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The Song of Songs 1:9-14

Context
The Beautiful Mare and the Fragrant Myrrh

The Lover to His Beloved:

1:9 O my beloved, you are like 1  a 2  mare 3 

among Pharaoh’s stallions. 4 

1:10 Your cheeks are beautiful with ornaments;

your neck is lovely 5  with strings of jewels.

1:11 We 6  will make for you gold ornaments

studded with silver. 7 

The Beloved about Her Lover:

1:12 While the king was at his banqueting table, 8 

my nard 9  gave forth its fragrance. 10 

1:13 My beloved is like a fragrant pouch of myrrh 11 

spending the night 12  between my breasts.

1:14 My beloved is like a cluster of henna blossoms 13 

in the vineyards of En-Gedi. 14 

1 tn Heb “I compare you to.”

2 tn The hireq-yod ending on סֻסָתִי (susati) is a remnant of the old genitive ending (e.g., nominative: malku, genitive: malki, accusative: malka), the so-called hireq compaginis ending. Thus, סֻסָתִי בְּרִכְבֵי פַרְעֹה (susati berikve paroh) is a double genitive-construct: “a mare among the chariot-horses of Pharaoh” (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 338) or “a mare among the chariots of Pharaoh” (R. E. Murphy, Song of Songs [Hermeneia], 131). The hireq-yod ending was mistakenly treated as 1st person common singular possessive suffix “my mare” by LXX, Vulgate, Syriac. This approach is mistakenly adopted by several translations: “my mare” (NASB, NJB), “my filly” (NKJV) and “my company of horsemen” (DRA).

3 sn It was common in ancient love literature to compare a beautiful woman to a sleek filly. For example, Horace likened Lyde to a three year old filly: “She gambols over the spreading plains and shrinks from touch, to wedlock still a stranger, not yet ripe for eager mate” (Horace, Odes iii. xi. 9). Theocritus compared Helen of Troy to a graceful steed harnessed to a chariot: “As towers the cypress mid the garden’s bloom, as in the chariot proud Thessalian steed, thus graceful rose-complexion’d Helen moves” (Theocritus, Idyll xviii. 30-31).

4 tn Heb “among the chariot-horses” or “among the chariots.” The noun רֶכֶב (rekhev) has a wide range of meanings: “chariots, war-chariots” (Exod 14:17-18, 23; 15:19; Deut 11:4; 20:1; Josh 11:4) “chariot crews, chariot troops” (1 Kgs 9:22; 16:9; 22:31; 2 Kg 8:21), “column of chariots, troop of warriors” (Isa 21:7, 9), “charioteer” (Ps 76:7), and “chariot-horses” (Exod 14:9; 2 Sam 8:4; 1 Chr 18:4; Ezek 39:20) (HALOT 1233-35 s.v. רֶכֶב). Scholars have struggled with the meaning of בְּרִכְבֵי פַרְעֹה (bÿrikhbe paroh, “[harnessed to (?)] Pharaoh’s chariot”; HALOT 1234 s.v. 6.b). M. H. Pope (Song of Songs [AB], 338) suggests that רִכְבֵי (rikhbe) be nuanced “chariot-horses” and the phrase rendered “among the chariot-horses of Pharaoh.” Pope offers the best explanation of this enigmatic picture: “A crucial consideration overlooked by commentators is the well-attested fact that Pharaoh’s chariots, like other chariotry in antiquity, were not drawn by a mare or mares but by stallions hitched in pairs. This bit of intelligence radically alters the usual understanding of the verse and dispels the notion that there is a grammatical incongruity, which needs harmonizing. The juxtaposition is between a single mare and a plurality of stallions and it requires only a modicum of what is called ‘horse sense’ to appreciate the thrust of the comparison. The situation envisaged is illustrated by the famous incident in one of the campaigns of Thutmose III against Qadesh. On his tomb at Thebes, the Egyptian soldier Amenemheb relates how the Prince of Qadesh sent forth a swift mare, which entered among the army. But Amenemheb ran after her on foot and with his dagger ripped open her belly, cut off her tail, and presented it to the king, thus preventing a debacle before the excited stallions could take out after the mare.”

5 tn The phrase “is lovely” does not appear in the Hebrew but is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity to complete the parallelism with the preceding line.

6 tn The subject of the 1st person common plural verb נַעֲשֶׂה (naaseh) might be the maidens of Jerusalem mentioned in 1:4[5]. However, this might be an example of heterosis of number, that is, the 1st person common plural for 1st person common singular person. In this case, her lover – the speaker throughout the rest of 1:8-9[9-10] – would still be the speaker here. Other possible examples of heterosis of number of the plural for the singular in the Song include 1:3[4]; 2:15; 5:1b; 6:13[7:1].

7 tn Or “We will make gold ornaments with your studs of silver.”

8 tn The lexicons suggest that מֵסַב (mesav) refers to a round banquet table (HALOT 604 s.v. מֵסַב) or divan with cushions (BDB 687 s.v. מֵסַב 2). In Mishnaic Hebrew the noun מֵסַב refers to a dining couch, banquet table, as well as cushions or pillows (HALOT 604). The related noun מְסִבָּה (mÿsibbah) refers to a banqueting party (HALOT 604 s.v. מְסִבָּה; Jastrow 803 s.v. מְסִבָּה). The versions took it as a reference to a resting place (see LXX, Vulgate, Syriac Peshitta). R. E. Murphy (Song of Songs [Hermeneia], 131) suggests that it refers to (1) a couch or divan on which a person declined while eating, (2) a group of people gathered in a circle, that is, an entourage, or (3) a private place such as an enclosure.

tc The MT בִּמְסִבּוֹ (bimsibbo, “his banquet table”) is enigmatic: “While the king was at his banquet table, my nard gave forth its fragrance.” W. Rudolph suggests emending to מְסִבִּי (mÿsibbi, “around me”): “While the king surrounded me, my nard gave forth its fragrance” (Des Buch Ruth, das Hohe Lied, die Klagelieder [KAT], 27).

9 sn “Nard” (נֵרְדְּ, nerdÿ) was an aromatic oil extracted from the Valerian nardostachys jatamansi which was an aromatic drug from a plant which grew in the Himalaya region of India, used for perfume (HALOT 723 s.v. נֵרְדְּ). Nard was an expensive imported perfume, worn by women at banquets because of its seductive charms. It was used in the ANE as a love potion because of its erotic fragrance (R. K. Harrison, Healing Herbs of the Bible, 48-49).

10 tn Or “The fragrance of my myrrh wafted forth.”

11 sn The term מֹר (mor, “myrrh”) refers to an aromatic gum (Commiphora abessinica resin) which exudes from the bark of the Balsmodendron myrrha tree which was native only to Arabia, Abyssinia, and India (HALOT 629 s.v. מֹר). It was an expensive luxury item, which had to be imported into Israel. In liquid form it could be carried in small bottles like nard, but it was also used in solid form in which it was carried in a small cloth pouch or sachet worn next to the body. The myrrh was mixed with fat and shaped into cones and as the fat melted from the body heat, the aroma of myrrh and the anointing oil would perfume a woman’s body. Because it had a very strong aroma which would last for long periods of time, women often wore it to bed to perfume themselves for the next day. Because of its beautiful fragrance, it is associated with romance (e.g., Isa 3:24) (R. K. Harrison, Healing Herbs of the Bible, 45-46).

12 tn Alternately, “resting between my breasts.” The verb לִין (lin) has a three-fold range of meaning in the Qal stem: (1) “to leave overnight,” e.g., meat or corpse on a tree, (2) “to spend the night, stay overnight,” and (3) “to stay, dwell” (HALOT 529 s.v. לין). The myrrh motif (see study note above) suggests the nuance “to spend the night” (HALOT 529 s.v. 2). This is also the most appropriate nuance of its usage in Song 7:12 (e.g., Gen 19:2; 24:23, 25, 54; 28:11; 31:54; 32:14, 22; Num 22:8; Josh 3:1; 4:3; 6:11; 8:9; Judg 18:2; 19:4-15 (9x), 20; 20:4; 2 Sam 12:16; 17:8, 16; 19:8; 1 Kgs 19:9; Isa 21:13; 65:4; Jer 14:8; Joel 1:13; Zeph 2:14; Pss 25:13; 55:8; Job 24:7; 31:32; 39:9; Prov 19:23; Song 7:12; Ruth 1:16; 3:13; Neh 4:16; 13:20; 1 Chr 9:27). Several translations follow course: “he shall lie all night betwixt my breasts” (KJV) and “which lies all night between my breasts” (NASB). Others downplay the obvious sexual connotations: “resting between my breasts” (NIV) and “lodged between my breasts” (NJPS). The imperfect has been taken in two basic senses: (1) future time action: “he shall spend the night between my breasts” and (2) present characteristic or present progressive: “he spends the night between my breasts.” The latter is favored by the characteristic/progressive nature of the metaphors used through 1:12-13[13-14].

13 sn The henna plant (כֹּפֶר, kofer, “henna”; HALOT 495 s.v. III כֹּפֶר) is an inflorescent shrub with upward pointing blossoms, that have sweet smelling whitish flowers that grow in thick clusters (Song 4:13; 7:12). Like myrrh, the henna plant was used to make sweet smelling perfume. Its flowers were used to dye hair, nails, fingers, and toes orange.

14 sn En-Gedi is a lush oasis in the midst of the desert wilderness on the southwestern shore of the Dead Sea. The surrounding region is hot and bleak; its dry sands extend monotonously for miles. The Dead Sea region is a salty desert covered with a dusty haze and characterized by almost unbearable heat during most of the year. The lush oasis of En-Gedi is the only sign of greenery or life for miles around. It stands out as a surprising contrast to the bleak, dry desert wilderness around it. In the midst of this bleak desert wilderness is the lush oasis in which indescribable beauty is found. The lush oasis and waterfall brings welcome relief and refreshment to the weary desert traveler.



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