Song of Solomon 8:1-14

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The Shulammite wanted to be completely open in expressing love for her dear one. Her wish was that he might be like her own brother who had nursed at her mother’s breasts. Then, when meeting him outside where others could see her, she would kiss him, and no one would despise her or find fault with her for doing so. In the Septuagint, the initial thought is worded as a question, “Who will give you as my beloved, nursing the breasts of my mother?” The giving may be understood in the sense of making her beloved like one who had nursed at her mother’s breasts. (8:1)

The Shulammite wished that others could view her and her beloved as if they were brother and sister. She would then be free to lead him and bring him into her mother’s house — the mother from whose teaching she had benefited. There she “would give [him] spiced wine to drink, the juice of [her] pomegranates.” Apparently these acts represent the expressions of the love of which he would become the recipient. (8:2) The Shulammite and her beloved would enjoy intimacy with one another. “His left hand” would be under her head, and “his right hand” would embrace her. (8:3)

Once again, the Shulammite adjured the “daughters of Jerusalem” (women of the royal court). The adjuration is worded as a question, with the implication being that the women should stop trying to influence her in matters of love. “Why do you stir up and why do you awaken love until it please” (doing so before it is ready or inclined)? (8:4)

Codex Sinaiticus introduces the next question with the comment, “the daughters [or young women] and the queens and the [companions] of the bridegroom say.” Those who consider the beloved to have been the shepherd, however, usually attribute the question to her brothers who see her coming home. “Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved?” Codex Sinaiticus introduces what the beloved says with the comment, “the bridegroom [says] to the bride [as follows].” Apparently this comment was based on the fact that the Shulammite was returning to her home. The quoted words are, “Under the apple tree I awakened you. There your mother was in labor pains with you. There she who gave birth to you was in labor pains.” In the Hebrew text, the suffix that is rendered “you” is masculine gender and, therefore, does not apply to the Shulammite but applies to her beloved. (8:5; see the Notes section.)

Anciently, seals were used to make impressions that served to authenticate documents or to establish ownership. They were carefully guarded from falling into the wrong hands. The Shulammite wanted her beloved to place her as a seal upon his heart and upon his arm. This indicated that she desired to have an exclusive place in his affection and to be under his protective care. A dead person cannot escape from the lifeless state, and love has a binding power that is just as strong as death. The ardor, jealousy, or demand for exclusive affection that is associated with love is as hard, strong, or unyielding as Sheol (Hades [LXX]), the realm of the dead, from which no human can effect release. The “blazes” of love are “blazes of a fire, a flame of Yah.” Love is like a consuming fire, but it is not destructive. This is indicated by the expression shalhévethyah, ending with “yah,” the apparent abbreviation of the divine name YHWH. This identifies God as the source of true love (“a flame of Yahweh himself” [NJB]; “a very flame of the LORD” [Margolis]). The Septuagint does not include this thought. It says, “its sparks, sparks of a fire, its flames.” (8:6)

Whereas water can put out a fire, large amounts of water cannot extinguish true love, “and rivers cannot sweep it away.” “If a man gave all the wealth of his house [all his means of living (LXX)] for” (or in an attempt to purchase) “love,” “they [people] would be scorning him with scorn.” The repetition of verb forms for scorn or despise serves to emphasize how great the contempt would be. A number of modern translations do not preserve the third person plural verb form in their renderings and do not represent the contempt to be for the one offering his wealth to purchase love. “If one offered for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly scorned.” (NRSV) “If someone were to offer for love all the wealth of his house, it would be laughed to scorn.” (REB) (8:7)

At an earlier time, the brothers of the Shulammite said, “We have a little sister, and she has no breasts. What shall we do for our sister on the day that she will be spoken for” (or when a man will want to marry her)? (8:8) If, when that time came, she had proved herself to be firm like a wall in maintaining purity, they would honor her as if building upon her a “battlement of silver.” In case she ended up being like a door that was open to anyone who might choose to enter, they would prevent this with an action comparable to barring a door with a cedar board. (8:9)

Concerning herself as a mature woman who was exclusively devoted to her beloved, the Shulammite declared, “I [am] a wall, and my breasts [are] like towers. In his eyes” (the eyes of her dear one), she was “as one who finds peace.” This suggests that her beloved could see that she was in no uncertainty about her love for him. The Shulammite was content, and enjoyed a state of well-being and security with the one whom she loved. (8:10; see the Notes section.)

When the beloved of the Shulammite is considered to be the shepherd, the words about Solomon’s vineyard point to a rejection of his attempts to win her love. “Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon” (Beelamon [LXX], a place that has not been identified with any known site). He turned over the vineyard duties to keepers, and each one of them was to bring a “thousand silver pieces for its fruit.” (8:11) The Shulammite may have been referring to herself as the vineyard of which she had full possession, saying, “My vineyard, my own, [is] before me” (literally, “my face”). The thousand pieces of silver were for Solomon, and those attending to the vineyard would receive two hundred pieces of silver for their labor. (8:12; see the Notes section.)

In the Hebrew text, the participial form of the verb for sitting is feminine gender and so is the suffix (“your”) linked to the word for “voice.” This indicates that the beloved is the one wanting to hear the Shulammite’s voice. “O you, the one sitting in the gardens, companions” or friends “are giving attention to your voice. Let me hear it [also].” (8:13; see the Notes section.)

The Shulammite yearned to be united with the one whom she loved. “Hasten, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag” (literally, a young one of the stags) “upon the mountains of spices.” The thought could be that he should quickly make himself visible on the heights where spices flourished and then come to be with her. (8:14)

Notes

Codex Alexandrinus attributes to “the bridegroom” the phrase about effecting the awakening under an apple tree. (Verse 5)

Codex Sinaiticus introduces the wording of verse 10 with the comment, “the bride speaks confidently.”

When the king is considered to be the beloved, the Shulammite is understood to be giving her “vineyard” freely to him (unlike the vineyard from the fruit of which Solomon derived profit and the keepers received their share). “My vineyard is mine to give.” (Verse 12, REB)

The introductory comment for verse 13 in Codex Sinaiticus does not reflect the feminine gender that identifies the one being addressed in the extant Hebrew text. This comment identifies “the bride” as the one speaking.