A. The maiden and her beloved continue to praise each other.
1. (1) The maiden describes herself to her beloved.
I am the rose of Sharon,
And the lily of the valleys.
a. I am the rose of Sharon: Her view of herself has remarkably changed. In the first visits at the palace, she was self-conscious and unsure of her appearance and worth. Now she says, “I am the rose of Sharon, and the lily of the valleys.”
i. This is a line that commonly is attributed to the beloved, and then allegorically applied to Jesus Christ. Therefore, “Rose of Sharon” or “Lily of the Valley” is in many writings, songs, and minds a poetic title for Jesus Christ, reflecting His great beauty and glory. Unfortunately, this is a decidedly wrong understanding; these words are rightly attributed to the maiden in the New King James translation.
ii. Spurgeon was one who took this mistaken approach to the text and considered the idea of Jesus proclaiming His own beauty and greatness to us: “If a man praises his wares, it is that he may sell them. If a doctor advertises his cures, it is that other sick folk may be induced to try his medicine; and when our Lord Jesus Christ praises himself, it is a kind of holy advertisement by which he would tempt us to ‘come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.’ If he praises himself, it is that we may fall in love with him; and we need not be afraid to come and lay our poor hearts at his feet, and ask him to accept us.” We might say that this is a wonderful point made from a misapplied text.
b. The rose of Sharon and the lily of the valleys: She describes herself as two flowers; yet they are two fairly commonplace wildflowers. She regarded herself as a flower (definitely having beauty), but as rather plain flowers (not remarkable compared to others).
i. According to Trapp, the Septuagint translates rose of Sharon as flower of the field. We do know that the rose of Sharon describes not a proper rose, but a flower found in the Sharon, the low coastal plain stretching south from Mount Carmel in the northern part of Israel. The word translated rose here actually means “to form bulbs.” Some think it refers to the bulb-like fruit produced by a rose bush, the rose hips. Yet according to Carr, “The general consensus is that the plant described here is one of the bulb family. Crocus, narcissus, iris, daffodil are the usual candidates.”
ii. “Sharon was a very fruitful place, where David’s cattle were fed, 1 Chronicles 27:29. It is mentioned as a place of excellence, Isaiah 35:2, and as a place of flocks, Isaiah 65:10.” (Clarke)
iii. “The lily of the valleys is not our common white, bell-shaped plant of that name… Some commentators, on the basis of Song 5:13, argue for a red or reddish-purple colour for the flower, but no identification is certain.” (Carr)
iv. “Thus the Bride’s description of herself was really self-depreciatory, rather than otherwise. It was as if she saw that there was nothing in her beauty extraordinary or out of the common.” (Morgan)
2. (2) The beloved responds to the maiden.
Like a lily among the thorns,
So is my love among the daughters.
a. Like a lily: The beloved heard the maiden’s almost confident self-description and responded with affirmation. Perhaps she said it with a touch of doubt, and he erased any doubt with his response.
i. Whatever the maiden might feel, he had no doubt about her beauty. “To the man, the wonder of his beloved is ever that she is full of beauty.” (Morgan)
b. Like a lily among the thorns, so is my love among the daughters: The beloved added that the maiden was not only beautiful, but that she was also among those who didn’t appreciate (or match) her beauty. The beloved gave his maiden a precious gift: the gift of feeling preferred. In his estimation, she was the flower and the other girls were just thorns.
i. “She is a lily indeed, but her beauty far surpasses the thorny weeds all around her.” (Carr)
ii. “The bridegroom had just before called her fair; she with a becoming modesty, represents her beauty as nothing extraordinary, and compares herself to a common flower of the field. This, in the warmth of his affection, he denies, insisting that she as much surpasses all other maidens as the flower of the lily does the bramble.” (Clarke)
3. (3) The maiden enjoys the loving presence of her beloved.
Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods,
So is my beloved among the sons.
I sat down in his shade with great delight,
And his fruit was sweet to my taste.
a. Like an apple tree among the trees of the woods: The language of trees and plants continues, now with the maiden describing her beloved as being like a large, healthy, life-giving apple tree.
i. “A humble wildflower herself, she recognizes her Bridegroom as a noble tree, alike ornamental and fruitful.” (Taylor) Yet it is unlikely that Solomon had what we know as an apple tree in mind. “By the apple tree would probably be intended by the oriental writer either the citron, or the pomegranate, or the orange. I suppose he did not refer to the apple tree of our gardens, for it would scarcely be known to him.” (Spurgeon)
ii. We sense the couple is busy complimenting each other. “I’m a simple wildflower.” “No, you are a wildflower among the thorns.” “You are like a beautiful apple tree” and so on.
b. I sat down in his shade with great delight: The maiden found a great sense of security and peace under the protective covering of her beloved. She felt sheltered and shaded; that she was no longer at the mercy of others, but now under his care.
i. Her feeling of security is directly connected to his openly proclaimed preference of her in the previous verse. She is not at the mercy of a man who might choose another woman at the slightest whim; she can feel secure in the love of a man who genuinely prefers her.
ii. “Whereas before she came to him she worked long hours in the sun (Song of Solomon 1:6), now she rests under the protective shade that he brings. And although formerly she was so exhausted by her work she could not properly care for herself, now she finds time for refreshment with him.” (Glickman)
iii. Sweet to my taste: “Taste is more correctly palate, often including the lips, teeth, and the whole mouth. The Hebrew word for discipline or training (hanak) is derived from the same root. The first step in teaching a child is the anointing of his lips with honey so that learning is identified with sweetness.” (Carr)
iv. Spurgeon gave an allegorical application to the idea of the maiden (representing God’s people) resting under the shade of her beloved (representing Jesus): “Straightway she sat down under its shadow, with great delight, and its fruit was sweet unto her taste. She looked up at it; that was the first thing she did, and she perceived that it met her double want. The sun was hot, there was the shadow: she was faint, there was the fruit. Now, see how Jesus meets all the wants of all who come to him.”
B. The maiden muses over her love relationship with her beloved.
In this section (Song of Solomon 2:4-17) the maiden – either in a dream or daydream – thinks about her beloved and the love they have shared and will share. The dialogue seems to completely belong to her in this section.
1. (4-7) The maiden thinks about the provision and intimacy she has found.
He brought me to the banqueting house,
And his banner over me was love.
Sustain me with cakes of raisins,
Refresh me with apples,
For I am lovesick.
His left hand is under my head,
And his right hand embraces me.
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles or by the does of the field,
Do not stir up nor awaken love
Until it pleases.
a. He has brought me to the banqueting house: The maiden dreamily thinks of her beloved bringing her to a special place, the banqueting house – which is more literally “house of wine,” either in the sense of storage or production. It seems to be a secluded, outdoorsy place where the maiden and her beloved could be together and eventually be intimate.
i. “Idiomatically, the ‘house of wine’ could be the place where wine is grown (i.e. a vineyard), manufactured, stored, or consumed. The frequent use of the outdoor motifs in the Song, particularly of the garden as a place for the lovers’ rendezvous, suggests that the vineyard itself is what is intended here.” (Carr)
ii. “Literally, the house of wine. The ancients preserved their wine, not in barrels or dark cellars under ground, as we do, but in large pitchers, ranged against the wall in some upper apartment in the house, the place where they kept their most precious effects.” (Clarke)
b. His banner over me was love: Taken more literally, this is a strange statement. Taken more poetically, the maiden rejoices that her beloved and publicly and openly proclaimed his love for her, as if he had set up a banner or flag to say it.
i. “She is proclaiming that the love which the king has for her is evident to everyone. He does not say one thing to her in private and contradict that in public… He is not ashamed of his love for her, so he is glad for all to see it.” (Glickman)
ii. “‘His banner over me was love’ suggests that the hoisting of this banner by her focuses the whole attention on love. It is a love relationship.” (Nee)
iii. “He is not ashamed to acknowledge her publicly… The house of wine is now as appropriate as the King’s chambers were. Fearlessly and without shame she can sit as His side, His acknowledged spouse, the bride of His choice.” (Taylor)
c. Sustain me with cakes of raisins, refresh me with apples: She thought of enjoying food with her beloved in their outdoor rendezvous. Some commentators associate these foods with pagan fertility rites or aphrodisiac qualities, but this seems unwarranted and unnecessary.
d. I am lovesick: The maiden described a feeling familiar to many who have known the thrill of romantic love. She feels physically weak and perhaps even somewhat disoriented because of the strength of attraction and infatuation she has towards her beloved.
i. According to Dr. Jeffrey Schloss, there is a brain hormone that mediates the feeling of being in love or being infatuated. One of these neurotransmitters is known as phenethylamine, and it floods our brain when we fall in love (it is also in fairly high quantities in chocolate). This chemical gives us feelings of exhilaration and thrill and well-being, and in high amounts can lead to a loss of appetite. This chemical works somewhat in a cycle, at least in a relationship. At the beginning of the relationship it spikes up; after four or five years it begins to decline. Across cultures there is spike in the rate of divorce at about 4.5 years of marriage.
ii. This leads some scientists to say that we are made for monogamy, but only in the sense of one partner at a time, and then changing partners every five years or so. Yet Dr. Schloss says that we know this is not true. In the brain there are completely different pathways, with completely different chemical mediators. These begin to form at about the four-year point in a relationship, and they contribute to different feelings. Instead of feelings of thrill and “I can’t eat,” they are feelings of deep contentment and gratitude. One of the chemicals that mediates these feeling is oxytocin, which is the same chemical related to the bonding of a mother together with her infant.
iii. Some suggest that relationships have two major phases: attraction and attachment. The attraction phase is powerful, and the kind of condition that makes one say, “I am lovesick.” Yet the key to a long-term fulfilling relationship is staying with it past the attraction phase into the attachment phase. There are some counselors who devote almost their entire counseling practice trying to help what they call “love junkies”; people who are so addicted to the phenethylamine phase that they bounce from relationship rush to relationship rush without ever really coming into a greater, longer lasting relationship fulfillment.
iv. One could say that we are engineered for the longer lasting attachment phase, and the attraction phase is meant to be a portal into the attachment phase, and not something unto itself. The good news is that as a relationship moves into the attachment phase, the attraction phase recycles, and long-married couples often experience the sense of falling in love all over again – several times through their marriage.
v. This is why it is sometimes – or often – unwise to rush ahead in a relationship when it is still in the “I am lovesick,” attraction and phenethylamine phase. Adam Clarke observed of the lovesick person: “But while we admit such a person’s sincerity, who can help questioning his judgment?”
vi. Watchman Nee applied this idea to the believer’s relationship with God: “‘Sick with love’ is lovesickness, and is the equivalent of being exhausted with happiness. Such was the experience of the saints of all ages when they came into a full realization of the Lord’s special presence.”
e. His left hand is under my head, and his right hand embraces me: The maiden imagines herself and her beloved lying together and her beloved caressing her with his right hand (perhaps intimately).
i. Embraces me: “The word is not frequent in the Old Testament, and is used both of friendly greeting (Genesis 48:10) and of sexual union (Proverbs 5:20).” (Carr)
ii. “The position of the left hand under her head would suggest that the two are lying down and that with the right hand he is enfolding and caressing her.” (Carr)
iii. “Enraptured in her love, Shulamith invited Solomon to enjoy her sexually. The language that she used here appears again in Song of Solomon 4:6 and Song of Solomon 8:14 in contexts that definitely refer to physical intimacy.” (Estes)
iv. Since the maiden describes a dream or daydream, this describes her desire and not an action. “Here perhaps the RSV translation of Song of Solomon 2:6 is preferable: ‘O that his left hand were under my head, and that his right hand embraced me!’” (Kinlaw)
f. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem: This exhortation to the daughters of Jerusalem is another reminder that this section (Song of Solomon 2:4-17) is to be understood as a dream or daydream of the maiden. We are not to imagine the couple together in the intimacy described in the previous lines (his right hand embraces me) with the daughters of Jerusalem standing around and taking note.
i. Yet here in her dream-like state, the maiden speaks to these imagined on looking daughters of Jerusalem and pleads with them (I charge you), vowing (or perhaps swearing) by the gazelles or by the does of the field. This poetic phrasing surely sounded more natural and meaningful to the first readers of the Song of Solomon than it does to us.
ii. “The adjuration which she used is a choice specimen of oriental poetry: she charges them, not as we should prosaically do, by everything that is sacred and true, but ‘by the roes, and by the hinds of the field.’” (Spurgeon)
g. Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases: There are two meanings to the phrase in general. It could be, “Don’t interrupt the sweet dream of love the maiden enjoys, drawing her back to the reality of daily life.” Or it could be, “Don’t start the process of loving exchange until the opportunity and appropriate occasion is present; don’t start something unless we can complete it.”
i. The idea is both plain and powerful. The maiden wants none of the onlookers to hinder or interrupt their love until it is fulfilled and consummated. We may say this is true both in the sense of their relationship and in the sense of their passion.
ii. In terms of relationship it means, “Let our love progress and grow until it is matured and fruitful, making a genuinely pleasing relationship – don’t let us go too fast.” “From her wish, an excellent principle can be drawn for courtship. A strong desire to express love physically should be present, but not until marriage should it be fulfilled. This restraint is healthy and beneficial to the couple.” (Glickman) It is like letting a flower grow until it naturally blooms, instead of trying to force a flower to grow and blossom. This isn’t repression – the rejection and denial of the feelings, often in shame; this is suppression – the conscious restraint of natural impulses and desires.
iii. In terms of passion it means, “Let our love making continue without interruption until we are both fulfilled. Don’t let us start until we can go all the way.”
2. (8-14) The maiden happily thinks over a visit from her beloved.
The voice of my beloved!
Behold, he comes
Leaping upon the mountains,
Skipping upon the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Behold, he stands behind our wall;
He is looking through the windows,
Gazing through the lattice.
My beloved spoke, and said to me:
“Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away.
For lo, the winter is past,
The rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
The time of singing has come,
And the voice of the turtledove
Is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth her green figs,
And the vines with the tender grapes
Give a good smell.
Rise up, my love, my fair one,
And come away!
“O my dove, in the clefts of the rock,
In the secret places of the cliff,
Let me see your face,
Let me hear your voice;
For your voice is sweet,
And your face is lovely.”
a. The voice of my beloved: Here the maiden moved to another scene in her dream or daydream. Before she imagined herself and her beloved at an outdoor rendezvous (Song of Solomon 2:4-7). Now she imagines a visit from her beloved, beginning with the idea that she is awakened or alerted by the sound of his voice.
b. Behold, he comes leaping upon the mountains: The maiden imagined her beloved bounding to come meet her, full of energy and excitement, as if he were a gazelle or a young stag.
c. Behold he stands behind our wall; he is looking through the windows: The maiden imagined her beloved peering through the windows to see if his maiden was home.
i. “He was seen first behind the wall, and then in the court; and lastly came to the window of his bride’s chamber.” (Clarke)
d. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away: The maiden thought of her beloved inviting her out to enjoy the glory of spring, with the rain… over and gone and beautiful flowers and birds singing.
i. “The season of spring reflects the experience of the young lovers. Everything is fresh; new life flows through the world; happiness and color triumph over winter’s boring grays. Whenever any couple falls in love, it is spring for them.” (Glickman)
ii. Voice of the turtledove: “This species is primarily a migratory spring/summer resident of Palestine (cf. Jeremiah 8:7), whose distinctive cooing call is one of the signs of spring.” (Carr)
iii. The fig tree puts forth her green figs: “The fig tree in Judea bears double crops; the first of which is ripe in spring. But the tree, as I have elsewhere observed, bears figs all the year through, in the climes congenial to it. That is, the fig tree has always ripe or unripe fruit on it. I never saw a healthy tree naked.” (Clark)
e. Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away: The maiden dreamt of her beloved insisting that they enjoy the beauty of spring together. It was important for her to know that he really wanted to do this with her and did not do it reluctantly, as if he were simply willing to make himself miserable if it could please her. It was important for her to know that he really did simply want to be with her.
f. O my dove… let me see your face: The maiden imagined these sweet, impassioned words from her beloved (though it is also possible that she expressed them towards him). She dreamt that her special man would seek her out (in the secret places of the cliff) and would embrace her as someone lovely and beautiful.
i. My dove: “This word, here a pet name for the beloved… is the common Rock Dove, not the turtledove… the dove is a common symbol of love (the ‘lovebird’).” (Carr)
ii. Let me see your face, or more literally appearance. “He wants to feast his eyes on the loveliness of her whole person, and fill his ears with the pleasing sweetness of her voice.” (Carr)
g. For your voice is sweet: The maiden considered how sweet and meaningful the sound of one’s voice is between two lovers. She imagined her beloved longing to hear her voice and remembering how sweet the sound of it is.
i. The human voice has the amazing ability to communicate and connect. “The voice can invite or discourage intimacy, without ever having to be verbally explicit, or even conscious of what it is doing… We use our voices to repel and attract, encourage or undermine. As animals with smell, so are humans with voices.” (Anne Karpf, The Human Voice)
ii. Just hearing a human voice can give us information about a person’s height, weight, shape, sex, age, occupation, sexual orientation, health, sobriety, tiredness, social class, race, education, financial status, and truthfulness. With all this power wrapped up in the voice, no wonder the maiden imagined her beloved saying to her, “your voice is sweet.”
3. (15) The maiden’s brothers warn of the “little foxes.”
Catch us the foxes,
The little foxes that spoil the vines,
For our vines have tender grapes.
a. Catch us the foxes: It is somewhat difficult to understand who says these words, and to whom they are said. The translators of the New King James Version attribute them to the maiden’s brothers; many others believe these words come from the maiden herself and are spoken to her beloved. The plural nature of the statement is clear; the idea is that the foxes will be caught together with another person (the brothers or the beloved), and not by one person working alone.
i. “This verse is a problem. The verb form is imperative, masculine plural, but there is no indication whether the speaker is male or female. All that is clear is that ‘for us’ is plural.” (Carr)
b. The little foxes that spoil the vines: Clearly the maiden speaks poetically here, using the little foxes as emblems of that which would damage the love relationship she shares with her beloved. The idea is that their relationship is like a fruitful vineyard and the little foxes will damage the vineyard unless they are stopped and caught.
i. Glickman lists several “little foxes” that may trouble couples:
· Uncontrolled desire that drives a wedge of guilt and mistrust between the couple.
· Mistrust and jealousy that strains or breaks the bond of love.
· Selfishness and pride that refuses to acknowledge wrong and fault to one another.
· An unforgiving attitude that will not accept an apology.
ii. It is helpful to remember the wording of the verse: catch us the foxes. The job of catching foxes is teamwork. One partner in the relationship can’t expect the other do it all.
iii. Hudson Taylor thought of the “little foxes” that may ruin our relationship with Jesus Christ. “The enemies may be small, but the mischief done great… And how numerous the little foxes are! Little compromises with the world; disobedience to the still small voice in little things; little indulgences of the flesh to the neglect of duty; little strokes of policy; doing evil in little things that good may come; and the beauty, and the fruitfulness of the vine are sacrificed!”
c. For our vines have tender grapes: The maiden’s idea is that their relationship is both especially precious (tender grapes are best) and vulnerable, needing protection (tender grapes need to be guarded).
i. “The appeal is made here to outsiders to prevent ‘the foxes,’ those forces that could destroy the purity of their love, from defiling their vineyards, which are blossoming… So they plead for protection for the love that blossoms between them that nothing will spoil it.” (Kinlaw)
ii. Thinking allegorically, Spurgeon considered aspects in the life of the believer that were like tender grapes that were in danger of being spoiled by the little foxes. He considered these to be tender grapes in the life of the believer:
· A secret mourning for sin.
· A humble faith in Jesus Christ.
· A genuine change of life.
· A life of secret devotion.
· An eager desire for more grace.
· A simple love to Jesus.
iii. “If you have any sign of spiritual life, if you have any tender grapes upon your branches, the devil and his foxes will be sure to be at you; therefore, endeavor to get as close as ever you can to two persons who are mentioned hard by my text, namely, the King and his spouse. First, keep close to Christ for this is your life; and next, keep close to his Church, for this is your comfort.” (Spurgeon)
4. (16-17) The maiden thinks about her beloved.
Charles Spurgeon preached eight sermons on these two verses.
My beloved is mine, and I am his.
He feeds his flock among the lilies.
Until the day breaks
And the shadows flee away,
Turn, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
Upon the mountains of Bether.
a. My beloved is mine, and I am his: The maiden concludes this dreamy section confident in the bond that joins her and her beloved. He belongs to her, and she belongs to him. In this sense they are one, joined together with mutual bonds of affection, and not one partner clinging to another more reluctant partner.
i. It is also a statement of exclusivity and preference. They are not saying, “My beloved is mine, and I belong to him and a few other guys,” nor “I am my beloved’s and he is mine and he also belongs to 999 other women.”
ii. Many people think the key to love is finding the perfect person; it is more a matter of finding the person who belongs to you, and you belong to them. “You don’t look at the other person as a status symbol who will raise your prestige… you look at that one as your counterpart, the one who completes you, the one with whom you can joyfully affirm your belongingness.” (Glickman)
iii. These lines have been repeatedly allegorically applied to the relationship between Jesus and His people. Charles Spurgeon preached eight sermons on Song of Solomon 2:16-17, and in one of them titled The Interest of Christ and His People in Each Other, he meditated on the meaning of each aspect.
iv. Ways that I belong to Jesus; ways that “I am my beloved’s”:
· I am His by the gift of His Father.
· I am His by purchase, paid for by His own life.
· I am His by conquest, He fought for me and won me.
· I am His by surrender, because I gave myself to Him.
“Blessed be God, this is true evermore — ‘I am his,’ his to-day, in the house of worship, and his to-morrow in the house of business; his as a singer in the sanctuary, and his as a toiler in the workshop; his when I am preaching, and equally his when I am walking the streets; his while I live, his when I die; his when my soul ascends and my body lies mouldering in the grave; the whole personality of my manhood is altogether his for ever and for ever.” (Spurgeon)
v. Ways that Jesus belongs to me; ways that “He is mine”:
· He is mine by connection in the same body; He is the head and I am part of His body.
· He is mine by affectionate relationship; He has given me His love.
· He is mine by the connection of birth; I am born again of Him.
· He is mine by choice; He gave Himself for me.
· He is mine by indwelling; He has decided to live inside me.
· He is mine personally, He is mine eternally.
· “It certainly does seem a great thing to call him mine; to think that he should ever be mine, and that all he is, and all he has, and all he says, and all he does, and all he ever will be, is all mine. When a wife takes a husband to be hers, he becomes all hers, and she reckons that she has no divided possession in him; and it certainly is so with thee, dear heart, if Christ be thine.” (Spurgeon)
vi. “Which is the greater miracle — that he should be mine, or that I should be his?” (Spurgeon)
b. He feeds his flock among the lilies: Lips are called lilies in Song of Solomon 5:13; the maiden probably dreamt of being smothered by kisses all through the night (until the day breaks).
i. “She is ready for him to ‘graze’ on her lips as sheep ‘browse’ on the lush grasses… Perhaps this is to be related to the opening wish of our young lady (Song of Solomon 1:2).” (Kinlaw)
ii. Other commentators see something far less physically intimate: “She is drawing attention to his shepherd role wherein he would pasture his flock. And by this she emphasizes his shepherd-like qualities of strength and gentleness.” (Glickman)
c. Turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag: The maiden dreamt of her beloved full of energy and virility, like a strong young gazelle or stag.
i. The mountains of Bether are very hard to identify. “The verbal root occurs twice in Genesis 15:10, where the meaning is obviously to divide an animal in a sacrificial ritual.” (Carr) Therefore, the Jerusalem Bible translates this, mountains of the covenant.
ii. The phrase can also be translated, mountains of division. If this is the case, the thought may be that the maiden longs for her beloved to turn and overcome the mountains of division as easily as if he were a gazelle or a young stag.
iii. “The spouse speaks of ‘mountains’ dividing her from her Beloved: she means that the difficulties were great. They were not little hills, but mountains, that closed up her way… It is plain, from this sacred Canticle, that the spouse may love and be loved, may be confident in her Lord, and be fully assured of her possession of him, and yet, there may for the present be mountains between her and him.” (Spurgeon)
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission