As we will discover in looking at the structure of Song of Songs 5:2-6:3, Song of Songs 4:1-5:1 is likely a single unit. We examined Song of Songs 4:1-7 in the previous post, noting that it has close ties with what follows. The analysis below supports that contention. Nevertheless, that waṣf and the one in the unit of Song 5:2-6:3 remind us that the man only has eyes for his wife and she only has eyes for him. And the eyes of love lead her to describe him in nearly super-human terms. This is not because the wife is the church and her husband is Jesus, though marriage is a parable pointing to that relationship, but because the Song values marriage — as the previous post clearly showed. It is important to emphasize once again that the Song praises and values sex in the context of marriage. The reason this is so important is that our default in conservative evangelical circles is to talk about sex in negative terms — to stress what we are against. The Song, however, stresses what we are for and gives, therefore, a positive alternative to the ways of the world. The fact that we have failed to help young people to imagine the pleasure that comes from wise living and to offer positive examples to our young people is the reason that we are in such trouble as a society now.
Song of Songs 4:8-9
The primary reason for dividing Song of Songs 4:1-7 from the text that follows was simply that it is a waṣf. In other words, it was an identifiable unit marked by a particular sub-genre. However, it is quite possible that Song 4:1-7 is part of a larger song. The description of the woman then moves to the next two verses and then to the description of the woman’s garden.
Those next two verses (Song 4:8-9) begin with the man’s invitation to the woman. As Longman says, ”It is important to remind ourselves again that this is poetry and not a narrative. We are not to think that the woman is literally roaming the wilderness crags of the northern mountains. She is not living with the animals. The distant, dangerous location signifies her present distance from the man. He wants her to join him in a place of safety, namely, his embrace.” Marvin Pope’s commentary tells us that Lebanon refers to two mountain ranges in the north, which Amana, Senir, and Hermon are all in these mountain ranges. Hermon is the oft-mentioned mountain in the extreme north of Israel, which Longman tells us is ”often snow-capped.” In any case, these mountains are at a great distance from the man and the mention of wild animals show they are not safe.
The second verse in this part we can see resonates with Song 4:1-7. Here he says, ”You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace” (Song 4:9). The mention of the eyes and necklace are familiar in particular. Both times the Hebrew uses a verb created from the noun meaning ”heart.” The picture has to do with his emotions running wild. Thus Longman renders the phrase, ”you drive me crazy.”
He calls her ”my sister” and ”my bride.” The latter term, which was also mentioned in the previous verse, brings in the context of marriage. The former term raises more questions. Many translations avoid saying ”my sister” to avoid the idea of incest. However, in the ANE ”sister” was a common term of endearment. In other words, it does not have in mind an actual brother and sister blood relationship. Instead, it simply means that they have a very close relationship. This in contrast with her distance from him.
Song of Songs 4:10-5:1
Longman suggests then that we take Song of Songs 4:10-5:1 as the next poem or as a continuation of the previous parts (Song 4:1-7, 8-9). The connections between the preceding text and what follows are clear from the very start. He again calls her ”my sister, my bride” and uses the word translated ”beautiful” and the text that follows continues the description of this beautiful woman.
Here the senses of taste and smell are first in view. Song 4:11 mentions her lips and tongue – her lips drip nectar and honey and milk are under her tongue. Longman notes Proverbs 5:3-6 (where the immoral woman’s lips are sweet as honey) and contrasts that with this passage since there is no hint of deception here in this song. The other half of the verse brings in the sense of smell again (cf. Song 4:10 too), but this time it is the smell of her clothing.
The rest of the song brings in the metaphor of a garden with a fountain. One way to think of this is as a continuation from the waṣf of Song of Songs 4:1-7. The earlier description started at the head and went down to focus in on the breasts, but this one focuses further down her body. The description of this garden as locked then has to do with her virginity. She is again called ”my sister, my bride” reminding us of the context of marriage. Thus the song is celebrating this newly-wed couple’s first sexual intercourse. The description may even be meant to evoke the Garden of Eden, but at least to picture a perfect garden. It is also an exotic garden given the particular spices mentioned (even frankincense and myrrh show up here again). And it is a well-watered garden given the fountain idea.
Then unlike the ESV headings it appears that the woman speaks in all of Song 4:16. These two verses are an invitation for the man to unlock the garden. The first part of Song 5:1 then tells us in no uncertain terms that the man did just that – ”I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk” (note the verb then 2 objects pattern).
And then there is a benediction, which again reminds us of the context of marriage as with the last time we saw one, ”Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!”
Song of Songs 5:2-6:3
Longman defines the next song boundaries as Song of Songs 5:2-6:3. It is one unit with subunits that Longman says are also ”clearly defined.” His analysis of the structure of this unit suggests that we probably should also conceive of the previous larger section as a unit too. Both contain a waṣf, though the last one (Song 4:1-7) described the woman and this one (Song 5:10-16) describes the man.
The pattern of this song is not unfamiliar – the song begins with the man and woman separated from one another and ends with the man and woman together. Longman calls the song ”To search and (not) find, once again.” Indeed, we have seen a similar song before.
The first subunit is Song 5:2-7 where the woman describes her experience that explains why her beloved is not present. In this subunit she recalls his words calling her ”my sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one.” The term of endearment ”my sister” links this song with the previous one, as does the mention of myrrh. The situation is one where he came knocking but she did not make it to the door in time (at first she took her time and apparently changed her mind) and thus she went searching for him. Unfortunately, the watchmen not only did not help her find him but ”they beat me, they bruised me, they took away my veil,” she tells us.
Longman says that the poem throughout employs the poetic device of double entendre. Thus when he is knocking at the door he wants her to open the door, yes that is the surface meaning, but more than this he wants her to open up to him sexually. That she is called his perfect one is again a compliment concerning her flawlessness. Her response of not hurrying to the door is interesting since he does not want her to get dressed.
This disappointing subunit is followed by her address of the ”daughters of Jerusalem,” where she calls on them to swear an oath that if they find her beloved then they will tell him that she is ”sick with love.” This time the phrase is best translated ”sick with love” because she is yearning for him. But they respond by asking how her beloved is better than any other that they should take such an oath.
The question by the daughters of Jerusalem then prompts the waṣf that follows. The description begins with a general statement regarding his appearance – ”My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand,” and then she begins describing him from the head down. Saying that his head is the finest gold may mean to attribute to him a superhuman (even quasi-divine) appearance. In any case, his hair was apparently black and perhaps curly.
The next verse, though some have debated this, appears to be describing his eyes with the milk around the pupils. The comparison to a dove is lost on us today since there is no way of telling what they thought was the point of reference. Remember that with these metaphors there is only one thing about that metaphorical picture that is being compared to the body part in question.
Song 5:13 then turns to the cheeks and lips, although Longman thinks that the part about the cheeks is really talking about his beard. She does not describe what his beard (or cheeks) look like but rather brings in the sense of smell.
His lips also then drip liquid myrrh, which is simple enough to understand what she means, but the comparison with lillies is unclear.
Her description of the man continues to use the words that might sound more at home in idolatry not because she has made him a literal idol but because she is describing him out of great love. Longman thinks that the second half of Song 5:14 actually has his sexual organ in mind, but then the next verse continues with his legs and then the next mentions his palate (think mouth). Thus the focus for her is on a deep kiss. And the description comes to a close with a general comment: ”This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem” (Song 5:16b).
Song 6:1 shows the daughters of Jerusalem are now persuaded to help her in the search. And they ask where they should look. The woman’s answer is that they should look to ”his garden.” But then the garden metaphor changes to the idea of her body with the poem concluding with sex in the context of marriage language – ”I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; he grazes among the lilies.”