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song of Songs 8

STANZA DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Lovers Speak Expressions of praise
(7:1-8:4)
Praise of the Woman and Her Promise of Love
(6:13-8:4)
The Fifth Song
(6:4-8:4)
Fifth Poem
(6:4-8:4)
8:1-3 The Shulammite
(7:9b-8:4)
8:1-2
8:1-4 (The Woman)
(7:9b-8:4)
8:1-2
8:1-2
  (To the Daughters of Jerusalem)
8:3-4
  8:3 8:3
8:4     8:4 (Lover)
8:4
8:5-7 Love Renewed in Lebanon
(8:5-14)
(A Relative)
8:5a
The Lover's Vows and Their Final Exchange
8:5a
The Sixth Song
(The Woman)
8:5a
Epilogue
8:5a
  8:5b 8:5b (The Woman)
8:5b-7
8:5b
  (The Shulammite to Her Beloved)
8:6
8:6-7   (Beloved)
8:6-7
  8:7   The Woman's Brothers Appendices: Two Epigrams
8:8-9 (The Shulammite's Brothers)
8:8-9
8:8-12 8:8-9 8:8-9
8:10-12 (The Shulammite)
8:10-11
  (The Woman)
8:10
8:10
      (The Man)
8:11-13
8:11-12
  (To Solomon)
8:12
    Final Additions
8:13  (The Beloved)
8:13
8:13   8:13
8:14 (The Shulammite)
8:14
8:14 (The Woman)
8:14
8:14

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 8:1-3
 1"Oh that you were like a brother to me
 Who nursed at my mother's breasts.
  If I found you outdoors, I would kiss you;
 No one would despise me, either.
 2I would lead you and bring you
 Into the house of my mother, who used to instruct me;
 I would give you spiced wine to drink from the juice of my pomegranates.
 3Let his left hand be under my head
 And his right hand embrace me."

8:1 The fifth poem extends from 6:4 to 8:4. In Sol 8:5 a sixth poem begins; some call it an epilogue (NJB). It occurs in the north and is characterized by several changes in speakers (notice NKJV's characters):

1. the Beloved to the daughters of Jerusalem, 8:3,4

2. a relative speaks, 8:5a, 8:5b

3. the maiden to her beloved, 8:6-7

4. the maiden to her brothers, 8:8-9

5. the maiden, 8:10-11

6. the maiden to Solomon, 8:12

7. the Beloved, 8:13

8. the maiden, 8:14

But this is just one of many theories. The poem itself never designates a change of speaker, except by:

1. gender change

2. subject change

3. groups specifically named

4. a context change (i.e., geographical or imagined)

 

8:1 "Oh that you were like a brother to me" Apparently some people were ridiculing her for her public expression of affection and she was wishing that her lover was a member of her own family where no one would question their fondness and expressions of family love to each other.

Just a further comment about this public display of affection. The maiden does not want to violate the taboos of her culture (i.e., public display of affection), but she wants so badly to be with her lover. It seems that the hapax legomenon, "clinging" or "leaning" (BDB 952, KB 1279, Hithpael participle) of Sol 8:5 is exactly this. It is uncertain who the feminine "who is this" refers to:

1. the daughters of Jerusalem

2. the maiden

If the maiden, then she is returning from a secret rendevous with her lover in a very public way (almost flaunting it). This may have elicited her brothers' comments of Sol 8:8-9 (esp. Sol 8:9, lines 3-4).

▣ "Who nursed at my mother's breast" This has been interpreted in several ways:

1. just another way of identifying her natural brothers

2. he should suckle her breasts like a child (i.e., "drink from the juice of pomegranates," Sol 8:2)

3. she learned to nurse by watching her mother ("my mother, who used to instruct me," Sol 8:2)

I think option #1 is best in this context.

▣ "despise" This term (BDB 100 I, KB 114, Qal imperfect) is used several times in this chapter (8:1,7 [twice]) and is common in Proverbs, but not in Job or Psalms (which used BDB 100 II, "contempt," several times).

The maiden wants to show affection for her lover, but this can only be done in private, so she wishes they were brother and sister because children within the family were allowed to express affection for each other whenever and wherever they met.

8:2-3 It is obvious that the family fondness of Sol 8:1 (kiss you) has widened to the erotic allusions of Sol 8:2 and 3:

1. give you spiced wine to drink

a. strong wine (cf. Sol 1:2,4; 4:10; 5:1)

b. from pomegranates, which were seen as a fertility symbol (cf. Sol 4:3; 6:7; 7:12)

c. v. 3 is a position for love (cf. Sol 2:6; Pro. 5:20)

Song of Songs has much in common with other ancient Near Eastern love poetry. In Egyptian love poems the mother of the bride is mentioned often, as is the term "brother," as a reference to the new husband. Family was very important in the ancient world. Marriage truly did combine two families.

8:2 "my mother, who used to instruct me" This is how the MT (and most English translations) reads. Some change "teach" (BDB 540, KB 531, Piel imperfect) to "conceive" (RSV), mentioned in Sol 3:4; 6:9; and 8:5 (footnote of JPSOA, p. 1576). This is because the verb (third person feminine singular) does not fit well (cf. UBS Handbook For Translators, p. 218).

It is surely contextually possible that the reference to the one who will teach is the male lover! He will teach her the ways of love in her own home. In poetry the formal distinctions of gender and grammar are loosened for effect and imagery.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:4
 4"I want you to swear, O daughters of Jerusalem,
 Do not arouse or awaken my love
 Until she pleases."

8:4 This statement is repeated in Sol 2:7, 3:5, and here. It seems to be a reference to the harem, but it refers to patience in lovemaking until the right moment comes for both lovers.

It functions as a literary marker to end a section.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:5a
 5"Who is this coming up from the wilderness
 Leaning on her beloved?"

8:5 The speaker is uncertain. The verse is either divided into two separate sayings (NKJV, JPSOA) or the 3rd and 4th lines begin a section continuing through 8:7 (NASB, NIV).

The first two lines of poetry may refer to Solomon's travelling palanquin from 3:6-11 and may be the source of the strange allusion of Sol 6:10 (line 4).

However, it may also refer to the northern young lover from whom the maiden was estranged by an arranged marriage (cf. Sol 5:b-7, 9, 12).

▣ "Leaning" This is a hapax legomenon (BDB 952, KB 1279). From cognate usage, the root implies "a leaning back" or "to lie against a table," or "recline."

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:5b-7
 5b"Beneath the apple tree I awakened you;
 There your mother was in labor with you,
 There she was in labor and gave you birth.
  6Put me like a seal over your heart,
 Like a seal on your arm.
 For love is as strong as death,
 Jealousy is as severe as Sheol;
 Its flashes are flashes of fire,
 The very flame of the Lord.
 7Many waters cannot quench love,
 Nor will rivers overflow it;
 If a man were to give all the riches of his house for love,
 It would be utterly despised."

8:5b This is a strange allusion! The NKJV assigns it to a relative who was present at the maiden's birth out in the countryside under a fruit tree (probably an apricot).

It is uncertain how Sol 8:5b relates to Sol 8:6-7. The verb "awakened" (BDB 734, KB 802, Polel perfect) can refer to

1. rouse (sexual arousal, cf. Sol 2:7; 3:5; 8:4; this is confirmed by the phrase, "beneath the apple tree I awakened you" [cf. Sol 2:3])

2. awake from sleep

 

8:6-7 The prepositions are masculine (NASB, NJB), but NKJV, TEV, NIV, and NET Bible attribute them to the maiden. In poetry gender and grammar are fluid for effect! These verses express in emotive images the power of human love. Once given and received it becomes a powerful, pervasive life bond! Notice the metaphorical language:

 

1.    Put me like a seal over your heart - The verb, BDB 962, KB 1321, Qal imperative; the noun "seal," BDB 368 I, can mean an impression left by a signet ring, which was a sign of security and ownership. Often these seals were worn on a necklace that hung down over the heart.
     
2.  Seal on your arm -  Same word as above. If the seal on the heart could not be seen then the one of the arm surely could (note the strong language of Isa. 49:14-16).
     
3.  Love is as strong as death -  as lasting as death or as powerful and unrelenting a force!
     
4.  Jealousy (NASB, NJB, NIV) as severe as Sheol -  This term can be positive (e.g., Num. 11:29) or negative (e.g., Gen. 26:14; Pro. 14:30; 27:4; Eccl. 4:4).
  Numbers 3 and 4 are parallel. For Sheol see Special Topic: Where Are the Dead? At Eccl. 6:6.
   
5. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord -  This is describing the torments of Sheol awaiting the unrighteous (i.e., love's power can be an inferno!)
     
6.  The first two lines of Sol 8:7 connect to the fire (jealousy) of Sol 8:6, lines 4-6. The fire is so strong that nothing in this world can put it out (i.e., many waters, rivers).
   
7.  Love cannot be bought, Sol 8:7, line 3, which may be an allusion to Solomon's wealth. The term "despised," used in Sol 8:1, is doubled and intensified (Qal infinitive absolute and Qal imperfect).
  Since I hold to a love triangle in the book between two young northern lovers who are separated by Solomon's drafting the young beauty for his harem, the purpose of these verses (also 8:9-12) becomes obvious.

Just a note about #5. It is possible to take the last line of Sol 8:6 as a reference to YHWH (BDB 529, NASB, "the very flame of the Lord"), but most translations (NKJV, NRSV, TEV, JPSOA) think that the phrase is really just one word in Hebrew (BDB 529, KB 1504; this is a hapax legomenon of the noun "flame" and an added ending that could be (1) a contraction of YHWH found often in Hebrew poetry or (2) a textual marker for a SUPERLATIVE (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 480). If this is a reference to YHWH it is the only one in the whole book. This cannot be used as evidence that this book is an allegory!!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:8-9
 8"We have a little sister,
 And she has no breasts;
 What shall we do for our sister
 On the day when she is spoken for?
 9If she is a wall,
 We will build on her a battlement of silver;
 But if she is a door,
 We will barricade her with planks of cedar."

8:8-9 "We have a little sister" This seems to refer to her brothers in the north (cf. Sol 1:6) and their protective attitude toward her. This attitude had two objects:

1. to protect her virginity until marriage (Sol 8:8-9, line 2)

2. if she was promiscuous (cf. Sol 1:6 and the secret meetings in the country mentioned throughout the book), they would restrict her freedoms and movements (Sol 8:9, lines 3-4)

 

8:9 "barricade" This word (BDB 848 II) means "confine," "bind," or "besiege." It is never used of "decorate." The commentators who interpret this verse as "adornment" (NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 963) get this from the construct (BDB 531 and 72) "boards of cedar." I see the poetic line as one of restriction and lack of freedom. The maiden has been violating standards of public decency.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:10-12
 10"I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers;
 Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.
 11Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
 He entrusted the vineyard to caretakers.
 Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit.
 12My very own vineyard is at my disposal;
 The thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
 And two hundred are for those who take care of its fruit."

8:10-14 She has eyes only for him (if it is Solomon, even in the midst of his harem she will patiently wait for him because she knew she was his favorite). The monogamous implications of Sol 2:16; 6:3; and 7:10 make it hard for me to think it is Solomon. I still favour the northern first love theory of Song of Songs! Even Solomon cannot buy his love (i.e., vineyard).

8:10

NASB"as one who finds peace"
NKJV"as one who found peace"
NRSV, TEV"as one who brings peace"
NJB"I have found true peace"

The phrase is another euphemism for sexual activity. The focus seems to be on her bringing fulfilment to the longing lover.

Verses 8-9 may refer to her earlier life, while Sol 8:10 describes her current life.

The Hebrew term "peace" (shalom, BDB 1022) has a wide semantical field. It can be metaphorical for maturity ("my breasts were like towers") or favour or contentment. The ambiguity of poetry and the fluidity of terminology makes for great multi-level imagery!

8:11 "Baal-hamon" If this is a geographical location, it is unknown. It may have symbolic meaning (i.e., master/lord/owner of wealth, BDB 128). If so, it is connected to Sol 8:7, lines 3-4.

When Sol 8:11 and 12 are taken together they are similar to Sol 8:7, in that:

1. Solomon's vineyard had many who came in and out and worked it

2. She wants to be the only worker (exclusivity, cf. Sol 2:16; 6:3; 7;10)

 

8:12 If this is the woman's reaction to the attempt to be married for money or status, then it relates directly to 8:7 and 11! She controls her own sexuality! She cannot be bought!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:13
 13"O you who sit in the gardens,
 My companions are listening for your voice—
 Let me hear it!"

8:13 This seems to be a final word from the man (the owner of the garden). The "companions" (BDB 288) are (1) wedding guests of the groom (3:11) or (2) other shepherds (1:7).

▣ "Let me hear it" This is a Hiphil imperative (BDB 1033, KB 1570), which refers to the maiden's call to come to her (cf. Sol 8:14; 2:14).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: SONG OF SOLOMON 8:14
 14"Hurry, my beloved,
 And be like a gazelle or a young stag
 On the mountains of spices."

8:14 This is the final word from the maiden to the owner of the vineyard. "Hurry" (BDB 137, KB 156, Qal imperative) is the word he longed to hear in Sol 8:13. It could imply:

1. come quickly to me

2. let us flee away to a secluded garden of love

 

▣ "be like a gazelle or a young stag" This is another Qal imperative (BDB 197, KB 225) that links to 2:7,9,17 (as a description of her lover's physical prowess).

"the mountains of spices" This is another euphemism of lovemaking (cf. Sol 2:17; 4:6). Mixing spices is common in Song of Songs (cf. Sol 4:10,14,16; 8:14). It was a way to prepare for lovemaking!

This poetry is powerful, beautiful, and ambiguous. The central plot line is difficult to follow because it is a series of six love poems with similar vocabulary and poetic illusions. There may be no unifying theme. It is primarily an affirmation of the glory and joy of human sexuality (cf. Pro. 5:15-19; 30:18-19; see Introduction).

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 is this book in the canon of sacred scripture?

2. What is this book saying to us today?

3. Why have there been so many theories postulated for the different ways to interpret this book?

4. Is this book in chronological sequence?