The Beloved to Her Lover:
a lily 4 from the valleys.
The Lover to His Beloved:
so is my darling among the maidens.
The Song of Songs 2:16Context
The Beloved about Her Lover:
2:16 My lover is mine and I am his;
he grazes among the lilies. 7
The Song of Songs 4:5Context
4:5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of the gazelle
grazing among the lilies.
The Song of Songs 5:13Context
His lips are like lilies dripping with drops of myrrh.
The Song of Songs 6:2-3Context
The Beloved to the Maidens:
to the flowerbeds of balsam spices, 11
to graze 12 in the gardens,
and to gather lilies. 13
The Beloved about Her Lover:
he grazes among the lilies.
The Song of Songs 7:2Context
Your belly 20 is a mound of wheat,
encircled 21 by lilies.
1 tn Or “the rose of Sharon…the lily of the valleys.” There is debate whether the expressions חֲבַצֶּלֶת הַשָּׁרוֹן (khavatselet hashsharon) and שׁוֹשַׁנַּת הָעֲמָקִים (shoshannat ha’amaqim) are definite (“the rose of Sharon…the lily of the valleys”) or indefinite (“a rose of Sharon…a lily”). Some translations adopt the definite sense (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NAU, NJB, NLT); others the indefinite sense (ASV, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NIB, NAB, NJPS, CEV).
2 tn Heb “meadow-saffron” or “crocus.” The noun חֲבַצֶּלֶת (khavatselet) traditionally has been translated “rose” (KJV, NKJV, ASV, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NIV, NJPS, NLT, CEV); however, recent translations suggest “crocus” (NIV margin, NJPS margin), “narcissus” (DBY) or simply “flower” (DRA, NAB). The LXX translated it with the generic term ἀνθος (anqos, “flower, blossom”). Early English translators knew that it referred to some kind of flower but were unsure exactly which type, so they arbitrarily chose “rose” because it was a well-known and beautiful flower. In the light of comparative Semitics, modern Hebrew lexicographers have settled on “asphodel,” “meadow-saffron,” “narcissus,” or “crocus” (BDB 287 s.v. חֲבַצֶּלֶת; HALOT 287 s.v. חֲבַצֶּלֶת; DCH 3:153 s.v. חֲבַצֶּלֶת). The Hebrew term is related to Syriac hamsalaita (“meadow saffron”) and Akkadian habasillatu (“flower-stalk, marsh plant, reed”). Lexicographers and botanists suggest that the Hebrew term refers to Ashodelos (lily family), Narcissus tazetta (narcissus or daffodil), or Colchicum autumnale (meadow-saffron or crocus). The location of this flower in Sharon suggests that a common wild flower would be more consonant than a rose. The term appears elsewhere only in Isa 35:1 where it refers to some kind of desert flower – erroneously translated “rose” (KJV, NJPS) but probably “crocus” (NASB, NIV, NJPS margin). Appropriately, the rustic maiden who grew up in the simplicity of rural life compares herself to a simple, common flower of the field (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 367).
3 sn Sharon is a low coastal plain stretching south from Mount Carmel. It is well watered due to the Kurkar ridges running parallel to the shore which trapped the water run-off from the Samaritan hills. The combination of low sandy hills and swampy lowlands produced heavy vegetation and an abundance of wild flowers in the area (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 367).
4 tn There is debate about the referent of שׁוֹשַׁנָּת (shoshannat, “lily”) because there are many different species of the lily family. Botanists note that among the many different species of the lily family only one grows in Palestine. This species may be identified as the Anthemis palaestina, the chamomile, a white-daisy-like plant, which was indigenous to Palestine (Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 134-36).
5 sn This is an example of emblematic parallelism. An illustrative simile appears in the A-line and the subject of the comparison is in the B-line. The particles כֵּן…כְּ (cÿ…ken, “like…so”) form an emphatic comparative construction (e.g., Ps 123:2), see IBHS 641-42 §38.5a.
6 tn Alternately, “thorn bushes.” The term הַחוֹחִים (hahokhim) is probably derived from חוֹח (khokh,“thorn-bush, briars, thistles, thorns”; HALOT 296 s.v. I חוֹחַ; BDB 296 s.v. חוֹחַ) rather than חוֹח (khokh, “crevice”; HALOT 296 s.v. II חוֹחַ): “Like a lily among the thorns” rather than “Like a lily among the rock crevices.” The picture is of a beautiful flower growing in the midst of thorn bushes (1 Sam 14:11; 2 Kgs 14:9; 2 Chr 25:18; Job 31:40; Prov 26:9; Isa 34:13; Hos 9:6) rather than a beautiful flower growing in the midst of rocky outcroppings (1 Sam 13:6; 2 Chr 33:11). The Hebrew term is related to Akkadian hahu and haiahu “thorn” and hahinnu “thorny plants” (AHw 1:308) and Aramaic hahhu (HALOT 296). The “thorn bush” is a thistle plant (Poterium spinosum) which has prickly spines covered with thistles, but also sprouts beautiful small red flowers (Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 184-85).
sn The Lover accommodates her self-denigrating comparison, but heightens it to praise her: If she insisted that she was nothing more than a common flower of the field, then he insisted that all other women were like thorns by comparison. The term חוֹח (khokh, “thorn”) is often used as a figure for utter desolation and the cause of pain; it is the antithesis of fertility and beautiful luxuriant growth (Job 31:40; Isa 34:13; Hos 9:6).
7 sn This line may be translated either as “the one who grazes among the lilies” or as “the one who feeds [his flock] among the lilies.” The latter would picture him as a shepherd pasturing his flock among a bed of flowers which they were eating, while the former would be picturing him as a gazelle feeding among a bed of flowers. Because of the occurrence of the gazelle motif in the following verse, it is most likely that this motif is present in this verse as well. Although it seems likely that he is therefore being pictured as a gazelle eating these flowers, it is far from clear as to what this figurative picture denotes. It is possible that it conveys the peaceful nature of his relationship with her because she was earlier portrayed as a lily (e.g., 2:1).
8 sn In the genitive construct phrase עֲרוּגַת הַבֹּשֶׂם (’arugat havvosem, literally, “beds of balsam”) the term בֹּשֶׂם (bosem) is a genitive of composition, identifying what these gardens were composed of. The term עֲרוּגַת (“garden-beds”) refers to a private garden terrace or garden bed, a rare luxury in Palestine and very expensive to own (Ezek 17:7, 10) (BDB 788 s.v. עֲרוּגָה). The term בֹּשֶׂם (bosem, “balsam”) refers to balsam trees which yielded sweet-smelling oils from which perfumes were produced. The balsam trees should be identified either as Astragalus tragacantha which grew everywhere in Palestine and exude resin from its thorns, or as Commiphora opobalsamum which was not native to Israel but to South Arabia from whence it had to be imported at great cost (2 Chr 9:1) (Fauna and Flora of the Bible, 177-78). She is comparing the beautiful scent of his cologned cheeks to fragrant beds of spice.
9 tn Alternately, “towers of perfume.” The MT reads מִגְדְּלוֹת (migdÿlot) which yields the awkward “towers of perfume.” The term מִגְדָּל (migdal, “tower”) is normally used in reference to (1) watch-towers, defended towers along the city wall, and individual towers in the countryside to protect the borders, (2) storehouses, and (3) a tower in a vineyard (HALOT 543-44 s.v. I מִגְדָּל). It is never used in OT in association with a flower garden. On the other hand, LXX reads φυουσαι (fuousai, “yielding”) which reflects an alternate vocalization tradition of מְגַדְּלוֹת (mÿgaddÿlot; Piel participle feminine plural from גָּדַל, gadal, “to increase, produce”). This makes good sense contextually because the Piel stem of גָּדַל means “to grow” plants and trees (Isa 44:14; Ezek 31:4; Jonah 4:10) (HALOT 179 s.v. I גדל 2). This revocalization is suggested by BHS editors, as well as the Hebrew lexicographers (HALOT 544 s.v. 2; 179 s.v. I 2; BDB 152 s.v. גָּדַל 1). Several translations follow LXX and revocalize the text (RSV, NIV, NJPS margin): “His cheeks are like beds of spice yielding perfume” (NIV) and “His cheeks are like beds of spice producing perfume” (NJPS margin). The other translations struggle to make sense of the MT, but are forced to abandon a literal rendering of מִגְדְּלוֹת (“towers”): “banks sweet herbs” (ASV), “banks sweetly scented” (JB), “treasure-chambers full of perfume” (NEB), “banks of sweet scented herbs” (NASB), and “banks of perfume” (JPS, NJPS).
10 sn The term גַּן (gan, “garden”) is used six other times in the Song. In five cases, it is used figuratively (hypocatastasis) to describe her body or the sexual love of the couple (4:12, 15, 16a, 16b; 5:1). There is only one usage in which it might refer to a real garden (8:13). Thus, this usage of “garden” might be figurative or literal: (1) He went to a real garden for repose. Solomon did, in fact, own a great many gardens (Eccl 2:4-7; 1 Chr 27:27). (2) The “garden” is a figurative description referring either to: (a) the young woman, (b) their sexual love, or (c) Solomon’s harem.
11 sn The phrase כַּעֲרוּגַת הַבֹּשֶׂם (ka’arugat havvosem, “flower-beds of balsam”) is used elsewhere in the Song only in 5:13 where it is a simile comparing his cheeks to a flower-bed of balsam yielding perfumed spices. The term הַבֹּשֶׂם (“balsam-spice”) by itself appears five times in the Song, each time as a figure for sexual love (4:10, 14, 16; 5:1; 8:14). Thus, the two options are: (1) the term refers to a real flower-bed of balsam to which Solomon had gone or (2) this term is a figure for sexual love.
12 tn The verb לִרְעוֹת (lir’ot, “to browse”; so NAB, NIV) is from the root רָעָה (ra’ah, “to feed, graze”) which is used seven times in the Song (1:7, 8a, 8b; 2:16; 4:5; 6:2, 3). All its uses appear to be either literal or figurative descriptions of sheep grazing. The verb is used twice in reference to sheep “grazing” in a pasture (1:7, 8). The participle is used once to designate “shepherds” (1:8), once in reference to two fawns which “which graze among the lilies” as a figurative description of her breasts (4:5), and twice as a figurative description of Solomon as “the one who grazes among the lilies” which is probably also a comparison of Solomon to a grazing sheep (2:16; 6:3). Therefore, it is likely that the usage of the term לִרְעוֹת (“to graze”) in 6:2 is also a figurative comparison of Solomon to a sheep grazing among garden flowers. Thus, there are two options: (1) nuance the term לִרְעוֹת as “to browse” (NAB, NIV) and take this as a literal action of Solomon walking through a real garden or (2) nuance the term לִרְעוֹת as “to graze” (NLT) and take this as a figure in which Solomon is pictured as a gazelle grazing on the flowers in a garden.
13 sn The term שׁוֹשַׁנָּה (shoshannah, “lily”) or שׁוֹשַׁנִים (shoshanim, “lilies”) appears eight times in the Song (2:1, 2, 16; 4:5; 5:13; 6:2, 3; 7:2). Of these five are unequivocally used figuratively as descriptions of a woman or women (2:1, 2), the color and softness of her breasts (4:5), the attractiveness of his lips (5:13), and her waist (7:2). The closest parallel to 6:2 is the description “the one who grazes among the lilies” (2:16; 6:3) which is a figurative expression comparing his romancing of his Beloved with a sheep feeding on lilies. However, this still leaves a question as to what the lilies represent in 2:16; 6:2, 3. The phrase “to gather lilies” itself appears only here in the Song. However, the synonymous phrase “to gather myrrh and balsam spice” is used in 5:1 as a figure (euphemistic hypocatastasis) for sexual consummation by the man of the woman. There are three basic options as to how “lilies” may be taken: (1) The lilies are real flowers; he has gone to a real garden in which to repose and she is picking real lilies. (2) The term “lilies” is a figure for the young woman; he is romancing her just as he had in 2:16 and 5:1. He is kissing her mouth just as a sheep would graze among lilies. (3) The term “lilies” is a figure expression referring to other women, such as his harem (e.g., 6:8-9). Two factors support the “harem” interpretation: (1) Solomon had recently departed from her, and she was desperate to find him after she refused him. (2) His harem is mentioned explicitly in 6:8-9. However, several other factors support the Beloved interpretation: (1) She expresses her confidence in 6:3 that he is devoted to her. (2) The immediately following use of “lilies” in 6:3 appears to refer to her, as in 2:16 and 5:1. (3) He praises her in 6:4-7, suggesting that he was romancing her in 6:2-3. (4) Although his harem is mentioned in 6:8-10, all these women acknowledge that he is disinterested in them and only loves her. (5) Her exultation “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; the one who grazes among the lilies” (6:3) is a statement of assurance in their relationship and this would seem quite strange if he was cavorting with his harem while she said this.
14 sn This is the second occurrence of the poetic refrain that occurs elsewhere in 2:16 and 7:11. The order of the first two cola are reversed from 2:16: “My beloved is mine and I am his” (2:16) but “I am my beloved’s and he is mine” (6:3). The significance of this shift depends on whether the parallelism is synonymous or climactic. This might merely be a literary variation with no rhetorical significance. On the other hand, it might signal a shift in her view of their relationship: Originally, she focused on her possession of him, now she focused on his possession of her.
15 tn Or “I belong to my beloved, and my lover belongs to me.” Alternately, “I am devoted to my beloved, and my lover is devoted to me.”
16 tn The noun שֹׁרֶר (shorer) is a hapax legomenon, appearing in the OT only here. There is debate whether it means “navel” or “vulva”: (1) Lys and Pope suggest that שֹׁרֶר is related to Arabic srr (“secret place, pudenda, coition, fornication”). They suggest that this is contextually supported by three factors: (a) His descriptive praise of her is in ascending order, beginning with her feet and concluding with her hair. The movement from her thighs (7:1b), to her vulva (7:2a), and then to her waist (7:2b) would fit this. (b) The descriptive comparison to a glass of wine would be grotesque if her navel were in view – her navel was moist or filled with liquid? – but appropriate if her vulva were in view. (c) The navel would be a somewhat synonymous reference to the belly which is already denoted by בִּטְנֵךְ (bitnekh, “belly”) in the following line. Because 7:1-7 does not use synonymous parallelism, the term שֹׁרֶר would have to refer to something other than the belly. (2) The term שֹׁרֶר denotes “navel”: (a) It may be related to the bi-consonantal noun שֹׁר (shor, “navel, umbilical cord”) (Prov 3:8; Ezek 16:4). (b) Mishnaic Hebrew שָׁרָר (sharar) denotes “navel, umbilical cord” (Jastrow 1634 s.v. שָׁרָר). For example, in a midrash on the Book of Numbers, the noun שֹׁרֶר appears in an allusion to Song 7:3 to justify the seating of the Sanhedrin in the middle of the synagogue: “As the navel (שֹׁרֶר) is placed in the centre of the body, so are the Sanhedrin…” (Num. Rab. 1:4). On the other hand, the meaning “vulva” never appears in Mishnaic Hebrew. Therefore, apart from this disputed usage there is no evidence that this term was ever used in this manner in Hebrew. (c) Rather than שֹׁרֶר being related to Arabic sirr (“pudenda”), it could just as easily be related to the Arabic noun surr “navel.” It is methodologically more sound to define שֹׁרֶר as “navel” than as “vulva.” (d) The nuance “navel” is not as out of line contextually as Lys and Pope suggest. The navel would not be out of place in the ascending order of praise because the בִּטְנֵךְ (“abdomen”) which follows may be viewed as both above and below the navel. The figurative association of the שֹׁרֶר as a mixing bowl filled with wine does not imply that this bodily part must actually be moist or filled with liquid as Pope suggests. The point of comparison is not physical or visual but one of function, i.e., it is intoxicating. The comparison of the navel to a mixing bowl of wine is no more out of line than the comparison of the belly to a heap of wheat in the next line. In fact, the two go together – she is both the “drink” and “food” for Solomon. The shape of the navel is as congruent with the metaphor of the “round bowl” as the vulva; both are round and receding. (3) Since both terms are derived from the same geminate root – Hebrew שֹׁרֶר and Arabic srr – it is more prudent to take the term as a synecdoche of whole (lower region) for the parts (including navel and vulva). The attempt to decide between these two options may be illegitimately splitting hairs. See K&D 18:123; J. S. Deere, “Song of Solomon,” BKCOT, 199-200; D. Lys, “Notes sur de Cantique,” VTSup 17 (1969): 171-78; M. H. Pope, Song of Songs (AB), 617; G. L. Carr, Song of Solomon (TOTC), 157.
17 sn The expression אַגַּן הַסַּהַר (’aggan hassahar, “round mixing bowl”) refers to a vessel used for mixing wine. Archaeologists have recovered examples of such large, deep, two handled, ring-based round bowls. The Hebrew term אַגַּן (“mixing bowl”) came into Greek usage as ἂγγος (angos) which designates vessels used for mixing wine (e.g., Homer, Odyssey xvi 16) (LSJ 7). This is consistent with the figurative references to wine which follows: “may it never lack mixed wine.” Selected Bibliography: J. P. Brown, “The Mediterranean Vocabulary for Wine,” VT 19 (1969): 158; A. M. Honeyman, “The Pottery Vessels of the Old Testament,” PEQ 80 (1939): 79. The comparison of her navel to a “round mixing bowl” is visually appropriate in that both are round and receding. The primary point of comparison to the round bowl is one of sense, as the following clause makes clear: “may it never lack mixed wine.” J. S. Deere suggests that the point of comparison is that of taste, desirability, and function (“Song of Solomon,” BKCOT, 202). More specifically, it probably refers to the source of intoxication, that is, just as a bowl used to mix wine was the source of physical intoxication, so she was the source of his sexual intoxication. She intoxicated Solomon with her love in the same way that wine intoxicates a person.
18 tn The phrase אַל־יֶחְסַר (’al-yekhsar) has traditionally been taken as an imperfect: “it never lacks mixed wine” (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 619); “which wanteth not liquor” (KJV); “in which liquor is never lacking” (RSV); “that never lacks mixed wine” (JB); “with no lack of wine” (NEB); “that shall never want for spiced wine” (NEB); “that never lacks blended wine” (NIV). This is also how LXX understood it: μὴ ὑστερούμενος κρᾶμα (mh usteroumenos, “not lacking liquor”). However, the negative אַל (’al) normally precedes a jussive expressing a wish or request: “May it never lack mixed wine!” (J. S. Deere, “Song of Solomon,” BKCOT, 202). This approach is adopted by several translations: “that should never lack for mixed wine” (NASB) and “Let mixed wine not be lacking!” (NJPS).
19 sn The term מָזֶג (mazeg, “mixed wine”) does not refer to wine mixed with water to dilute its potency, but to strong wine mixed with weaker wine. The practice of mixing wine with water is not attested in the Hebrew Bible. Both מָזֶג and מֶסֶךְ (mesekh) refer to strong wine mixed with weaker wine. The rabbis later distinguished between the two, stating that מָזֶג was strong wine mixed with weak wine, while מֶסֶךְ was wine mixed with water (Aboda Zara 58b). However, both types of wine were intoxicating. Mixed wine was the most intoxicating type of wine. In a midrash on the Book of Numbers a comment is made about the practice of mixing strong wine with weaker wine (e.g., Isa 5:22; Prov 23:30), stating its purpose: “They used to mix strong wine with weak wine so as to get drunk with it” (Num. Rab. 10:8). See J. P. Brown, “The Mediterranean Vocabulary of Wine,” VT 19 (1969): 154. The comparison of a wife’s sexual love to intoxicating wine is common in ancient Near Eastern love literature. Parallel in thought are the words of the Hebrew sage, “May your fountain be blessed and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her love (or breasts) always intoxicate you, may you ever stagger like a drunkard in her love” (Prov 5:18-19).
20 tn Alternately, “your waist.” The term בִּטְנֵךְ (bitnekh) probably refers to the woman’s “belly” rather than “waist.” It is associated with a woman’s abdominal/stomach region rather than her hips (Prov 13:25; 18:20; Ezek 3:3). The comparison of her belly to a heap of wheat is visually appropriate because of the similarity of their symmetrical shape and tannish color. The primary point of comparison, however, is based upon the commonplace association of wheat in Israel, namely, wheat was the main staple of the typical Israelite meal (Deut 32:14; 2 Sam 4:6; 17:28; 1 Kgs 5:25; Pss 81:14; 147:14). Just as wheat satisfied an Israelite’s physical hunger, she satisfied his sexual hunger. J. S. Deere makes this point in the following manner: “The most obvious commonplace of wheat was its function, that is, it served as one of the main food sources in ancient Palestine. The Beloved was both the ‘food’ (wheat) and ‘drink’ (wine) of the Lover. Her physical expression of love nourished and satisfied him. His satisfaction was great for the ‘mixed wine’ is intoxicating and the ‘heap of wheat’ was capable of feeding many. The ‘heap of wheat’ also suggests the harvest, an association which contributes to the emotional quality of the metaphor. The harvest was accompanied with a joyous celebration over the bounty yielded up by the land. So also, the Beloved is bountiful and submissive in giving of herself, and the source of great joy” (“Song of Solomon,” BKCOT, 203-204).
21 tn Heb “fenced around by.”