Song of Solomon 1
Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
THE SONG OF SOLOMON.

The Song of Solomon.

BY

THE REV. ARCHDEACON AGLEN, M.A.

INTRODUCTION

TO

THE SONG OF SOLOMON.

THE “Song of Songs”—from its Latin name, “canticum canticorum,” known generally as Canticles—holds, without question, the first place among the puzzles of literature. Such uncertainty attaches to its subject, its purpose, its authorship, and even its form, that it would have occupied in any literature a place similar to that of Shakespeare’s Sonnets in our own. Born on the sacred soil of Palestine, and appearing among the Holy Scriptures, it offers the greater difficulty of explaining its position. The history of the interpretation of the book from the earliest times has been a long apology to account for its place in the sacred Canon.

For from beginning to end there is not a single word in it which suggests any connection with religion. It presents itself as a page of secular literature that has become bound up with sacred. Of the rest of the Bible the forty-fifth Psalm is most naturally compared with it, since it has marriage for its theme, and is called in the inscription “A Song of Loves.” But there in the space of seven verses the name of God occurs four times. Here it is not found at all. The word “Jah” indeed appears in the Hebrew (Song of Solomon 8:6), but only in its proverbial use as an expression of greatness. The forty-fifth Psalm, on the contrary, though on a secular subject, is as deeply religious in tone as any of those destined for Temple use. In the true Hebrew spirit everything is made subordinate to the master feelings of loyalty to the God Jehovah and reliance upon Him. In the Song of Songs not a trace of this feeling shows itself. There is not a single religious or spiritual sentiment of any kind, nor is there even the most distant allusion to any sacred rite or ordinance whatever. It is. only by the cabalistic method of the Rabbis that reference to the Mosaic system can be forced into the book. The Law, the Temple, the Sacrifices, are unknown. There is not the faintest echo of the worship of the sanctuary. The priest and Levite are silent, and the voice of the prophet is not heard.

Yet the absence of direct religious allusion is not the only, is not the principal, distinction which sets the Canticles in contrast with other parts of the Old Testament. Rather it is the absence of the religious intention which everywhere else controls Hebrew poetry. The poem stands alone as an instance of what Hebrew poetic genius could do when released from the religious purpose. Nature is no longer, as in the rest of sacred song, the veil of the Divine, admired and loved as the vesture, the dwelling of the Most High. The breath of spring, the flowers of the valley, the woods and hills, are here loved for their own sake. The universe is not now filled with the angels of Jehovah, “fulfilling His word.” The winds blowing from the north or the south, the streams flowing from the mountains, the lightning flash, “all are but ministers of love, and feed his sacred flame” (Song of Solomon 4:15-16; Song of Solomon 8:6). The lessons of the lily, so dear to this poet, are not those of the Sermon on the Mount—it is to him only what the daisy was to Chaucer, a sweet emblem of the “truth of womanhede.” The grass is a verdant couch for him (Song of Solomon 1:16), not, as to the author of Psalms 104, a suggestion of a wide and beneficent providence, or, as to Isaiah, an emblem of human frailty. It is not because God has planted them that he recalls the cedars of Lebanon, nor because their majestic beauty humbles human pride, but because their branches form a shady bower for meetings with his love. Had we the whole literature of Palestine, doubtless there would be found among it many other specimens of poetry which in distinction from that which is directly religious in tone we call profane. Israel must have given birth to “bards of passion and of mirth.” Love and wine no doubt had their praises sung in the gathering of the vintage and at the harvest festivals. The strangeness lies in the fact of the admission of a specimen of amatory poetry into the sacred collection. How did the vigilance of those who watched the formation of the Canon allow it?

The allegorical and typical methods of interpretation which began with the Talmud, and have continued in favour till comparatively recent times, supply one answer to this question. Modern criticism for the most part substitutes a profound moral purpose for a concealed sacred meaning, as the raison d’être of the poem. This introduction will only set forth the plan and purpose of the book as it can be gathered, without hypothesis, from itself.

1. The subject of the book is the sentiment of love.

2. The language is like that of all love poetry, passionate, sensuous, voluptuous, in some cases with Oriental licence passing the bounds of the Western standards of sobriety and propriety.

3. The lovers whose mutual passion is sung are wedded. This is evident, not alone from the use of the word khallah—see note, Song of Solomon 4:8—which, though its common employment is to designate a wife, might possibly in the language of love be employed (as sister in the same verse) as a term of strong endearment, but by quite a sufficient number of indications which, combined, leave no doubt on the point. (1) The deliberations of the heroine’s family as to what shall be done with her when at a marriageable age are introduced in his own manner by the poet in one of the reminiscences of which the book is composed (Song of Solomon 8:8 seq., with note), and such a turn given as to show beyond question that she married the man of her choice. (2) There is impressed on the whole poem a feeling of the superiority of wedded love over concubinage, and of monogamy over polygamy. (3) The glowing pictures of Solomon’s marriage (Song of Solomon 3:6 seq.) are introduced evidently either as a foil, to set off the simpler yet greater happiness of the poet, or because this very marriage is the actual subject of the poem. (4) Lastly, the only class of literature with which the poem can be naturally compared is the epithalamium. Many points of analogy with compositions of this class are noticed in the notes, and the one conjecture which is almost irresistible is that first started by Bossuet, that it was actually composed for such a purpose, and was a specimen of a species of literature common in Palestine.

4. Certain obstacles that lay in the way of this union, and which constancy and devotion succeeded in surmounting, furnish the incidents of the piece.

5. There is a kind of unity in the book. The lovers are the same throughout, but the unity is of feeling, not of form. The poem has the appearance of a collection of scattered pieces. Certain marks of division are self-evident; e.g., at Song of Solomon 2:7; Song of Solomon 3:5; Song of Solomon 4:7; Song of Solomon 5:1, and Song of Solomon 8:4. No commentator makes less than five breaks.

6. The poem does not consist of one continuous narrative, nor exhibit a plot progressively developed, but the same story of courtship is repeated again and again in different forms, with the same conclusion.[23] In one case the actual form is repeated with expansions (comp. Song of Solomon 3:1 seq. with Song of Solomon 5:2 seq.). Descriptions, images, phrases, refrains, repeat themselves.

[23] This may seem an arbitrary assumption in the face of the attempts of so many eminent scholars to present the poem as a regular drama, but the unsatisfactory nature of all such attempts is a sufficient testimony to the fact that they have overlooked the plain indications given by the book itself.

7. The story is varied by the use of dialogue. Different speakers can be plainly recognised; e.g., a bridegroom in the character of a shepherd (whether real or assumed, as in so much pastoral poetry, is uncertain), a bride, the Shulamite, as a shepherdess, various maidens, the brothers of the bride. Others are conjectured, and the poem has frequently been arranged as a drama, with regular acts and scenes. All that is certain is that the author, as a matter of form, puts his sentiments into the mouth of different persons, instead of writing in his own person, and that his work is thoroughly dramatic in feeling.

These seven indications are clear and apparently beyond conjecture. Whether the writer had a concealed purpose beyond that of telling his story, whether it is his own passion which he paints so feelingly, or only an ideal representation of love, whether the scenes described are actual or imaginary, the characters historical or fictitious, all this will continue to be a matter of dispute; but it will never be questioned that there is in the Song of Solomon the delineation of a true and passionate love, a constancy tempted and tried, but triumphant over all obstacles, and proof against all seduction, “strong as death, inexorable as Hades,” and that the representation is given in verse of such exquisite melody and poetry of such blended sweetness and power, that it must, apart from all other merits, rank by these alone among the highest lyric attempts of the world.

But it has assumed a place far higher. Not only has it a place in the sacred canon, but it has, in the mystic sense attached to it, been regarded as the most sacred book there. Its first commentator, R. Akiba, who lived in the first century of our era, said of it, “The whole world is not worthy of the day in which this sublime song was given to Israel; for all the Scriptures are holy, but this sublime Song is most holy.” On the other hand, a recent commentator, E. Reuss (Le Cantique des Cantiques dit de Salomon, Paris, 1879), hesitates to include it in his commentary on the Bible, lest his readers should be shocked at a book so totally different from all the rest of Scripture, and conceived in a spirit, if not anti-religious, yet positively strange to all religious sentiments. It was no doubt the shock experienced by pious minds that first suggested the allegorical method of interpretation, which in spite of the uncompromising verdict of criticism will probably continue to keep its hold on the book. As Renan says, “the mystical sense is false philosophically, but it is true religiously. It corresponds to the great sanctification of love inaugurated by Christianity.” Association consecrates no less than dedication. Words, though in themselves indifferent, when set to sublime music partake of its inspiration. So the Canticles can never, under any interpretation, altogether lose the sacred power impressed upon them by generations of pious minds. But apart from an assumed religious character, the poem has its proper place in the Bible. The passion of love is ennobling according as it partakes of the moral sentiment. There have been writers on the Song who have been unable to discover any trace of this controlling influence, “but from beginning to end only marks of folly, vanity, and looseness” (Whiston). Such a view loses sight of the Eastern origin of the poem, and neglects the undoubted contrast displayed throughout between the meretricious manners of the harem and the purity of a constant passion, between the evils of polygamy and the blessings attending the unalterable attachment of two loving souls. It is not a taint of voluptuousness that can rob of its principal worth such a representation of love as culminates in the magnificent description in Ecclesiastes 12:6-7 of chapter 8, and this representation is alone enough to justify the admission of the Song into the Canon; for, in the language of Bunsen, “There would be something wanting in the Bible, if there was not found there an expression of the deepest and the strongest of all human feelings.”

EXCURSUS ON NOTES TO SONG OF SOLOMON.

EXCURSUS I.—ON THE DATE AND AUTHORSHIP OF THE SONG.

THE title and Rabbinical tradition are in favour of the Solomonic Authorship. But the value of the evidence of the title is not greater than that of the titles of the Psalms, which need the confirmation of internal evidence before they are accepted as authority. Beyond this there is no external evidence whatever.

INTERNAL EVIDENCE:—I. For the Solomonic Authorship.

(1) The knowledge displayed of plants and animals, and other productions of nature, which is in accordance with 1Kings 4:33.

(2) The evidence of wide acquaintance with foreign things, products of the East, &c, such as we know Solomon possessed; add to this the decidedly secular tone and feeling, a tone and feeling belonging only to this age.

(3) Similarity with certain parts of the Book of Proverbs. Comp. Song of Solomon 5:6, with Proverbs 1:28Song of Solomon 4:12, with Proverbs 5:15Song of Solomon 4:5, with Proverbs 5:19Song of Solomon 8:7, with Proverbs 6:34-35Song of Solomon 6:9, with Proverbs 31:28; also for analogies of diction comp. in the Hebrew, Song of Solomon 4:9, with Proverbs 1:9Song of Solomon 4:11, with Proverbs 5:3Song of Solomon 1:2, with Proverbs 27:6Song of Solomon 7:2, with Proverbs 25:12Song of Solomon 4:14, with Proverbs 7:17.

(4) The language is such as we should expect from the Solomonic age. It belongs to the flourishing period of the Hebrew tongue. Highly poetical, vigorous and fresh, it has no traces of the decay which manifested itself in the declining period of Israel and Judah. All the Aramean colouring it has can be explained by the hypothesis of a northern origin (see below).

No one of these indications is conclusive, and all together amount to no more than a strong probability in favour of a date not far removed from the Solomonic era. They certainly make against the extreme view of Grätz, who finding, as he thinks, in the book, a number of words of Greek origin, brings its date down to the third or second century before our era. Others, also on linguistic grounds, have referred it to the post-exile times.

II. The view most generally accepted at present is that the poem was the work of a poet in the northern kingdom, composed not long after the separation of the two kingdoms, probably about the middle of the tenth century before Christ.

The following are among the chief reasons for accepting such a view.

(1) In evidence of its northern birthplace, are the frequent and almost exclusive mention of localities in the north; the author’s strongly expressed dislike of the luxury and expense of Solomon’s court, which necessitated the exactions that so contributed to the schisms between the two kingdoms (1Kings 12:4, seq.; 2Chronicles 10:1, seq.); the entire absence of all allusions to the temple and its worship; the exaltation of Tirzah to an equal place with Jerusalem as a typo of beauty (6:4); dialectical peculiarities, which can only be accounted for on this hypothesis, or on the untenable one of an extremely late composition; the comparison with Hosea, undoubtedly a northern writer, which shows that the two authors “lived in the same circle of images, and that the same expressions were familiar to them” (Renan, Le Cantique des Cantiques, p. 112, referring to Hitzig, Das Hohelied, pp. 9, 10).

This fact of a northern origin established, it follows almost inevitably that the date of the poem must be placed somewhere in the middle of the tenth century, for it was only during the period from 975 to 924 B.C. that Tirzah occupied the position of northern capital (see Note ad loc.); and the whole tone and spirit of the book, together with its treatment of Solomon, is what we should expect at a time not far removed from the rupture of the two kingdoms. As yet tradition had not exaggerated the splendour of the Solomonic era: in the references to Solomon’s guard, his harem, and his arsenal, the figures are not extravagant, as in the comparatively late accounts in Kings and Chronicles. A crowd of smaller indications point the same way, e.g., the mention of Heshbon, which had ceased to be an Israelitish town by Isaiah’s time (Isaiah 15:8). The mention of the Tower of David, as still possessing a garrison (Song of Solomon 7:4, and Song of Solomon 4:4), the allusion to Pharaoh’s equipages have a similar tendency; while it is almost inconceivable that Solomon himself or any author, while that monarch was alive, and his rule all-powerful, could have represented him and his court in such an unfavourable light as they appear in the song. But it is exactly the representation we should look for in a poet of the northern kingdom in the early years after it revolted against the tyranny of the Davidic dynasty.

EXCURSUS II.—ON THE FORM AND PURPOSE OF THE POEM.

The dramatic feeling was not altogether strange to the Hebrews, as we see from the Book of Job, the sixty-third chapter of Isaiah the concluding chapters of Micah, and certain of the Psalms. And there is undoubtedly a great deal of the dramatic element in the “Song of Songs.” Two characters at least speak, a bride and a bridegroom, and as early as the Alexandrian codex of the LXX. translation the dramatic character was recognised, the words “bride” and “bridegroom” being in many instances prefixed to denote the persons speaking. Following out the suggestions thus given by the poem itself, a great many commentators have arranged it as a regular drama, and suppose that it may actually have been put on the stage, but this hypothesis can only be supported by a long succession of other hypotheses. M. Renan, for example, thinks that all the actors must have been present on the stage at once, but always unobservant of what was going on outside their own rôle. And in fact the almost infinite diversity of conjecture hazarded in support of the dramatic theory and the tremendous liberties taken with the text by its advocates go far to disprove it altogether. But it is not necessary, on the other hand, to have recourse to a theory like Herder’s, that the Song is a collection of different love-poems selected and arranged by Solomon. The pieces have a certain unity of subject and style. This is now generally admitted, but they are so loosely connected that they might easily be detached, and a new arrangement made without altering the sense and purpose. Indeed various suggestions of such alterations have at times been made.

The division we accept gives the following lyrical pieces, which we regard not, strictly speaking, as separate poems, but as stanzas of the same poem, somewhat loosely strung together, and not arranged after any definite artistic method.

{

I

Song of Solomon 1:2-8.

II.

Song of Solomon 1:9 to Song of Solomon 2:7.

III.

Song of Solomon 2:8-17.

IV.

Song of Solomon 3:1-5.

V.

Song of Solomon 3:6-11.

{

VI.

Song of Solomon 4:1-7.

VII.

Song of Solomon 4:8-11.

VIII.

Song of Solomon 4:12 to Song of Solomon 5:1.

IX.

Song of Solomon 5:2 to Song of Solomon 6:3.

X.

Song of Solomon 6:4-9.

XI.

Song of Solomon 6:10-13.

XII.

Song of Solomon 7:1-10.

XIII.

Song of Solomon 7:11 to Song of Solomon 8:4.

XIV.

Song of Solomon 8:5-7.

XV.

Song of Solomon 8:8-10.

XVI.

Song of Solomon 8:11-12.

XVII.

Song of Solomon 8:13-14.

The break at the end of II., IV., and XIII. is marked by the formula, “I charge thee,” &c; at the end of III. and VI. by another formula, expressing the return of night, “until the day breaks,” &c, properly “until the day cools,” i.e., the evening. Similarly the emphatic declaration, “I am my beloved’s,” &c, which ends the pieces IX. and XII. An abrupt change of situation sometimes indicates the beginning of a new stanza, as at end of I., VI., and XIV., or a question marks a new departure, as at the beginning of V. and XI. Some of the pieces, as indicated by the brackets, are more closely related than others. But in every case, without exception, there is described, or at least implied, under figures transparent enough, the complete union of the wedded pair. In fact each piece has exactly, whether short or long, whether more or less elaborate, the same general character and dénoûment. Each tells from one or other point of view the story of a courtship, ending in the complete and happy union of the lovers. The book is a series of love-poems, written, or supposed to be written, by a husband for or to his own wife, to recall to her, in the midst of their perfect union, the difficulties their love had encountered, the obstacles thrown in its way, its devoted constancy on both sides, and ultimate conquest over every hindrance.

There is a further conjecture which the form of the poem suggests, it is that these love-poems, by whomsoever originally composed, were arranged and adapted for the celebration of marriages, since, as pointed out in the Notes, maidens and young men vie in praising, these the bridegroom’s beauty, those the bride’s. But whether arranged for any one particular marriage or to be used at such events generally, there is no indication. The daughters of Jerusalem and the friends of the bridegroom may actually have been introduced to sing these praises, or they may have only been present in fancy; we have no positive indication to guide us. Bossuet is really to be credited with this suggestion, though his division into seven portions to suit a period of seven days, the ordinary duration of an Eastern wedding, is somewhat too arbitrary. His conjecture in its general outline is accepted by Renan as well as by our own scholar Lowth; the former even finds confirmation of the Epithalamium hypothesis in the expression of Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 25:10, “the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride.” The analogy of modern Eastern weddings is a still stronger confirmation of this conjecture, that the Song was employed as an Epithalamium, if not composed in that character. It also helps to explain what else would seem extravagant in the poem and bordering on the licentious. The manners of many countries allow at weddings a relaxation of the ordinary rules of propriety. It was so in Palestine. “The evening feast was one of boisterous merriment, almost amounting to rioting. There were regular joke-makers; anything however false might be said of the bride, and to make the gravest Rabbi, even the President of the Sanhedrim, sing or dance, seemed a special object of delight” (“Marriage among the Ancient Hebrews,” by the Rev. Dr. Edersheim, Bible Educator, Vol. IV., p. 270). In the remarks on the Song of Songs, by Dr. J. J. Wetstein, given by Delitsch in an Appendix to his Commentary, many illustrations of the poem are adduced from modern Bedouin customs, among others, that of the Wasf, or a description of the personal perfections and beauty of the young couple, of which a specimen is actually given, very analogous in character and imagery to Song of Solomon 7:2-6. But it is not only the East which offers analogy. Love and its language are necessarily the same all the world over. Spenser’s famous Epithalamium helps us to understand the Song of Solomon.

As to the versification of the Song of Songs, it contains examples of almost all the different forms of parallelism, the name given to indicate that balance of clause against clause, either in regard to construction or sense, which constitutes the chief element of Hebrew rhythm. But the greater part of it is free even of the very lax rules which seem to have guided the poets of Israel. We may compare them to those irregular measures in which so many modern poets love to express their sweet and wayward fancies, in which the ear alone is the metrical law. Had the Song but the completeness given by rhyme, it would want no. thing of the richness of sound of the finest pieces of Tennyson’s Maud. (See Bible Educator, Vol. III., p. 48.)

The song of songs, which is Solomon's.
Song of Solomon 1:1 contains the title of the book: literally, A song of the songs (Heb., Shîr hashîrîm), which to Solomon, i.e., of which Solomon is author. This has been understood as meaning “one of Solomon’s songs,” with allusion to the 1,005 songs (1Kings 4:32) which that monarch composed. But when in Hebrew a compound idea is to be expressed definitely, the article is prefixed to the word in the genitive. So here not merely “a song of songs” (comp. holy of holies), i.e., “a very excellent song,” but “The song of songs,” i.e., the most excellent or surpassing song. For the question of authorship and date of poem, see Excursus I.

Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth: for thy love is better than wine.
(2) Love.—Marg., loves, i.e., caresses or kisses, as the parallelism shows. The LXX., followed by the Vulg., read breasts (probably dadaï instead of dôdaï), the origin of many fanciful interpretations: e.g., the two breasts = the two Testaments which breathe love, the first promising, the second revealing Christ. The reading is condemned by the obvious fact that the words are not spoken to but by a woman, the change of persons, from second to third, not implying a change of reference or speaker, but being an enallage frequent in sacred poetry. (Comp. Deuteronomy 32:15; Isaiah 1:29, &c) Instead of “let him kiss me,” many prefer the reading “let him give me to drink,” which certainly preserves the metaphor (comp. Song of Solomon 7:9), which is exactly that of Ben Jonson’s:—

“Or leave a kiss but in the cup,

And I’ll not ask for wine.”

Because of the savour of thy good ointments thy name is as ointment poured forth, therefore do the virgins love thee.
(3) Because of the savour.—The general sense of this verse is plain, though grammatical difficulties render the literal translation doubtful. It should be divided into three clauses, not into two only, as in the Authorised Version: “Because of their odour (or, with regard to their fragrance) thy ointments (are) sweet.” There is no authority for taking riach = sense of smell, or we should naturally translate “to the smell thy ointments are sweet.” The rendering of the next clause, “thy name is (like) oil poured forth,” is to be preferred, though it necessitates making either shemen = oil, or shem = name, feminine, for which there is no example, since the alternative, which takes tûrak = poured forth, second masculine instead of third feminine, is harsh: “Thou art poured forth like oil with regard to thy name.” The image is an obvious one (comp. Ecclesiastes 7:1). There is a play on words in shemen and shemka.

Virgins.—Heb., alamôth; young girls. (See Note, Song of Solomon 6:8.) Those who understand Solomon to be the object of the desire expressed in these verses understand by alamôth “the ladies of the harem.” In the original these three verses plainly form a stanza of five lines

Draw me, we will run after thee: the king hath brought me into his chambers: we will be glad and rejoice in thee, we will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.
(4) The king hath brought me.—The dramatic theory of the poem (see Excursus II.) has been in a great measure built up on interpretations given to this verse. We understand it as a repetition, in another form, of the protestation of love made in Song of Solomon 1:1-3. Like them, it forms a stanza of five lines. The clause, “the king hath brought,” &c, is—in accordance with a common Hebrew idiom, where an hypothesis is expressed by a simple perfect or future without a particle (comp. Proverbs 22:29; Proverbs 25:16)—to be understood, “Even should the king have brought me into his chambers, yet our transport and our joys are for thee alone; even then we would recall thy caresses, those caresses which are sweeter than wine.”

The upright love thee.—Marg., they love thee uprightly; Heb., meysharîm, used in other places either (1) in the abstract, “righteousness,” &c, Psalm 17:2; Psalm 99:4; Proverbs 8:6 (so LXX. here); or (2) adverbially, Psalm 58:2; Psalm 75:3 (and Song of Solomon 7:9 below; but there the Lamed prefixed fixes the adverbial use). The Authorised Version follows the Vulg., Recti diligunt te, and is to be preferred, as bringing the clause into parallelism with the concluding clause of Song of Solomon 1:3 : “Thou who hast won the love of all maidens by thy personal attractions, hast gained that of the sincere and upright ones by thy character and thy great name.”

I am black, but comely, O ye daughters of Jerusalem, as the tents of Kedar, as the curtains of Solomon.
(5) As the tents of Kedari.e., Dark as the Kedareen tents of black goats’ hair, beautiful as the royal pavilions with their rich hangings. For a similar style of parallelism, comp. Isaiah 15:3 : “On her housetops, and to her open streets, every one howleth, descendeth with weeping.” For Kedar, see Genesis 25:13.

As the poet puts this description of the lady’s complexion into her own mouth, we must understand it as a little playful raillery, which is immediately redeemed by a compliment. It also prepares the way for the reminiscence of an interesting passage in her early life. See next verse.

Look not upon me, because I am black, because the sun hath looked upon me: my mother's children were angry with me; they made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept.
(6) Look not . . .—i.e., with disdain, as in Job 41:34 (Heb. 26).

Black.—Literally, blackish.

The sun . . .—The word translated looked upon occurs only twice besides (Job 20:9; Job 28:7). The “all-seeing sun” is a commonplace of poetry; but here with sense of scorching. The heroine goes on to explain the cause of her exposure to the sun. Her dark complexion is accidental, and cannot therefore be used as an argument that she was an Egyptian princess, whose nuptials with Solomon are celebrated in the poem.

Mother’s childreni.e., brothers, not necessarily step-brothers, as Ewald and others. (Comp. Psalm 50:20; Psalm 69:8.) The reference to the mother rather than the father is natural in a country where polygamy was practised.

Mine own vineyard . . .—The general sense is plain. While engaged in the duties imposed by her brothers, she had been compelled to neglect something—but what? Some think her beloved, and others her reputation; Ginsburg, literally, her own special vineyard. But the obvious interpretation connects the words immediately with the context. Her personal appearance had been sacrificed to her brothers’ severity. While tending their vines she had neglected her own complexion.

Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?
(7) Where thou feedest . . . thy flock . . . For why should I be . . .?—The marginal reading, that is veiled, follows the LXX. in rendering the Hebrew literally. But it has been found somewhat difficult to assign a meaning to a literal translation. The suggestions=unknown (Ewald), veiled as a harlot (Delitzsch, &c; comp. Genesis 38:15), fainting (Gesenius), seem all wide of the mark, since the question only refers to the danger of missing her beloved through ignorance of his whereabouts. A transposition of two letters would give a word with a sense required = erring, wandering about, a sense, indeed, which old Rabbinical commentators gave to this word itself in Isaiah 22:16 (Authorised Version, cover); and probably the idea involved is the obvious one that a person with the head muffled up would not find her way easily, as we might say, “Why should I go about blindfold?”

The Rabbinical interpretation of this verse is a good instance of the fanciful treatment the book has received: “When the time came for Moses to depart, he said to the Lord, ‘It is revealed to me that this people will sin and go into captivity; show me how they shall be governed and dwell among the nations whose decrees are oppressive as the heat; and wherefore is it they shall wander among the flocks of Esau and Ishmael, who make them idols equal to thee as thy companions?’”

If thou know not, O thou fairest among women, go thy way forth by the footsteps of the flock, and feed thy kids beside the shepherds' tents.
(8) If thou know not.—With this verse one subsection of the poem plainly ends. Most of the supporters of the dramatic theory make Song of Solomon 1:9 begin the second scene of Act I.; and many of them understand this reply to the heroine’s question as an ironical allusion on the part of the court ladies to her low birth. We take it rather as one of the many playful ways in which the poet either recalls or arranges meetings with the object of his passion (comp. Song of Solomon 2:10-14). In the first seven verses he imagines her sighing for him, and in his absence, fancying, as lovers do, causes which might keep them asunder or make him forsake her, such as the loss of her complexion, her abduction into a royal harem; and then in Song of Solomon 1:8 shows how groundless her fears are by playfully suggesting a well known way of finding him.

I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
(9) Company of horses.—So Vulg., equitatus, but Heb. susah more properly = mare, as in LXX., Τῇ ἵππῳ μου. The ground of the comparison is variously understood. Some, offended at the comparison of female beauty to that of a horse, think the rich trappings of a royal equipage suggested it, while on the other hand, the mention of the caparisoned steed may have suggested the reference to the lady’s ornaments. But Anacreon (60) and Theocritus (Idyll xviii. 30, 31), and also Horace (Ode iii. 11), have compared female with equine beauty; and an Arab chief would not hesitate to prefer the points of his horse to the charms of his mistress.

Chariots.—The plural shows that the image is general, and with no reference to any one particular equipage. Pharaoh’s teams are selected as pre-eminently fine by reputation. The supposition that there is a reference to some present from the Egyptian to the Israelite monarch is gratuitous. The kings of Israel bought their horses and chariots at a high price (1Kings 10:29).

Thy cheeks are comely with rows of jewels, thy neck with chains of gold.
(10) Rows.—Heb., tôrim, from tûr = went round; hence = either circlets or strings of jewels, or the round beads themselves of which necklaces, &c, were made.

Chains.—Literally, perforated, i.e., beads, or possibly coins strung together. “Arab ladies, particularly the married, are extravagantly fond of silver and gold ornaments, and they have an endless variety of chains, bracelets, anklets, necklaces, and rings. It is also quite common to see thousands of piastres, in various coins, round the forehead and suspended from the neck, and covering a system of network, called suffa, attached to the back of the head-dress, which spreads over the shoulders and falls down to the waist” (Thomson, The Land and the Book).

Olearius (quoted by Harmer) says:—“Persian ladies use as head-dress two or three rows of pearls, which pass round the head and hang down the cheeks, so that their faces seem set in pearls.” Lady Mary Montague describes the Sultana Hafitan as wearing round her head-dress four strings of pearls of great size and beauty.

We will make thee borders of gold with studs of silver.
(11) Borders.—The same word translated rows in preceding verse. In the dramatic theory, this verse put into Solomon’s mouth takes the form of a seductive offer of richer and more splendid ornaments to dazzle the rustic maiden; but no theory is necessary to explain a fond lover’s wish to adorn the person of his beloved.

While the king sitteth at his table, my spikenard sendeth forth the smell thereof.
(12) While the king sitteth.—There is no need to imagine a scene where the monarch, having failed in his attempt to allure the shepherdess by fine offers, retires to his banquet, leaving her to console herself with the thoughts of her absent shepherd love. As in Song of Solomon 1:2 the poet makes his mistress prefer his love to wine, so here she prefers the thought of union with him to all the imagined pleasures of the royal table.

Spikenard—Heb., nerd—is exclusively an Indian product, procured from the Nardostachys jatamansi, a plant of the order Valerianaceœ. It was imported into Palestine at a very early period. The perfume is prepared by drying the shaggy stem of the plant (see Tristram’s Nat. Hist. of Bible, pp. 484, 485). There is a sketch of the plant in Smith’s Bibl. Dict.

A bundle of myrrh is my wellbeloved unto me; he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
(13) A bundle of myrrh.—The mention of perfumes leads the poet to a new adaptation of the language of flowers. For myrrh (Heb., môr), see Genesis 37:25. For various personal and domestic uses, see Psalm 45:8; Proverbs 7:17; Proverbs 5:13. Ginsburg quotes from the Mischna to prove the custom, alluded to in the text, of wearing sachets, or bottles of myrrh, suspended from the neck. Tennyson’s exquisite little song in The Miller’s Daughter suggests itself as a comparison:—

“And I would be the necklace,

And all day long to fall and rise

Upon her balmy bosom

With her laughter or her sighs.

And I would lie so light, so light,

I scarce should be unclasped at night.”

My beloved is unto me as a cluster of camphire in the vineyards of Engedi.
(14) Camphire.—Marg., cypress: Heb., côpher. There is no doubt of the identity of this plant with the Henna of the Arabs, the Lawsonia aïba or inermis of botanists. Robinson found it growing in abundance at En-gedi (where alone it is found), and suggested the identification (see his Note, Researches, ii. 211). Tristram describes it thus: “It is a small shrub, eight or ten feet high, with dark back, pale green foliage, and clusters of white and yellow blossoms of a powerful fragrance. Not only is the perfume of the flower highly prized, but a paste is made of the dried and pounded leaves, which is used by the women of all ranks and the men of the wealthier classes to dye the palms of the hands, the soles of the feet, and the nails” (Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 339). (Comp. also Thomson, The Land and the Book, p. 602, who, however, prefers to identify côpher with some specially favourite kind of grapes, but without giving any sufficient reason.) For En-gedi, see Joshua 15:62. It is the only place in Southern. Palestine mentioned in this poem, the other allusions (except Heshbon, Song of Solomon 7:4, which is in Moab) being to northern localities.

Behold, thou art fair, my love; behold, thou art fair; thou hast doves' eyes.
(15) Behold, thou art fair.—The song is now transferred to a male speaker—the advocates for the dramatic theory cannot agree whether Solomon or the shepherd; and no wonder, since the poem gives no indication.

My love.—Marg., companion, LXX. πλησίον, in Heb. rayati, is used for the female, dôdi being her usual term for her lover. Beyond this the terms of endearment used cannot safely be pressed for any theory.

Thou hast doves’ eyes.—Literally, thine eyes are doves’. The same image is repeated (Song of Solomon 4:1), and adopted in return by the heroine (Song of Solomon 5:12). The point of the comparison is either quickness of glance or generally tenderness and grace. The dove, a favourite with all poets as an emblem of love, is especially dear to this bard. Out of about fifty mentions of the bird in Scripture, seven occur in the short compass of this book. For general account of the dove in Palestine, see Psalm 55:6, and for particular allusions Notes below to Song of Solomon 2:11-12; Song of Solomon 2:14. (Comp. Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, v. 3:—

“Or those doves’ eyes

That can make gods forsworn.”

Tennyson’s Maud:

“Do I hear her sing as of old,

My bird with the shining head,

My own dove, with her tender eye?”)

Behold, thou art fair, my beloved, yea, pleasant: also our bed is green.
(16) Our bed is green.—The heroine replies in similar terms of admiration, and recalls “the happy woodland places” in which they were wont to meet.

The beams of our house are cedar, and our rafters of fir.
(17) Rafters.—Marg., galleries (comp. Song of Solomon 7:5); LXX., φατνώματα; Vulg., laquearia; Heb., rahît, from rahat = run, flow: hence (1) a gutter, from the water running down (Gen. 3:38); (2) a curl, from its flowing down the neck (Song of Solomon 7:5—Hebrews 6); (3) here rafters, or roof beams, from their spreading overhead. “Our couch was the green grass, the arches of our bower the cedar branches, and its rafters the firs.” Others read rachitim, which is explained as a transposition for charitim = turned work. But the thought is plainly connected with the woods, not with a gorgeous house. For cedar see 1Kings 4:33.

Fir.—Heb., berôth (Aramaic form of berôsh), a tree often mentioned in connection with cedar as an emblem of majesty, &c. (Ezekiel 31:8; Isaiah 37:24; Isaiah 60:13). “The plain here has evidently been buried deep under sand long ages ago, precisely as at Beirût, and here are the usual pine forests growing upon it (Beirût is by some derived from berûth). These are the finest specimens we have seen in Palestine, though every sandy ridge of Lebanon and Hermon is clothed with them. In my opinion it is the Heb. berôsh, concerning which there is so much confusion in the various translations of the Bible . . . the generic name for the pine, of which there are several varieties in Lebanon. Cypress is rarely found there, but pine everywhere, and it is the tree used for beams and rafters (Thomson, The Land and Book, p. 511). The Pinus maritima and the Aleppo pine are the most common, the latter being often mistaken for the Scotch fir. (See Tristram, Nat. Hist. of Bible, p. 353, &c.)

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers

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Ecclesiastes 12
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