Song of Solomon 1:1-17

The opening words identify the composition as the “song of songs,” indicating it to be a superlative, most excellent, or beautiful song. This song is attributed to King Solomon who, according to 1 Kings 4:32, came to have 1,005 (5,000 [3 Kings 5:12 (LXX)]) songs. (1:1)

In verse 13 of chapter 6, the young woman is twice called the Shulammite. Her expressions are quoted as the first ones in the song. “May he [her beloved] kiss me with the kisses of his mouth” or his lips. She then spoke of her beloved’s expressions of affection as being better or more pleasurable to her than wine. Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus attribute the words of the initial phrase of this verse to “the bride.” The next phrase quotes the response of her beloved. Regarding her “breasts,” he said that they were better than wine or provided him with greater pleasure. (1:2)

The Shulammite found the fragrance of her beloved’s ointments to be “good” or pleasant. According to the Septuagint rendering, the aroma of his ointments was superior to that of all aromatic herbs. She likened his “name” or reputation to ointment that is poured out, which would then fill the air with its delightful fragrance. On account of her beloved’s outstanding reputation, maidens loved him. (1:3; see the Notes section.)

The Shulammite said to her beloved, “Draw me after you,” or take me with you. In the Septuagint, the maidens who love him are the ones identified as drawing him, and they are the ones saying, “We will run after you into the aroma of your ointments.” The Hebrew phrase about running may be rendered, “let us run,” with the Shulammite doing so with her beloved. For those who understand the shepherd to be her true love, these words are taken to express her desire to be taken away from the royal surroundings in which she found herself, for she is quoted as then saying, “The king has brought me into his chambers.” To preserve the thought that the king is her true love, others favor emending the Hebrew text and render the words as follows: “Bring me into your chambers, O king.” (REB) “Hurry, my king! Let’s hurry. Take me to your home.” (CEV) (1:4)

When the true love is considered to be the shepherd, the Shulammite is viewed as thinking of him when saying, “We will exult [gil] and rejoice [samách] in you” (her beloved, not Solomon who had brought her into his chambers). “We will remember [zakhár] your expressions of affection more than wine.” In this context, the Hebrew word zakhár may denote “mention,” “praise,” or “extol.” The Shulammite found her greatest delight in the one whom she loved. His love for her brought her far more pleasure than did wine. When Solomon is regarded as the beloved one, the words about rejoicing are commonly attributed to the maidens mentioned in verse 3. This attribution to the maidens has the support of an introductory comment in fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus (“The bride tells the young women and they say”). According to the Hebrew text, the Shulammite may then be considered as voicing her agreement with their expressions, saying, “Rightly [meysharím] they have loved you.” Whether these words are said regarding Solomon or the shepherd, the meaning would be the same. On account of his good name or outstanding reputation based on his fine qualities, the love the maidens had for him was deserved. (1:4; see the Notes section.)

The Hebrew word meysharím is a plural noun that has been defined as meaning “straightness,” “uprightness,” or “fairness.” In this context, it is commonly considered to be used as an adverb and translated “rightly.” The Septuagint rendering is the singular noun euthýtes (“uprightness”). Accordingly, the last phrase in the Septuagint could be translated, “Uprightness has loved you.” Possibly, as in the case of Hebrew word meysharím, the noun euthýtes may here be used as an adverb and could also be translated “rightly.” The Greek word for “love” (agapáo) is a third person singular active verb in the aorist tense, referring to an action that began in the past but is continuing. On this basis, the concluding phrase could be translated, “Rightly he has loved [or fallen in love with] you [the Shulammite].” In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment for this phrase may be rendered, “The young women cry out the name of the bride to the bridegroom.” This suggests that the word euthýtes was understood to be the name of the Shulammite, giving rise to a different significance for the concluding phrase. “Euthytes has loved [or fallen in love with] you.” (1:4)

Addressing the “daughters of Jerusalem [Israel (fourth-century Codex Vaticanus)],” the Shulammite said to them, “I am black and comely” or beautiful, and she likened her dark skin to the “tents of Kedar” and the “curtains of Solomon.” The tent-dwelling nomads of Kedar probably had tents made from black goat’s hair, and black may also have been the color of Solomon’s curtains, hangings, or tent coverings. Another possibility is that the Shulammite likened her comeliness to the beauty of Solomon’s curtains. A number of translations have interpretively rendered the text to make the reference to curtains apply to those of another tent-dwelling Arab tribe (“curtains of Salma” [NAB], “tent curtains of Shalmah” [REB], “pavilions of Salmah” [NJB]). This change does not have the support of the Septuagint. (1:5; see the Notes section.)

To the daughters of Jerusalem, probably women in the palace, the Shulammite said, “Do not look at me because I am black.” This wording suggests that the women may have stared at her on account of her dark skin color, which must have contrasted significantly with their much lighter complexion. The Shulammite explained that she had been exposed to the sun because her brothers (“sons of [her] mother”) were angry with her and had given her vineyard duty. This, according to verse 15 of chapter 2, would have included keeping foxes from damaging the vines. On account of her assigned vineyard duty, the Shulammite could not guard her own vineyard. In this context, her “vineyard” could refer to her complexion. (1:6)

The anger of the Shulammite’s brothers appears to be best understood as relating to the shepherd as her beloved. Her brothers may have been highly displeased that she was eager to respond to his invitation to be with him. To prevent this, they assigned vineyard duty to their sister, apparently to safeguard her from any temptation that might result on account of close association with her beloved. (1:6)

The Shulammite wanted the one whom her “soul” or she herself loved to tell her where he did shepherding, where he made the “flock lie down at noon.” This would have been an appropriate time to see him, as the flock would not have been on the move at midday. The reason for her request (which includes the obscure expression “like one wrapping”) has been variously interpreted, and this is reflected in the renderings of modern translations. “Why should I be like a veiled woman [like a mourner or a woman seeking to hide her identity like a prostitute] beside the flock of your friends?” (NIV) “Don’t let the other shepherds think badly of me. I’m not one of those women who shamelessly follow after shepherds.” (CEV) “That I may no more wander like a vagabond beside the flocks of your companions.” (NJB) “Lest I be found wandering after the flocks of your companions.” (NAB) “That I may not be left picking lice as I sit among your companions’ herds.” (REB) In Codex Sinaiticus, the Greek text of this verse is preceded by an allegorical introductory comment (“to the bridegroom Christ”). (1:7)

It appears that the women in the palace (the “daughters of Jerusalem”) responded to the words of the Shulammite. They tell her that, if she, the “fairest among women,” did not know the location of her beloved, she should “follow the tracks of the flock and pasture [her] kids beside the tents of the shepherds.” (1:8; see the Notes section.)

The king likened the Shulammite to his “mare among the chariots of Pharaoh.” Possibly this means that she was like the leading mare or the most impressive and beautiful one among all the horses hitched to Pharaoh’s chariots. (1:9)

In the Hebrew text, the adornment on the Shulammite’s comely cheeks is the plural of tohr, a designation that may apply to “rows,” “sequences,” or “strings” of jewels. According to the Septuagint rendering, her cheeks had become beautiful “like turtledoves” — a development that may be attributed to the precious ornaments with which the cheeks were adorned. The neck of the Shulammite had been beautified with “strings of beads” or necklaces. (1:10; see the Notes section.)

It appears that the first person plural Hebrew verb that may be rendered “we will make” is to be understood as a plural of excellence that applies to the king. He is the one who would commission the fashioning of gold ornaments for the Shulammite. As in the previous verse, the Hebrew designation for the ornaments is the plural of tohr, about the meaning of which there is uncertainty. In the concluding phrase, there also is uncertainty concerning the significance of the plural Hebrew noun nequdóhth that precedes the word for “silver.” Suggested meanings include “spots,” “studs,” “points,” “glass beads,” and “circular” or “drop-shaped ear ornaments.” The Septuagint rendering could be understood to indicate that the “representations” or ornaments would be made of gold “with studs” or “points of silver.” This could mean that the items would primarily be fashioned from gold and inlaid with silver. (1:11)

While the “king” reclined “on his couch” (as when partaking of a meal), the Shulammite referred to her “nard,” a costly aromatic substance, as releasing its fragrance. In Codex Sinaiticus, the phrase about the nard starts a section that is identified as being spoken by “the bride to herself and to the bridegroom.” If the beloved is considered to be the shepherd, this could suggest that everything she possessed that could bring delight or pleasure was for him alone (not for the king). Her thoughts continued to be focused on her beloved, the shepherd.(1:12)

To the Shulammite, her beloved was like a “pouch of myrrh” (a highly valued aromatic substance) positioned between her breasts or always very close and dear to her. There he (LXX) was the one who would lodge or spend the night. (1:13)

The Shulammite spoke of her beloved as being to her like a cluster of fragrant “henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi,” a city located at about the midway point of the western shore of the Dead Sea. En-gedi is an oasis that supports lush semitropical vegetation, palm trees, fruit trees, and vines. The Shulammite considered being with her beloved like enjoying a delightful fragrance while surrounded by the abundant vegetation of a pleasant oasis that stood out from the surrounding arid region. (1:14)

In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment for the words that follow is, “the bridegroom to the bride.” “Look, you [are] beautiful my companion [my beloved]; look, you [are] beautiful. Your eyes [are] doves.” The repetition serves to indicate that her beloved considered her to be truly attractive. Her eyes appear to have reminded him of the beauty of gentle doves. (1:15)

Possibly because the Shulammite had previously mentioned “henna blossoms in the vineyards of En-gedi,” her words continued to focus on an outdoor setting. Codex Sinaiticus includes the introductory comment, “the bride to the bridegroom,” and Codex Alexandrinus says “the bride.” She responds with the words, “Look, you [are] beautiful [handsome], my beloved; yes, delightful. Our couch [is] leafy” or “luxuriant” (“shaded” [LXX]). (1:16) The “beams of our house [are] cedars, our rafters [a collective singular in Hebrew; coffered ceilings (LXX)] junipers [cypresses (LXX)].” Both in the Hebrew text and that of the Septuagint, the word for “house” is plural, possibly meaning a magnificent house. (1:17)


In verse 3, the plural form of the Hebrew word shémen (“oil” or “ointment”) is written with the suffix that means “your.” A Dead Sea Scroll (6QCant, thought to date from the middle of the first century CE) does not include this suffix. In the next occurrence of shémen, the scroll contains the first two letters of the word mirqáchath, which lexicographers have defined as meaning “ointment mixture.”

In Codex Sinaiticus, the introductory comment represents the words about being brought into the king’s chambers (verse 4) as something the bride told to the young women. There is no introductory comment for the phrase that includes the word for “wine” and which phrase the text appears to represent as an expression of the beloved. “We shall love your breasts more than [literally, over] wine.” Unlike in the Masoretic Text, a form of the Hebrew verb samách appears first in a Dead Sea Scroll (6QCant). Even though the rest of the phrase is not preserved, the reconstructed text could be translated to read, “We will rejoice and exult in you.” The last Hebrew word after meysharím is not the same as in the Masoretic Text, and the concluding phrase could be understood to say that the “beloved ones” are right.

Both the fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus and the fifth-century Codex Alexandrinus indicate that the words of verse 5 are those of “the bride.”

Views about who speaks the words found in verse 8 differ. A heading preceding verse 8 in the Contemporary English Version is, “He speaks,” that is, King Solomon. Another interpretation is that the speakers are the friends of the shepherd lover. The introductory comment in Codex Sinaiticus is, “the bridegroom to the bride.”

Codex Sinaiticus introduces the words of verse 10 with the phrase, “the young women to the bride.”