Song of Solomon 3:1-11

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The Shulammite’s affection was so great for her beloved that he seemingly came to be the prime focus in her dreams. During the nights while upon her bed, her “soul” or she herself sought the one whom she loved but she did not find him. (3:1; see the Notes section.) This gave rise to the thought that she should rise and “go about the city, in the streets and in the squares,” to locate the one whom her “soul loved.” Although she looked for him, she did not find him. (3:2) The “watchmen” on their rounds in the city found her, and she asked them, “Have you seen him whom my soul loves?” (3:3; see the Notes section.) Hardly had the Shulammite passed the watchmen when she found the one whom her “soul” loved. She held on to him and did not let him go until she had “brought him into her mother’s house” and into the chamber of the one who gave birth to her. (3:4; see the Notes section.)

Again the Shulammite put women of the royal court (“daughters of Jerusalem”) under oath “by gazelles or by hinds of the field” that they not stir up nor awaken love in her “until it please” or until it is ready or inclined. The wording is the same as in 2:7 (which see for additional comments). Codex Sinaiticus introduces this wording with the comment, “the bride adjures the young women a second time.” (3:5)

The scene changes to depict the arrival of Solomon after he had been away from Jerusalem. Women of the city appear to be the ones who then spoke. “What [is] this coming up from the wilderness like columns of smoke from the burning of myrrh and frankincense, with every [fragrant] powder of a trader?” The adjective rendered “this” is feminine gender and seems to refer in a general way to what the women were observing. So great was the quantity of myrrh, frankincense, and other aromatic substances being burned that it formed columns or clouds of smoke, and the fragrance could be perceived from a considerable distance. (3:6; see the Notes section.)

Solomon appears to be portrayed as carried on a “couch” or litter, with 60 “mighty men” all around it. These men apparently were valiant warriors specially chosen from the “mighty men of Israel.” (3:7) Each one of the men had a sword and was skilled in warfare. With “his sword at his thigh,” each mighty man was prepared to confront the “dread of the nights,” which could have included surprise attacks under the cover of darkness or encounters with large predators. (3:8)

The litter on which Solomon was carried is described in greater detail. He had it made from the trees of Lebanon, which most likely would have been cedar. (3:9) Its posts were of silver, which could mean that the wooden posts were overlaid with silver. There is a measure of uncertainty about the part of the litter that was fashioned from gold or overlaid with gold. One suggested possible meaning for the Hebrew designation rephidáh is “support,” and the reference has been understood to apply to the back or to the arm of the litter. Renderings in modern translations for the Hebrew word include “headrest” (REB), “back” (NRSV), “roof” (NAB), “canopy.” (NJB), and “base.” (NIV). The “seat” was of “purple,” probably meaning that it was covered with cloth that had been dyed purple. According to the Septuagint, the part of the litter described as “purple” was the “step” or the means by which it could be approached. “Daughters of Jerusalem” or skilled women from the city had a part in beautifying the litter. Regarding what they did in relation to the litter, the Hebrew text could be translated, “fitting with love.” The thought appears to be that their handiwork was a token of their affection for Solomon. In the Septuagint, the reference appears to be to an interior with a stone pavement or possibly a mosaic. This is followed by the phrase, “with love from the daughters of Jerusalem,” indicating that their work was an expression of their love for Solomon. (3:10; see the Notes section.)

It may be that the women who first noticed Solomon’s arrival on his litter were the ones who suggested that other women, “daughters of Zion,” leave from their respective locations and go to see King Solomon with the “wreath” his mother had woven for him to wear “on the day of his marriage.” According to the Septuagint, this “wreath” or crown was one with which his mother crowned him. The day of his marriage is also called the “day of the rejoicing of his heart” or one of special joy for him. (3:11; see the Notes section.)

Notes

In verse 1, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb) repeats the word for “night” (a plural noun in both occurrences) preceded by a preposition. The Hebrew wording could be rendered, “at night, every night.”

Codex Sinaiticus introduces the Shulammite’s question in verse 3 with the words, “the bride said to the watchmen.”

For the phrase about the Shulammite’s taking hold of her beloved (verse 4), Codex Sinaiticus contains the introductory comment, “having found the bridegroom, she said.”

In verse 6, the first word of the Hebrew text could also be rendered “who,” and the “columns of smoke” could be described as “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense.” Codex Sinaiticus represents the question as being that of the “bridegroom to the bride.”

The wording of verses 6 through 8 is not included in one Dead Sea Scroll (4QCantb).

If the Hebrew text of verse 10 is emended to read “with ebony” (instead of “with love”), the concluding phrase could be translated, “with ebony, O daughters of Jerusalem.” Numerous modern translations do not follow the reading of the Masoretic Text. This accounts for a variety of renderings that do not include the “daughters of Jerusalem” as having done any work on Solomon’s litter (“the centre is inlaid with ebony” [NJB]; “its framework inlaid with ivory” [NAB]; “its lining of leather” [REB]).

In verse 11, a Dead Sea Scroll (4QCanta) says “daughters of Jerusalem,” not “daughters of Zion.” This scroll also does not include the conjunction “and” before the concluding phrase (“on the day of the rejoicing of his heart”). The Septuagint refers neither to the “daughters of Jerusalem” nor the “daughters of Zion.”