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The Song of Songs 3:1-4

Context
The Lost Lover is Found

The Beloved about Her Lover:

3:1 All night long 1  on my bed 2 

I longed for 3  my lover. 4 

I longed for 5  him but he never appeared. 6 

3:2 “I will arise 7  and look all around 8  throughout the town,

and throughout the streets 9  and squares;

I will search for my beloved.”

I searched for him but I did not find him. 10 

3:3 The night watchmen found me – the ones who guard the city walls. 11 

“Have you seen my beloved?” 12 

3:4 Scarcely 13  had I passed them by

when I found my beloved!

I held onto him 14  tightly and would not let him go 15 

until I brought him to my mother’s house, 16 

to the bedroom chamber 17  of the one who conceived me.

1 tn Alternately, “at night” or “night after night.” The noun בַּלֵּילוֹת (ballelot, plural of “night”) functions as an adverbial accusative of time. The plural form בַּלֵּילוֹת from לַיְלָה (laylah, “night”) can be classified in several ways: (1) plural of number: “night after night” (NASB, NEB); (2) plural of extension: “all night long” (NIV); (3) plural of composition: “by night” (KJV) and “at night” (NJPS); or (4) plural of intensity: “during the blackest night.” The plural of extension (“all night long”) is supported by (1) the four-fold repetition of the verb בָּקַשׁ (baqash, “to seek”) in 3:1-2 which emphasizes that the Beloved was continually looking for her lover all night long, (2) her decision to finally arise in the middle of the night to look for him in 3:2-4, and (3) her request in the immediately preceding verse (2:17) that he make love to her all night long: “until the day breathes and the shadows flee….” One should note, however, that the plural בַּלֵּילוֹת occurs in 3:8 where it is a plural of composition: “by night” (NJPS) or “of the night” (NASB, NIV) or “in the night” (KJV).

sn The use of the term בַּלֵּילוֹת (ballelot, “night”) in 3:1 stands in striking contrast to the use of the term הַיּוֹם (hayyom, “the day”) in 2:17 which is the preceding verse. In 2:17 the woman invited her beloved to make love to her all night long; however, in 3:1 she recounts a nightmarish experience in which she was unable to find her beloved next to her in bed. Scholars debate whether 3:1-4 recounts a nightmare-like dream sequence or a real-life experience. There are striking parallels between 3:1-4 and 5:2-8 which also raises the possibility of a nightmare-like dream sequence.

2 tn The term מִשְׁכָּב (mishkav, “bed”) in 3:1 is the common term for marriage bed (HALOT 646 s.v. מִשְׁכָּב; BDB 1012 s.v. מִשְׁכָּב) in distinction from the common term for עֶרֶש (’eresh, “couch”) in 1:16. Several uses of the term מִשְׁכָּב (“bed”) have overt sexual connotations, denoting the place of copulation (Gen 49:4; Lev 18:22; 20:13; Num 31:17, 35; Judg 21:11, 12; Prov 7:17; Isa 57:7-8). The noun is used in the expression מִשְׁכָּב דֹּדִים (mishkav dodim, “love-bed”) with obvious sexual connotations (Ezek 23:17).

3 tn Heb “I sought….” The verb בָּקַשׁ (baqash, “to seek”) denotes the attempt to physically find someone (e.g., 1 Sam 13:14; 16:16; 28:7; 1 Kgs 1:2-3; Isa 40:20; Ezek 22:30; Esth 2:2; Job 10:6; Prov 18:1) (HALOT 152 s.v. בקשׁ). However, it is clear in 3:1 that this “search” took place upon her bed. It does not make sense in the context that the Beloved was looking around in her bed to find her lover – how big could her bed be that she had lost him? Rather, בָּקַשׁ (“to seek”) is used metonymically to reference to her longing for her absent lover, that is, seeking in the sense of anticipation. The perfect tense should be classified as a past constantive action, describing a past action which covered an extended period of time, as indicated by the phrase בַּלֵּילוֹת (ballelot, plural of extension, “all night long”) in 3:1. This continual action is emphasized by the four-fold repetition of בָּקַשׁ (“seek”) in 3:1-2.

4 tn Heb “the one whom my soul loves.” The expression נַפְשִׁי (nafshi, “my soul”) is a synecdoche of part for the whole (= the woman). The expression נַפְשִׁי (“my soul”) is often used as independent personal pronoun. It often expresses personal preference, such as love or hatred (e.g., Gen 27:4, 25; Lev 26:11, 30; Judg 5:24; Isa 1:14) (HALOT 712 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ). The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”) is used over 150 times in OT to refer to the seat of a person’s emotions and passions (BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ c.6.a) (e.g., Deut 12:15, 20, 21; 14:26; 18:6; 21:14; 24:15; 1 Sam 3:21; 23:30; 2 Sam 14:14; 1 Kgs 11:37; Isa 26:8; Jer 2:24; 22:27; 34:16; 44:14; Ezek 16:27; Hos 4:8; Mic 7:1; Pss 10:3; 24:4; 25:1; 35:25; 78:18; 86:4; 105:22; 143:8; Prov 13:4; 19:8; 21:10; Job 23:13; Song 5:6). It often refers to the seat of love (BDB 660 s.v. d.6.e) (e.g., Gen 34:3, 8; Jer 12:7; Ps 63:9; Song 1:7; 3:1-4). The expression אֵת־שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי (’et-sheahavah nafshi, “the one whom I love”; Heb “the one whom my soul loves”) is repeated four times in 3:1-4. The repetition emphasizes her intense love for her beloved. The noun אָהֲבָה (’ahavah, “love”) is often used in reference to the love between a man and woman, particularly in reference to emotional, romantic, or sexual love (2 Sam 1:26; 13:15; Prov 5:19; 7:18; Song 2:4-5, 7; 3:5; 5:8; 8:4, 6-7; Jer 2:2, 33). Likewise, the verb אָהֵב (’ahev, “to love”) often refers to emotional, romantic, or sexual love between a man and woman (e.g., Gen 24:67; 29:20, 30, 32; 34:3; Deut 21:15, 16; Judg 14:16; 16:4, 15; 1 Sam 1:5; 18:20; 2 Sam 13:1, 4, 15; 1 Kgs 11:1; 2 Chr 11:21; Neh 13:26; Esth 2:17; Eccl 9:9; Song 1:3, 4, 7; 3:1-4; Jer 22:20, 22; Ezek 16:33, 36-37; 23:5, 9, 22; Hos 2:7-15; 3:1; Lam 1:19).

5 tn Heb “I searched for him” or “I sought him” (see study note above).

6 tc The LXX adds “I called him but he did not answer me” (ἐκάλεσα αὐτόν καὶ οὐχ ὑπήκουσέν μου, ekalesa auton kai ouc Juphkousen) to 3:2d on the basis of its appearance in the parallel expressions in Song 5:6. There is no textual support for its inclusion here.

tn Heb “but I did not find him.” The verb מָצָא (matsa’, “to find”) normally describes discovering the whereabouts of something/someone who is lost or whose presence is not known. It is clear in 3:1 that the Beloved was not taking a physically active role in looking all around for him, because she stayed in her bed all night long during this time. Therefore, the verb מָצָא (“to find”) must be nuanced metonymically in terms of him appearing to her. It does not denote “finding” him physically, but visually; that is, if and when he would arrive at her bedside, she would “find” him. This might allude to her request in 2:17 for him to rendezvous with her to make love to her all night long (“until the day breathes and the shadows flee”). Despite the fact that she was waiting for him all night long, he never appeared (3:1). The verb מָצָא (“to find”) is repeated four times in 3:1-4, paralleling the four-fold repetition of בָּקַשׁ (baqash, “to seek”). This antithetical word-pair creates a strong and dramatic contrast.

7 sn Three 1st person common singular cohortatives appear in verse 2: אָקוּמָה (’aqumah, “I will arise”), אֲסוֹבְבָה (’asovÿvah, “I will go about”), and אֲבַקְשָׁה (’avaqshah, “I will seek”). These cohortatives have been taken in two basic senses: (1) resolve: “I will arise…I will go about…I will seek” (KJV, NIV) or (2) necessity: “I must arise…I must go about…I must seek” (NASB, NJPS). There is no ethical or moral obligation/necessity, but the context emphasizes her intense determination (e.g., 3:4b). Therefore, they should be classified as cohortatives of resolve, expressing the speaker’s determination to pursue a course of action. The three-fold repetition of the cohortative form emphasizes the intensity of her determination.

tn The emphatic particle of exhortation נא appears in the expression אָקוּמָה נָּא (’aqumah nah, “I will arise…”). This particle is used with 1st person common singular cohortatives to emphasize self-deliberation and a determined resolve to act (BDB 609 s.v. נָא b.3.a) (e.g., Gen 18:21; Exod 3:3; 2 Sam 14:15; Isa 5:1; Job 32:21).

8 tn The root סָבַב (savav) in the Qal stem means “to go around, to do a circuit” (1 Sam 7:16; 2 Chr 17:9; 23:2; Eccl 12:5; Song 3:3; Isa 23:16; Hab 2:16), while the Polel stem means “to prowl around” (Ps 59:7, 15; Song 3:2) (HALOT 739-740 s.v. סבב). The idea here is that the Beloved is determined to “look all around” until she finds her beloved.

9 sn There is a consonantal wordplay in 3:2 between the roots בּקשׁ and בּשׁק, that is, between אֲבַקְשָׁה (’avaqshah, “I will seek [him]”) and בַּשְּׁוָקִים (bashshÿvaqim, “streets”). The wordplay emphasizes that she searched in every nook and cranny.

10 sn The statement בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו (biqqashtiv vÿlomÿtsativ, “I sought him but I did not find him”) appears twice in 3:1-2. In both cases it concludes a set of cola. The repetition depicts her mounting disappointment in her failure to locate her beloved. It stands in strong contrast with 3:4.

11 tn Heb “those who go around the city” or “those who go around in the city.” The expression הַסֹּבְבִים בָּעִיר (hassovÿvim bair, “those who go around the city”) probably refers to the watchmen of the city walls rather than night city street patrol (e.g., Ps 127:1; Song 5:7; Isa 21:11; 62:6). The Israelite night watchmen of the walls is paralleled by the Akkadian sahir duri (“one who goes around the wall”) which appears in a lexical text as the equivalent of ma-sar musi (“night watchman”) (CAD 4:192). See M. H. Pope, Song of Songs (AB), 419. There is a wordplay in 3:2-3 between the verb וַאֲסוֹבְבָה (vaasovÿvah, “I will go about”) and הַסֹּבְבִים (hassovÿvim, “those who go around”). This wordplay draws attention to the ironic similarity between the woman’s action and the action of the city’s watchmen. Ironically, she failed to find her beloved as she went around in the city, but the city watchmen found her. Rather than finding the one she was looking for, she was found.

12 tn Heb “the one whom my soul loves – have you seen [him]?” The normal Hebrew word-order (verb-subject-direct object) is reversed in 3:3 (direct object-verb-subject) to emphasize the object of her search: אֵת שֶׁאָהֲבָה נַפְשִׁי רְאִיתֶם (’et sheahavah nafshi rÿitem, “The one whom my soul loves – have you seen [him]?”).

13 tn Heb “like a little.” The term כִּמְעַט (kimat), which is composed of the comparative preposition כְּ (kÿ, “like”) prefixed to the noun מְעַט (mÿat, “the small, the little, the few”), is an idiom that means “within a little” or “scarcely” (BDB 590 s.v. מְעַט b.2.a).

14 tn Heb “I held him” (אֲחַזְתִּיו, ’akhaztiv). The term אָחַז (’akhaz, “grasp”) denotes to forcefully seize someone to avoid losing hold of him (BDB 28 s.v. אָחַז b).

15 tn The verb רָפָה (rafah, “to let go”) means to relax one’s grip on an object or a person (HALOT 1276-77 s.v. רפה; BDB 952 s.v. רָפָה 2). The Hiphil stem means “to let loose” (Job 7:19; 27:6; Song 3:4; Sir 6:27) or “to release from one’s hands” (Deut 9:14; Josh 10:6; Ps 37:8). The negative expression לֹא רָפָה (lorafah, “to not let [someone or something] go”) denotes an intense desire or effort to not lose possession of someone or something (Job 27:6; Prov 4:13). Here the expression וְלֹא אַרְפֶּנּוּ (vÿlo’ ’arpennu, “I would not let him go”) pictures her determination to hold on to him so she would not lose him again. The shift from a suffix-conjugation (perfect) אֲחַזְתִּיו (’akhaztiv, “I grasped him”) to a prefix-conjugation (imperfect) אַרְפֶּנּוּ (’arpennu, “I would [not] let him go”) depicts a shift from a completed/consummative action (perfect: she took hold of his hand) to an ongoing/progressive action (imperfect: she would not let go of it). A basic distinction between the perfect and imperfect tenses is that of consummative versus progressive action. The literary/syntactical structure of אֲחַזְתִּיו וְלֹא אַרְפֶּנּוּ (“I grasped him and I would not let him go”) in 3:4 mirrors that of בִּקַּשְׁתִּיו וְלֹא מְצָאתִיו (biqqashtiv vÿlomÿtsativ, “I searched for him but I could not find him”) in 3:1-2. This parallelism in the literary and syntactical structure emphasizes the fortunate reversal of situation.

16 sn There is debate about the reason why the woman brought her beloved to her mother’s house. Campbell notes that the mother’s house is sometimes referred to as the place where marital plans were made (Gen 24:28; Ruth 1:8). Some suggest, then, that the woman here was unusually bold and took the lead in proposing marriage plans with her beloved. This approach emphasizes that the marriage plans in 3:4 are followed by the royal wedding procession (3:6-11) and the wedding night (4:1-5:1). On the other hand, others suggest that the parallelism of “house of my mother” and “chamber of she who conceived me” focuses on the bedroom of her mother’s house. Fields suggests that her desire was to make love to her beloved in the very bedroom chambers where she herself was conceived, to complete the cycle of life/love. If this is the idea, it would provide a striking parallel to a similar picture in 8:5 in which the woman exults that they had made love in the very location where her beloved had been conceived: “Under the apple tree I aroused you; it was there your mother conceived you, there she who bore you conceived you.”

17 tn The term חֶדֶר (kheder, “chamber”) literally means “dark room” (HALOT s.v. חֶדֶר 293) and often refers to a bedroom (Gen 43:30; Exod 7:28; Judg 3:24; 15:1; 16:9, 12; 2 Sam 4:7; 13:10; 1Kgs 1:15; 2 Kgs 6:12; 9:2; Eccl 10:20; Isa 26:20; Joel 2:16; Prov 24:4; Song 1:4; 3:4).



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