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The Song of Songs 2:8-17

Context
The Arrival of the Lover

The Beloved about Her Lover:

2:8 Listen! 1  My lover is approaching! 2 

Look! 3  Here he comes,

leaping over the mountains,

bounding over the hills!

2:9 My lover is like a gazelle or a young stag. 4 

Look! There he stands behind our wall,

gazing through the window,

peering through the lattice.

The Season of Love and the Song of the Turtle-Dove

The Lover to His Beloved:

2:10 My lover spoke to me, saying:

“Arise, my darling;

My beautiful one, come away with me!

2:11 Look! The winter has passed,

the winter rains are over and gone.

2:12 The pomegranates have appeared 5  in the land,

the time for pruning and singing 6  has come;

the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.

2:13 The fig tree has budded,

the vines have blossomed and give off their fragrance.

Arise, come away my darling;

my beautiful one, come away with me!”

The Dove in the Clefts of En-Gedi

The Lover to His Beloved:

2:14 O my dove, 7  in the clefts of the rock,

in the hiding places of the mountain crags,

let me see your face,

let me hear your voice;

for your voice is sweet,

and your face is lovely.

The Foxes in the Vineyard

The Beloved to Her Lover:

2:15 Catch 8  the foxes 9  for us,

the little foxes, 10 

that ruin the vineyards 11 

for our vineyard is in bloom.

Poetic Refrain: Mutual Possession

The Beloved about Her Lover:

2:16 My lover is mine and I am his;

he grazes among the lilies. 12 

The Gazelle and the Rugged Mountains

The Beloved to Her Lover:

2:17 Until the dawn arrives 13  and the shadows flee,

turn, 14  my beloved –

be like a gazelle or a young stag

on the mountain gorges. 15 

1 tn Heb “The voice of my beloved!” The exclamation קוֹל (qol, “Listen!”) is an introductory exclamatory particle used to emphasize excitement and the element of surprise.

2 tn The phrase “is approaching” does not appear in Hebrew but is supplied in the translation for the sake of clarity.

3 tn The exclamation הִנֵּה־זֶה (hinneh-zeh, “Look!”) is used of excited speech when someone is seen approaching (Isa 21:9).

4 sn Gazelles are often associated with sensuality and masculine virility in ancient Near Eastern love literature. Gazelles were often figures in Hebrew, Akkadian, and Ugaritic literature for mighty warriors or virile young men (e.g., 2 Sam 1:19; 2:18; Isa 14:9; Zech 10:3). In ancient Near Eastern love literature gazelles often symbolize the excitement and swiftness of the lover coming to see his beloved, as in an ancient Egyptian love song: “O that you came to your sister swiftly like a bounding gazelle! Its feet reel, its limbs are weary, terror has entered its body. A hunter pursues it with his hounds, they do not see it in its dust; It sees a resting place as a trap, it takes the river as its road. May you find her hiding-place before your hand is kissed four times. Pursue your sister’s love, the Golden gives her to you, my friend!” (“Three Poems” in the Papyrus Chester Beatty 1 collection).

5 tn Heb “are seen.”

6 tn Alternately, “the time of singing” or “the time of pruning.” The homonymic root זָמִיר (zamir) means “song, singing” (HALOT 273 s.v. I זָמִיר; DCH 3:117 s.v. זָמִיר a), while זָמִיר II means “pruning, trimming” (HALOT 273 s.v. II; DCH 3:117 s.v. II). The intended root is debated among the ancient versions (LXX, Aquila, Symmachus, Vulgate, Targum), Hebrew lexicographers (HALOT 273; DCH 3:117), and translations: “singing” (KJV, NIV, NASB margin, NJPS margin), “pruning” (NASB, NJPS). However, rather than choosing between these two roots, it is likely that this is an example of intentional ambiguity. The preceding line draws out the meaning of זָמִיר (“trimming, pruning”): “The pomegranates are seen in the land, the time of pruning has come.” The following line draws out the meaning of זָמִיר (“singing”): “The time of singing has come, the voice of the turtledove is heard in the land.” This homonymic wordplay creates an example of “janus parallelism” between the three poetic lines which play off both root meanings of the intentionally ambiguous homonym. This elegant wordplay and the AB:BA “janus parallelism” may be represented thus: “The pomegranates are seen in the land, the time has come for pruning // singing, the voice of the turtledove is heard in the land.”

7 sn The dove was a common figure for romantic love in ancient Near Eastern love literature. This emphasis seems to be suggested by his use of the term “my dove.” Just as the young man heard the voice of the turtledove in 2:12, so now he wants to hear her voice. Doves were often associated with timidity in the ancient world. Being virtually defenseless, they would often take refuge in crevices and cliffs for safety (Jer 48:28). The emphasis on timidity and the need for security is undoubtedly the emphasis here because of the explicit description of this “dove” hiding in the “clefts of the rock” and in “the hiding places of the mountain crevice.” Fortresses were sometimes built in the clefts of the rocks on mountainsides because they were inaccessible and therefore, in a secure place of safety (Jer 49:16; Obad 3). Perhaps he realized it might be intimidating for her to join him and communicate with him freely. She would need to feel secure in his love to do this. It would be easy for her to hide from such emotionally exposing experiences.

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 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).

13 sn Heb “until the day breathes,” which is figurative (personification) for the morning, that is, the time when the day begin its “life” (e.g., Song 4:6). Likewise, “the shadows flee” is figurative (personification) for the dawn, i.e., the time when the dark shadows of the night disappear, or the shadows of the evening which lengthen and are just as fleeting.

14 tn The exact meaning of סֹב (sov, Qal imperative 2nd person masculine singular from סָבַב, savav, “to turn”) in this context is uncertain. The imperatival form may be classified as an invitation. HALOT notes that סָבַב (“to turn”) occasionally denotes “to sit [lie] at a table” (1 Sam 16:11; Sir 9:9) and suggests that this is a figurative use of this nuance (HALOT 739 s.v. סבב 2c). The Beloved would be issuing an invitation to him to “turn aside to sit” at her table, that is, to enjoy the delights of her love. On the other hand, סֹב (“Turn!”) may simply be a synonym for the following parallel imperative דְּמֵה (dÿmeh, “Be like!”), that is, “turn, change” (HALOT 224 s.v. דָּם). In keeping with the extended simile in which the Beloved compares him to a gazelle or stag leaping upon the mountains, the term סֹב may simply denote “turn oneself around, change direction” (HALOT 739 s.v. 1). Rather than leaping somewhere else, so to speak, she invites him to leap upon the “mountain gorges.”

15 tn The expression הָרֵי בָתֶר (hare bater, “mountains of Bethar”) is difficult because there is no known mountain-range which was ever called by this name. The meaning of the noun בֶּתֶר (beter) is uncertain. DCH distinguishes between three homonymic nouns: (1) בֶּתֶר I noun “part, piece” (Gen 15:10; Jer 34:19) related to the verb בֶּתֶר “to cut in two” (Gen 15:10); (2) בֶּתֶר II noun “gorge” (Song 2:17); and (3) בֶּתֶר III place name “Bether” in Judah and 6.5 miles (11 km) SW of Jerusalem (Josh 15:59; 1 Chr 6:44; perhaps Song 2:17) (DCH 2:291 s.v. בֶּתֶר). Thus, הָרֵי בָתֶר might mean “mountains of gorge[s]” or “mountains of Bether” (DCH 2:291 s.v. III). The Hebrew root בָּתַר (batar, “cut in pieces, cut in half”) is related to Arabic batara “to cut off” (HALOT 167 s.v. בתר; BDB 144 בָּתַר). The word does not appear in Ugaritic, Akkadian, or Syriac. Aramaic בָּאתַר (batar, “after, behind”) was used frequently in Northwest Semitic (DISO 45-46) and Late Hebrew (Jastrow 201 s.v. בָּאתַר); however, it offers little to this problem. Many scholars take בֶּתֶר as a genitive of description functioning as an attributive adjective. For example, BDB suggests that בֶּתֶר means “mountains of cutting,” that is, “cleft mountains” (BDB 144 s.v. בֶּתֶר), while Koehler posits “ravine,” that is, mountains with a ravine (HALOT 167 s.v. II בֶּתֶר). This is reflected in the LXX’s κοιλωμάτων (koilwmatwn, “hollow places, basin, cavity”): ὄρη κοιλωμάτων (orh koilwmatwn) “mountains with many ravines.” This approach is adopted by several translations, e.g., “rugged mountains” (NLT). On the other hand, Vulgate, Aquila, and Symmachus took it as a place name referring to the town of Bether (LXX Βαιθηρ = Mishnaic Hebrew בִּיתֵּר) located 6.5 miles (11 km) southwest of Jerusalem (Josh 15:59; 1 Chr 6:44). This approach is adopted by several translations: “mountains of Bether” (KJV, ASV, RSV, NASB, NIV margin, TEV). Theodotion takes it as a figurative expression, reading θυμιαματων (qumiamatwn, “incense”) which reflects a variant Hebrew reading of בְּשָמִים (bÿshamim, “balsam, perfume”) which also appears in Song 8:14. This approach is taken in a Jewish-English translation: “hills of spice” (NJPS). The botanist Löw connects Hebrew בֶּתֶר to Greek μαλαβάθρον (malabaqron) which was an Indian spice plant imported to Judah. See I. Low, Die Flora der Juden, 2:117-118. The expression “cleft mountains” (הָרֵי בָתֶר) might refer simply to a rugged and jagged mountain-range (NLT “rugged mountains”; NIV “rugged hills”). However, this may be a figurative description of the woman’s cleavage because similar imagery is used in Song 4:6 to describe her breasts. The name “Tihamah” (literally “the Great Deep”) was applied to the low-lying coastland between the mountains of Yemen and the Red Sea as well as to the depression of Djauf (Dumah) because of fresh-water springs which oozed up from below (Hebrew “Tehom” and “Tehomot,” Ugaritic “Tihamaten” or “Tahamatum,” Akkadian “Tiamat”). And it appears that in an Ammonite inscription that an area near the mountainous region of Rabbath-Amman is referred to by the name “Tymtn” (literally “The Two Depressions”), rather than by its real name (W. F. Albright, “Some Comments on the Amman Citadel Inscription,” BASOR 198 [April 1978]: 38-39).

sn Scholars offer three interpretations of her figurative request: (1) The Beloved desires her Lover to embrace her breasts, like a gazelle romping over mountains (mountains are figurative); (2) The Beloved entreats her Lover to leave and go back over the hills from whence he had journeyed (mountains are literal); and (3) As her Lover prepares to leave her country village, the Beloved asks him to return to her again in the same way he arrived, like a gazelle bounding over the mountains in 2:8-10 (mountains are literal).



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