Song of Solomon 4

The Wedding Night: Praise of the Bride

Song 4:1–7 is often compared to ancient Near Eastern wasfs songs sung by the groom to his new bride, praising her beauty from head to foot. Examples have been found in Egyptian, Syrian, Sumerian, and Arabic love literature. The wasfs song is a poetic celebration by the groom of his bride’s physical beauty. The typical form has three parts: (1) introductory words by the wedding guests, (2) invitation by the bride to the groom to celebrate her physical beauty, and (3) the groom’s poetic comparative praise of his bride’s beauty from head to foot – comprising the bulk of the song. The groom’s praise typically is characterized by three movements: (1) introductory summary praise of his bride’s beauty, (2) lengthy and detailed figurative description of her physical beauty, and (3) concluding summary praise which reiterates the introductory words of the song. Although the introductory words of the wedding guests and the invitation by the bride are absent, the form of the Lover’s praise of his bride is identical, as are the types of comparative praise. His song falls into the same three movements: (1) introductory summary praise of his bride’s beauty in 4:1a, (2) lengthy and detailed figurative description of her beauty in 4:1b–6, and (3) concluding summary praise in 4:7. See K&D 18:174–76; S. Krauss, “The Archaeological Background of Some Passages in the Song of Songs,” JQR 32 (1941–42): 125.

The Lover to His Beloved:

The introductory demonstrative particle הִנֵּךְ (hinneh, “Behold!”) is repeated for rhetorical effect. This particle is often used with verbs of seeing or discovering, making the narrative graphic and vivid. It enables the reader to enter into the surprise, wonder, and delight of the speaker (BDB 243 s.v. הִנֵּךְ c).
you are beautiful, my darling!
The repetition of יָפָה רַעְיָתִי (yafah rayati, “You are beautiful, my darling”) in 4:1 and 4:7 forms an inclusion, marking off the song of descriptive praise in 4:1–7.

Oh, you are beautiful!
Your eyes behind your veil are like doves.
The expression “your eyes [are] doves” is a metaphor (implied comparison). Like most of the other metaphors in 4:1–7, this is probably a comparison of sight rather than sense: (1) the shape of a woman’s eyes, especially in Egyptian art, resemble the shape of a dove, and (2) the white color of the eyeballs resemble the white color of a dove’s body. On the other hand, many Jewish and Christian interpreters have suggested that this is a comparison of sense, usually suggesting that the dove is a symbol for purity and that the eyes of a person are the windows of their soul or character, that is, the bride has a pure character as can be seen through her eyes.

Your hair is like a flock of female goats
Heb “flowing down” or “descending.” The verb שֶׁגָּלְשׁוּ (sheggaleshu, “flowing down”) may be nuanced “descending.” The most recent lexicons define גָּלַשׁ (galash) as “to flow, leap” (DCH 2:357 s.v. גלשׁ); “to hop, move down” (HALOT 195 s.v. גלשׁ); and “to go down, glide down” (E. Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, 102). Earlier lexicons suggested the meanings “to sit, sit up, recline” (BDB 167 s.v. גָּלַשׁ). The Hebrew root is probably related to Arabic jalasa “to go up, to go down, sit up” (HALOT 195).
from Mount Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of newly-shorn sheep
coming up from the washing place;
Alternately, “the watering-hole” or “watering-place.” The noun רַחְצָה (rakhtsah) may be nuanced “washing-place” (BDB 934 s.v. רַחְצָה) or “watering-hole, watering-place” (HALOT 1221 s.v. רַחְצָה). The related verb רָחַץ (rakhats) means “to wash, bathe, rinse off” (BDB 934 s.v. רָחַץ; HALOT 1220-21 s.v. רחץ). The metaphor describing the beautiful teeth of the bride probably pictures freshly washed sheep rather than freshly watered sheep. He praises his bride’s teeth by comparing them to freshly washed sheep. In the ancient Near East it was customary to wash sheep before shearing them. The picture of freshly washed sheep depicts the whiteness of the bride’s teeth.

each of them has a twin,
and not one of them is missing.
Your lips are like a scarlet thread;
The phrase חוּט הַשָּׁנִי (khut hashshani, “thread of scarlet”) is a genitive construct with the genitive functioning adjectivally. This phrase is used three times in classical Hebrew to denote a scarlet colored “thread” or “cord” (Josh 2:18; Song 4:3; 11 QT 49:3) (HALOT 296-97 s.v. חוּט; DCH 3:170-71 s.v. חוּט). This is a comparison of sight, describing the color and shape of her lips.

your mouth is lovely.
Your forehead
Alternately, “cheek,” or “temple” (see Judg 4:21).
behind your veil
is like a slice of pomegranate.
Your neck is like the tower
The term מִגְּדַל (miggedal, “tower”) refers to a military structure, such as a stronghold, arsenal, or defensive tower on the walls of a city (e.g., Judg 8:9, 17; 9:51; 2 Kgs 9:17; 17:9; 18:8; 2 Chr 14:6; 26:15; 27:4; 32:5).
of David
built with courses of stones;
The feminine noun לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת (letalpiyyot) is a hapax legomenon of uncertain etymology. Various attempts have been made to find the origin of this word, but they are all uncertain. LXX εἰς θαλπιωθ (eis qalpiōq) simply transliterated the word, taking it as a proper name of a locality (Tel Pivoth). Similarly, Dom Calmet treated תלפיות as a compound word (תֵּל, tal, “hill,” and פֵּיוֹת, peyot, “mouths”) as a reference to a tower built by David on a height in the valleys of Lebanon. The Talmud suggests that the term refers to Jerusalem as the hill (תֵּל) to which all mouths (פיות) turn (b.Berakhot 30a). Aquila reads εἰς ἐπάλξεις (eis epalxeis) and Symmachus εἰς ὓψη (eis {uyē), while Vulgate has cum propugnaculis. Ibn Ezra redivided לתלפיות as ל תל פיות “for suspending weapons” by taking פֵּיוֹת (“mouths” = edge of swords) as a reference to weaponry. This is reflected in several translations: “armoury” (KJV, AV, ASV), “arsenal” (RSV), and “fortress” (JB). The noun may be related to the Arabic root tlp (“to perish”) in a metonymical sense: “a cause of perishing,” i.e., a weapon. The Hebrew Piel verb תִּלֵּף (tillef) means “to hang up for display,” thus NEB suggests that it is derived from lpy which means “to arrange in courses,” i.e., “layered,” as a reference to the Bride’s layered necklace she wears. The NIV nuances it as “with elegance” and NEB “winding courses.” Perles connects תַלְפִּיּוֹת to Akkadian tilpanu (“bow”), while Haupt connects the word with the Shaphel stem of the Akkadian labu (“to fortify”). Honeyman suggests that לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת is a feminine plural noun of the taqtilat nominal pattern from the root לפי which means “to arrange in courses.” HALOT notes that the phrase בָּנוּי לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת (banu letalpiyyot) has been rendered in several ways: (1) “built with turrets,” (2) “built with siege-towers,” (3) “built in rows (of stones)” or “built in terraces.” Haupt and Krauss suggest that לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת בָּנוּי denotes “constructed for siege-towers” or “built for an armory.” Honeyman suggests that תַלְפִּיּוֹת is a feminine plural noun with a standard nominative prefix ת and is derived from the verbal root לפא (“to arrange in stones”). Probably, the best solution is to relate this Hebrew root to Akkadian lapu (“to surround, enclose”), Arabic laffa or lifafah (“to envelope”), and Aramaic lpp and lp’ (“to interlace, entwine, plait”). This is the simplest solution and does not demand emending the text. The preposition לְ (le) could denote “in respect to” and the colon בָּנוּי לְתַלְפִּיּוֹת could be translated “built in rows (of stones)” or “built in terraces.” Thus, the phrase “built in rows of stones” refers to the outer walls of a tower built in spiraling rows of stones or built in terraces. This is a comparison of sight: (1) her neck was long and symmetrical or (2) she was wearing a strand of beads or necklaces wrapped around her neck like a tower built in spiraling rows of stones. See P. Haupt, “Heb. talpi’ot, Siege-Towers,” JBL 38 (1919): 186-88; S. Krauss, “The Archaeological Background of Some Passages in the Song of Songs,” JQR 32 (1941–42): 125-29; A. M. Honeyman, “Two Contributions to Canaanite Toponymy,” JTS 50 (1949): 51; B. S. J. Isserlin, “Song of Songs IV, 4: An Archaeological Note,” PEQ 90 (1958): 59-61; K. Crim, “‘Your Neck is Like the Tower of David’ (The Meaning of a Simile in Song of Solomon 4:4),” BT 22:2 (1977): 72-74; E. Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, 704.

one thousand shields are hung on it –
all shields of valiant warriors.
Scholars debate whether this refers to (1) the interior walls of a tower upon which warriors would hang their shields when not in use or (2) the external upper wall of a military fortress upon which warriors would hang their shields to add to their protection during battle. A few scholars suggest that what is pictured here are the internal walls of the tower and, on the basis of Ezek 27:10–11, posit that in the ancient world there was a practice in which mercenaries, who had joined themselves to a king, would hang their shields upon his fortress wall as a sign of their allegiance. Following Crim, Deere suggests, “the custom of hanging shields on the tower was symbolic of the warriors’ allegiance to and valor for a particular king.” Crim suggests that the point of comparison of his praise would be something similar to what follows: “Just as the fame of Tyre in Ezek. 27:11 attracted mercenaries, the fame of the tower of David has attracted soldiers to come and enter its service. The shields hanging there show that they have given their allegiance to the tower. Your neck is like that tower. It is so beautiful that it could win the allegiance of a thousand heroic soldiers.” We would then translate something like this: “Your neck attracts men as the tower of David attracts warriors. A thousand heroic soldiers would swear allegiance to your beauty.” J. S. Deere suggests that the point of the comparison is that the bride’s neck was so beautiful and majestic that mighty warriors from near and far would have given their allegiance to her…It is as if he were saying that these soldiers would be willing to surrender their shields to her beauty. On the other hand, most scholars suggest that it refers to the common practice in the ancient Near East of lining the top wall of a military fortress tower with shields, behind which the soldiers could stand for protection leaving both hands free for bow and arrows (Note: It is possible to view Ezek 27:10–11 and 2 Chr 32:5 in this manner). This is supported by ancient Near Eastern art which pictures such a practice, especially by the relief of Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish which shows the top wall of Lachish lined with shields. The Illustrated Family Encyclopedia of the Living Bible, 10:56, notes: “The art of the ancient East often shows us the shields that were, in time of war, set in position on the towers of the city walls, so that defenders could safely fire arrows and hurl stones while standing upright behind them.” Those who see this as the imagery all agree that the point of comparison is to jeweled necklaces with pendants which could be compared to shields, as in 1:10–11 (A. Robert, T. J. Meek, G. Gerlemann, A. M. Honeyman, B. S. J. Isserlin, J. McKenzie). McKenzie expresses this view when he posits that she was wearing jewelry around her neck and that this was being compared to the shields hung around this military tower: “One of the many physical charms that the Beloved finds in his mistress (Song of Sol. 4:1–4) is her long neck which, with its stately poise, reminds him of the lofty tower of David. Just as this tower is hung all round with shields placed there by mighty men of valor, so is his mistress’ neck adorned with chains and strings of jewels. This is supported by the fact that 4:9 explicitly mentions a necklace with a multitude of jewels in it which she was wearing at this time. And Isserlin suggests that the complete image in view fits the evidence of both ancient Near Eastern military towers and jewelry which has been recovered archaeologically: “It seems to the present writer that a reading of the verse…can be taken to refer to the presence not of one, but two elements on the tower: there is the coursed masonry, and on top of it there are the shields. If we keep the idea that a multiple necklace is alluded to, then this should be made up of two kinds of elements: on top there should be a series of beads resembling round shields; below we should find something resembling either the short or the long side of building stones (according to whether the masonry is laid in headers or stretchers). Can necklaces of this type be found in the ancient Near East? It seems to the writer that the well-known sculpture from Arsos in Cyprus (Pl. VI) represents just this type of necklace. The upper beads do look like a row of round shields, as shown on the tower in the relief slab representing Sennacherib’s siege of Lachish, while the lower elements do evoke roughly bossed headers, as found in ancient Palestinian defence works” (B. S. J. Isserlin, The Israelites, 59, and plate VI). Composite necklaces such as this one might be referred to in Prov 1:9. In any case, it is quite unlikely that the point of comparison was that she had a large, muscular neck, as some have suggested (M. Jastrow, L. Waterman, and R. Gordis). See A. M. Honeyman, “Two Contributions to Canaanite Toponymy,” JTS 50 (1949): 51; B. S. J. Isserlin, “Song of Songs IV, 4: An Archaeological Note,” PEQ 90 (1958): 59-61; The Illustrated Family Encyclopedia of the Living Bible, 10:56; K. R. Crim, “Your Neck is Like the Tower of David (The Meaning of a Simile in the Song of Solomon 4:4),” BT 22:2 (April 1977): 70-74.

Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of the gazelle
grazing among the lilies.
Until the dawn arrives
Heb “until the day breathes.”

and the shadows flee,
I will go up to the mountain of myrrh,
and to the hill of frankincense.
You are altogether beautiful, my darling!
There is no blemish in you!

The Wedding Night: Beautiful as Lebanon

Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
come with me from Lebanon.
Descend from the crest of Amana,
from the top of Senir, the summit of Hermon,
from the lions’ dens
and the mountain haunts of the leopards.
You have stolen my heart,
The Piel denominative verb לבב is derived from the noun לֵבָב (levav, “heart”), and occurs only here. Its meaning is debated: (1) metonymical sense: “you have encouraged me,” that is, given me heart (BDB 525 s.v. לֵב; AV, RSV); (2) intensive sense: “you have made my heart beat faster” (KBL 471 s.v. I לבב); and (3) privative sense: “you have ravished my heart” or “you have stolen my heart” (HALOT 515 s.v. I לבב; GKC 141-42 #52.h) (NIV). While the Niphal stem has a metonymical nuance (cause for effect): to get heart, that is, to get understanding (Job 11:12), the Piel stem may have a privative nuance: to take away heart, that is, to take away the senses. Her beauty was so overwhelming that it robbed him of his senses (e.g., Hos 4:11). This is paralleled by a modern Palestinian love song: “She stood opposite me and deprived me of reason (literally, “took my heart”), your dark eyes slew me while I was singing, your eyebrows drove shame from me…the darkness of your eyes have slain me; O one clad in purple clothes, it is worthwhile falling in love with you, for your eyes are black and sparkle, and have slain me indeed.” Less likely is the proposal of Waldeman who relates this to Akkadian lababu (“to rage, be aroused to fury”), suggesting that Song 4:9 means “to become passionately aroused” or “to be aroused sexually.” See S. H. Stephan, “Modern Palestinian Parallels to the Song of Songs,” JPOS 2 (1922): 13; R. Gordis, Song of Songs and Lamentations, 85–86; N. M. Waldman, “A Note on Canticles 4:9, ” JBL 89 (1970): 215-17; H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 40–58.
my sister,
It is clear from Song 8:1 that the young man and his bride were not physical brother and sister, yet he addresses his bride as אֲחֹתִי (’akhoti, “my sister”) several times (4:9, 10, 12; 5:1). This probably reflects any one of several ancient Near Eastern customs: (1) The appellatives “my sister” and “my brother” were both commonly used in ancient Near Eastern love literature as figurative descriptions of two lovers. For instance, in a Ugaritic poem when Anat tried to seduce Aqhat, she says, “Hear, O hero Aqhat, you are my brother and I your sister” (Aqhat 18 i. 24). In the OT Apocrypha husband and wife are referred to several times as “brother” and “sister” (Add Esth 15:9; Tob 5:20; 7:16). This “sister-wife” motif might be behind Paul’s perplexing statement about a “sister-wife” (1 Cor 9:5). (2) In several Mesopotamian societies husbands actually could legally adopt their wives for a variety of reasons. For instance, in Hurrian society husbands in the upper classes sometimes adopted their wives as “sisters” in order to form the strongest of all possible marriage bonds; a man could divorce his wife but he could not divorce his “sister” because she was “family.” At Nuzi a husband could adopt his wife to give her a higher status in society. See M. Held, “A Faithful Lover in Old Babylonian Dialogue,” JCS 15 (1961): 1-26 and S. N. Kramer, The Sacred Marriage Rite, 103–5; T. Jacobsen, “The Sister’s Message,” JANESCU 5 (1973): 199-212; E. A. Speiser, “The Wife-Sister Motif in the Patriarchal Narratives,” Oriental and Biblical Studies, 15–28; G. R. Driver, Canaanite Myths and Legends, 111.
my bride!
You have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes,
Alternately, “eye-stone [of your necklace].” The term עִינַיִךְ (’inayikh, “your eyes”) probably refers to her physical eyes (e.g., 4:1). However, in Sumero-Akkadian literature the term “eye” sometimes refers to the eye-stone of a necklace. Agate-stones were cut so that white stripes appeared around the black or brown core to look like the pupil on the eye. M. H. Pope (Song of Songs [AB], 482-83) suggests that the parallelism between the A and B lines suggests the following: “with one of your eye-stones” and “with one jewel of your necklace.” See W. G. Lambert, “An Eye Stone of Esarhaddon’s Queen and Other Similar Gems,” RA 63 (1969): 65-71.

with one jewel of your necklace.
10  How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine;
the fragrance of your perfume is better than any spice!
11  Your lips drip sweetness like the honeycomb, my bride,
honey and milk are under your tongue.
The fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.

The Wedding Night: The Delightful Garden

The Lover to His Beloved:

12  You are a locked garden,
The twin themes of the enclosed garden and sealed spring are highlighted by the wordplay (paronomasia) between the Hebrew expressions גַּן נָעוּל (gan naul, “a garden locked up”) and גַּל נָעוּל (gal naul, “an enclosed spring”).
my sister, my bride;
you are an enclosed spring, a sealed-up fountain.
13  Your shoots are a royal garden
The noun פַּרְדֵּס (pardes, “garden, parkland, forest”) is a foreign loanword that occurs only 3 times in the Hebrew Bible (Song 4:13; Eccl 2:5; Neh 2:8). The original Old Persian (Avestan) term pairidaeza designated the enclosed parks and pleasure-grounds which were the exclusive domain of the Persian kings and nobility in the Achaemenid period (HALOT 963 s.v. פַּרְדֵּס; LSJ 1308). The Babylonian term pardesu means “marvelous garden,” in reference to the enclosed parks of the kings (AHw 2:833.a and 3:1582.a). The term passed into Greek as παραδείσος (paradeisos, “enclosed park, pleasure-ground”), referring to the enclosed parks and gardens of the Persian kings (LSJ 1308). The Greek term was transliterated into English as “paradise.”
full of pomegranates
with choice fruits:
henna with nard,
14  nard and saffron;
calamus and cinnamon with every kind of spice,
myrrh and aloes with all the finest spices.
Or “with all the finest balsam trees.” The Hebrew term בֹּשֶׂם (bosem) can refer either to the balsam tree, the spice associated with it, or by extension any fragrant aroma used as perfuming oil or incense.

15  You are a garden spring,
Heb “a fountain of gardens” or “a headwaters for gardens.” The term מַעְיַן (myan, “fountain”) denotes “source, headwaters” as the place of origin of streams (HALOT 612 s.v. מַעְיַן). The term does not refer to a water fountain such as commonly found in modern cultivated gardens or parks; rather, it refers to the headwaters of streams and rivers, such as Banyas as the headwaters of the Jordan. The genitive construct מַעְיַן גַּנִּים (myan gannim, “a fountain of gardens”) is an unusual expression that has been treated in various ways: (1) “a garden fountain,” that is, a fountain located in a garden (HALOT 198 s.v. גַּן); (2) “a fountain of gardens,” that is, the headwaters of many spring-watered gardens. The latter is preferred. In Song 4:12–14 the bride is figuratively described as a garden with exotic plants; however, in 4:15 the metaphor shifts to the source of the water for the garden: מַעְיַן (“headwaters”) and בְּאֵר (beer, “well”) of fresh water flowing down from Lebanon.

a well
Heb “a watering place” or “well of underground water.” The term בְּאֵר (beer, “well”) refers to an underground well that is dug in the ground to provide fresh water for humans and beasts (e.g., Gen 21:19, 25, 30; 26:15, 18, 19, 22, 32) (HALOT 106 s.v. I בְּאֵר; DCH 2:87 s.v. I בְּאֵר). The term is often used in parallelism with בּוֹר (bor, “cistern”), עַיִן (’ayin, “spring”), and שׁוּחָה (shukhah, “water-hole”).
of fresh water
Heb “living water.” The phrase מַיִם חַיִּים (mayim khayyim, “living water”) refers to flowing, fresh water in contrast to standing, stagnant water (Gen 26:19; Lev 14:5–6, 50–52; 15:13; Num 19:17; Jer 2:13; 17:13; Zech 14:8; Song 4:15; 1QH 8:7, 16; 4Q418 103.2:6; 4QDibHama 1.5:2; 11QT 45:16) (DCH 3:202 s.v. I חַי 1; HALOT 308 s.v. חיה 1; BDB 312 s.v. חַי f). The adjective חַיִּים (“living”) frequently refers to what is fresh (Gen 26:19), healthy (Sir 30:14), or thriving (Gen 43:7, 27). Fresh, flowing water is pictured as pure (Lev 14:5–6, 50–52; 15:13) and a source of refreshment (Gen 26:19). See P. Reymond, Leau, sa vie, et sa signification dans lAncien Testament (VTSup), 136.
flowing down from Lebanon.

The Beloved to Her Lover:

16  Awake, O north wind; come, O south wind!
Blow on my garden so that its fragrant spices may send out their sweet smell.
Heb “may flow.”

May my beloved come into his garden
and eat its delightful fruit!

The Lover to His Beloved:

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