructive problems which could destroy their romantic relationship and which could hinder it from ripening into marriage.

What might these obstacles be? Possibly the aging process itself, or other physical problems that might sap the beauty and vitality of the lovers. Possibly she is afraid that other women might distract her beloved, or tempt him away from her (or even that other men might distract her, and tempt her away from him). Possibly they refer generally to hostile forces that could spoil their love. All couples encounter some potentially destructive situations in their relationships that need dealing with occasionally. Often the woman senses these first as here, but the man should take the initiative in dispelling them.

In a spiritual sense the "little foxes" may refer to "little sins" -- something like the "hidden faults" of Psa 19:12, or "everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles" of Heb 12:1: "A little thorn may cause much suffering. A little cloud may hide the sun. Little foxes spoil the vines; and little sins do mischief to the tender heart. These little sins burrow in the soul, and make it so full of that which is hateful to Christ, that he will hold no comfortable fellowship and communion with us. A great sin cannot destroy a Christian, but a little sin can make him miserable" (CHS). " 'Little' sins are parents of the greatest (Ecc 10:1; 1Co 5:6)" (JFB).

"Little sins are real sins. A little fox is a real fox. A little tiger is a real tiger. A little serpent is a real serpent. The smallness of it does not alter its nature.

"Little sins are apt to be little thought of. That is one great part of their danger. You say 'it is only a little fault. Who would think anything of that? It is only a little fox, what harm can it do?' The little sin does not ruffle your conscience, or make you unhappy, or make other people think much the worse of you for it. That is the worst of the whole case. That is one of the strongest reasons why you should be afraid of it.

"Little sins prepare the way for big ones, and form habits of sin. I never heard of a boy becoming a drunkard, or a thief, or a swearer, or a liar, or a profligate, or a criminal, all at once. It was gradually -- by little and little, that he became such" (BI).

Looked at from a more "political" standpoint, it may be said that "the vineyard of the King-Messiah and his Queen is the whole House of Israel. The land is in the hands of the enemy -- the land promised to the seed of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who hath destroyed its vines? First, the king of Babylon; then the Medo-Persians; then the Greeks; followed by Rome -- great and mighty kings in their own estimation, but just 'little foxes' in God's sight" (Ask). This writer goes on to cite Luk 13:31,32, where Jesus likens Herod to a "fox", in support of this idea, and concludes with: "It will be the work of the angels to round up these little foxes, ready for destruction, when the Bridegroom and Bride at the wedding and the feast that follows... [after which] the 'little foxes' vanish and no longer trouble God's vines."

OUR VINEYARDS THAT ARE IN BLOOM: "The term 'vineyard' is also a figure. In Song 1:6 she used the vineyard motif as a metaphor for her physical appearance, but here it is 'our vineyards' -- which is probably a figure for their romantic relationship. The phrase 'in bloom' makes the metaphor more specific, so that the phrase 'our vineyards are in bloom' means that their romantic love relationship was in its initial stages, that is, before it had ripened into marriage" (NETn).

That the "vineyards" may represent the relationship of the bride and her beloved is doubly supported by the parable of John 15: "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener... Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing." Along the same lines, consider Christ's parable in Mat 21:33-41.

Thus, in a spiritual sense, the tender young blooms on the vines may represent recent converts, and the young, who might be more susceptible to the "little foxes", or "false teachers" (2Pe 2:1-3) and false philosophies that might gnaw at and undermine and destroy faith. False prophets are likened to foxes in Eze 13:4. And foxes, for that matter, are not that much different than the "wolves in sheep's clothing" of Mat 7:15 (cp Acts 20:29).

Song 2:16

The Bride speaks.

MY LOVER IS MINE, AND I AM HIS: She is confident that she and her beloved belong together. This statement is repeated, generally, in Song 6:3; 7:10. This formula of mutual or reciprocal belonging is clearly based on the well-known prophetic utterance, oft repeated in the OT: Israel is the people of Yahweh, and Yahweh is the God of Israel (Gen 17:7; 26:3,4; Deu 26:17,18; 29:13; Hos 1:10; 2:23; Jer 7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 30:22; 31:1,33; 32:38; Eze 11:20; 34:30,31; 36:28; 37:23; Zec 13:9; Psa 95:7; 100:3; Rev 21:2,3; etc, etc). It is echoed -- and amplified -- by the prayer of Jesus for his followers in John 17:11: "so that they may be one as we are one." As God was one with His people Israel, so He was one with His special and only-begotten Son, and so He will be one with those who believe on Him through that Son.

The means by which she became his, and he became hers, all originates on the one side -- Christ has provided the means! "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). But one-sided devotion is incomplete, unsatisfying, and pointless. The ecclesia, or church, must respond to Christ's devotion with a devotion of its own -- not to earn eternal life, certainly, for that is not possible, nor necessary; but as the only reasonable response to his devotion. "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me" (Gal 2:20).

HE BROWSES AMONG THE LILIES: Cp the similar phrase in Song 6:2. There seems clearly to be a double entendre quality that cloaks the details of the couple's love-making. The ambiguity and obscurity of the language of the Song is characteristic of lyric poetry. So what is intended here? For one thing, his lips are called "lilies" in Song 5:13. This may suggest how desperately she desires his kisses as token of his love (cp Song 1:2). For another thing, he later pictures her breasts as "two fawns... that browse among the lilies" (Song 4:5). Without bothering to describe more graphically how her breasts might resemble this picture (some things ought to be left to the imagination rather than spelled out!), it may suffice to point out that her breasts are said to resemble lilies; this presents a picture not unlike Pro 5:19: "A loving doe, a graceful deer -- may her [your wife's] breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love."

BROWSES: Heb "ra'ah" means, primarily, to pasture a flock -- as a shepherd might do. But, more actively, it may mean to feed or graze, or browse, as a sheep might do -- this second meaning certainly seems more appropriate here (cp Song 4:5; 7:10-12; Pro 29:3, sw). And the beloved is pictured as a gazelle in Song 2:17, which further supports this. "Gazelles still delight to feed among them [ie, lilies], and you can scarcely ride through the woods north of Tabor, where the lilies abound, without frightening them from their flowery pastures" (LB).

Once again, the Song of Songs has presented a picture of intimacy which is rather more graphic than we are accustomed to consider in a Bible context. Do we shy away from such expressions? Do we pretend they do not exist? To do so could well be to treat the Word of God with indifference, if not contempt. Surely there is a better way. While making allowances for the possibility that the discussion of such details would be inappropriate in certain settings and with certain audiences, nevertheless... we do well to remind ourselves that this is one means by which the Heavenly Father seeks to convey to us the fullness of His love for us, and what should be the fullness of our exultation in His love. We have not just entered a covenant with God through His Son -- we have entered a communion with an ever-living Saviour. "My lover -- Jesus Christ -- is mine, and I am his!" And the most joyful and exciting and satisfying of possible mortal relationships (if we have been so fortunate as to know such) can only hint at, even as it reflects in a mirror "darkly", the joy of being one with God in and through His beloved Son. "Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth -- for your love is more delightful than wine" (Song 1:2).

I am his temple; and he my holy place;
I'm his special guest, and he my living food;
I am his by need; he is mine by grace;
I am his by faith; he is mine by blood;
I'm his clinging branch; and he my true vine;
Thus I am my beloved's; and my beloved's mine!

"He is mine to look upon, to lean upon, to dwell with; mine to bear all my burdens, discharge all my debts; mine to answer all my accusers, mine to conquer all my foes... mine in absence, mine in presence, mine in life, mine in death, mine in the grave, mine in the judgment, and mine at the marriage of the Lamb" (Pulpit).

Song 2:17

UNTIL THE DAY BREAKS AND THE SHADOWS FLEE: This whole expression is repeated at Song 4:6.

UNTIL THE DAY BREAKS: Literally, "when the new day breathes". This might mean the coolness of 6 pm, when evening comes. "In the late afternoon a zephyr breeze cools the air as the shadows lengthen and vanish as the dusk of the evening heralds a speedy change to night" (Waddoup). Or it could refer to the dawning of a new day, when the morning breezes stir and break the stillness of the night.

AND THE SHADOWS FLEE: This might refer to the time in the evening, when the sun goes down, and the shadows of the day cease to exist. Or again, it could refer to the dawning of a new day, when the shadows of night flee away.

So which is it -- sunset, or sunrise? It would seem most reasonable, from v 16, that this is a lovers' tryst, and that it will last all through the night, until the new day dawns. If, as may be the case, a resurrection theme is discernible in this section, then again the dawn of a new day would be most appropriate (cp the time of Christ's resurrection: Mat 28:1; Mar 16:2; Luk 24;1; Joh 20:1).

THE SHADOWS: Some commentators see this as an allusion to the Law of Moses, with its sacrifices and rituals, which are all types and shadows (cp Heb 8:5) -- of which the substance is Christ. "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming -- not the realities themselves" (Heb 10:1). The time when the "shadows" flee away would then be when Christ appeared to the world: "For the law was given through Moses; [but] grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17). And when the day of his return comes, then the "Sun of righteousness" (Mal 4:2) will truly and eternally dispel all shadows -- of the Law of Moses, of Gentile rule, of doubt and despair and death.

TURN, MY LOVER, AND BE LIKE A GAZELLE OR LIKE A YOUNG STAG: The end of the little song echoes the beginning (vv 8,9).

ON THE RUGGED HILLS: "Mountains of Bether" (NIV mg), or of "division". "Bether" is from a root word meaning "to cut", as in making a covenant by sacrifice (sw Gen 15:10; Jer 34:18,19). The possible parallelism might suggest that the "mountains of cutting, or cleavage" (v 17) refer to her breasts, as do the "lilies" (v 16). Since the gazelle is on these hills (v 17), just as he browses among the lilies (v 16), then these two figures of speech may suggest the same thing. (In the other verse which has the same opening phrase -- Song 4:6 -- the "mountain" and "hill" may have the same meaning: the breasts of the young woman.)

If a more geographical meaning is sought, then Bithron (2Sa 2:29, AV) may have been a region east of the Jordan River, separating Judah from Edom, where the ravines make deep declivities in the mountains. Other sites have been suggested; none, however, are certain.

This verse may also be compared and contrasted with Song 8:14: the mountains here seem to represent division, whereas the mountains there are "spice-laden" (Heb "besamim"), which seems to represent rejoining (cp the spice-laden anointing of the High Priest in Psa 133, by which the whole nation is unified).

So what do we make of the young woman's request? Scholars offer three interpretations of her figurative request: (1) She desires her lover to embrace her breasts, like a gazelle romping over the mountains (in this case, the mountains are of course figurative) [this seems most natural, given the preceding verse -- she desperately desires him to stay, as Jacob does the angel: "I will not let you go unless you bless me" (Gen 32:26]. (2) Alternatively, she entreats her lover to "turn" and leave and go back over the hills from whence he had journeyed (in this case, the mountains are literal) [but why would she wish to send him away?]. (3) Or, thirdly, as her lover prepares to leave her country village, she asks him to return to her again in the same way he arrived, like a gazelle bounding over the mountains in Song 2:8–10 (in this case, the mountains are again literal).

Again, how one sees this whole section, and how one places it in the context of the whole Song of Songs, will affect the interpretation of this verse. It is of course a matter of opinion, but the first interpretation seems most reasonable.

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