1:13 My beloved is like a fragrant pouch of myrrh 1
spending the night 2 between my breasts.
4:5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of the gazelle
grazing among the lilies.
7:4 Your neck is like a tower made of ivory. 3
Your eyes are the pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-Rabbim. 4
Your nose is like the tower of Lebanon
7:8 I want 5 to climb the palm tree, 6
and take hold of its fruit stalks.
May your breasts be like the clusters of grapes, 7
and may the fragrance of your breath be like apricots! 8
7:9 May your mouth 9 be like the best wine,
flowing smoothly for my beloved,
gliding gently over our lips as we sleep together. 10
The Beloved to Her Lover:
8:1 Oh, how I wish you were 11 my little brother, 12
nursing at my mother’s breasts;
if I saw 13 you outside, I could kiss you –
surely 14 no one would despise me! 15
The Beloved’s Brothers:
8:8 We have a little sister,
and as yet she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day when she is spoken for? 16
8:10 I was a wall,
and my breasts were like fortress towers. 17
Then I found favor 18 in his eyes. 19
1 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).
2 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].
3 tn Alternately, “the ivory tower.” The noun הַשֵּׁן (hashshen, “ivory”) is a genitive of composition, that is, a tower made out of ivory. Solomon had previously compared her neck to a tower (Song 4:4). In both cases the most obvious point of comparison has to do with size and shape, that is, her neck was long and symmetrical. Archaeology has never found a tower overlaid with ivory in the ancient Near East and it is doubtful that there ever was such a tower. The point of comparison might simply be that the shape of her neck looks like a tower, while the color and smoothness of her neck was like ivory. Solomon is mixing metaphors: her neck was long and symmetrical like a tower; but also elegant, smooth, and beautiful as ivory. The beauty, elegance, and smoothness of a woman’s neck is commonly compared to ivory in ancient love literature. For example, in a piece of Greek love literature, Anacron compared the beauty of the neck of his beloved Bathyllus to ivory (Ode xxxix 28-29).
4 sn It is impossible at the present time to determine the exact significance of the comparison of her eyes to the “gate of Bath-Rabbim” because this site has not yet been identified by archaeologists.
5 tn Heb “I said, ‘I will climb….’” The verb אָמַר (’amar, “to say”) is often used metonymically in reference to the thought process, emphasizing the spontaneity of a decision or of an idea which has just entered the mind of the speaker moments before he speaks (Gen 20:11; 26:9; 44:28; Exod 2:14; Num 24:11; Ruth 4:4; 1 Sam 20:4, 26; 2 Sam 5:6; 12:22; 2 Kgs 5:11). M. H. Pope renders it appropriately: “Methinks” (Song of Songs [AB], 635).
6 sn A Palestinian palm tree grower would climb a palm tree for two reasons: (1) to pluck the fruit and (2) to pollinate the female palm trees. Because of their height and because the dates would not naturally fall off the tree, the only way to harvest dates from a palm tree is to climb the tree and pluck the fruit off the stalks. This seems to be the primary imagery behind this figurative expression. The point of comparison here would be that just as one would climb a palm tree to pluck its fruit so that it might be eaten and enjoyed, so too Solomon wanted to embrace his Beloved so that he might embrace and enjoy her breasts. It is possible that the process of pollination is also behind this figure. A palm tree is climbed to pick its fruit or to dust the female flowers with pollen from the male flowers (the female and male flowers were on separate trees). To obtain a better yield and accelerate the process of pollination, the date grower would transfer pollen from the male trees to the flowers on the female trees. This method of artificial pollination is depicted in ancient Near Eastern art. For example, a relief from Gozan (Tel Halaf) dating to the 9th century
7 tn Heb “of the vine.”
8 tn The Hebrew noun תַּפּוּחַ (tappukha) has been traditionally been translated as “apple,” but modern botanists and the most recent lexicographers now identify תַּפּוּחַ with the “apricot” (BDB 656 s.v. I תַּפּוּחַ). This might better explain the association with the sweet smelling scent,
especially since the term is derived from a Semitic root denoting “aromatic scent.” Apricots were often associated with their sweet scent in the ancient world (Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 92-93).
9 tn The term חֵךְ (khek, “palate, mouth”) is often used as a metonymy for what the mouth produces, e.g., the mouth is the organ of taste (Ps 119:103; Job 12:11; 20:13; 34:3; Prov 24:13; Song 2:3), speech (Job 6:30; 31:30; 33:2; Prov 5:3; 8:7), sound (Hos 8:1), and kisses (Song 5:16; 7:10) (HALOT 313 s.v. חֵךְ; BDB 335 s.v. חֵךְ). The metonymical association of her palate/mouth and her kisses is made explicit by RSV which translated the term as “kisses.”
10 tc The MT reads שִׁפְתֵי יְשֵׁנִים (shifte yÿshenim, “lips of those who sleep”). However, an alternate Hebrew reading of שְׂפָתַי וְשִׁנָּי (sÿfata vÿsinna, “my lips and my teeth”) is suggested by the Greek tradition (LXX, Aquila, Symmachus): χείλεσίν μου καὶ ὀδοῦσιν (ceilesin mou kai odousin, “my lips and teeth”). This alternate reading, with minor variations, is followed by NAB, NIV, NRSV, TEV, NLT.
tn Or “his lips as he falls asleep.” Heb “the lips of sleepers.” Alternately, “over lips and teeth” (so NIV, NRSV, NLT).
11 tn The imperfect יִתֶּנְךָ (yittenka) may denote a desire or wish of the subject, e.g., Gen 24:58; Exod 21:36; 1 Sam 21:10 (IBHS 509 §31.4h). The optative particle מִי (mi) with an imperfect expresses an unreal wish, e.g., Judg 9:29; 2 Sam 15:4; Mal 1:10. The construction יִתֶּנְךָ מִי (mi yittenka) is an idiom expressing an unreal wish in the optative mood (HALOT 575 s.v. מִי), e.g., “Would that it were evening…Would that it were morning!” (KJV) or “If only it were evening…If only it were morning!” (NIV) (Deut 28:67); “Oh that I knew where I might find him” (KJV, NASB, NJPS), “I wish I had known,” “If only I knew where to find him; if only I could go to his dwelling!” (NIV) (Job 23:3); “I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets!” (NIV), “Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets” (NASB) (Num 11:29). Evidently, the LXX did not understand the idiom; it rendered the line in wooden literalness: Τίς δώῃ σε ἀδελφιδόν μου (Tis dwh se adelfidon mou, “Who might give/make you as my brother?”).
12 tn Heb “you were to me like a brother.”
13 tn Heb “found” or “met.” The juxtaposition of the two imperfects without an adjoining vav forms a conditional clause denoting a real condition (GKC 493 §159.b). The first imperfect is the protasis; the second is the apodosis: “If I found you אֶמְצָאֲךָ (’emtsa’aka) outside, I would kiss you (אֶשָּׁקְךָ, ’eshshaqÿkha).” The imperfects are used to express a condition and consequence which are regarded as being capable of fulfillment in the present or future time (GKC 493 §159.b). The simple juxtaposition of two verbal clauses without any grammatical indicator, such as vav or a conditional particle, is rather rare: “If you rebel (תִּמְעָלוּ, tim’alu), I will disperse you (אָפִיץ, ’afits) among the nations” (Neh 1:8); “If I counted them (אֶסְפְּרֵם, ’esppÿrem), they would be more numerous (יִרְבּוּן, yirbun) than the sand!” (Ps 139:18); “If a man has found a wife (מָצָא, matsa’), he has found (מָצָא) a good thing” (Prov 18:22) (Joüon 2:627 §167.a.1). On the other hand, LXX treated the imperfects as denoting future temporal sequence: εὑροῦσά σε ἒξω, φιλήσω σε (eurousa se exw, filhsw se, “I will find you outside, I will kiss you”). Ordinarily, however, vav or a temporal particle introduces a temporal clause (Joüon 2:627 §167.a; GKC 502 §164.d). The English translation tradition generally adopts the conditional nuance: “If I found you outdoors, I would kiss you” (NASB), “Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you” (NIV). However, a few translations adopt the temporal nuance: “When I should find thee without, I would kiss thee” (KJV), “Then I could kiss you when I met you in the street” (NJPS).
14 tn The particle גַּם (gam, “surely”) is used with לֹא (lo’, “no one”) for emphasis: “yea, none” (HALOT 195 s.v. גַּם). Similar examples: לֹא...גָם אָחַד (lo’…gam ’ekhad, “not even one”; 2 Sam 17:12); גַּם אֵין (gam ’en, “yet there is no one”; Eccl 4:8).
15 sn Song 8:1-2 may be classified as a “a lover’s wish song” that is similar in content and structure to an ancient Egyptian love song in which the lover longs for greater intimacy with his beloved: “I wish I were her Negro maid who follows at her feet; then the skin of all her limbs would be revealed to me. I wish I were her washerman, if only for a month; then I would be [entranced], washing out the Moringa oils in her diaphanous garments. I wish I were the seal ring, the guardian of her [fingers]; then […]” (The Cairo Love Songs, 25-27, in W. K. Simpson, ed., The Literature of Ancient Egypt, 311). The Egyptian and Hebrew parallels display a similar structure: (1) introductory expression of the lover’s wish to be something/someone in a position of physical closeness with the Beloved; (2) description of the person/thing that is physically close to the Beloved; and (3) concluding description of the resultant greater degree of intimacy with the Beloved. In the Egyptian parallel it is the man who longs for greater closeness; in the Hebrew song it is the woman. The Egyptian love song borders on the sensual; the Hebrew love song is simply romantic. The Beloved expresses her desire for greater freedom to display her affection for Solomon. In ancient Near Eastern cultures the public display of affection between a man and woman was frowned upon – sometimes even punished. For example, in Assyrian laws the punishment for a man kissing a woman in public was to cut off his upper lip. On the other hand, public displays of affection between children and between family members were allowed. Accordingly, the Beloved hyperbolically wished that she and Solomon were children from the same family so she could kiss him anytime she wished without fear of punishment or censure.
16 sn The Beloved’s brothers knew that once a couple is betrothed, sexual temptations would be at their greatest. Thus, in v. 9 they devise a plan to protect the purity of their sister: If she is a virtuous young woman, they would reward her; however, if she is prone to temptation, they will restrain her and guard her from promiscuity.
17 sn The noun מִגְדָּל (migdal, “tower”) can refer to the watchtowers of a fortified city (2 Kgs 17:9; 18:8; 2 Chr 26:9), projecting median towers along the fortified city wall which were crucial to the defense of the city (2 Chr 14:6; 26:15; 32:5), or fortress towers in the countryside set for the defense of the land (Judg 9:52; 2 Chr 27:4; Ezek 27:11) (HALOT 544 s.v. I מִגְדָּל). The Beloved mixes metaphors by describing her breasts with a comparison of sense and a comparison of sight: (1) Comparison of sense: She successfully defended her virginity and sexual purity from seduction, as fortress towers defended the city. (2) Comparison of sight: Just as the fortress towers along a city wall projected out at the corners of the wall, the Beloved’s breasts finally developed into beautiful “towers” (see 8:8 when she had no breasts as a young girl).
18 tn Heb “peace.” An eloquent wordplay is created by the use of the noun שָׁלוֹם (shalom, “peace, favor”) in 8:10b and the name שְׁלֹמֹה (shÿlomoh, “Solomon”) in 8:11a. The Beloved found “favor” (שָׁלוֹם) in the eyes of Solomon (שְׁלֹמֹה). She won his heart because she was not only a beautiful young woman (“my breasts were like fortress towers”), but a virtuous woman (“I was a wall”).
19 tn Heb “Then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace.”