they made me the keeper of the vineyards.
The Song of Songs 2:15Context
The Beloved to Her Lover:
the little foxes, 10
that ruin the vineyards 11 –
for our vineyard is in bloom.
The Song of Songs 8:12Context
The thousand shekels belong to you, O Solomon,
and two hundred shekels belong to those who maintain it for its fruit.
3 tn Heb “the sun has stared at me.” The verb שָׁזַף (shazaf) means “to look at, catch sight of, glance at” (e.g., Job 20:9; 28:7) (HALOT 1456 s.v. שׁזף; BDB 1004 s.v. שָׁזַף). The Beloved personifies the sun (הַשָּׁמֶשׁ, hashshamesh) as having looked at the Beloved too long, that is, it burned her skin.
4 tn Heb “the sons of my mother.”
5 sn The verb הָרָה (harah, “to burn in anger, to be angry”) creates an interesting wordplay or pun on the preceding line: “The sun burned me (= my skin).” The sun burned her skin, because her brothers had burned (נִהֲרוּ, niharu) in anger against her. This is an example of a polysemantic wordplay which explains the two basic meanings of הָרָה (“to burn, to be angry”) (W. G. E. Watson, Classical Hebrew Poetry [JSOTSup], 241-42).
6 sn The noun כֶּרֶם (kerem, “vineyard”) is used figuratively in this line (see following note on the wordplays in this verse). Some suggest that her “vineyard” refers to her virginity, that is, she lost her virginity. However, this runs contrary to the moral purity accorded to the Beloved throughout the Song (e.g., 4:12; 8:8-10). It is better to take the “vineyard” imagery as a reference to her ability to take care of her physical appearance which had been thwarted by being forced to work outside where her skin had been darkened by the scorching rays of the sun, as alluded to throughout 1:4-5[5-6].
7 sn The repetition of the noun כֶּרֶם (kerem, “vineyard”) and the verb נָטַר (natar, “to keep, maintain”) creates a series of eloquent wordplays. The first occurrence of כֶּרֶם (“vineyard”) and נָטַר (“to keep”) is literal, the second occurrence of both is figurative (hypocatastasis). Her brothers forced her to work outside in the sun, taking care of the vineyards; as a result, she was not able to take care of her appearance (“my own vineyard I could not keep”).
8 tn The imperative אֶחֱזוּ (’ekhezu, “catch”) is plural in form (Qal imperative 2nd person masculine plural from אָחַז, ’akhaz). Some commentators suggest that the woman is speaking to a large audience, perhaps the maidens of Jerusalem mentioned in 2:7. However, the Hebrew plural can function in an intensive sense when used in reference to a single individual (IBHS 122 §7.4.3a). As noted previously, the bride often uses the plural in reference to herself or to her bridegroom in Sumerian love literature. Thus, the woman simply may be speaking to her beloved, as in 2:16-17, but with particularly intense passion.
9 sn The term “foxes” is used metaphorically. Foxes are always spoken of in a negative light in the OT and in the ancient world were particularly associated with their destructive tendencies with regard to vineyards (Judg 15:4; Neh 4:3; Ps 63:10; Lam 5:18; Ezek 13:4). The description of these foxes as being destructive here seems to confirm that this is the point of comparison in mind.
10 sn In ancient Near Eastern love literature it was common to use wild animals to symbolize potential problems which could separate lovers and destroy their love. For instance, in Egyptian love songs it is the crocodile, rather than the foxes, which were used as figures for obstacles which might threaten a couple’s love. Here the “foxes” are probably used figuratively to represent potentially destructive problems which could destroy their romantic relationship and which could hinder it from ripening into marriage.
11 sn The term “vineyard” is also a figure. In 1:6 she used the vineyard motif as a metaphor for her physical appearance, but here it is “our vineyards” which is probably a figure for their romantic relationship. The phrase “in bloom” makes the metaphor more specific, so that the phrase “our vineyards are in bloom” means that their romantic love relationship was in its initial stages, that is, before it had ripened into marriage.
12 sn The term כֶּרֶם (kerem, “vineyard”) is used literally in 8:11 in reference to Solomon’s physical vineyard, but in 8:12 it is used figuratively (hypocatastasis) in reference to the Beloved: כַּרְמִי (karmi, “my vineyard”). Throughout the Song, the term כֶּרֶם (“vineyard”) is used figuratively (Song 1:6; 2:15; 8:12). In 8:12 it is used in reference to either (1) herself, (2) her choice of whom to give herself to in love, or (3) her physical body. In contrast to Solomon’s physical vineyard, whose fruit can be bought and sold (8:11), she is not for sale: She will only give herself freely to the one whom she chooses to love.
13 tn Each of the three terms in this line has the 1st person common singular suffix which is repeated three times for emphasis: כַּרְמִי (karmi, “my vineyard”), שֶׁלִּי (shelli, “which belongs to me”), and לְפָנָי (lÿfana, “at my disposal”). In contrast to King Solomon, who owns the vineyard at Baal-Hamon and who can buy and sell anything in the vineyard that he wishes, she proclaims that her “vineyard” (= herself or her body) belongs to her alone. In contrast to the vineyard, which can be leased out, and its fruit, which can be bought or sold, her “vineyard” is not for sale. Her love must and is to be freely given.
14 tn Heb “[it is] before me.” The particle לְפָנָי (lÿfana) can denote “at the disposal of” (e.g., Gen 13:9; 20:15; 24:51; 34:10; 47:6; Jer 40:4; 2 Chr 14:6) (HALOT 9 s.v. פָּנֶה 4.f; BDB 817 s.v. פנה 4.a.f). Similar to Akkadian ana pan “at the disposal of” (AHw 2:821.a, paragraph 20), the term is used in reference to a sovereign (usually a land-owner or king) who has full power over his property to dispose of as he wishes, e.g., “The whole country is at your disposal [לְפָנֶיךָ, lÿfaneka]” (Gen 13:9). In Song 8:12 the form לְפָנָי has the 1st person common singular suffix: “My vineyard, which belongs to me, is at my disposal.”