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Song of Songs 4

STANZA DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
Solomon's Love Expressed (The Beloved) The Man's Praise and Invitation
(4:1-5:1)
The Third Song
(3:6-5:1)
Third Poem
(3:6-5:1)
4:1-6 4:1-5 (4:1-5:1)
4:1-8
(The Man)
4:1-7
(Lover)
4:1-5
  4:6-8     4:6
4:7-15       4:7
      4:8-11 4:8
  4:9-11 4:9-15   4:9-11
  4:12-15   4:12-15 4:12-15
4:16 (The Shulammite)
4:16
4:16 (The Woman)
4:16
(Beloved)
4:16

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.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 4:1-6
 1" How beautiful you are, my darling,
 How beautiful you are!
 Your eyes are like doves behind your veil;
 Your hair is like a flock of goats
 That have descended from Mount Gilead.
 2Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes
 Which have come up from their washing,
 All of which bear twins,
 And not one among them has lost her young.
 3Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
 And your mouth is lovely.
 Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate
 Behind your veil.
  4Your neck is like the tower of David,
 Built with rows of stones
 On which are hung a thousand shields,
 All the round shields of the mighty men.
 5Your two breasts are like two fawns,
 Twins of a gazelle
 Which feed among the lilies.
 6Until the cool of the day
 When the shadows flee away,
 I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh
 And to the hill of frankincense."

4:1 "How beautiful you are my darling" This is a recurrent phrase (cf. Sol 1:15,16; 2:10,13; 4:1,7; 6:4,10). Notice the parallelism.

Here this phrase begins a series of analogies describing the maiden's physical beauty:

1. eyes, Sol 4:1 - doves (gentle)

2. hair, Sol 4:1 - goats (black, cf. Sol 5:11)

3. teeth, Sol 4:2 - shorn ewes (white, cf. Sol 6:16)

4. lips, Sol 4:3 - scarlet thread (red)

5. temples, Sol 4:3 - slice of pomegranate (reddish)

6. neck, Sol 4:4 - towers of David (decorated)

7. breasts, Sol 4:5 - balanced and accentuated

 

▣ "eyes are like doves" The eyes would have been the only part of the face clearly visible behind the veil. The man compliments them often (1:15; 4:1; 5:12; 7:4). Apparently he is referring to their softness or gentleness (not their color, shape, or size). In the ancient Near East eyes were very important. They could denote character (i.e., Gen. 3:5,6,7; 20:16; 39:7; Num. 5:13; 15:39; Deut. 16:19) or evil (i.e., "the evil eye," cf. Deut. 15:9; 28:54,56; Pro. 23:6; 28:22) or possibly allurement (cf. Sol 4:9; 6:5). They were often used as idioms for phrases of endearment:

1. "favour in your eyes" - Gen. 30:27; 34:11; 50:4; Deut. 24:1

2. "the apple of his eye" - Deut. 30:10; Ps. 17:8; Zech. 2:8

 

▣ "hair is like a flock of goats" This refers to black goats against a lush, green hillside (i.e., Gilead, cf. Mic. 7:14).

The term "flock" (BDB 727) may have been a way of drawing attention to separate pieces of hair (i.e., ringlets or braids).

NASB"That have descended"
NKJV"going down"
NRSV"moving down"
TEV"bounding down"
NJB"surging down"
LXX"have appeared from"
JPSOA, REB"streaming down"

The meaning of this verb (BDB 167, KB 195) is uncertain. It is found only here and in Sol 6:5. Here are the possibilities:

1. to sit or recline, BDB 167, from Arabic root

2. to boil, KB 195

3. to hop or jump, KB 195; a possible parallel in Egyptian love poems is "skipping goats."

The maiden's hair is bouncing as she walks or flowing over her shoulders in large amounts. Whatever it is, it is a compliment (cf. Sol 7:5)!

4:2 "Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes" This refers to her teeth all being in place, well shaped, balanced, and very white.

4:3 "Your lips are like a scarlet thread" This refers to the redness and shapeliness of her lips.

NASB, NKJV,
NRSV"your mouth is lovely"
TEV"how lovely they are when you speak"
NJB"your words are enchanting"

This term (BDB 184 I) is found only here in the OT. The rare Hebrew root from which it is formed means "mouth," "word" or "speech." The dynamic equivalent translations (i.e. TEV, NJB) prefer the two connotations, but the context of Song of Songs often uses body parts, so "mouth" seems the appropriate parallelism.

▣ "Your temples are like a slice of pomegranate" This maiden apparently did not need lipstick or rouge. The facial highlights could be seen behind her thin veil.

4:4 "Your neck is like the tower of David" In the Masoretic text and the Septuagint the "tower of David" is a proper name. The ancient Orientals considered large necks and noses to be very attractive (cf. Sol 7:4).

NASB"Built with rows of stones"
NKJV, LXX"built for an armory"
NRSV"built in courses"
TEV"round and smooth"
NJB"built on layers"
REB"built with encircling courses"
JPSOA"built to hold weaponry

The verbal is a Qal passive PARTICIPLE of "to build" (BDB 124, KB 139). The footnote of JPSOA states that it refers to her jewelry (i.e., necklace, cf. Sol 4:9; 1:10-11):

The noun (BDB 1069) is more difficult.

1. In Arabic the root means "to perish."

2. BDB says it is poetic for weapons (JPSOA).

3. KB 1741 also refers to an Arabic root, "to arrange in order," thereby to construct a tower in layers (cf. NASB, NRSV, NJB, REB).

 

▣ "On which are hung a thousand shields,

 All the round shields of the mighty men" This may refer to a beautiful necklace around the Shulammite maiden (cf. Sol 4:9).

SPECIAL TOPIC: ELEPH (THOUSAND)

4:5 "Your two breasts are like two fawns" This may refer to well proportioned and mature breasts (i.e. she is of the age of child bearing).

4:6 "Until the cool of the day" This can refer to dawn or evening (cf. Sol 2:17).

▣ "I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh" The man urges himself to act! He calls her to himself in Sol 4:8 and by metaphorical imperatives in Sol 4:16. He cannot wait! This is a euphemism for intimacy. The mountain refers to the woman's perfumed breasts (cf. Sol 1:13).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 4:7-15
 7"You are altogether beautiful, my darling,
 And there is no blemish in you.
 8Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
 May you come with me from Lebanon.
 Journey down from the summit of Amana,
 From the summit of Senir and Hermon,
 From the dens of lions,
 From the mountains of leopards.
 9You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride;
 You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes,
 With a single strand of your necklace.
 10How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
 How much better is your love than wine,
 And the fragrance of your oils
 Than all kinds of spices!
 11Your lips, my bride, drip honey;
 Honey and milk are under your tongue,
 And the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
 12A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
 A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up.
 13Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
 With choice fruits, henna with nard plants,
 14Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
 With all the trees of frankincense,
 Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.
 15You are a garden spring,
 A well of fresh water,
 And streams flowing from Lebanon."

4:7 One wonders if this is a delayed reaction to her unexpectedly dark skin (cf. Sol 1:5-6) or if this was a way for the man to affirm that he liked everything about the maiden (cf. Sol 4:9).

4:8 This refers to the bride being from northern Israel. It may be a metaphor for her being far away, separated or secluded from him (i.e., in Jerusalem).

4:9 "sister" In Song of Songs the maiden is greeted by several phrases or terms of endearment:

1. "most beautiful among women," 1:8; 5:9; 6:1

2. "my darling," 1:9,15; 2:2,10,13; 4:1,7; 6:4

3. "my beloved," 1:13,14

4. "my beautiful one," 2:10,13

5. "O my dove," 2:14; 5:2; 6:9

6. "my sister," 1:9,10,12; 5:1,2 (one of several idioms common to Egyptian love songs)

7. "my bride," 5:1

8. "my perfect one," 5:2

9. "O Shulammite," 6:13

10. "O princess daughter," 7:1

11. "My love," 7:6

Notice how 5:2 has several of these one after another #6 (BDB 27); #2 (BDB 946; #5 (BDB 401 I); and #8 (BDB 1070). She isn never listed as "queen" which is surprising if these are Syrian (wasfs) wedding songs.

So too the man is greeted by the woman:

1. "O you whom my soul loves," 1:7; 3:1-4

2. "my beloved," 1:16; 2:8,9,10,16,17; 4:16; 5:2,4,5,6,10; 6:2,3; 7:10,13; 8:14

Notice that she never addresses him as "brother" or "king."

▣ "You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes" The verb , NASB, "beat faster"; NKJV, NRSV, NJB, "ravished"; TEV, "stolen" (BDB 525, KB 515, Piel perfect) is a rare verb from the same root as "heart." It occurs only three times in the OT (two here in Piel and Job 11:12 in Niphal).

Just looking at her made his adrenalin flow (cf. Sol 4:10)!

▣ "with a single glance of your eyes

 With a single strand of your necklace" Now the interpretive question is, "Is this synonymous or step parallelism?"

"Eyes" can refer to a kind of stone in a necklace (i.e., Akkadian). If so, it is synonymous parallelism. The man has mentioned her necklace before (cf. Sol 1:10; 7:4).

4:10-15 He described the maiden's body in Sol 4:1-6; now he describes her smell and taste:

1. her love is better than wine, 1:2,4

2. she smells better than oils and spices, 1:3

3. her lips drip honey and milk, 1:2; 5:1

4. she smells like the forest of Lebanon

5. she is like a private (i.e., "locked") and secluded garden (cf. Sol 4:15; 5:1; Pro. 5:15-23) with a water feature

a. a sealed fountain

b. a well of living water

c. flowing streams

6. she is like wonderful plants

a. an orchard of pomegranates

b. henna and nard plants

c. saffron, calamus, and cinnamon

d. fragrant trees of frankincense

e. myrrh, aloes, and the finest spices

 

4:12 "a garden locked" This is a beautiful metaphor for the chastity and moral purity of the maiden. This is the first phrase of the first line. Many Hebrew MSS, as well as the ancient versions

1. Septuagint - Greek

2. Peshitta - Syriac

3. Vulgate - Latin

repeat it in the second line, which demands a slight textual change (i.e., gan for gal).

4:13

NASB, NJB,
LXX"shoots"
NKJV, TEV"plants
NRSV"channel"
REB"cheeks"
JPSOA"limbs"

This term (BDB 1019, KB 1517 II) seems to develop its meaning from the verb "to send out" (KB 1511) and developed metaphorically into "offshoot." The maiden is sending out fragrances like plants send out shoots and branches.

▣ "henna" This is a blossom from which perfume and an orange dye is made (BDB 499 III). Women in the Near East still use this today to adorn fingernails, toenails; it is also used for other cosmetic purposes (cf. Sol 1:14).

4:14 "saffron" This flower (BDB 501) is mentioned only here in the OT. It is uncertain as to exactly which ancient plant it refers:

1. blue-flowered saffron crocus used for dying food, clothing, and walls yellow (cf. Helps for Translators, "Fauna and Flora of the Bible," p. 124)

2. a thistle native to the Middle East, which has a red flower and is also used for dying food and clothing (cf. Helps for Translators, p. 175)

In Sol 4:4 it seems to be listed along with other imported spices. Apparently in Song of Songs the flower mentioned was used for perfume, not dying.

▣ "calamus" This refers to fragrant river cane (BDB 889). It is also used in the holy anointing oil (cf. Exod. 30:23).

▣ "cinnamon" This comes from India and Sri Lanka and is made from the bark of an evergreen tree (BDB 890). It was very popular and expensive (cf. Exod. 30:23; Pro. 7:17).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 4:16
 16"Awake, O north wind,
 And come, wind of the south;
 Make my garden breathe out fragrance,
 Let its spices be wafted abroad.
 May my beloved come into his garden
 And eat its choice fruits!"

4:16 This verse has a series of commands from the maiden to the man (REB has both v.15 and Sol 4:16 spoken by her) in metaphors from nature:

1. "awake," BDB 734, KB 802, Qal imperative

2. "come," BDB 97, KB 112, Qal imperative

3. "breathe," BDB 806, KB 916, Hiphil imperative

4. "be wafted," BDB 633, KB 683, Qal imperfect used as a jussive

5. "eat," BDB 37, KB 46, Qal imperfect used as a jussive

This verse is an extension of Sol 4:8, "come with me from Lebanon." She is calling to him to come to her in the north. Her fragrances are spreading on the southerly winds! Calling herself a garden is typical Near Eastern sexual imagery (cf. Sol 5:1).

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. Is it certain that chapter 3:1-4 and chapter 5:2-8 are dreams?

2. Why has this become a common interpretation?

3. What is the recurrent theme of verse 5?

4. Why are there so many allusions to geographical locations and specific flora and fauna of the Holy Land in this book?