The Shulammite’s dear one expressed his love for her, telling her how very attractive she was to him. “Look, you [are] beautiful, my companion; look, you [are] beautiful.” The repetition may here serve to emphasize how exceptionally beautiful he found the Shulammite to be. He continued his comments about her. “Your eyes [are] doves behind your veil [tsammáh]; your hair like a flock of goats descending the slopes [literally, mountain or hill] of Gilead” (“appeared” [“revealed” or “became visible”] “from Galaad” [LXX]). In being like doves, the eyes apparently were soft and gentle, reflecting qualities associated with these birds. From a distance, a flock of goats descending one of the slopes of the mountainous region of Gilead looked like the beautiful black hair that framed the face of the Shulammite. (4:1; see the Notes section.)
The beloved likened the teeth of the Shulammite to a “flock of shorn [ewes]” that had come up “from the washing.” Her teeth were white like sheep that had been washed and then shorn of their wool. Not a single tooth was missing, and all the upper teeth were beautifully aligned with the lower teeth. This appears to be the basis for the comparison of the teeth to ewes bearing twins, with not one missing (“barren” [LXX]) among them. (4:2)
The reference to the “lips” of the Shulammite being like a “scarlet thread” probably applies to the color of her lips. To her beloved, her speaking, or her mouth as the organ of speech, was “beautiful.” “Behind [her] veil,” her “temple” or “cheek” (raqqáh) appeared like a “slice [rind (LXX)] of pomegranate.” The Hebrew text likely relates to the color of the temples or cheeks of the Shulammite, but the Septuagint rendering “rind of pomegranate” could apply to the smooth and glowing appearance of the skin. (4:3)
Impressively adorned, the neck of the Shulammite looked like the “tower of David” that had been built in “courses” [talpiyyóhth], or well-arranged rows of blocks, and on which a “thousand bucklers” had been hung, “all the shields [plural of shélet] of the mighty men” or warriors. There is a measure of uncertainty about the meaning of shélet. The Septuagint rendering is a form of bolís, a term that can designate a javelin, dart, arrow, or missile. (4:4; see the Notes section.)
The beloved of the Shulammite likened her breasts to two fawns, “twins of a gazelle,” that “are feeding among lilies.” He appears to have thought of her breasts as very attractive and surrounded by beauty like the lilies among which the young ones of a gazelle feed. (4:5)
The expression “until the day breathes and the shadows flee” may be understood in one of two ways. It could designate the time when the sun rises and the shadows of the night disappear or the time of the evening breezes when the lengthening shadows start to vanish. The identical wording is found in verse 17 of chapter 2 (which see for additional comments). Possibly the Shulammite’s dear one likened his going to “the mountain of myrrh and to the hill of frankincense [Lebanon (LXX)]” to his joining her and delighting in her company as if coming to an elevated site to enjoy the fragrance of myrrh and frankincense. (4:6)
To her beloved, the Shulammite was outstandingly beautiful, with no flaw to mar her attractiveness. (4:7)
It appears that the Shulammite’s dear one thought of his not being with her as if she were far away in the mountainous region of Lebanon and without his protective care from dangers comparable to those that large predators pose. He is quoted as telling her to come with him as his bride “from Lebanon,” to leave from the “peak [literally, head] of Amanah” (either a part of or the entire Anti-Lebanon range [Lebanon (LXX)]), “from the peak [literally, head] of Senir [possibly one of the peaks of Mount Hermon] and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.” (4:8; see the Notes section.)
The Shulammite’s dear one was so deeply in love with her that he is quoted as saying to her, “You have heartened [laváv] me, O my sister [a designation denoting intimacy], [my] bride, you have heartened [laváv] me with one of your eyes,” or one look of your eyes, “with one pendant of your necklace” (with merely a small part of an ornament that belonged to her; “one ornament of your neck” [LXX]). The form of the Hebrew verb laváv in the text is followed by a singular first person suffix and incorporates the word for “heart.” Suggested meanings for the Hebrew word with its suffix include “stolen my heart,” “encouraged me,” “made my heart beat,” and “enchanted my heart.” The thought appears to be that the Shulammite had completely captured his affection. (4:9)
To her dear one, the expressions of her affection were “beautiful.” He considered them as being “better” or more pleasurable than wine and the fragrance of her “oils” or “ointments” (“oil” or “ointment” in a Dead Sea Scroll [4QCantb]) as superior to that of all “spices” or aromatic substances. Everything about her or anything that she might have applied to herself surpassed whatever could bring pleasure or delight. Her beloved referred to her as his “sister” (an intimate companion whom he deeply loved) and his “bride.” (4:10; see the Notes section.)
The words of the Shulammite were delightfully sweet to her beloved. “O [my ] bride,” he said to her, “your lips drip honey,” suggesting that the expressions that passed her lips were like honey that flowed from the combs. To him it seemed as if an abundant supply of “honey and milk” was under her tongue, bringing him much pleasure when she spoke. The scented ointment the Shulammite used on herself would also have made her garments fragrant. This is the apparent reason that her beloved is quoted as referring to the “fragrance of [her] garments” as being “like the fragrance of Lebanon” or as pleasing a fragrance as one would enjoy among the magnificent cedars for which the land was known. (4:11)
The Shulammite’s dear one continued to speak of her as “my sister, [my] bride,” reflecting his intimate relationship with her and his deep affection for her. He recognized her as being exclusively devoted to him and that all other men were excluded from coming to be recipients of her love. She was like a “barred” garden, only permitting him to enter. The Shulammite was like a “barred” spring, a “sealed” fountain, for him alone to be refreshed and delighted with everything she made available to him in expression of her exclusive love. (4:12; see the Notes section.)
In keeping with the comparison of the Shulammite to a garden, her beloved is quoted as mentioning the delights it contained in terms of trees and aromatic plants. “Your shoots” or sprouts are a “park [paradise (LXX)] of pomegranates, with choicest fruits.” Also “henna” (a shrub that bears very fragrant flowers) and “nard” (an aromatic plant) flourished in this garden. (4:13) Other plants or plant products included saffron (a crocus from which saffron is derived), calamus (an aromatic reed or cane), cinnamon (a tree of the laurel family, from the inner bark of which cinnamon is obtained), frankincense trees, myrrh (an aromatic gum resin obtained from a variety of thorny shrubs), aloes (trees that yield an aromatic substance; possibly eaglewood trees [Aquilaria agallocha]), and all the chief (literally, “heads”) spices. (4:14; see the Notes section.) As the garden and its plants are only being used for comparison purposes, all the aromatic plants mentioned were not necessarily native to ancient Israel.
The “spring” to which the Shulammite is likened is described as perennial — a “well of living” or fresh “waters” and “flowing streams from Lebanon,” streams that had their source in the mountains of that land. This indicated that her beloved could depend on her love for him and her desire to express her affection to the fullest extent possible. (4:15)
The Shulammite is portrayed as wanting her beloved to derive the greatest delight from the expressions of her love. Applying the comparison of a garden to herself, she called upon the “north wind” and the “south wind” to blow upon her garden, causing its fragrance to be wafted abroad for him to enjoy. She invited her dear one to be with her. “Let my beloved come into his garden and eat its choicest fruits.” (4:16; see the Notes section.)
There is uncertainty about the etymology of the Hebrew word tsammáh, which (in the context of verse 1) is thought to designate a veil. Where this word appears in Isaiah 47:2, the Septuagint translator rendered it as katakálymma (“covering”). The translator of the Song of Solomon, however, rendered it as siópesis (“silence”), suggesting that he had difficulty in understanding the Hebrew word.
The Septuagint translator appears not to have understood the meaning of the Hebrew word talpiyyóhth (verse 4) and transliterated it as thalpioth.
A Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb) omits all the words from verses 4 through 7.
In verse 8, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the reading of the extant Hebrew text. The beloved of the Shulammite asked her, his “bride,” to “come from Lebanon,” to “come from Lebanon.” He then told her, “You will come and pass through from the beginning of trustworthiness, from the peak [literally, head] of Sanir [Senir] and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards.” The rendering “trustworthiness” or “faithfulness” (a form of pístis) appears to have resulted when the translator linked the proper name Amanah to the root ’áman.
A Dead Sea Scroll (4QCanta) omits all the text from verse 8 of chapter 4 to verse 10 of chapter 6.
In verse 10, the Septuagint rendering differs somewhat from the Hebrew text. “How beautiful your breasts have become, my sister, [my] bride! How beautiful your breasts have become beyond wine, and the aroma of your garments above all spices!”
In the Masoretic Text, the word for “garden” (gan) only appears once in verse 12. There is, however, a second occurrence of gan in many Hebrew manuscripts. Where the Masoretic Text has the word gal that commonly designates a “wave” and, in this context, appears to apply to a “spring,” numerous other Hebrew manuscripts read gan (“garden”). The Septuagint rendering is képos (“garden”).
In verse 14, the Septuagint transliterates the Hebrew word for aloe as “aloth.”
Codex Alexandrinus of the fifth century CE identifies the words of verse 16 as those of “the bride.” Fourth-century Codex Sinaiticus has an unusual introductory comment for the concluding phrase. “The bride asks the father that his bridegroom descend.” The pronoun “his” is considered to be an error. Contextually, the text should read “her bridegroom.”