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the Week of Proper 11 / Ordinary 16
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Bible Commentaries
Song of Solomon 3

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and HomileticalLange's Commentary

Verses 1-11

SECOND SONG

The first meeting of the lovers, related by Shulamith who has returned to her home.

Song of Solomon 2:8 to Song of Solomon 3:5

FIRST (AND ONLY) SCENE:

SHULAMITH (ALONE).

8 Hark!14 my beloved; lo! here he comes,

leaping15 over the mountains,

bounding over the hills.

9 My beloved is like a gazelle

or a young hart.16

Lo! here he stands behind our wall,17

looking through18 the windows,

glancing through the lattices.19

10 Answered my beloved and said to me:

“Up,20 my dear, my fair one and go forth!

11 For, lo! the winter is past,

the rain is over, is gone.

12 The flowers appear in the land,

the time for song21 has arrived,

and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land.

13 The fig-tree spices22 its green figs

and the vines are in bloom,23 they yield fragrance,

24 up! my dear, my fair one and go forth!

14 My dove, in the clefts25 of the rock,

in the recess of the cliffs,26

let me see thy form,27 let me hear thy voice,

for thy voice is sweet and thy form is comely.”—

15 Catch28 us foxes,

little foxes, spoiling vineyards;
for our vineyards are in bloom.

16 My beloved is mine, and I am his,

who feeds among the lilies.

17 Against29 the day cools, and the shadows flee

turn thee, my beloved, and be like
a gazelle or a young hart
on the cleft30 mountains.

(She sleeps and after some time awakes again:)

III. 1 31On my bed32 in the nights33

I sought him whom my soul loves;
I sought him but I found him not.

2 “I will rise now and go about in the city

in the markets and in the streets;34

I will seek him whom my soul loves.”—
I sought him but I found him not.

3 Found35 me the watchmen, who go about in the city;

36Whom my soul loves, have ye seen?”37

4 Scarcely38 had I passed from them,

when I found him whom my soul loves.
I grasped him and would not let him go,
until I had brought39 him into my mother’s house,

and into the chamber of her that conceived40 me.—

5 I41 adjure you, ye daughters of Jerusalem,

by the gazelles or by the hinds of the field,
that ye wake not and that ye waken not
love until it please.

EXEGETICAL AND CRITICAL

1. It is the fixed opinion of almost all the more recent interpreters that this act contains two monologues or sonnets sung by Shulamith alone, and nothing more; and this is verified by all the particulars that it contains. The attempt of Magnus and Delitzsch to strike out as spurious the formula of citation Song of Solomon 2:10אָמַר דִּוֹדִי וְאָמַר לִי and so to gain a dialogue form for the first and larger division (Song of Solomon 2:8-17) is wrecked not only by the evidence of genuineness afforded by all MSS. and ancient versions in favor of these words, but also by the closing verses of the section (Song of Solomon 2:15-17) which correctly interpreted represent her lover as present only to the imagination of Shulamith or to her memory, which vividly recalled him. Whether the two monologues are regarded as two distinct scenes, (as is commonly the case), or the scene is allowed to remain the same in both without change and only a pause of some length is interposed between them (Ewald, Hitz., Hahn,) is on the whole but an unessential difference. For a pause after Song of Solomon 2:17 is as undeniable and as universally admitted as is the peculiar character of the second sonnet Song of Solomon 3:1-5, which as the narration of a dream (with the apostrophizing of the daughters of Jerusalem therewith connected) is sharply and distinctly sundered from the preceding monologue, though this too is of a narrative character. As to what takes place between the two monologues or scenes, we may either suppose (with Ewald and others) a prolonged meditation and silence on the part of Shulamith, exhausted by the foregoing lively expression of her longing desire for her lover, or, as intimated in the above translation, that she sinks into a brief slumber, which brings before her in a dream the lover for whom she so ardently longs, and thus in the moment of her awaking recalls to her remembrance a like dream from the early days of her love, which she hereupon relates. No sufficient proof of this assumption can, it is true, be brought from the context. Yet it undoubtedly has more in its favor than, e.g., the hypothesis proposed by Umbreit, Rocke, Vaihinger, Renan and several of the older writers, that Shulamith utters the words Song of Solomon 2:8-17 in a dream, and then, after awaking, she relates (to the women of the harem around her) a dream which she had previously had, Song of Solomon 3:1 ff., in order to “prove her changeless love to the friend to whom her heart was given.” The language in Song of Solomon 2:8-17 has, to be sure, a certain dreamlike vagueness, rather than the character of a strictly historical narration. But this is sufficiently explained by the highly excited fancy of the singer, which brings up the past before her, as though she were experiencing it anew, and which in this lyrical recital, that is any thing but dry narration, here and there springs over what intervenes between the separate particulars of the action, especially in Song of Solomon 2:9 and between Song of Solomon 2:14-15.

2. It is, however, far more difficult to determine the scene or the situation, and the external-surroundings of the speaker during this act, than to decide upon the form and style of the discourse. The adherents of the shepherd-hypothesis, who here conceive of Shulamith as continuing at Jerusalem in the royal harem, and expressing her longing for her distant lover, can urge, it is true, in favor of this the repetition of the address to the “daughters of Jerusalem” at the close of the section (Song of Solomon 3:5), but are not able to explain why the description in Song of Solomon 2:8-17 presupposes an undoubted country scene, with mountains, hills, vineyards, flowery fields, etc., or why it is a simple monologue of the beloved, and neither Solomon nor the daughters of Jerusalem utter a word. Böttcher’s view, therefore, seems to have something in its favor, that the locality of the action was a royal country house not far from Jerusalem, where Shulamith was detained a solitary prisoner. And the one circumstance at least that according to Song of Solomon 2:8 ff. the scene appears to be in the country, might be conveniently combined with the assumption that Shulamith here continues to stay in the royal pleasure-grounds south of the capital, and that Solomon has only left her again for a while for some unknown reasons. But Shulamith’s place of abode plainly appears to be one further removed from Jerusalem, and in fact to be located in the region of her home. For 1) the mention of her mother’s house, with its wall and its latticed window (Song of Solomon 3:4; Song of Solomon 2:9) makes it probable that she is there. 2) We are also led to the very same result by בְּאַרְצֵנוּ, “in our land,” Song of Solomon 2:12, the mention of the “vineyards in bloom,” Song of Solomon 2:13; Song of Solomon 2:15, as well as the הָרֵי בֶתֶר, Song of Solomon 2:17, whether this difficult expression be rendered “separating mountains,” or “cleft mountains,” or “spice mountains” (see in loc.). 3) Shulamith brought in solemn pomp to the wedding by her royal bridegroom, as described for the first time in the following act, Song of Solomon 3:6-11, presupposes that she had before been staying again in her parents’ house; for it is from thence that according to the custom of the ancient Hebrews, the bride must always be brought (comp. 1Ma 9:37; 1Ma 9:39; Matthew 25:1, etc.). 4) That Shulamith came from northern Palestine to Jerusalem for her marriage with Solomon, is also rendered highly probable by the mention of Lebanon in what her newly espoused says to her, Song of Solomon 4:8; and further, the “coming up of the bride out of the wilderness,” as described in Song of Solomon 3:6, in her entry into the capital, might point to a coming from the north, and not out of the wilderness of Judah, which lay south of Jerusalem (comp. in loc.). Accordingly the parental residence of the bride, or its vicinity is, with Döpke, Heiligstedt and Delitzsch, to be regarded as the scene of this passage—that is to say, Shunem or some neighboring locality in the tribe of Issachar north of Mount Gilboa, or on the south side of “Little Hermon.” How Shulamith came thither again from the royal residence, whether peaceably dismissed to her home by agreement with her bridegroom, or conducted thither by himself in order to be subsequently brought with solemn pomp to the wedding, is not clearly explained in the piece. Only every thought must be excluded of a possible flight of the virgin from the royal harem to her home, for she exhibits her longing for her royal lover in undiminished strength, and this too not as though it had arisen from regret at her too hasty flight from him (comp. Delitzsch, p. 99 f.).—As regards the time of the action, it appears to follow from the way that, Song of Solomon 2:11-13, the winter is described as past, and the fair spring-time as come, that an interval of some months had elapsed between the summer or autumn scene of the preceding act (Song of Solomon 1:14; Song of Solomon 1:16 f.; Song of Solomon 2:3 ff.) and the present, or more briefly, that “the entire rainy season lies between Song of Solomon 2:7 and Song of Solomon 2:8” (Hitz.). But as that charming description of opening spring belongs to a narration, and furthermore to a poetic and ideal narration of what Solomon said to his beloved on his first meeting with her, no conclusion can be drawn from it in respect to the time of this action. And neither the “winter” in Song of Solomon 2:11 nor the “nights” in Song of Solomon 3:1 (according to Hitzig the “long winter nights!”) afford any support for that opinion, which would charge upon the poet too great a violation of the Aristotelian demand of the unity of time. On the contrary, there is nothing in the way of assuming with Ewald, Böttcher, Del. and most of the later interpreters, an interval of but a few days between Acts 1:2 (which certainly need not be narrowed down to the space of a few hours, as, e.g., Vaihinger assumes), nor of regarding the entire action of the piece generally as taking place in the course of a single spring, and occupying, at the utmost, a few weeks.42 Comp. on Song of Solomon 7:13.

3. Ch.2, Song of Solomon 2:8-9.

Song of Solomon 2:8. Hark! my beloved.—Literally, “the voice [or sound] of my beloved,”—קוֹל דּוֹדִי, to which abrupt expression הָיָהit is or נִשְׁמַעis heard is to be supplied as in Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 40:6 (Matthew 3:3); 2 Kings 6:32. [It is rather an exclamation, to which no verb need be supplied, see Green’sHeb. Chres. on Isaiah 40:3; Isaiah 40:6]. And the following expression, “lo! there he comes,” etc., shows that it is not the words of the bridegroom (Hengstenberg, after Michaelis and many of the older writers), but his coming itself or the sound of his coming and bounding over the mountains and the hills, in short his steps, which are indicated by קוֹל, comp. Song of Solomon 5:2; Genesis 3:8; 1 Kings 14:6. That Shulamith was shortly expecting her lover, may be probably inferred from this exclamation of hers which may be supposed to have been occasioned by some noise in which she thought she heard the steps of him for whom she longed. But that which further follows is not a description of his arrival, which now actually ensues (Magn., Del.), nor a mere airy fancy sketch or dreaming description of what her friend would say and do, if he were now actually to come (Umbr., Hitz., Vaih., etc.—see No. 1, above), but a vivid reminiscence of the way that he had actually come to her the first time and of the loving conversation which had then taken place between him and her by the wall of her parental home. It was the more natural for the bride to be thus vividly transported to the past, as she was hourly expecting her bridegroom back again at the very spot where he had then met with her for the first time.43Leapingbounding (מְקַפֵּץ—מְדַלֵּג). From this description of her lover’s first coming to Shulamith, which is further illustrated by the following figures of the gazelle and the young hart, we may perhaps conclude that Solomon while hunting on Mount Gilboa, or in its vicinity, saw his beloved there for the first time, and formed a connection with her in the manner ideally described in what follows.

Song of Solomon 2:9. My beloved is like a gazelle or a young hart.Hitzig calls in question the genuineness of these words, with no other grounds of suspicion than such as are purely subjective. They are designed more particularly to illustrate and justify in their application to her lover the somewhat bold and in themselves not very intelligible terms דלג “leaping,” and קפץ “bounding.” And this they manifestly do in so far as they call attention to the fact that he resembles those fair and noble animals not in his speed and agility merely, but generally in the charming grace and loftiness of his whole bearing. Comp. passages like 2 Samuel 2:18; 1 Chronicles 12:8; Proverbs 6:5, where speed alone is the tert. comp. in this figure, with Psalms 18:34; Habakkuk 3:19; Proverbs 5:19, where the other qualities of these animals are also taken into the account.—Lo here he is, standing behind our wall. Judged by the analogy of other passages, in which it is found, the word here used does not mean the wall about the vineyard but the wall of the house, to which the mention of the window immediately after also points.44 “Our wall,” because Shulamith means the house belonging to her family, in or near which she now is again [or which she so well remembers—Tr.]; comp. Song of Solomon 8:8 “our sister,” and “our vineyards” Song of Solomon 2:15.—Looking through the windows, glancing through the lattices—literally, “from the windows, from the lattices.” It is a matter of indifference from which window he looks into the interior; it was only worth while to affirm in the general that he looked in from the region of the windows, that is from without. “Window” (חַלּוֹן), and “lattice” (חֲרַכָּא—according to the Targ. Joshua 2:15; Joshua 2:18 equivalent to חַלּוֹן, of the same meaning also with אֶשְׁנָבJdg 5:28; Proverbs 7:6, as well as with אֲרֻבָּהHos 13:3; Ecclesiastes 7:3) are plainly only different names for the same thing, of which however the latter expression is the more special or precise; for the lattice properly closed the aperture of the window and consequently was that through which he must have looked, comp. 2 Kings 13:17.—מֵצִיץ literally, “blooming” (comp. Isaiah 27:6; Psalms 132:18 and especially Psalms 72:16, where מֵצִיץ occurs of men blooming out of the earth) does not express a “transient appearing” or a “quick and stolen glance,” but evidently describes the blooming and radiant appearance of her lover, who is also called “white and red,” Song of Solomon 5:10. “He blooms in through the window” (comp. Michaelis: “roseum suum vultum instar floris jucundissimi per retia cancellorum ostendens”) is a pregnant expression, and reminds one of Genesis 49:22, where Joseph is described as a young fruit tree of luxuriant growth, whose “daughters” run over the wall.45

4. Solomon’s first greeting to Shulamith, Song of Solomon 2:10-14.

Song of Solomon 2:10. My beloved answered and said to me. In opposition to the doubts of Magnus and Delitzsch regarding the genuineness of these words, see above No. 1. In respect to ענה in the opening of a discourse and consequently in the sense of “beginning to speak” (not “answering” Hengstenberg), comp. Deuteronomy 21:7; Deuteronomy 26:5; 2 Chronicles 29:31; Isaiah 14:10; Job 3:2, and ἀποκρίνεσθαι, which is frequently so used in the New Testament.46 Arise, my dear, my fair one, and go forth,viz., out of the house—not “out of the city into the country,” as the adherents of the shepherd-hypothesis suppose, who think the shepherd utters these words to Shulamith in her captive condition (similarly also Weissbach).47

Song of Solomon 2:11. For lo, the winter is past.סְתָו (for which the K’ri סְתָיו to fix the correct pronunciation instead of סְתוֹ as it might possibly be read) denotes, as also in Aram., the winter and that on the side of its cold, as the parallel expression גֶּשֶׁם (comp. Ecclesiastes 12:2; Job 37:6) denotes the same on the side of its moisture, that is to say, as the rainy season (עֵת גְשָׁמִיםtime of rain, Ezra 10:9; Ezra 10:13). The winter as the cold season of the year necessarily keeps people in the house; whence the allusion to its being past adds force to the solicitation to come out of the house.

Song of Solomon 2:12. The flowers appear in the land, literally, “are seen (נִרְאוּ) in the land.” On the rapidity with which the spring with its new verdure and its blooming attire usually follows the winter in the East, comp. Hasselquist, Reisen, p. 261.—The time of singing has arrived.עֵת הַזָּמִיר is not the “time for pruning vines,” as the old translators explained it, after the analogy of Leviticus 25:3 f.; Isaiah 5:6; for in Song of Solomon 2:13; Song of Solomon 2:15 the vines are represented as already in blossom, the time for pruning them was therefore long since past; but it is the “time of singing, of merry songs.” By this, however, we are not to understand the singing of birds (Ibn Ezra, Rashi, E. Meier), but conformably to Isaiah 25:5 (זְמִיר), Isaiah 24:16; Job 35:10; Psa 119:54; 2 Samuel 23:1, etc. (זְמִירוֹת), the glad songs of men, such as spring usually awakens, especially in the life of shepherds and country people (comp. Judges 21:20 f.).—And the voice of the turtle is heard in our land,viz. in Palestine, the land of Solomon and and Shulamith. This בְּאַרְצֵנוּ does not by any means require us to regard Shulamith’s country lover as the speaker, although it favors the assumption that the scene of the narrative lay in the country rather than in the city. The “turtle-dove” (תּוֹר) as a bird of passage (Jeremiah 8:7) is a fit representative of spring, and it need not therefore symbolize the Holy Spirit (Targ.), nor the meek (Hengstenb.), nor Israel in general (Hahn).

Song of Solomon 2:13. The fig tree spices its fruit. As פַּגִּים means not the early figs but the late figs, i.e. the small fruit of the fig tree which continues to grow during the winter, and does not ripen until spring (Septuag. ὄλυνθοι, Vulgate, grossi), and as חָנַט signifies, Genesis 1:2; Genesis 1:26, “to spice, to perfume,” this verb must here too have the sense of spicing and denote that “aromatic sweetness” which figs attain about the time of their ripening (comp. Schubert, Reise III. p. 113). We must reject, therefore, both the “putting forth” of the ancient versions (Sept., Aq., Vulg., Syr.), and the signification of “reddening” or “browning,” preferred by Ewald, Hitzig, Renan, etc.; for the late figs are of a violet color even during the winter, when they are still unfit to eat (comp. Meier and Weissbachin loc.).—And the vines are in blossom, literally, “are blossom.” סְמָדַר a substantive, which occurs again Song of Solomon 2:15; Song of Solomon 7:13, and whose etymology is very obscure (comp. Velth., Ewald and Hitzigin loc.), can mean nothing but “blossom, vine blossom” either here or in the other two passages; and this is confirmed by the ancient versions (Sept.κυπρίζειν, Vulg. florere, Symm.οἰνάνθη; also the Syr. on Isaiah 17:11). It plainly makes no difference in the sense whether we translate “the vines are blossom (comp. e.g.Exodus 9:31), give fragrance” (as is commonly done) or “the vines in blossom, i.e. since they are blossoming, yield their fragrance” (see e.g.Weissb. comp. Delitzsch). With regard to the fine delicious fragrance of the vine blossom comp. also Sir 24:23.

Song of Solomon 2:14. My dove in the clefts of the rock.—No pause is observable between Song of Solomon 2:13-14 (Hitzig; comp. Weissbach). The tenderly caressing and alluring language continues without change. Solomon here entitles his beloved a “dove in the clefts of the rock,” because, as appears from Song of Solomon 2:9, the bars of the latticed window still separate him from her. The allusion to her dove-like innocence and her lovely form is altogether subordinate, but must nevertheless not be left wholly out of the account as e.g.Weissbach insists; for “dove” is undoubtedly a tender pet-name, comp. Song of Solomon 6:9, and even Song of Solomon 1:15. The allegorical interpretation, which sees in the dove “persecuted innocence” (Hengsten.), or even the righteous hiding himself in the gaping wounds of Christ (Theodoret, Greg. the great, J. Gerh.) has clearly no exegetical justification.48In the secret of the cliffs, literally “in the hiding-place of the ladder of rock, of the steep rocky precipices,” for this appears to be the meaning of the word here used. The expression evidently serves only to finish out the figure employed immediately before of the clefts of the rock concealing the dove. No conclusion can be based upon it respecting Shulamith’s place of residence, as though it actually were a rock-bound castle (Böttcher), or were in Solomon’s lofty palace upon Zion (Ewald, Hitzig, Vaih., etc.)49 The present description would rather appear to indicate (comp. above No. 2) that Shulamith’s country home was surrounded by a mountainous and rocky region (Delitzsch).—Let me see thy form,מַרְאֶה denotes in this poem not barely the face (this Solomon already saw through the lattice) but the entire form, comp. Song of Solomon 5:15, also Genesis 12:11; Genesis 24:17; Genesis 39:6.—Let me hear thy voice. Evidently an invitation to sing, with which Shulamith complies in Song of Solomon 2:15.—The following fortifying clause reminds of the similar one in Song of Solomon 2:9, a.

5. Shulamith’s answer.

Song of Solomon 2:15. That this verse is a little vintagers’ song or at least the fragment of one, and that Shulamith sings it in answer to the request of her lover in Song of Solomon 2:10-14 is regarded as settled by most of the recent interpreters since Herder. Only the allegorists, as Hengstenberg, Hahn, etc. see expressed in it Shulamith’s fear of the foes of God’s vineyard (i.e. heretics according to Hengstenberg, [so Cov., Patr., Poole and the generality of English Commentators], pagan Hamites according to Hahn.); and Ewald inappropriately puts the words into the mouth of the lover, who thus makes the connection again with what he had said in Song of Solomon 2:13. That we rather have here a separate ditty or fragment of a song, is shown not only by the plural form of address, but also by the accumulation of rhymes (,שעלים כרמים ,מחבלים ,קטנים). And that this ditty is sung by the bride, not by the bridegroom, appears from its contents, which seem perfectly suitable for the keeper of a vineyard (see Song of Solomon 1:6), but not for her lover, be he king or shepherd.50 It is, however, arbitrary and preposterous to assume with Hitzig and Renan, that Shulamith sings this sonnet at one of the windows in the harem at Jerusalem in order to inform her lover from her old home, who was in the vicinity of the place of her abode, in nearly the same way that Richard Cœur de Lion betrayed the place of his captivity to Blondel, his faithful minstrel, by singing the refrain of a song familiar to them both. The whole situation too is not in the remotest manner adapted to such a romantic and sentimental meaning and design of the sonnet. Its context rather indicates plainly enough that it still belongs to Shulamith’s narrative of her first meeting with her lover, and consequently is neither more nor less than her answer to his request to come out to him and to sing to him,—an answer, which whether actually given by her in just these words or not, at all events concealed a delicate allusion to her lover under a popular veil artlessly employed and half in jest, and intimated to him that she was not disinclined to let him take part henceforth in her care for the security of her vineyard. If she really sang these words, she did so while opening or the doors of her house to admit her lover who stood without before the wall, or while she stepped out to him singing and smiling (comp. Delitzschin loc.)—Catch us foxes, little foxes, spoiling vineyards. The foxes deserve this name, not because they attack the ripe grapes themselves (Theocr. Id. I. 46, ff; V. 112), but because by their passages and holes they undermine the walls of the vineyards and injure the roots of the vines; and they also gnaw the stems and young shoots.51 It was important, therefore, in the spring when the vines were blossoming, to protect the vineyards from these uninvited guests; and the more so, since the spring is the very time of the coming forth of the young foxes from their kennels. The predicate קְטַנִּיםlittle refers to young foxes (comp. Genesis 9:24; Genesis 27:15; 1 Kings 3:7), not to the diminutive size of the animals which nevertheless do so much damage [so Harmer, Good, Williams]; in that case the smaller variety of the jackal, which is known by the name of adive, would be specially intended by שֻׁעָלְים (Hitzig). But as the jackal is always called אִי or תַּן (Job 30:29, Micah 1:8) in every other passage in which it is mentioned in the Old Testament, whilst שׁוּעָלis the constant designation of the fox proper, we are not justified here in departing from this usual meaning of the expression, comp. Oedmann, Sammlungen II. 38; Winer, Real-Wörterbuch, Art. Füchse, also P. Cassel on Judges 15:4. Moreover the expressions “little foxes” and “destroying vineyards” are simply related as in apposition to the principal object שֻׁעָלִים; and both this and the words named as in apposition are without the article, because it is not the foxes universally, but just foxes, vineyard-destroying foxes that are to be taken. Hitzig seeks without necessity to base upon this absence of the article before שֻׁעָלִים his translation “hold for us, ye foxes,” etc., which he makes equivalent to “wait, ye foxes, I’ll give it to you!”—For our vineyards are in bloom, literally “and our vineyards are in bloom;” comp. in respect to this specifying “and, and in fact,” which here has a specially motive character, Ecclesiastes 1:15; Ecclesiastes 8:2; Judges 6:25; Judges 7:22; Malachi 1:11, and in general Ewald, § 340, b. By the expression סְמָדַר the singer takes up again what had been said, by her lover, Song of Solomon 2:13, a, whether she altered her ditty in conformity with it, or that expression in the mouth of Solomon recalled to her mind this vernal song with the like-sounding refrain; this latter view is evidently the more natural.

6. Conclusion of the first monologue. Song of Solomon 2:16-17.

Song of Solomon 2:16. My beloved is mine and I am his.—This declaration that she has become the property of her beloved and he hers, that they have mutually surrendered themselves to one another (comp. Song of Solomon 6:3; Song of Solomon 7:11), does not continue Shulamith’s answer to the greeting of Solomon, Song of Solomon 2:10-14Song of Solomon 2:10-14Song of Solomon 2:10-14 (Delitzsch, Weissbach, etc.), but after her account of her first meeting with him, which terminates with Song of Solomon 2:15, she takes up again the expression of her desire for her absent lover uttered in Song of Solomon 2:8-9, by asserting in the first instance that though still absent, he was inseparably bound to her.52Who feeds among the lilies.—Manifestly a figurative expression for “who, wherever he abides, spreads radiance, joy and loveliness about him,” or “in whose footsteps roses and lilies ever bloom.”53 With reference to the figurative nature of this form of speech as a fixed and favorite poetical phrase, comp. its recurrence with two different applications, Song of Solomon 4:5 and Song of Solomon 6:3. Shulamith had already represented her royal lover as feeding his flock, Song of Solomon 1:7.

Song of Solomon 2:17. Against the day cools and the shadows flee.—Contrary to the division of the verses, as well as to the analogy of Song of Solomon 6:3, Herder, Amm., Kleuker, Döpke [so Coverdale, Doway] connect these words with the participial clause at the close of the preceding verse. “Feeding among the lilies till the day grows cool” would yield a very tame and trivial thought, whilst, on the other hand, the following solicitation, “turn thee,” etc., can scarcely dispense with some more particular statement of the time up to which or about which it should be complied with. Upon עַד שֶׁי (literally, “enduring till,” “waiting till”)=“until,” “whilst,” by the time that, comp. the like forms of expression, Genesis 24:33; Genesis 27:45; Exodus 22:26; 1 Samuel 1:22; 1 Samuel 14:19, etc.; also Song of Solomon 1:12 above, where, it is true, the connection demands a somewhat different translation. Shulamith evidently begs her lover to return to her before the coming on of the shades of evening (before the day wholly cools, and the ever lengthening shadows melt quite away in the darkness—comp. Job 14:2). By evening, at the latest, and before night, he should come over the mountains to her swift as a gazelle, as at that first time when she had seen him bounding over the summits and the hills (Song of Solomon 2:8).54Turn thee and be like,etc.—סֹב neither qualifies דְּמֵה adverbially, “resemble hereabouts a gazelle,” etc. (Weissbach); nor is it an invitation to her friend already present to ramble with her upon the mountains in the neighborhood” (Delitzsch); nor equivalent to “turn back again,” as though it were intended to call back one who had shortly before been near her and who was going away (Böttcher); but simply=“turn thyself hither, direct thy steps hither” (comp. 1 Samuel 22:18; 2 Samuel 18:30). The Vulgate quite correctly, therefore, as regards the sense, revertere; so also the Syr., Luth., etc.—The call upon him to “resemble the gazelle” is evidently connected with the description given of her lover in Song of Solomon 2:8. She wishes that her lover would now soon return, as she saw him then, swiftly and gracefully, like the sudden appearing of a noble deer on the mountain height.—On cleft mountains.—This translation of the difficult עַל־הָרֵי בֶתֶר is especially favored by the ἐπὶ ὄρη κοιλωμάτων of the Sept. The usual signification of בֶּתֶר, “piece,” “severed portion” (Genesis 15:10; Jeremiah 34:18-19, etc.) lies at the basis of it; and both the name of the place, בִּתְרוֹן, Bithron, the designation of a mountain ravine east of the Jordan, 2 Samuel 2:29, and the Greek ῥαγάς, “fissure, cleft,” offer themselves at once as confirmatory analogies (comp. Gesen., Lex., also Vaih., Renan and Delitzschin loc., “riven mountains”). Commonly, “on mountains of separation,” i.e., on the mountains that separate us (comp. Luther, “auf den Scheidebergen;” Merc., Ewald, Hitzig, also the Targ., Ibn Ezra and Jarchi) [so Ginsburg]. Peculiarly Weissbach “on the spice-mountains” (or “Bathrum heights,” comp. Vulg., “super montes Bother,” and Theodoret, who, as well as the Syr., translates similarly “ἐπὶ τὰ ὄρη θυμιαμάτων”); by this he supposes to be meant Shulamith’s breasts perfumed with aromatic betel-leaves, i.e., with μαλοβάθρον, malabathrum=Syr., bathrum. But such an adducing of the הָרֵי בְשָׂמִים, mountains of spices mentioned in Song of Solomon 8:14, and that as identical in signification with the “mountain of myrrh” and “hill of frankincense” mentioned in Song of Solomon 4:6, i.e., with the fragrant breasts of his beloved (?), is in the present instance manifestly destructive of the sense and repugnant to the connection, and would besides yield an absolutely lascivious sense, which the expressions in question do not have in the two passages alleged.

Footnotes:

[14][Wic. heading: The voice of the church of Christ. Mat.: The voice of the church. Cov.: Methink I hear the voice of my beloved. So Cran., Bish.]

[15]“Whilst the verb דלג suggests his long leaps, as he springs, comp. Isaiah 35:6; Psalms 18:30; Zephaniah 1:9, the verb קפץ (an older form for קפז and related to the קמץ to press together, as well as to קבץ to gather; in the Piel “to cause to draw together”) lets us, as it were, see the gazelles, with which the lover is compared, as in galloping they draw their feet together again, after being stretched so wide apart.” Weissb.

[16][Ains.: a fawn of the hinds]

[17] כֹּתֶל according to the Targ. on Joshua 2:15 equivalent to קִיר “wall” occurs nowhere else in the Old Testament except in the Chaldee forms כְּתַל Daniel 5:5, and (plur.) כֻּתְלַיָּא Ezra 5:8.

[18][E. Ver.: “forth at.” Cov.: better “in at.” Words.: “spying in at the windows.”]

[19][Cov.: peepeth through the grate. Ains.: flourishing through the lattices.]

[20]The two-fold לָךְ to thee after קוּמִי arise and after לְכִי go, throws back the action, as it were, upon its subject and thus serves to impart to the language an easy, colloquial and kindly character, comp. Song of Solomon 1:8, also Song of Solomon 2:11; Song of Solomon 2:13; Song of Solomon 2:17; Song of Solomon 4:6; Song of Solomon 8:14. Weissbach correctly remarks that it is chiefly verbs of motion to which this kindly לָךְ or לִי or לָמוֹ is added. [Mat.: The voice of Christ.]

[21][E. Ver.: “singing of birds,” which Harmer refers especially to the nightingale. Wic.: “cutting.” Cov.: the twisting time. Doway: “pruning,” so Thrupp and Weiss. Poole: cutting or cropping for nosegays.]

[22][So Noyes. Cov.: bringeth forth. E. Ver.: putteth forth. Good, Ginsb.: sweeten. Williams: ripen. Fry: embalm. Weiss: perfume. Thrupp: mature.]

[23][Wic.: flowering. Cov.: blossoms, so Fry, Noyes, Thrupp. Doway: flower. E. Ver.: tender grapes; so Good, Weiss, Ginsb. Williams: tender buds.]

[24][Wic.: The voice of Christ to the church.]

[25] חַגְוֵי הַסֶּלַע appears here as well as in Obad. Song of Solomon 2:3; Jeremiah 49:16, which are probably derived from the passage before us, to be not rocky heights, lofty refuges on top of the rocks, (Schult., Gesen., Hengstenb., Weissb., etc.,) but rather “fissures, clefts in the rocks” (comp. Ewald and Hitzig in loc.) For the latter figure manifestly agrees better with the present situation, (see Song of Solomon 2:9) and may also have a better etymological basis (comp. Arab. خَجَّ to split.)

[26] מַדְרגֵוֹת (from דרג kindred to. דרך) comp. Ezek. 38:29, the only other passage in which the word occurs.

[27]On the form מַרְאַיִךְ as a singular, comp. Ewald, § 256 b, [Green’s Heb. Gramm. § 221, 7 a.]

[28][Wic.: The voice of Christ to the church against heretics. Mat.: The voice against the heretics.]

[29][Adopted from Thrupp.]

[30][E. Ver. marg: division, but in the text: Bether, as though it were a proper name which Patrick identifies with Bethel; Ainsworth and Poole with Bithron; and Clarke with Beth-horon. Cov.: simply; “mountains” omitting Bether. Bish., Cran.: wide mountains. Parkhurst, Williams: craggy mountains. Burrowes: a region cut up or divided by mountains and valleys, rough, craggy and difficult to cross. With.: our secluded hills.]

[31][Wicliffe’s heading: The voice of the church gathered together of Gentiles. Mat.: The voice of the church which is chosen out of the heathen.]

[32][Wic.: little bed.]

[33][So Ains., Wic., by nights. Mat., E. Ver., by night.]

[34] שְׁוָקִים plur. of שׁוּק, as דְּוָרִים from דּוּד [Green’s Heb. Gramm. § 207, 1. f.] related to שָׁקַק to run (whence also שׁוֹק leg) denotes “places where people run,” bustling public places, hence the Sept. correctly έν αγοραῖς. Comp. Ecclesiastes 12:4-5; and Proverbs 7:8.—For רְחֹבוֹת streets (πλατεῖαι) comp. Proverbs 1:20; Proverbs 7:12. Without sufficient proof from the language Weissbach claims for this latter expression the meaning “markets, open squares,” and for the former the meaning “streets.” [Wic.: by towns and streets. Cov.: upon the market and in all the streets. Genev.: by the streets and by the open places. E. Ver. in the streets and in the broad ways. Patrick: שְׁוָקִים are the lesser thoroughfares in the city or the streets of lesser cities; as רְחֹבוֹת are the greater, wider streets, or rather the streets of the royal capital city.]

[35]On מצא “to strike upon any one, find, meet him,” 1 Samuel 10:3; Song Song of Solomon 5:7.

[36][Wic. The church saith of Christ to the apostles. Mat.: The church speaking of Christ.]

[37]The interrogative particle הֲ is omitted before the verb רְאִיתֶם, because it is at so great a remove from the beginning of the clause. Comp. Ewald, Lehrbuch, § 314 a, b.

[38]On כִּמְעַט (מִעַט with כְ veritatis) “as much as a little.” Comp. Isaiah 1:9.

[39]On the form שֶׁהֲבֵיאתִיו for שֶׁהֲבִיאֹתִיו see Hitzig in loc. [Green’s Heb. Gram., § 160, 2.]

[40] הוֹרָתִי synonym of אֵם as Hosea 2:5.

[41][Wic.: The voice of Christ to the church. Mat.: The voice of Christ.]

[42] [If Shulamith is here describing her first meeting with her royal lover, there is no reason why she might not remember and relate it as fully as is here done, without the necessity of being transported for the purpose from Jerusalem to Shunem, even supposing that to have been her original home. Especially as her adjuration of the “daughters of Jerusalem,” Song of Solomon 3:5, is a more evident proof of her still being in the royal capital, than any which Zöckler has been able to bring to the contrary. He seems to have made the mistake of confounding the locality of a past event narrated with the place of the narrator. It may be a necessity to the dramatic hypothesis to get her back again to Shunem, after her residence with the king in his palace, in order that she may come thence in solemn pomp to her marriage at a subsequent period. But this scarcely warrants the drawing of so large a conclusion from so slender a premise.

The advocates of the idyllic hypothesis find here a distinct song, describing a visit paid by the lover to the fair object of his affections, without being at any pains to trace a connection between it and what had preceded. Taylor thinks that this belongs to the second day of the marriage feast; the bride from her window in the palace is attracted by the sound of a hunting party (Song of Solomon 2:15); the bridegroom, who is one of the party, looks up and addresses her. Withington supposes some time to have elapsed since the preceding scene. “The bride had gone up to Jerusalem, and after a stay there had gone back to the country, and was to remain there until the season came of her husband’s rustication, which would naturally be in the spring.” Burrowes: “The beloved had left the spouse; these words describe his return.” Wordsworth connects this scene directly with the immediately preceding verse, the slumber of the bridegroom there described being equivalent to his absence or withdrawal: “The patience of the bride, after long waiting, is rewarded by the joyful sight of the bridegroom bounding over the hills.” Ginsburg, with his peculiar modification of the shepherd-hypothesis, describes the situation as follows: “The Shulamite, to account for the severity of her brothers, mentioned in Song of Solomon 2:6, relates that her beloved shepherd came one charming morning in the spring to invite her to the fields (8–14); that her brothers, in order to prevent her from going, gave her employment in the gardens (15); that she consoled herself with the assurance that her beloved, though separated from her at that time, would come again in the evening (16, 17); that seeing he did not come, she, under difficult circumstances, ventured to seek him and found him (Song of Solomon 3:1-4).”—Tr.]

[43][There is no propriety in sundering this from what follows. The succeeding verses evidently continue or explain this opening exclamation. If it belongs to the present, so does the entire description which it introduces. If the coming of the beloved here narrated is past, her exclamation on hearing the sound of his approach is past also.—Tr.]

[44][Harmer supposes the reference is to a kiosk or eastern arbor, and quotes the Letters of Lady Montague, who speaks of them II. p. 74 as “enclosed with gilded lattices, round which vines, jessamines and honeysuckles make a sort of green wall.”]

[45][Wordsw.: Literally, sprouting and blooming like a flowering shrub or creeper, whose blossoms peep and glance through the trellis or lattice work of a window, and giving brightness and loveliness to the apartment.]

[46][Wordsw.: Here is an anticipation of the phrase so often applied in the gospels to Christ, who answered even the thoughts of His hearers.]

[47][It can scarcely be anything but a slip when Withington puts these words into the mouth of the bride: “He hears her distant voice: Rise up, my love,” etc.—Tr.]

[48] Harmer says, on the authority of Dr. Shaw: “Doves in those countries, it seems, take up their abodes in the hollow places of rocks and cliffs.” Wordsw. suggests that the comparison is “to a dove fleeing to the clefts of the rock for refuge from the storm.” Good quotes as parallel the following simile from Homer’s description of the wounded Diana, Il. xxi. 493.

“As when the falcon wings her way above,
To the cleft cavern speeds the affrighted dove,
Straight to her shelter thus the goddess flew.”]

[49][So Harmer, who supposes an allusion to “her apartments in a lofty palace of stone.” Good: “The common version, ‘secret places of the stairs’ is erroneous. The mistake has obviously originated from a wish in the translators to give a literal interpretation to this highly figurative phraseology. Stairs may well enough apply to the royal fair-one as a bride, but not as a dove.”]

[50] [Good, Burrowes, Noyes, Adelaide Newton, Withington, Thrupp, make this the language of the bride; Patrick, Poole, Ainsworth, Henry, Scott, Taylor, Fry, Clarke, Wordsworth the language of the bridegroom. Ginsburg puts it in the mouth of Shulamith’s brothers. Williams is led by the plural form of the pronouns both of the first and second persons to suppose that the chorus of virgins is here addressing the companions of the bridegroom. The ingenious suggestion that these words may be borrowed from a popular song, which here receive a new meaning from their connection, agrees well with this peculiarity in the form of expression and also with the intimation in the preceding verse.

Wordsw.: “He commands her to look well to her vineyard. He calls it our vineyard; it is his as well as hers.” Withington, (after Taylor, who thinks this verse a summons to a chase) sees in it an allusion to the “sports and employments of the care-worn king” in his seasons of relaxation.]

[51][Patrick: Aristophanes in his Equites, compares soldiers to foxes; spoiling whole countries as they do vineyards.]

[52][Williams: “These verses stand perfectly distinct from the preceding.” Others endeavor to establish a direct connection with the foregoing verses. Thus Taylor paraphrases: “I am all obedience to his requests; it shall be my happiness to accomplish his desires.” And Wordsworth in its spiritual application: “The Church thankfully catches up the expression ‘our vineyard;’ and rejoices that not only have they one vineyard, but that He is hers and she is His.”]

[53][Good, with an entire misapprehension of the figure intended: “So sweet is his breath, that surely he feedeth among the lilies.” Ginsb.: “Who tends his flock in the meadows abounding with flowers.” A figure for “the best pastures,” according to Williams, “for in such lilies appear to have grown spontaneously;” or for “sweet and lovely pastures,” according to Poole, “where there is not only herbage to feed them, but lilies to delight them.” Fry suggests as the connection between the clauses of the verse: “let him drive his flock to pasture in the flowery meads and I will accompany him.” Ainsworth, Henry, Words. and others find in the lilies a figurative reference to the bride herself as the object of his fond attachment, and one who had been compared to a lily among thorns, Song of Solomon 2:2.]

[54][Good: “Till the day breathe. The expression is truly elegant and poetical. At midnight all nature lies dead and lifeless. The shadows, however, at length fly; the morning breathes and nature revivifies. The intrinsic excellence of the metaphor has seldom been understood by our commentators, who have almost all of them referred it to the day breeze of the country, or at least to that peculiar current of air which is often found existing in most climates at the dawn.” Williams: “Return, my beloved, and remain with me until the day breathe.” Noyes: “This is understood by many of the morning. But the more recent commentators refer it to sunset or the evening.” Wordsw.: “Before the first cool gales of the evening.”]

Bibliographical Information
Lange, Johann Peter. "Commentary on Song of Solomon 3". "Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal, and Homiletical". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/lcc/song-of-solomon-3.html. 1857-84.
 
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