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The Song of Songs 3:3-4

Context

3:3 The night watchmen found me – the ones who guard the city walls. 1 

“Have you seen my beloved?” 2 

3:4 Scarcely 3  had I passed them by

when I found my beloved!

I held onto him 4  tightly and would not let him go 5 

until I brought him to my mother’s house, 6 

to the bedroom chamber 7  of the one who conceived me.

1 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.

2 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]?”).

3 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).

4 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).

5 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.

6 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.”

7 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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