One of the themes of the Song of Songs, which is seen in both halves of chapter 2, is warnings regarding love. Sometimes those warnings have to do with obstacles to the blossoming relationship, but even more often those warnings have to do with not hurrying love along — artificially stimulating it before time. As the woman addresses the “daughters of Jerusalem” she is really speaking to the reader. In any case, this chapter shows the husband and wife enjoying each other sexually, no matter how exhausting it all is. As you read the commentary below think about what this means about God that He would include such things in His word. But also ponder what has been lost in Evangelical churches because pastors have not had the courage to preach passages like these. Clearly our people, from teens to the elderly, need positive examples of affection and intimacy in order to resist the world’s barrage of ideas about these things as well as to hear the warnings of the Song. Indeed, what the Song is doing (positively speaking) is encouraging an alternative imagination as you contemplate the couple having sex outdoors in the country in the springtime. This alternative imagination is necessary because of the shaping (deforming) of our imaginations by the surrounding culture. This is the kind of thing we mean by Biblical wisdom. Unfortunately, such wisdom is so often missing in the American church today.
Song of Songs 2:1-7
Song of Songs 2:1-7 is either one longer poem or two shorter ones (Song 2:1-3, 4-7) placed next to each other because of the common catchword of apples.
The last song had used the imagery of trees (Song of Songs 1:17), thus the plant imagery continues in this song or songs. So notes Longman, supporting my suspicion that the various songs are next to each other on purpose much like we have seen in other books.
The poem(s) begin with the woman comparing herself to flowers. The ESV retains the traditional translation ”I am a rose of Sharon” but then the footnote reads, ”Probably a bulb, such as a crocus, asphodel, or narcissus.” The second line saying, ”a lily of the valleys.” Pope’s commentary notes that the nature of the first flower is unclear being found only one other place in the OT: Isa 35:1. He says that the traditional ”rose” is ”hardly correct” since there were no roses in Israel until later. The consensus, as Pope indicates, is as the ESV footnote says. Thus the comparison is to a common flower – Longman says that she is being ”self-deprecating.”
The man replies by turning what she has said into a compliment – ”As a lily among brambles, so is my love among the young women.” The parallelism not only compliments her but compares the brambles with the other young women. He only has eyes for her, we might say. In doing so, he negates her self-deprecation – she is not common.
She replies with a very similar compliment, ”As an apple tree among the trees of the forest, so is my beloved among the young men” (Song 2:3). We are not certain of the identity of the tree, but the word indicates some kind of sweet fruit tree. Thus she too only has eyes for him. Surely then this fruit tree stands out as uncommon among the trees of the forest because of its delicious fruit. She continues, ”With great delight I sat in his shadow, and his fruit was sweet to my taste” (Song 2:3). The imagery of the first half shows him as a tree offering her shade – shelter and protection. This is intimacy in the context of safety – he makes her feel safe. And just so that we are clear that it is sexual intimacy there is the second half of the line.
It is the second half of the line that provides the clearest link to the next four verses – ”refresh me with apples” (Song 2:5). She continues to speak for all four of these verses describing how he took her into his wine house (where they would drink wine) and his banner (a word almost certainly from a military context) over her was love. You may recognize the second half of that verse since the language has been allegorized to describe Christ’s love for the church in a hymn.
Concerning the next line about needing the refreshment of raisin cakes and apples because, she says, ”I am sick with love,” Longman says that she is appealing to the daughters of Jerusalem mentioned in Song 2:7 and comments as follows: ”The emotions of love can overwhelm a person psychologically, and the physical rigors of lovemaking can wear a person out. The context does not make it clear whether one or the other, or perhaps more likely both, is meant. Raisin cakes and apples may provide more than physical sustenance and may have been understood to be aphrodisiacs.” Longman says that ”sick with love” is really talking about her becoming faint, but these are the same idea. And this is the reason she offers the daughters of Jersualem a caution in verse 7. Nevertheless, talk of eating apples suggests that she desires to continue the intimate acts. In the meantime, Song 2:6 means, according to Longman, that the man wants to do ”more lovemaking.”
Then Song 2:7 gives us the warning for the daughters of Jerusalem not to ”stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” The language is that of inviting these young women to make an oath not to hurry to do likewise. Longman calls the daughters of Jerusalem ”surrogates for the reader” because the lesson she is teaching them is the lesson of the Song of Songs for us. Longman takes this verse to mean then this: ”Wait for love to blossom; don’t try to stimulate it artificially.” He uses the previous verses to support this understanding by saying that love should not be aroused until they are ready to handle the rigors of the relationship.
Song of Songs 2:8-17
Longman says that the argument made by Roland Murphy that the Song 2:8-17 is one song is fairly persuasive. He argues that Song 2:10-13 is a smaller subunit marked off using the inclusio between the two verses. The ESV reads, ”Arise, my love, my beautiful one, and come away” (Song 2:10, 13).
The Hebrew clauses in the opening verse are very short even for terse poetry, which Longman suggests is meant to convey her excitement. And she is definitely excited, ”The voice of my beloved! Behold, he comes, leaping over mountains, bounding over hills…” (Song 2:8). Longman notes that leaping is a more common Hebrew word than bounding and that usually poetic parallelism in Hebrew does this – the less common word comes in the second line. The Hebrew words translated mountains and hills are roughly synonymous in Hebrew, thus the advance is in leaping – the more common word – to bounding – the less common word. The next verse adds a metaphor that fits the picture – ”My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag” (Song 2:9). And then he arrives at her house and is flirtacously ”gazing through the windows, looking through the lattice” – thus inviting her to come go away with him.
And then we come to the subunit where she quotes the man – ”My beloved speaks and says to me:” and his words are an invitation for her to come away with him with the lines of inclusio we noted earlier framing the quoted speech. Between those lines is motivation including winter and the rainy season being over, flowers appearing, and fig trees ripening their figs. In other words, it is spring. Thus they can go have an outdoor rendezvous.
The last four verses some will argue are a separate song, especially since the inclusio had served to bring what we have heard thus far to a climax. Against that view is the fact that Song 2:14 continues the invitation theme and Song 2:17 again uses the simile of him as a gazelle or young stag. In any case, the man appears to continue speaking – or her to be quoting him – ”O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, in the crannies of the cliff, let me see your face, let me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet, and your face is lovely” (Song 2:14).
I hope by now you do not think that the Song is meant in a literal sense – she does not really live in the clefts of the rock. Instead, the contrast is between where she is at and the grassy country locations where they can go be intimate.
Song 2:15 about foxes in the vineyards may have existed as its own little song, but for some reason it is included here. It does reflect the earlier line ”and the vines are in blossom” (Song 2:13). Longman says the foxes represent a threat to their relationship since the vineyard represented the woman back in Song 1:6 and the place for sex in Song 6:11. Thus he concludes that the foxes are ”obstacles to the blossoming relationship.” This is another one of those warning verses. The context/grammar does not reveal if it is the woman or the man who says this line.
The woman most assuredly the speaker again by Song 2:16 (compare also Song 6:3, 7:11). The verse indicates that he belongs to her and she belongs to him – ”My beloved is mine, and I am his,” a teaching echoed in the NT concerning marriage but disliked by moderns. Longman notes the covenant formula – ”I will be their God and they will be my people” echoes the verse. Indeed, I would argue that ”My beloved is mind, and I am his” is covenantal language. Marriage is a covenant and since they are married this reflects that covenant.
The second line of the verse then says, ”he grazes among the lilies.” This brings us back to the imagery we saw at the opening of the chapter where she was like a lily among brambles. But now instead of the picture being her tasting his fruit, he grazes among the lilies. The lilies will be mentioned yet a few more times in the Song. Just as with the words of the Apostle Paul in the NT, this mutual ownership concept goes together with sexual intimacy.
Exactly what the last verse of the chapter is saying is a matter of extensive debate. But odds are that the point is to continue the sexual intimacy banter and he is to be like a gazelle or young stag and the mountains have to do with her body.