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Song of Songs 1

STANZA DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS*

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
    Title   Title and Prologue
1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1 1:1
The Young Shulammite Bride and Jerusalem's Daughters The Banquet
(1:2-2:7)
(The Shulammite)
The Woman's Song The First Song
(The Woman)
(Beloved)
1:2-4 1:2-4a 1:2-4 1:2-7 1:2-3
  (The Daughters of Jerusalem)
1:4b
    First Poem
(1:4-2:7)
1:4
  (The Shulammite)
1:4c
     
  (The Daughters of Jerusalem)
1:4d
     
  (The Shulammite)
1:4e-6
     
1:5-7   1:5-7   Dialogue of the Lovers
(Beloved)
1:5-7
  (To Her Beloved)
1:7
     
Solomon, The Lover Speaks

1:8

(The Beloved)
1:8-10
The Man's Song
(1:8-2:7)
1:8
(The Man)
1:8
(Chorus)
1:8
1:9-10   1:9-11 1:9-11 (Lover)
1:9-11
1:11 (The Daughters of Jerusalem)
1:11
     
1:12-14 (The Shulammite)
1:12-14
The Woman

1:12-14

(The Woman)
1:12-14
(Duo)
1:12-14
1:15 (The Beloved)
1:15
Exchange of Compliments

1:15-2:3

(The Man)
1:15
1:15
1:16-17 (The Shulammite)
1:16-2:1
  (The Woman)
1:16-2:1
1:16
        1:17

* Although they are not inspired, paragraph divisions are the key to understanding and following the original author's intent. Each modern translation has divided and summarized the paragraphs. Every paragraph has one central topic, truth, or thought. Each version encapsulates that topic in its own distinct way. As you read the text, ask yourself which translation fits your understanding of the subject and verse divisions.
 In every chapter we must read the Bible first and try to identify its subjects (paragraphs), then compare our understanding with the modern versions. Only when we understand the original author's intent by following his logic and presentation can we truly understand the Bible. Only the original author is inspired—readers have no right to change or modify the message. Bible readers do have the responsibility of applying the inspired truth to their day and their lives.
 Note that all technical terms and abbreviations are explained fully in the following documents: Brief Definitions of Greek Grammatical StructureTextual Criticism, and Glossary.

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentarywhich means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the four translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This chapter has several commands and exhortations:

1. "Kiss me," Sol 1:1, BDB 676, KB 730, Qal imperfect, used in a jussive sense

2. "Draw me after you," Sol 1:4, BDB 604, KB 645, Qal imperative

3. "Let us run together," Sol 1:4, BDB 930, KB 1207, Qal cohortative

4. "We will rejoice," Sol 1:4, BDB 162, KB 189, Qal cohortative

5. "Be glad," Sol 1:4, BDB 970, KB 1333, Qal cohortative

6. "We will extol your love," Sol 1:4, BDB 269, KB 269, Hiphil cohortative

7. "Do not stare at me," Sol 1:6, BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

8. "Tell me," Sol 1:7, BDB 616, KB 665, Hiphil imperative

9. "Go forth," Sol 1:8, BDB 422, KB 425, Qal imperative

10. "pasture" (i.e. feed), Sol 1:8, BDB 944, KB 1258, Qal imperative

There are several more, particularly in chapters 2, 4, and 7.

 

B. Many of the words in this poem carry extended connotations (double entendre) of love-making:

1. oils, Sol 1:3

2. his chambers, Sol 1:4

3. my own vineyard, Sol 1:6

4. lie down at noon, Sol 1:7

5. veil, Sol 1:7

6. table, couch, Sol 1:12

7. nard, Sol 1:12

8. myrrh, Sol 1:13

9. "lies all night between my breasts," Sol 1:13

10. "henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi," Sol 1:14

11. "couch is luxuriant," Sol 1:16

Physical love is a gift from God (cf. Gen. 1:27-28). Families and children are His idea (cf. Gen. 1:28). Sexual love is the gift of God to be cherished and honored (one man, one woman for life). Rejoice in the wife of your youth (cf. Eccl. 9:7-9). Love is powerful and valuable (cf. Sol 8:6-7)!

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:1
 1The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.

1:1 "Song of Songs" This is a superlative form in Hebrew (BDB 1010). It could be translated "the best of the Songs" (cf. Exod. 29:37; Deut. 10:17; and Dan. 2:37 for other examples). It often referred to love songs (cf. Isa. 5:1; Ezek. 33:32).

▣ "which is" This Hebrew form (BDB 81) can mean "to," "for," or "concerning." Hebrew linguists note that the form of Sol 1:1 is different from this same Hebrew particle in the rest of the book. This has led many to believe that Sol 1:1 is a later addition by a general editor.

▣ "Solomon's" The inclusion of the name of Solomon several times in the text (i.e., 1:1,5; 3:7,9,11; 8:11,12) leads to the conclusion that this song is written about Solomon, to Solomon, or by Solomon. It is uncertain exactly which is the case. See Introduction, Authorship.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:2-4 
 2"May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
 For your love is better than wine.
 3"Your oils have a pleasing fragrance,
 Your name is like purified oil;
 Therefore the maidens love you.
 4a"Draw me after you and let us run together!
 The king has brought me into his chambers."

1:2 A common feature of the Hebrew language which surprises and confuses modern readers is the constant switch between SECOND PERSON and THIRD PERSON. This verse illustrates this common feature well:

1. line 1 is THIRD PERSON (may he kiss me)

2. line 2 is SECOND PERSON (your love is better than wine)

As moderns we (even Jewish scholars) do not know the inferences and common textual features (sometimes unconsciously learned) of ancient Hebrew (i.e., before vowels, before Aramaic).

▣ "kiss" In ancient Near Eastern cultures kissing was done in private (cf. Sol 1:4). See Contextual Insights, A. Notice the term's repetition for emphasis.

▣ "love" There are several different words for "love" in Hebrew. They are all used in this book. This particular word (BDB 187) comes from the same root as the proper name "David" (BDB 187). This term alludes positively to a human lover and love making. It is recurrent in the book (cf. Sol 1:2,4; 4:10; 5:1; 7:13).

▣ "better than wine" This could refer to (1) daily use of wine or (2) festival use of wine. The same phrase is repeated in Sol 1:4 and 10. For the concept of social consumption of alcoholic beverages see Special Topic at Eccl. 2:3.

1:3 "oils" The basic meaning of this term (BDB 1032) is "fat" or "rich" (i.e., land, e.g., 5:1). It refers to olive oil, which was a daily food item and when put on the face, a sign of prosperity and festival (e.g., Isa. 25:6). Here it is used of perfumed oil (cf. Sol 4:10; Ps. 27:9; Eccl. 7:1; 10:1; Amos 6:6).

"your name" This (BDB 1027) refers to the person. Just the thought of this person brought the scent of perfume. A name used as sweet scent is also found in Eccl. 7:1.

There is an obvious word play between "oils" (BDB 1032) and "name" (BDB 1027). This is common in Hebrew prose and especially in Hebrew poetry.

NASB"purified oil"
NKJV"ointment poured forth"
NRSV"perfume poured out"
NJB"oil poured out"

This verb's (BDB 937, KB 1227, Hophal imperfect) basic meaning is to empty something. The NASB, in the margin, defines it as "which is emptied (from one vessel to another)." The question remains, what does this verb imply:

1. a purifying procedure

2. a wide-spread reputation (i.e., among the harem)

In context #2 fits best.

"maidens" This is the Hebrew word almah (BDB 761, cf. Isa. 7:14). This Hebrew word refers to a young woman of reproductive years, married or unmarried. The exact identity of these young women is uncertain (see note at Sol 1:5). There seem to be two major possibilities: (1) Solomon's harem or (2) the ladies of Jerusalem or Solomon's court (cf. Sol 1:5; 2:7; 3:5,10; 5:8,16; 8:4).

▣ "love" This is the general term for love (BDB 12) in the Hebrew language. The uniqueness of this word usage in Song of Songs is that it is predominately used for the maiden's affection for her lover. The OT was written in a male-centered society. A woman's feelings or concerns are usually not recorded. This book is not only an affirmation of the beauty and wholesomeness of physical love, but of reciprocal love!

1:4 This verse has several commands. See Contextual Insights, A.

▣ "the king has brought me into his chambers" This is literally "bed chamber" (BDB 293, cf. Sol 3:4; Eccl. 10:20; Joel 2:16). This refers to Solomon's harem (cf. Sol 6:9). Some commentators (and I am one of them) who see Song of Songs related to the Syrian love songs (i.e., wasfs), note that in these love poems the bride and groom are called "king" and "queen."

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:4b
 4b"We will rejoice in you and be glad;
 We will extol your love more than wine.
 Rightly do they love you."

▣ "we. . .they" It is very difficult to identify this group(s). It may be a chorus (NJB) or possibly the maidens of Sol 1:3, who might be identified with the daughters of Jerusalem (NKJV).

▣ "rejoice" This term (BDB 162, KB 189, Qal cohortative) is very common in Psalms, but used only here in Song of Songs. It often denotes Israel's rejoicing over God and His covenant faithfulness. So it is a powerful affirmation! Here it refers to sexual love (cf. Ps. 45:13-15). Robert Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations, thinks 3:6-11 is a wedding song similar to Psalm 45.

▣ "extol" This term (BDB 269, KB 269, Hiphil cohortative) basically denotes "remembering," but in certain texts it takes on the concept of "mentioning a word of praise." Here it takes on the connotation of praise (cf. Ps. 45:17). It almost seems as if the author of Song of Songs knew Psalm 45, which refers to the king of Israel's marriage.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:5-7
  5"I am black but lovely,
 O daughters of Jerusalem,
 Like the tents of Kedar,
 Like the curtains of Solomon.
  6Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
 For the sun has burned me.
 My mother's sons were angry with me;
 They made me caretaker of the vineyards,
 But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.
 7Tell me, O you whom my soul loves,
 Where do you pasture your flock,
 Where do you make it lie down at noon?
 For why should I be like one who veils herself
 Beside the flocks of your companions?"

1:5-6 It is difficult to follow who is speaking and to whom they are speaking. The transitions are not clearly (textually) marked. In Sol 1:5-6 the northern woman is addressing apparent concerns of the Jerusalem harem or the women of the court.

▣ "I am black" Verse 6 describes this as a deep tan ("blackish," BDB 1007), which she received from the sun while tending the family vineyards and flocks. Usually harem women strived to be as white as possible.

▣ "daughters of Jerusalem" The identity of this group is crucial, but difficult. Here are some of the interpretive theories:

1. Solomon's harem

2. city girls (versus country girls)

3. the woman's friends

4. a mental image

5. a literary way of moving the scene along

6. a type of narrator (chorus)

7. women of the royal court (i.e. wives of leaders or royal servants)

They are a literary foil to help the maiden examine and express her thoughts and feelings.

▣ "Kedar" The Kedarites (BDB 871, literally "swarthy" or "black-tinted") are related to the Ishmaelites, which means they were Arabs (cf. Gen. 25:12-18; 1 Chr. 1:29; Isa. 42:1, 60:7; Jer. 49:29-32). These desert nomads are known for their black tents which were woven from goat's hair. The "tents" (BDB 13) were made from goat skin, while the "curtains" (BDB 438) were woven from goat hair.

▣ "Like the curtains of Solomon" This is obviously parallel to "tents of Kedar." The question is, what curtain does it refer to:

1. Solomon's palace (TEV)

2. Solomon's travelling tent (NJB)

3. the temple in Jerusalem

There is just not enough information in the text to make a determination.

Also, it is possible that the color is not the parallel, but "dark. . .beautiful," whereby the "curtains of Solomon" are not dark, but beautiful (cf. TEV).

Notice that the NJB has "Salmah," NAB has "Salma," and REB has "Shalmah." This comes from a supposed tribe in the area of Edom, possibly close to Kedar. However, there is no textual support or ancient version support for this textual change.

1:6

NASB, NAB
JPSOA, NIV"do not stare at me"
NKJV"do not look upon me"
NRSV"do not gaze at me"
TEV, REB"do not look down on me"
NJB"take no notice"

This can be understood in one of two ways:

1. Her dark tan was seen by the daughters of Jerusalem as reflecting her poor, rural background, and lack of light skin (TEV, NIDOTTE, vol. 3, p. 1009).

2. Her dark tan and beauty caused them to stare at her in awe and envy.

 

▣ "My mother's sons were angry with me" The verb can be from one of two roots that mean "to burn" ("with anger"):

1.  חרר, BDB 354, Niphal perfect, cf. Isa. 41:11; 45:24

2. חרה, BDB 359, Niphal perfect, cf. Ps. 69:4; Ezek. 15:4,5

Number 1 is more probably the correct root. It is interesting that the root נחר (BDB 637) literally means "to snort" and developed metaphorically to denote anger.

The interpretation of this verse is crucial to the understanding of the book (cf. Sol 6:9). As in all other passages there are several theories:

1. the brothers are jealous of the king's favour

2.  this reflects a family feud over the young girl's chastity (line 5)

3.  the young girl did not take enough time for herself (TEV)

4.  she has given her heart to another (i.e., a northern local lover)

 

1:7 "you who my soul loves" To whom does this refer? It depends on one's understanding of how many characters are involved in this poetic/musical drama. The two theories are: (1) the girl's hometown shepherd boyfriend from the North or (2) Solomon himself from Jerusalem (i.e., shepherd of Israel).

▣ "Where do you make it lie down at noon" This may refer to:

1. Solomon's travelling pavilion, thereby:

a. "tents" of Sol 1:6

b. "companions" of Sol 1:7, line 5 and 8:13

2. to a local shepherd whom she loves

There is the added sexual imagery of "lying down," implying, "I want to come lie down with you." Poetry carries connotations and implications with its choice of words and their various connotations.

▣ "veils" "Veils" (BDB 741, "wrap oneself") is found in the MT, Septuagint, and NRSV. Other ancient versions read "wanders" (BDB 380 or 1073, cf. the Peshitta, Vulgate, and RSV). This refers to either (1) her modesty (i.e., veil); (2) her premarital desires; or (3) her asking her lover not to associate with travelling prostitutes (cf. Gen. 38:14-19).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:8
 8"If you yourself do not know,
 Most beautiful among women,
 Go forth on the trail of the flock
 And pasture your young goats
 By the tents of the shepherds."

1:8 "If you yourself do not know" This seems to be playful sarcasm. It refers to the chorus (NJB) or the bridegroom (NKJV) addressing the bride. This passage is one of many where the shepherd motif is used. This either refers to this Northern hometown boyfriend or it is a reference to King Solomon. This response answers her question of Sol 1:7.

This verse has three imperatives. See Contextual Insights, A.

▣ "Most beautiful among women" This affirmation of love is repeated in Sol 5:9; 6:1. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. She calls him "O you whom my soul loves" in Sol 1:7 and he responds!

"Go forth on the trail of the flock" This is interpreted in radically different ways depending on who is referred to in Sol 1:8.

▣ "tents" This (BDB 1015) is a different Hebrew word than the "tents" (BDB 438), which could denote "curtains" or "tapestries" in Sol 1:5. This one denotes a temporary dwelling place (i.e., the tabernacle in the wilderness, i.e., Exod. 25:9).

Verse 5 could refer to Solomon's travelling tents (large and elaborate) and this to a local shepherd's tent. It all depends on how many lovers are depicted in the book (one, the king, or two, the king and a local shepherd boyfriend).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:9-10
  9"To me, my darling, you are like
 My mare among the chariots of Pharaoh.
 10Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
 Your neck with strings of beads."

1:9 "darling" This comes from the Hebrew phrase "to pasture" (BDB 944, cf. Sol 1:15) and means friend or companion (BDB 946).

▣ "like" This Aramaic verb (BDB 197, KB 225), in the Piel stem, denotes a comparison. It is used several times in this sense in Song of Songs (cf. Sol 1:9; 2:9,17; 7:7; 8:14).

▣ "My mare among the chariots of Pharaoh" Solomon was the first to import Arabian horses from Egypt (cf. 1 Kgs. 10:28; 2 Chr. 1:16,17; 9:28) for military purposes. This metaphor refers either to the ornamental beauty of the royal horses (possibly embroidered on the royal tent) or to the graceful movement and beauty of the animals themselves. These horses were prized animals!

▣ "with ornaments" This term (BDB 1064) can refer to:

1. a type of hairdo or braid (TEV)

2. a necklace of precious metal (cf. Sol 1:11)

The basic Akkadian root seems to mean "to encircle" or "go around again" (KB 1708). The reference could be to the horses' ornaments of Sol 1:9 or the woman's necklace of Sol 1:10, line 2. If the second line of Sol 1:10 is synonymous parallelism, "ornaments" refers to a "string of beads" (BDB 354, this term appears only here in the OT and a similar root means "string of beads" or "string of shells," or "string of pearls") or NKJV, "chains of gold" (to parallel Sol 1:11, line 1).

Both of these words are rare and disputed. This ambiguity is characteristic of poetry!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:11
 11"We will make for you ornaments of gold
 With beads of silver."

1:11 Again the problem is the identity of the speaker. Note the use of the plural "we." The NKJV identifies the speaker as "the Daughters of Jerusalem. The NASB makes Sol 1:11 a separate paragraph, denoting a possible change of speaker. However, its outline makes Sol 1:8-17 come from Solomon. TEV and NJB see it as a continuation of the male speaker.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:12-14
 12"While the king was at his table,
 My perfume gave forth its fragrance.
 13My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh
 Which lies all night between my breasts.
 14My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
 In the vineyards of Engedi."

1: 12 "While the king was at his table" Again, the interpretation depends on, "who is the king?"

The term (BDB 687) translated by NASB and NKJV as "table," can also mean "couch" (cf. NRSV, JPSOA, TEV, REB) or "room" (NJB). Its basic meaning is "that which surrounds."

It could surely be the elaborate sleeping tent and couch of Solomon or a simple bed mat of a shepherd expressed in hyperbole.

NASB, TEV"perfume"
NKJV"spikenard"
NRSV, NJB"nard"

This (BDB 669) was an oily extract from a sweet smelling plant from the Himalayas region of India (Sanskrit root). It was used as an aromatic aphrodisiac in the ancient Near East.

1:13 This refers to the ancient method of perfuming. In symbolism it refers to one of the lovers dreaming/thinking of the other all night!

▣ "myrrh" This (BDB 600) was a plant resin from Arabia and the northeast coast of Africa. It was bitter to the taste, but sweet smelling and long lasting. In Ps. 45:8 it is also connected to a wedding (i.e., physical love). It has connotations of erotic love (cf. Sol 1:13; 3:6; 4:6,14; 5:5,13; Pro. 7:17).

"breast" This term (BDB 994) is used several times in the book (1:13; 4:5; 7:3,7-8; 8:8,10). This same phrase, "between breasts," is used by Hosea to denote pagan fertility worship (cf. Hosea 2:2).

1:14 "a cluster of henna blossoms" These are small fragrant white flowers (BDB 499) that comes from a bush that grow abundantly in the Middle East. They are still used by Arab women today who use these flowers to dye parts of their bodies either orange or yellow.

"Engedi" This (BDB 745) is a famous oasis midway down the western shore of the Dead Sea known for its beauty and fertility. It is mentioned several times in the OT.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:15
 15"How beautiful you are, my darling,
 How beautiful you are!
 Your eyes are like doves."

1:15 "How beautiful you are" This phrase is repeated for emphasis. This term (BDB 421) is used often:

1. in the phrase, "most beautiful of women," 1:8; 5:9; 6:1

2. in the phrase, "How beautiful you are," 1:15(twice); 4:1(twice),7; 6:4

3. in the phrase, "beautiful one," 2:10,13

4. in the term, "handsome," 1:16 (used only here in the OT to describe the man)

5. in Sol 6:10 it describes the moon

 

▣ "Your eyes are like doves" The allusion here is possibly to (1) mate loyalty; (2) gentleness; (3) a sweet melodious song; (4) a symbol of peace, love or innocence; or (5) color. This phrase is used again in Sol 4:1 and 5:12. It is repeated by the woman in Sol 1:16. "Dove" (BDB 401 I) is used several times in comparisons (cf. Sol 1:15; 2:14; 4:1; 5:2,12; 6:9).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 1:16-17
 16"How handsome you are, my beloved,
 And so pleasant!
 Indeed, our couch is luxuriant!
 17The beams of our houses are cedars,
 Our rafters, cypresses.

1:16-17 This refers to either (1) the grandeur of the royal travelling pavilion or (2) the secret meeting place in the woods of the two hometown lovers.

"couch" This is a different term (BDB 793) from "table" or "couch" in Sol 1:12 (BDB 687).

1:17 The UBS' Helps for Translators, Fauna and Flora of the Bible, says, "there is great confusion in all versions, ancient and modern, over the identity of evergreens in the Bible" (p. 116).

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why are there so many interpretations of this book of the Bible?

2. How many persons or groups are referred to in these music/poetic passages?

3. Give possible theories of verse 6 and why this verse is so important.