The Agora
Bible Commentary
Song of Songs

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Song of Songs 6

Song 6:1

WHERE HAS YOUR LOVER GONE, MOST BEAUTIFUL OF WOMEN? WHICH WAY DID YOUR LOVER TURN, THAT WE MAY LOOK FOR HIM WITH YOU?: At the beginning of this song (Song 5:9) it is plain that the bride did not have the sympathy but rather more the indifference (if not contempt) of the daughters of Jerusalem (cp also Song 1:5,8). But now all that is altered. The bride's description of her lover (Song 5:10-16) seems to have completely changed the attitude of her companions. Now they offer to help her find him. "The flame in her breast scattered sparks into theirs" (Henry). Her enthusiasm stirred others to action (cp 2Co 9:2), so that where she would go, they would go with her (cp Rth 1:16,17; Zec 8:21-23)!

Notice also that Shulamith seems not to be jealous at all of any potential "rivals" for her lover's attentions, as might be expected if this were merely a natural story. In the spiritual allegory, the "Bride" of Christ is an infinitely expandable number -- there is always room for one, or a dozen, or a hundred, more!

Historically, the daughters' questions reminds us of Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus -- who had previously been associated with Jesus, but only very marginally, and secretly: yet, in the dark night of his crucifixion and burial, they finally found the courage (and faith) to seek and serve him more openly (Mat 27:57-60; Mar 15:42-46; Luk 23:50; Joh 19:38,39) -- and thus to associate themselves with the others who already constituted his "bride". And so the Book of Acts recounts in brief the story of many, many others -- "daughters of Jerusalem", so to speak -- who, hearing the testimony of the "bride" about her "lover", came to believe themselves, and to seek the same One: "Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day" (Act 2:41). "But many who heard the message believed, and the number of men grew to about five thousand" (Act 4:4). "Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number" (Act 5:14).

Then, on the other hand, we might compare the quite hypocritical use, on another occasion, of practically the same words as Song 6:1: "{Herod] sent [the wise men] to Bethlehem and said, 'Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him' " (Mat 2:8).

Hall writes, "We see here... the blessedness and profit of having the mind fully occupied with Christ himself. The Bride seems to have lost all self-consciousness as she meditates on him. [Song 5:10-16] Self-indulgence had been the cause of the sad experience she had just passed through [eg, Song 5:2-7, when she lost contact with him temporarily: GB]. Now her mind is entirely taken up with him. Not even his promises and gifts are in her thoughts, for Christ is more than all his gifts and promises. They are but as it were the outer rays of his fulness, which in itself is not of Christ but the Father."

MOST BEAUTIFUL OF WOMEN: See Song 5:9n, as well as Song 1:8n.

Song 6:2

MY LOVER HAS GONE DOWN TO THE HIS GARDEN, TO THE BEDS OF SPICES, TO BROWSE IN THE GARDENS AND TO GATHER LILIES: The bride regains her assurance; in speaking to others, she has in fact helped herself. Now she knows where her lover is. In the story line, fragmentary though it may seem in places, it is as though she remembers now the last words he had spoken to her: "I have come into my garden" (Song 5:1). And she awakes fully from her dream state, and knows -- logically, once again -- that she is his "garden" (Song 4:12; cp Isa 58:11), and that therefore he must not be far away...

MY LOVER HAS GONE DOWN TO THE HIS GARDEN: In literal fact, Jerusalem is situated on several large hills, while the great gardens of Solomon were a little distance away, in the valleys below (cp Song 6:11: "I went down"). It may be that this was "the King's Garden", which was just beside the Pool of Siloam (Neh 3:15).

So the girl realizes, once again, that her lover is not to be found in the hustle and bustle of the city streets (Song 5:7), but rather in his quiet, secluded garden, a bit away from that city -- the garden which represents herself (and others like her), silently producing the sweet fragrance of a loving devotion to him.

THE BEDS OF SPICES: The phrase is used elsewhere in the Song of Songs only in Song 5:13, where it is a simile comparing the king's cheeks to a flower-bed of balsam yielding perfumed spices. The word "balsam" or "spice" by itself appears four other times in the Song as a figure for the girl, and expressing his deep love for her (Song 4:10,14,16; 5:1). So it looks as though his going to the beds of spices means that he is back with her again.

TO BROWSE IN THE GARDENS: "To pasture" (RSV) or "to feed" (AV) are -- like "to browse" -- accurate enough. But the NEB's "to delight in" is a good interpretative insight. It is not so much nourishment that he derives from his beloved, as it is pleasure! (Cp the figure in Rev 1:13,20: the Son of man walking among the lampstands, which represent the ecclesias.)

AND TO GATHER LILIES: The "lily" represents the bride, or believers in general (see Song 2:2n). And so -- in another hint at the collective nature of the "bride" -- there is this reference to her in terms of "lilies to be gathered". "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Mat 18:20). Elsewhere believers are called "children of God" to be gathered into one place and one company (John 11:51,52). And they are also called by Christ his "chicks": "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem... how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings" (Mat 23:37). Again, they are called "good fish", to be gathered out and separated from the "bad fish" at the judgment (Mat 13:48; cp Joh 21:6-11). And finally, believers are called "his elect", also to be gathered at the last day: "And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other" (Mat 24:31; cp 1Th 4:13,14).

"The plain of Sharon, the lower slopes of Lebanon, the shores of Galilee, and even the bare craggy terraces of the hill country of Judaea are illumined with gorgeous gleams of white, and scarlet, and golden lilies, whose glory is the most peculiar of all the common aspects of the country. The bulbous roots of many of them, containing a reserve of nourishment for unfavourable times, and guarding as in a secure citadel the principle of life, specially adapt these lilies for growing in the most unpromising looking places. And not only are they enabled themselves to extract nourishment from the driest soil and atmosphere, but they also create around them, by the shadow of their leaves and blossoms, and by the moisture which they attract, conditions suitable for the growth of other plants less richly endowed; take species under their protection whose forms are tougher and whose constitution is hardier, but which have no reserved stores like them for times and spots of scarcity. Nowhere is the herbage so luxuriant as under the shadow of these beautiful and graceful flowers. Such spots are therefore the favourite feeding-places of flocks and herds. They seek them out as the traveller in the desert seeks out the oasis; and they are as sure to find sweet and tender grass where the lilies are growing, as the traveller is to find a well where the palm-grove flourishes" (Macmillan, BI). Such lilies, like the grass and the flowers, perish -- it is true -- but the lessons they teach, and the characters they represent, among the followers of Christ, will endure forever and ever in God's Kingdom, providing nourishment and comfort and joy to their Divine Gardener.

"The Beloved is to be found only in that garden enclosed, once desolate and barren, but now reclaimed by him. Tended and watered, its owner delights to walk therein among the flowers and fragrant spices and lilies, to him so fair and pleasant. These are his brethren, whose fellowship is with the Father and the Son. This is the feeding among the lilies, where purity and peace is found" (Atwell).

A historical allusion of a very different nature is suggested by Hall: that the "bed of spices" "in the gardens" was the Garden Tomb, where the body of Jesus was lain, wrapped in burial spices by Joseph and Nicodemus. This would lead to the idea that, through his death, he might gather together all the "lilies" which were his brethren. Further, along these lines, the joyous reunion indicated by "I am my lover's and my lover is mine" (Song 6:3) indicates his first resurrection revelation of himself, in that same garden, to the previously-distraught Mary Magdalene (who surely stands as a prototype of his bride, and of all believers). (Notice, in this connection, that when Mary first sees him, in the dark shadows of the early morning garden, she thinks he is the "gardener" -- a little point which recalls the details of Song 6:2: the resurrected Jesus is first seen in the role of a gardener, tending his flowers and spices!)

Song 6:3

I AM MY LOVER'S AND MY LOVER IS MINE; HE BROWSES AMONG THE LILIES: ...In fact, to continue from v 2, her lover is right there with there, all in a moment, and blissfully she gives herself to him. (See the comparable phrases in Song 2:16n.) It appears that all she needed to do to find her lover, who had presumably "departed" -- was to realize that it was her own (temporary) indifference and laziness that had caused him to leave. And once she remembered, and told others, what he was to her -- that he was her "all in all" -- then, in a moment, he was back with her again. Seemingly, he had never really left her, but was waiting quietly, in the shadows, to see how much she cared for him.

Perhaps the nearest approximation to this tableau, in the Bible, is the story of Joseph -- who hid his identity for a time, and waited and watched and listened, so as to test his brethren, all to ascertain their current attitude toward the one whom they had callously sold into slavery.

I AM MY LOVER'S AND MY LOVER IS MINE: This expression is similar to that found in Song 2:16: "My lover is mine and I am his." And yet there is this noteworthy difference: in the first passage her initial thought of her lover was of HER claim upon him, while his claim upon her was secondary. But now she thinks first of HIS claim, and only afterwards mentions her own. Now she sees that the true primacy is his!

And there is yet a still further development of character in her similar words in Song 7:10, where she has at last lost sight of her claim altogether, in the rapture of belonging, solely and exclusively, to him: "I belong to my lover, and his desire is for me."

I AM MY LOVER'S: In this belonging she finds a wondrous peace: "All that she had was found by the grace of God in her through Christ. Her very name -- 'Shulamite' -- was such because of the peace only found in the Prince of Peace. She alone could be peaceable because she was found in him who is peace, who made peace between man and God. Again, she had regained that 'peace that passeth all understanding' [Phi 4:7]. She had found her Lord and in that marriage feast, as she remembered these things, she knew that peace was hers for eternity, unchanging as her very nature. At peace with the Prince of Peace!" (Hall).

Song 6:4

Vv 4-9: The king once again is with his bride, and he praises her -- in language quite similar to Song 4:1-5. His praise indicates too that he has forgiven any earlier ingratitude or indifference on her part (see Song 5:2-5). "These are the words of Christ, who had been absent for some time, and till now silent; but, like another Joseph, could not refrain any longer, but makes himself known to his church, and bursts out in strong expressions of love to her, and in high commendations of her; for, notwithstanding her behavior toward him, she was his love still, and as 'beautiful' and as comely in his sight as ever" (Gill).

It is not until the king reappears that the bride is seen in her perfection -- for he, and no other, is the one who sees her that way, and makes her that way (again, Eph 5:25-27)!

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL, MY DARLING, AS TIRZAH: The name itself means "pleasant" (BDB). Tirzah was a beautiful city, built on a mountain range north of Nablus, or Shechem. It was in early times a prominent Canaanite city (Jos 12:24), and later the first capital of Northern Kingdom, during the reigns of Jeroboam and his successors, until Omri made Samaria his capital (1Ki 14:17; 15:21,33; 16:6,8,15,23,24; 2Ki 15:14). Its mention here implies that secession of the Northern Kingdom had already occurred; this would suggest a date later than time of Solomon -- eg, perhaps the time of Hezekiah (see the final note on this verse, below).

The exact location of this city has not yet been established, but many authorities identify it with Tell el Farah, about seven miles ne of Shechem, on the main road toward Beth-shean. The site is one of great natural beauty with its extensive gardens and groves, encouraged by its abundant water supply (one of the best in all of Israel).

YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL: This description has been used by the lover (Song 1:15; 4:1), and by the girl's companions (Song 6:1).

MY DARLING: "Raah" is the feminine form of the word translated "friend" in Song 5:16. What he is to her, she is to him. Cp also sw in Song 1:9,15; 2:2,10,13; 4:1,7; 5:2.

LOVELY AS JERUSALEM: Jerusalem has been called "the perfection of beauty" (Psa 48:2; 50:2; Lam 2:15; cp Psa 87:2,3; 122:1-3; 125:1,2); in this the city is just like the bride! And thus Jerusalem symbolizes the bride of Christ in Gal 4:26 and Heb 12:23.

It may seem strange at first for a lover to think of his bride as a great city, but this figure is not unique to the Song of Songs: the Book of Revelation uses Babylon as a figure of a great harlot (Rev 18:2--19:3), and Jerusalem as the Bride of Christ (Rev 19:7-9; 21:1,2,9,10). In each of these instances, there is clear allusion to the multitudinous nature of the woman: she represents many peoples either enthralled to sin, or devoted to Christ.

MAJESTIC AS TROOPS WITH BANNERS: Cp also v 10. "Majestic" is the Heb "yumma" (occurring elsewhere only in v 10 and Hab 1:7, where it refers to the Babylonian army); it is translated "terrible" in AV and RSV. The related noun "eymah", however, is quite common in the OT, and refers to any number of things which are frightening or terrifying, but also to revelations of Divine Majesty, which are awe-inspiring, or terrifying in a different way (Gen 15:12; Exo 15:16; 23:27; Deu 32:25; Jos 2:9; Ezr 3:3; Job 9:34; 13:21; 20:25; 33:7; 39:20; 41:14; Psa 55:4; 88:15; Pro 20:2; Isa 33:18; Jer 50:38).

Though modern Western minds find it difficult to appreciate this illustration, it indicates the irresistible beauty of the bride. The army with banners may be an allusion to the army of heaven in Rev 19:14-16 where the "banner" read "King of kings and Lord of lords"; such an army will indeed be one of the most beautiful of things -- for it will be the means by which God's will is done in all the earth!

A "banner" is the means by which many peoples, as an army, are rallied and gathered to one place. During a battle, the banner is at the forefront and points the direction for troops to attack. And when it is lifted and secured in one place, it marks a victory won (also see Song 5:10n).

As in Song 3:7,8, there is the rather strange juxtaposition of military motifs alongside a marriage (just as in Rev 19; 21 also). The mighty warrior-king wins a great victory and then comes to take his bride -- who also seems to resemble an army, for in Christ they are "more than conquerors" (Rom 8:37)! Surely it is because, in the spiritual realm, they both -- lover and beloved -- have overcome the great enemies of sin and death, and may now enjoy the pleasures of the Marriage of the Lamb. "To him (and her) who overcomes"... I will give all things -- says the Saviour: the tree of life, a new name, the morning star, robes of white, a place in my God's temple and upon my throne, and escape from the second death (Rev 2:7,11,17,28; 3:5,12,21).

It is also because the military-like role of Christ and the saints will continue into the Millennium: theirs will be the task, directed by God, to subdue the mortal peoples, by force as necessary (cp Psa 149:6-9) but especially be instruction and example: "To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations -- 'He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery' [Psa 2:9] -- just as I have received authority from my Father" (Rev 2:26,27).

In more prosaic terms, such language reveals that the bride is not merely beautiful in the conventional sense. She also possesses, and even exemplifies, dignity and grace -- qualities that once were associated with majesty (though modern revelations about "royals" have, sadly, practically destroyed such associations). She, who had been a lowly country girl, working hard in the vineyards, is now every inch a queen. There is a bearing about her, a self-knowledge, a presence or charisma: she remembers where she has been, she knows who she is, she has no fear, and she is totally comfortable within herself. And this awareness serves as the perfect setting for her exquisite beauty. So the writer tells us of her terrifying, or awe-inspiring, beauty.

At the same time, and contrary to our human expectations, there seems to be no pride in her, but rather the deepest child-like humility, for she knows (more than any other can know) that what she is and what she has... now... is not hers by her own achievement at all -- but is the gift of her beloved lord and master and husband. And because of this, because hers is not merely a natural, or even a self-made, "beauty"... there is in her a palpable love for the One who loved her, and who made her as she is. And her love for him, which reflects his for her, is the finishing touch in the perfect picture. She is majestic indeed -- alongside whom there is no other majesty!

The bringing together of Tirzah (the beautiful city of the North) and Jerusalem (the beautiful city of the South) points to the joining together of two kingdoms and two peoples that were previously separated. This would scarcely fit the time of Solomon, when there were no two kingdoms -- but it does suit the time of Hezekiah, when the separated Northern Kingdom was going into decline, and then captivity. The crowning achievement of Hezekiah's reign was the overthrow of the northern host of the Assyrian Sennacherib, and the deliverance from slavery of a great number of Israelites (the secular history mentions 200,000). Thus the great restoration prophecies of Isaiah had their initial fulfillment in the return of the captives from Nineveh and Babylon, back to the Land, but especially back to Jerusalem -- where a righteous king ruled and a true priesthood presided in Solomon's temple. Much of the background story of the Song of Songs is set against these times, and is a parabolic encouragement to those of the north (symbolized by the young woman) to join themselves to the God of Israel, and His worship at the Temple in Jerusalem (symbolized by the shepherd-king). (See the other allusions listed in the Introduction: Old Testament background: one possible view.)

Going beyond this, the joining of Tirzah and Jerusalem (like the joining of bride and bridegroom, people and king, country and city, etc) may all be means by which the inspired writer conveys prophetically the great work of Christ: to join together in one all things which have been divided... Israel and Judah, Gentile and Jew, female and male, slave and free! "There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Gal 3:28). And ultimately, this may also convey the greatest completion of that work, when at the end of the Kingdom Age man and God have been ultimately joined, and "God may be all in all" (1Co 15:28)!

Song 6:5

TURN YOUR EYES FROM ME; THEY OVERWHELM ME: "Rahav" (from a root word for "strength" or "pride": see Job 9:13; 26:12; Psa 87:4; 89:10; Isa 30:7; 51:9) has been rendered "disturb" (as RSV), "confuse", "dazzle" (as NEB), "unnerve", "overcome" (as AV), or even "excite" or "arouse" (BDB). The other three uses of the same verb in the OT (Psa 138:3; Pro 6:3; Isa 3:5) seem to suggest "embolden" as the best translation.

Her eyes have been noted as beautiful, and even seductive, several times before (Song 1:15: 4:1,9).

How wonderful it is to note that the king is "overpowered", so to speak, by the eyes of his beloved. He who has conquered the greatest of enemies -- sin and death -- he who has the authority, and power, to rule the nations with a rod of iron... can be "defeated" by someone's eyes! He who has, for that matter, stared into the eyes of the greatest power on earth, and not flinched... can be brought low by the eyes of a young girl! But this of course implies no weakness, no, not at all -- instead it describes, poetically, the overriding power of condescending grace. And so it is with the LORD God and His Son: "The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin" (Exo 34:6,7). "In a surge of anger I hid my face from you for a moment, but with everlasting kindness I will have compassion on you" (Isa 54:8). "Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness" (Rom 11:22). It is also the lesson of Jacob's wrestling with the angel of God: though flesh and blood was not able to overcome the angel by its natural strength, yet by earnest prayer, by crying, and by clinging to the One who was so strong, the spirit of man was able to receive the divine blessing (Gen 32:26-28; cp Hos 12:4). "Christ is pleased to borrow these expressions of a passionate lover only to express the tenderness of a compassionate Redeemer, and the delight he takes in his redeemed and in the workings of his own grace in them" (Henry).

TURN YOUR EYES FROM ME: There was an occasion when Jesus Christ actually said much the same thing, and that to a woman who desperately sought his help and comfort. A Canaanite or Syrophoenician woman -- a Gentile -- begged for his mercy on behalf of her daughter (Mat 15:22). And at first, Jesus did not answer her a word (v 23)! Twice more, even, he seemed to rebuff her advances, by remarking that he was sent only to Israel (v 24), and by telling the Gentile woman directly: "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (v 26). Could he have been plainer? He wanted nothing to do with her! And yet... it wasn't true! His blunt "Turn your eyes from me!" did not mean that at all -- it was to elicit from the desperate woman the words that her Saviour so wanted to hear: "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (v 27). By her own race and standing, and her own obedience, she was no more than an unclean "dog", but by her faith she knew that even a "dog" would not be turned aside by the kindness of the Master! The Master commended her faith, as greater than that of any in Israel (v 28)! And we see that he never intended to turn her away, not really, but only to lead her into greater expression of her faith in him, for so his heart was touched by her need.

YOUR HAIR IS LIKE A FLOCK OF GOATS DESCENDING FROM GILEAD: This is identical to Song 4:1 (see note there), except that "Mount" is omitted this time, leaving "Gilead" to stand alone.

Song 6:6


Song 6:7


Song 6:8

SIXTY QUEENS THERE MAY BE, AND EIGHTY CONCUBINES, AND VIRGINS WITHOUT NUMBER: "She is more impressive than queens or royal concubines or virgins without number. The reference to queens, concubines, and virgins may well be a reference to the royal harem [of Solomon?]. She [the bride] is without equal among women. Even the ladies of the royal harem acknowledge her superiority" (EBC).

For the spiritual equivalent, cp Rev 14:3,4: "These (the 144,000) are those who did not defile themselves with women (clearly, here, the "women" or prostitutes representing false religions and apostasy: cp Rev 17; 18), for they are virgins."

QUEENS: This is a term never used of the wives of Judean or Israelite kings; it may, however, designate those Gentile wives of Solomon who were of royal blood in their own right.

CONCUBINES: These were not mere bed-partners, but actual "wives" of a lower status (cf Jdg 20:3-5), with certain protections and privileges that set them apart from others outside these categories.

Were these the women of King Solomon's harem -- whose numbers were greater by far, finally, than these (1Ki 11:1-3)? Of all kings mentioned in the Bible, the number of Solomon's wives and concubines exceeded by a considerable degree those of all the others; and his is the royal name which this Song of Songs bears (Song 1:1; 3:9,11; 8:11,12). But if this is indeed the real King Solomon, and if this inspired Song of Songs actually pictures one of his many romantic conquests, then what is left -- at the heart of this wondrous book -- is a story that, for all its pretense, is really a parody of the true, a travesty of real monogamous love! This will simply not do.

However, as has been pointed out, and outlined, in the Introduction, "Solomon" may be a classic prototype -- a prophetic designation (the King of "Peace"!) for one or more of his descendants -- ie, Hezekiah (see OT background), and of course, and primarily, the Lord Jesus Christ. If this latter is more the way in which the Song of Songs ought to be read, then the question remains, but in a different form: why allude, in any form, to Solomon's notorious harem (a breeding ground of pride and ostentation and idolatry)? And the answer may be: merely to emphasize the vast difference between a regular monarch of the Middle East (even one who received extraordinary wisdom from Yahweh)... and the special monarch (or monarchs) for whom the "one man-one woman", "in-the-beginning" ideal was real and meaningful and spiritually uplifting. And to emphasize as well the vast difference between even the most attractive and accomplished of Solomon's many wives and concubines, and the exemplar of beauty and grace and humility and love which is the one true bride of the great king!

Such a contrast is suggested also by Moses' warning and prophecy in Deu 17: "When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, 'Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us'... he must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray" (vv 14,17). Warning it was in that Solomon violated this restriction so egregiously, and he was in fact led astray by his wives (1Ki 11:4). And prophecy in that the Lord Jesus Christ, the true Messiah and King of Israel, kept Moses' requirements to perfection. The ironic conclusion to these very words comes only in the Book of Revelation, when the Bride of the Lamb is revealed, who -- though single in love and purpose -- herself constitutes a great multitude of individual believers, which no man can number! So in the end Messiah has many, many "wives" after all, infinitely more than even the splendid Solomon -- but "wives" on the most lovely spiritual level of fellowship and intimacy.

AND VIRGINS WITHOUT NUMBER: The term "alma" refers to a young woman who is sexually mature, that is, a young woman who is of marriageable age or a newly married young woman (HAL, BDB) (eg, Gen 24:43; Exo 2:8; Psa 68:25; Prov 30:19; Song 1:3; Isa 7:14). This use of the plural "alamoth" may refer to the young women of Solomon's harem, possibly virgins and not yet concubines.

The root denotes the basic idea of "youthful, strong, passionate" (HAL) or "sexually ripe, vigorous" (BDB). While the term "alma" may be used in reference to a young woman who is a virgin, the term itself does not explicitly denote "virgin." The Hebrew term which explicitly denotes "virgin" is "bethulah", which refers to a mature young woman without any sexual experience with men (eg, Gen 24:16; Exo 22:15,16; Lev 21:3; Deu 22:23,28; 32:25; Jdg 19:24; 2Sa 13:2,18; 1Ki 1:2; 2Ch 36:17; Est 2:2,3,17,19; Job 31:1; Psa 45:14; 78:63; 148:12; Isa 62:5; Jer 2:32; 51:22; Lam 1:4,18; 2:10,21; 5:11; Eze 9:6; Joe 1:8; Zec 9:17 (HAL, BDB).

SIXTY... EIGHTY... WITHOUT NUMBER: "The sequence... is an example of a graded numerical sequence and is not intended to be an exact numeration" (NETn). Cp Amos 1:3,6,9, etc; Pro 30:18,21,29.

Song 6:9

BUT MY DOVE, MY PERFECT ONE: Cp Song 5:2n and Song 2:14.

IS UNIQUE, THE ONLY DAUGHTER OF HER MOTHER: Heb "echad" (repeated twice here: "unique" and "only") means, literally, one; hence "the only daughter" (as NASB also) or "only one" (KJV). But it may be used more figuratively, to mean the one who is special or specially favored, ie the "chosen one" (KD); this is supported by the parallel in the next phrase: "favorite". (It is no special thing to be the "favorite" if one is in fact the "only"!) Similarly, Gen 22:2 and Pro 4:3 use the masculine equivalent to refer to the specially favored son, that is, the heir.

The "mother" of the bride leads us to Gal 4:25,26: "Jerusalem that is above (like the New Jerusalem, pictured as coming down out of heaven in Rev 21:2,10) is free, and she is our mother" (cp Psa 87:4-6). Also, Heb 12:22 ("Mount Zion... the heavenly Jerusalem... the city of the living God") appears to refer to these same passages.

THE FAVORITE OF THE ONE WHO BORE HER: "Favorite" is the Heb "bar" which may sig "pure" (BDB). But the root signifies "to choose, select" (BDB) (Neh 5:18; 1Ch 7:40; 9:22; 16:41). Hence, the "choice one" (KJV) or "favorite" (JB). Her fine qualities have been recognized from the time of her birth.

THE MAIDENS SAW HER AND CALLED HER BLESSED: But among all these women and maidens (of Solomon or others), the Shulamite stands out by virtue of her flawless beauty -- just as the king himself is distinguished among ten thousand (Song 5:10). The term "blessed" is used elsewhere of people who are held in high esteem by others either due to a commendable moral quality (Pro 31:28,31) or because of physical beauty (Gen 12:15; 2Sa 14:25).

THE QUEENS AND CONCUBINES PRAISED HER: The writer uses these women for comparison, to show how highly not only the king but also many other people regarded his beloved (cp Eze 16:14; Isa 49:23). It appears as though the actual content of their praise of her appears in Song 6:10, in which they compare her beauty to that of the dawn, moon, sun, and stars. If this is so, then the queens and concubines (or probably more esp the maidens?) are to be equated, in the story, with the "daughters of Jerusalem".

As kings bring gifts and come to bow down in humility before the Lamb, who is the King of kings (Mat 2:11; Psa 72:10,15; Isa 60:3,10,11; Rev 21:24), so queens will bring their gifts (cp Psa 45:9,12) and bow down before the unrivalled Bride of the Lamb! But, as Hall adds, and in keeping with the true humility of this "bride": "One with her beloved, she shares the dignity of his throne, and she shares the praises ascribed to his holy Name... But should all heaven combine with all the kings and queens of the earth in sounding the praises of the unworthy Bride of the Lamb, she will yet prostrate herself at her great Redeemer's feet, and say, as Israel did of old, and will again in the future, 'Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us is glory due, but unto thy Name is glory due, for ever and ever' [Psa 115:1]."

Song 6:10

The friends (the "maidens" of v 9?) describe the bride, echoing the king's description of v 4. It is fascinating to note that the bride's companions, even though with sympathy they have finally come to speak of her as "beautiful" (v 1), never rise to see and express her majesty and grandeur until they view her through the eyes of her husband (v 4). But now, in HIS presence, they perceive her as truly "majestic"... like the sun, the moon, and the stars of heaven! -- she, whom they mocked in an earlier "life", not so long ago, is now heavenly glory and divinity itself... and all because her king has come!

WHO IS THIS: The form of this question is feminine, and the answer must be: the girl. Cp Song 3:6n: there, she was brought to the king; here, she is with the king. And in Song 8:5 (another similar introducing question) she is "leaning on her lover". Cp, more generally, the question of Isa 63:1: "Who is this... coming from Edom?" -- where the question introduces a theophany -- an appearance of the Divine! It is the same here: "Who is this?" expresses wonder and awe, as in witnessing something of another world -- and surely this is the bride in her glory: a constituent part of God's glorious "new heavens and new earth"!

There is a progression to be discerned within this very song: in vv 4-7, the bride is described in terms which are surely glorious, but the glory is a terrestrial one: as Tirzah, and Jerusalem, and the goats and sheep and pomegranates of her native land. But now, in v 10, she is described in the most glorious terms -- a glory that is celestial: as the sun, moon, and stars. "There are also heavenly [celestial: AV] bodies and there are earthly [terrestrial: AV] bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another..." -- and even the celestial bodies, says Paul, have different degrees of glory amongst themselves -- "The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor. So will it be with the resurrection of the dead" (1Co 15:40-42).

THAT APPEARS: The verb "shaqaph" means "to look down upon [something] from a height" and is derived from the related noun "ceiling, roof, sky" (BDB, HAL). The AV, ASV, and RSV translate "looks forth", and the NEB "looks out". The verb is used of looking down over a plain or valley from the vantage point of a mountaintop (Num 21:20; 23:28; 1Sa 13:18); of God looking down from heaven (Psa 14:2); or of a person looking down below out of an upper window (Jdg 5:28; 2Sa 6:16; Pro 7:6).

LIKE THE DAWN: Heb "shahar". This is the millennial "dawn": "When one rules over men in righteousness, when he rules in the fear of God, he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth" (2Sa 23:3,4). The dawn is the first light of the "Sun of righteousness" (Mal 4:2). The dawn prophesies of the coming day; for it is a light that grows progressively brighter until the fullness of the noonday sun is visible. Likewise, "the path of the righteous [even now] is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter till the full light of day" (Pro 4:18). The bride in her brightness -- being born "from the womb of the dawn" (Psa 110:3) -- is not looking back, like Lot's wife (Gen 19:26; Luk 17:32), to a lost world about to be destroyed; rather, she is looking forth, or looking forward, to the fullness of the new day of God's approaching Kingdom!

FAIR AS THE MOON: The term "lebana" is not the ordinary word for moon; this word literally means "the white one", and is always used in reference to the moon. It is only used elsewhere in the OT in parallelism with the term ("chammah") which is used to designate the sun (Isa 24:23; 30:26), which likewise is not the ordinary term, but literally means "the hot one," emphasizing the heat of the sun (Job 30:28; Psa 19:6). Both of these terms, "the white one" and "the hot one", are metonymies, in which an attribute (ie, color and heat) are substituted for the subject itself. The white moon in contrast to the dark night sky captures one's attention, just as the red-hot sun in the afternoon sky is the center of attention during the day.

The moon is called the "faithful witness" in heaven (Psa 89:37), because of the predictability of its appearances and movements. Its very presence, and its reflected light from the sun, is a witness or testimony to the existence of the sun -- although at the moment the sun is not visible. Likewise, the ecclesia, like the moon, should reflect the light of Christ, who is the "sun", even when he is not visibly present on the earth: "And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord" (2Co 3:18).

BRIGHT: Heb "bar" = "pure". AV "clear"; RV "pure". Sw v 9: "favorite". Used of the "pure" in heart in Psa 24:4; 73:1. The Bride-City of New Jerusalem is "clear as crystal" (Rev 21:11), and its great street "like transparent glass" (Rev 21:21). In fact, "the city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. The nations will walk by its light" (Rev 21:23,24).

AS THE SUN: This signifies glorious noon-day brightness (Isa 30:25,26), indicative of the saints' immortality in the Kingdom: "The righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Mat 13:43).

MAJESTIC: See v 4n.

AS THE STARS IN PROCESSION: Literally, "an army with banners", reminding us of "Yahweh Sabbaoth" -- "the LORD of hosts, or armies". The NIV, however, following the previous sequence, interprets this as the stars -- the "host" or "army" of heaven -- in dazzling array! Both pictures are true, and combined here are especially beautiful: the saints will be "stars" and an "army" of stars: "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life... Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever" (Dan 12:2,3; cp Phi 2:15 also). "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war... The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean" (Rev 19:11,14).

The sun, moon, and stars -- created by God as "signs" in the heavens (Gen 1:14-16) -- taken collectively, may also symbolize the whole of the nation of Israel, and especially the sureness of God's covenant promises to them: see Jer 31:35,36; 33:25,26; Gen 37:9,10; cp Luk 21:25,26. Thus God points Abraham toward the heavens, and tells him: "Look up at the heavens and count the stars -- if indeed you can count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be" (Gen 15:5; cp Gen 22:17; Exo 32:13; Rom 4:18; Heb 11:12).

Some commentators see in the four figures here a progression of glory, as God reveals Himself to His people by successively brighter means; thus, the "dawn" is the patriarchal period, the "moon" the Mosaic period and the time of the prophets, the "sun" the evangelical or church age, and -- finally -- the full glory of the majestic "stars in procession" represents the Kingdom, or Millennial, Age.

"This vast host which will compose the Bride in the day of glory, will be dazzling in every way, because the glory of the Lord will shine on them and through them -- indeed more dazzling than the starry hosts ever have been in that clear Eastern climate.

"The sight of Jesus with his glory uncovered, struck Paul blind. We cannot conceive what a dazzling sight this host will be in this day, God's glory shining through them. No wonder Jesus is dazzled, especially as this multitude gaze on him with intense love and admiration" (Ask).

Song 6:11

Song 6:11,12: These verses could be the bride's response to the words of praise extended to her by queens and concubines (v 10). The young woman is almost "surprised" (when at last she finds him) that her "Beloved" (the "simple" shepherd) has been transformed into the great "Solomon" (the King of Peace). The shepherd has returned in his true character, as a great and mighty King! These verses are an echo of Song 3:6-11.

I WENT DOWN TO THE GROVE: Now with her companions, she recalls having followed her lover/husband down to his garden (Song 6:2).

THE GROVE OF NUT TREES: What kind of nut? The Heb "egoz" occurs only this once; some have translated "walnuts"; others suggest "almonds". Some say that in later Hebrew the word is a generic term for any and all nuts. Almonds were prominent in the tabernacle (Exo 25:33), and were symbolic of authority and resurrection (Num 17:8; Jer 1:12).

As to location, KD suggests that these orchards were at the garden-pools along the Solomonic aqueducts between Jerusalem and Etam, about 7 miles sw of Jerusalem on the Bethlehem-Hebron road.

I quote from the old Baptist John Gill's comment on nuts -- a portion which I believe has some spiritual merit in and of itself, but also gives a glimpse into the seriousness with which earlier Bible students approached God's revelation. Whether we go to the same lengths verbally or not, theirs is an earnestness and a diligence which we do well to consider. Gill wrote: "And by 'nuts', which grew in the garden, the church, true believers, may be designed; who, like them, have a mean outward appearance, but are valuable within, having the true grace of God in them; and because of their divers coverings, their outward... garments, the robe of Christ's righteousness, and the internal sanctification of the Spirit, which answer to the husk and shell, and the thin inward skin over the nut; and because of their hardiness in enduring afflictions and troubles, the shell may represent; and because of their best and most excellent parts being hidden, even grace, the hidden man of the heart, signified by the kernel, and which will not fully appear until the shell or tabernacle of the body is broken down; and because of their safety from harm and pollution, amidst the storms of afflictions, persecutions, and temptations, and pollutions of the world, the principle of grace, like the kernel, remains unhurt and undefiled; and because of the multitude of believers, united and cleaving together, which is delightful to behold, like clusters of nuts in a nut garden." Only ONE sentence, but it is a good one -- is it not?

TO LOOK AT THE NEW GROWTH IN THE VALLEY, TO SEE IF THE VINES HAD BUDDED OR THE POMEGRANATES WERE IN BLOOM: Perhaps, figuratively, to make sure that his love for her was still "in bloom"! It looks as though Song 7:12 is an expansion of this statement and idea.

On a different plane, inspecting the "gardens" and "vineyards" and "groves" is what Paul and Barnabas did, when they made their return visits to the ecclesias which they previously had founded: "Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, 'Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing' " (Acts 15:36).

The Kingdom-Age equivalent of this may be in mind in Song 7:11,12.

VINES: See Song 2:13n.

POMEGRANATES: See Song 4:3n.

Song 6:12

These phrases have been repointed and retranslated and reinterpreted in many ways [see final note below]; the sentence structure is fragmentary; and, judging by the commentaries, the meaning is still uncertain. One old commentator went so far as to take the first phrase of v 12: "Before I realized it", or more literally, "I did not know it"... as a wry comment by a later copyist on the remainder of the verse. As if to say, "I can't possibly understand this!" With considerable diffidence, then, the following is offered.

The bride may be speaking here of the way in which, at an earlier time, she had been unexpectedly and suddenly elevated to queenly dignity. Unexpectedly, she had been swept off her feet... to find herself riding in one of the King/General's war-chariots. She who had been seeking her lover, the simple shepherd, suddenly and surprisingly found herself in the company of a great king and leader of the army -- who IS her shepherd-lover! He had had, in effect, a dual identity! (And the fragmentary nature of this verse, as read in the Hebrew -- with all its difficulties of translation and interpretation -- may be intended to convey her shock and surprise.)

Perhaps this whole Song is intended to emphasize this point, among others: that the Good Shepherd with whom we fell in love, who loved us and laid down his life for us, will be found -- at the last -- to be as well the great King and Ruler of the World. The loving "husband" will also be the victorious "general" and all-powerful monarch: 'Here, my Beloved, is the wedding present I bring to you: all the nations of the earth! Our inheritance!"

Notice also the conjoining of these two disparate figures in the last book of the Bible: the bride/marriage/love/sacrifice figure and the general/war/battle/victory figure (Rev 19-21). Our Lord is both the "lamb" slain from the foundation of the world -- and the great "lion of the tribe of Judah"! Surely this is intended to echo the surprise of the young woman in the Song of Songs!

BEFORE I REALIZED IT, MY DESIRE SET ME AMONG THE ROYAL CHARIOTS OF MY PEOPLE: Or "among the chariots of Amminadab". The marginal alternative means "my willing (nadab) people (ammi)", with reference to Psa 110:3: "Your troops will be willing on your day of battle." The mention of "chariots" also evokes a military motif, and a kingdom setting; cp Psa 68:17: "The chariots of God are tens of thousands and thousands of thousands; the Lord has come from Sinai into his sanctuary."

"The difficulty of this verse has generated a plethora of different translations: 'Or ever I was aware, my soul made me [like] the chariots of Ammi-nadib' (KJV)... 'Before I desire hurled me on the chariots of my people, as their prince' (JB)... 'I did not know myself, she made me feel more than a prince reigning over the myriads of his people' (NEB), 'Before I knew it, my heart had made me the blessed one of my kinswomen' (NAB); 'Before I was aware, my soul set me [over] the chariots of my noble people' (NASB); 'Before I realized it, my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people' (NIV); '...among the chariots of Amminadab' (NIV mg); '...among the chariots of the people of the prince' (NIV mg); and 'Before I realized it, I was stricken with a terrible homesickness and wanted to be back among my own people' (NLT)" (NETn). The NET itself translates, "I was beside myself with joy! There please give me your 'myrrh', O daughter of my princely people." And the RSV translates, "Before I was aware, my fancy set me in a chariot beside my prince."

Song 6:13

Song 6:13 -- 7:9: These verses describe the wedding festival itself, with the "guests": the friends of the Bride (her companions, the virgins, the "daughters of Jerusalem") and the friends of the Groom (the angels? the mighty warriors?).

COME BACK, COME BACK, O SHULAMMITE; COME BACK, COME BACK, THAT WE MAY GAZE ON YOU!: Overcome with embarrassment at being the center of attention of the king's court, the young woman flees back to her home. (Symbolically: just as the Shulammite was fearful of meeting the glorious king face to face, so will the saints feel unworthy to meet their Lord.) But with the king's encouragement, she returns to her beloved, and the marriage feast proceeds.

The call "Come back!" may also have been, prophetically, the earlier call of God, so often repeated, to His people Israel: " 'Return, faithless Israel,' declares the LORD, 'I will frown on you no longer, for I am merciful,' declares the LORD, 'I will not be angry forever... Return, faithless people,' declares the LORD, 'for I am your husband. I will choose you -- one from a town and two from a clan -- and bring you to Zion" (Jer 3:12-14). "Return, O Israel, to the LORD your God. Your sins have been your downfall! Take words with you and return to the LORD. Say to him: 'Forgive all our sins and receive us graciously, that we may offer the fruit of our lips... 'I will heal their waywardness and love them freely, for my anger has turned away from them' " (Hos 14:1-4).

SHULAMMITE: This verse with its two occurrences is the only place where this term is found in the OT. (a) Some see in it a proper name -- "Shulammith"; but the use of the definite article before the second occurrence in this verse points toward a designation, and not a name. (b) Others see a reference to her place of origin and link it with Shunem, the home of Abishag, the young consort and last wife, as it were, of David (1Ki 1:1-4; cf Jos 19:18). In fact, some make Abishag out to be the main character of the Song of Songs on this basis (see Introduction: Other possible historical backgrounds). But there seems no reason for this, except a slight and inexact verbal connection. (c) Others see in it a feminine form of the title of "Solomon"; as his title suggests "the One who gives Peace", so her title may suggest "the one who received Peace", or "the Peace-crowned"; she has emerged from trial and conflict and war, and reached now a state of peace. On a spiritual level, she is the counterpart of the ideal "Solomon", without which he himself is incomplete (see Song of songs, NT theme). Since there have been advanced good reasons why "Solomon" is an idealized name in this Song of Songs, then it follows that "Shulammite" or "Shulammith" would be likewise idealized, as a title.

The primary work of the Lord Jesus Christ is to bring peace -- peace which is not merely the absence of war and conflict (although that is extremely important all by itself), but especially "peace with God", reconciliation and reunion and a joining together in the family of God, for all who in faith look to and trust in their Saviour: "How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring good tidings, who proclaim salvation, who say to Zion, 'Your God reigns!' " (Isa 52:7). "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid" (Joh 14:27). "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33). "Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand" (Rom 5:1,2). "His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near [Gentiles and Jews: "two companies"!] For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit" (Eph 2:15-18).

"Solomon" and "the Shulammite" -- the male and female aspects of "Peace with God" -- will be joined together in "Jerusalem" (signifying "the vision of Peace"); no other site for such a union would be appropriate. The true meaning and purpose of the Holy City, expressed down through seemingly endless ages of time, has never yet been realized. The city of peace has seen war after war after war, and has been torn asunder by such conflicts; yes, even as it is to this very day. But in this glorious day, when the Marriage of the Lamb is finally consummated, the city itself will find the peace it has been seeking for thousands of years! "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem: 'May those who love you be secure. May there be peace within your walls and security within your citadels.' For the sake of my brothers and friends, I will say, 'Peace be within you' " (Psa 122:6-8). Man and woman, God and man, Jew and Gentile, Saviour and saved, all at peace together in the City of Peace!

In like manner, the Age to Come will see both the Saviour (the "righteous Branch", the Shepherd-King like David!) AND his city ("New Jerusalem", symbolizing the "Bride" of Christ) called by the same name: "The LORD Our Righteousness" (Jer 23:6; 33:16) -- "Yahweh Tzidkenu". There will be Peace because there has been achieved Righteousness (Rom 3:21-24). Both the Redeemer and the Redeemed will have the same name, and it will be a joint name: "Solomon/Shulammith" and "He who becomes Righteous Ones". Even as Melchizedek combined the two offices, of king and priest, in one person; and even as he was "king of Peace (Salem)" because he was a "king of righteousness" (Melchi-zedek) and the Priest of the Most High God (Gen 14; Psa 110; 76:2; Heb 7)... so in Jesus, Christ, the antitypical Melchizedek (the perfect king and perfect priest), all the redeemed will find peace AND righteousness.

WHY WOULD YOU GAZE ON THE SHULAMMITE AS ON THE DANCE OF MAHANAIM?: It appears this question is asked by the king. Quite possibly "the dance of Mahanaim" indicates an old Syrian wedding custom: "Up to the end of the last [19th] century the country villages in Syria preserved an attractive custom which must have survived through long centuries. As darkness falls, the two groups of guests ('Mahanaim') [signifying "two companies" or "two armies": GB] -- the friends of the bridegroom (the angels?) and the friends of the bride (the virgins, her companions?) -- assemble round a great campfire; and in the light of it the bride performs a fire-dance, displaying all her beauty and grace and charm to the onlookers who vie with each other in extolling her loveliness" (HAW).

This dance was performed at night, with the flashing lights of a campfire, and illuminated further by the lamps of the virgins, the bride's companions (cp Mat 25:1-13). With such lights, and with the moon and stars overhead, in a clear and cloudless eastern sky, the further comparison of the bride herself to the heavenly bodies (v 10) seems most fitting. All that is majesty and dignity and grace are met in the beautiful Bride of the Lamb.

Likewise, so will those approved at the judgment seat of Christ be vindicated in the presence of the angels and the host of the redeemed. The final "dance" will be the dance of exceeding joy, at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb, who is the Lord of the Dance!

DANCE: Dance (Heb "kimcholat") was a divinely-approved form of rejoicing (Exo 15:20; 1Sa 18:6; Psa 30:11), although seemingly not practiced at all any more by believers. The Hebrew noun equivalent ("mecholah") denotes "to dance in a ring or circle" (cp Exo 15:20; 32:19; Jdg 11:34; 21:21; 1Sa 21:11; 29:5) (HAL). Perhaps the wedding guests all danced in a ring around the Shulammite, while her husband sang praises to her, extolling her beauty. (Or perhaps -- being "two companies" -- they danced in two rings, the one inside the other, and the Shulammite herself dancing inside both, one ring moving clockwise while the other moved counterclockwise. This sort of dance is sometimes seen even today in Middle Eastern settings.)

MAHANAIM: The name used by Jacob in Gen 32:1,2 -- when he was encouraged by an encounter with the angels. Mahanaim was a place located on the boundary of the tribe of Gad, not far from the river Jordan. Joshua appointed it as a residence for some of the Merarite Levites (Jos 21:34-38; 1Ch 6:77-80). After the death of Saul, Mahanaim became the seat of the brief reign of his son Ishbosheth (2Sa 2:8,12,29). David fled here from the revolt of Absalom (2Sa 17:24,27; 19:32; 1Ki 2:8). However, there seems to be no evidence for any particular dance associated with the place -- so the use of the same name here may be no more than a coincidence. Nevertheless, the association of this "Mahanaim" of Gen 32 with the heavenly host, and thus with God's care and protection for the faithful, and with Jacob's return to the Promised Land, after a long absence, to be blessed by God in the presence of his brother... all these aspects are so very suitable to the context of this dance, and this song!

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