Song of Solomon 4.1–5.1
By Don Ruhl
In this poem, or poems, there is a striking difference. In all the preceding ones, there was a time of separation and coming together. However, this has them together the whole time. Remember what we saw in 3.6–11. We saw her arriving at Jerusalem, and Bathsheba crowning Solomon for his wedding. So then, we now see them together.
In Ezekiel 24.16, the Lord referred to Ezekiel’s wife as, “the desire of your eyes.” The next poem we read in the Song of Solomon, and several others in the Song, will remind us of this expression. However, while Solomon, and later the Shulamite, initially uses the eye, he does not want us to stop there, but to see a comparison, and to value what we see.
As we read the text, let us not see with the eye of the flesh, but let us see with the eyes of the Spirit, seeing things as the Spirit does, and as we know He wants us to see things. Let us remember what we learn elsewhere in the biblical text, letting it guide us as we consider the poem before us.
Before reading verses 1–5, consider these words from Leland Ryken,
“A blazon is a poem that praises, by listing, the beautiful features or virtuous qualities of the beloved. An emblematic blazon compares the physical features of a person to objects (or ‘emblems’) in nature. The resulting poem is figurative and symbolic” (Leland Ryken, The Literature of the Bible, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974, pp. 225, 226).
“The important point about this blazon is that it is symbolic rather than pictorial. For his comparisons the poet is content with only a vague visual correspondence between the feature of the beloved and the object to which it is compared. The primary meaning of the comparison rests not in close visual correspondence but in the transferal of value. The poet is comparing his lady to supreme standards of excellence. The lady’s neck, for example, is compared to the tower of David, which is described as an arsenal full of weapons. The visual correspondence is slight. If pressed very far, the effect is to make the lady appear ludicrous. The poet refers to the tower of David as a tower par excellence, surrounded by glorious associations of national history. It is the supreme value of the tower of defense that makes it like the lady’s neck.
“That the main point of the comparisons in these emblematic blazons is a general transference of value rather than close pictorial similarity is evident from other comparisons as well. The lady’s hair is compared to a flock of goats moving down a slope of Gilead (4:1). This comparison may be original and imaginative, but it is not literal and precise. The movement of a flock of goats down a slope takes several minutes, whereas the waving of hair in the wind is a movement of one or two seconds. The flock of goats is primarily a symbol of what would be considered valuable to a shepherd. In a subsequent passage the hair of the man is said to be like ‘the finest gold’ and ‘black as a raven’ (5:11). Literally the man’s hair cannot be both blond and black. The images used in the comparisons simply represent two examples of beauty. A similar transference of value occurs when various features of the beloved are compared to treasured minerals (5:14-15) and to fragrance (5:13)” (Ibid., p. 226).
What we shall see is what C. Hassell Bullock said, “The beauty of the maiden is overwhelming, as is the speaker’s poetic imagery” (p. 248).
Remember these comments, especially as we read 4.1–5. We might see how something compares, such as twin lambs for teeth opposite one another and twin fawns for the breasts, but we want to try to understand why Solomon used the imagery that he did.
Song of Solomon 4.1–5 – The Eyes of Love
Behold, you are fair, my love!
Behold, you are fair!
You have dove’s eyes behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats,
Going down from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of shorn sheep
Which have come up from the washing,
Every one of which bears twins,
And none is barren among them.
Your lips are like a strand of scarlet,
And your mouth is lovely.
Your temples behind your veil
Are like a piece of pomegranate.
Your neck is like the tower of David,
Built for an armory,
On which hang a thousand bucklers,
All shields of mighty men.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle,
Which feed among the lilies.
Ryken wrote of this section,
“What is going on here? What is not going on? The poet is not painting a picture of the woman’s body, and the main point of the comparisons is not primarily visual correspondence. The main point of the comparisons is the value that the women represents” (Words of Delight, p. 283, emphasis in original).
Then Ryken presented three possible interpretations (pp. 283, 284):
The imagery is primarily affective (emotional) rather than visual or pictorial.
The imagery appeals primarily to the non-visual senses.
The imagery is symbolic rather than sensory.
Notice how Solomon began a somewhat downward glance at the Shulamite:
Compare the first three lines with 1.15. Later, she will compare his eyes to doves (5.12). What do you think her eyes behind her veil signifies? Was she peeking out at him? He will mention her veil again in verse 3, showing that she is clothed, unless he merely speaks of her typical appearance.
Solomon pictured what she meant to him, how she captivated him.
Her eyes: How would her eyes compare to the eyes of a dove? Is he asking about their appearance or how she used her eyes?
Her hair: He compared her hair not only to a flock of goats, but to a flock of goats doing down from Mount Gilead. See the double comparison: A flock of goats and a flock of goats going down Mount Gilead. What was a flock of goats going down Mount Gilead like? Where is Mount Gilead? What is the significance of Mount Gilead? How was her hair like those goats?
Her teeth: See the triple comparison: Her rows of teeth were like a flock of shorn, washed sheep. Her rows of teeth each bore twins Her rows of teeth did not have any missing. What is the significance of all this?
Her lips: To what did he compare her lips? What is the significance of her teeth being like a strand of scarlet?
Her mouth: What did he say about her mouth? To what did he compare her mouth? He did not compare her mouth to anything. Why do you think he merely said her mouth is lovely?
Her temples: To what did he compare her temples? In what way would her temples resemble pomegranates? What is the significance?
Her neck: To what did he compare her neck? Notice the single comparison with four qualifiers: The single comparison was that her neck was like a tower. The four qualifiers are: It was the tower of David; it was a tower built for an armory; the armory held a thousand bucklers (small shields); the shields were for mighty men.
Her breasts: To what did he compare her breasts? See the comparison: Her breasts were like two fawns. See the modifiers: The fawns were twins of a gazelle; like fawns feeding among lilies. If the ancient Hebrew women wore white dresses to weddings, then the lilies could be the dress or patterns on the dress. Franz Delitzsch suggests,
“The breasts are compared to a twin pair of young gazelles in respect of their equality and youthful freshness, and the bosom on which they raise themselves is compared to a meadow covered with lilies, on which the twin-pair of young gazelles feed” (Commentary on the Old Testament, in ten volumes, Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Volume VI, reprinted, December 1978, p. 76).
The picture of gazelles in the field we have already seen in 2.7. A flock feeding was pictured in 1.7. The lily has been mentioned in 2.1. Feeding the flock among the lilies was shown in 2.16 and later in 6.3. The comparison of breasts with twin fawns is made again in 7.3.
This poem of 4.1–5 shows that:
Song of Solomon 4.6 – The Desire of Love
Until the day breaks
And the shadows flee away,
I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh
And to the hill of frankincense.
Remember the state of marriage before Adam and Eve sinned, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed” (Gen 2.24, 25).
Now in 4.6 Solomon showed that:
Love desires time together.
Love delights in one another.
Song of Solomon 4.7 – The Admiration of Love
You are all fair, my love,
And there is no spot in you.
Love sees all beauty.
Love sees no fault. You know that she was not absolutely perfect, whether in body or spirit. The Bible, including the writings of Solomon, show that we all have some kind of spot. Consider the following, also from the pen of Solomon,
Who can say, “I have made my heart clean,
I am pure from my sin”?
For there is not a just man on earth who does good
And does not sin.
What then do you think Solomon meant? He saw no spot, or ignored them, or took no account of them in her.
Song of Solomon 4.8 – The Invitation of Love
Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse,
With me from Lebanon.
Look from the top of Amana,
From the top of Senir and Hermon,
From the lions’ dens,
From the mountains of the leopards.
Love builds excitement.
Song of Solomon 4.9–11 – The Captivation of Love
You have ravished my heart,
My sister, my spouse;
You have ravished my heart
With one look of your eyes,
With one link of your necklace.
How fair is your love,
My sister, my spouse!
How much better than wine is your love,
And the scent of your perfumes
Than all spices!
Your lips, O my spouse,
Drip as the honeycomb;
Honey and milk are under your tongue;
And the fragrance of your garments
Is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
Love feels love.
Love sees love.
Love hears love.
Song of Solomon 4.12–15 – The Delights of Love
A garden enclosed
Is my sister, my spouse,
A spring shut up,
A fountain sealed.
Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates
With pleasant fruits,
Fragrant henna with spikenard,
Spikenard and saffron,
Calamus and cinnamon,
With all trees of frankincense,
Myrrh and aloes,
With all the chief spices—
A fountain of gardens,
A well of living waters,
And streams from Lebanon.
Love is a garden. Why does the Song frequently compare love to a garden setting? Why do we like gardens?
Love is a spring. What is a spring? How is love like a spring?
Love is all pleasant fruits, spices, and aromas. Why does the Song frequently compare love to spices? We like things that are pleasant to the senses.
Love is living water. What is living water? How is love like living water?
Song of Solomon 4.16–5.1a – The Enjoyment of Love
Awake, O north wind,
And come, O south!
Blow upon my garden,
That its spices may flow out.
Let my beloved come to his garden
And eat its pleasant fruits.
I have come to my garden, my sister, my spouse;
I have gathered my myrrh with my spice;
I have eaten my honeycomb with my honey;
I have drunk my wine with my milk.
This is the middle of the Song,
“The third major division of the Song comes to a climax with these two verses. They form the exact middle of the Hebrew text, with 111 lines (60 verses, plus the title, 1:1) from 1:2 to 4:15, and 111 lines (55 verses) from 5:2-8:14. These two verses contain five lines of text, but they also contain the climax of the thought of the poem. Everything thus far has everything moving towards the consolidation and confirmation of what has been pledged here. The sister/bride now becomes the ‘consummated one’ (see on 6:13-7:5), as lover and beloved extend to each the fullness of themselves” (G. Lloyd Carr, p. 127).
Love is open.
What is the point of marriage if the spouses cannot enjoy one another?
Song of Solomon 5.1b – The Sharing of Love
Eat, O friends!
Drink, yes, drink deeply,
O beloved ones!
Love invites rejoicing.
What shall we learn from this section of the Song of Solomon?
- Learn to distinguish between love and lust.
- Speak beautifully and kindly to one another.
- Learn to see the value in and of your spouse.
- Be swift to praise, slow to criticize.
- Practice the Golden Rule in your speech to one another.