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The Song of Songs 5:2-8

Context
The Trials of Love: The Beloved’s Dream of Losing Her Lover

The Beloved about Her Lover:

5:2 I was asleep, but my mind 1  was dreaming. 2 

Listen! 3  My lover 4  is knocking 5  at the door! 6 

The Lover to His Beloved:

“Open 7  for me, my sister, my darling,

my dove, my flawless one!

My head is drenched with dew,

my hair with the dampness of the night.”

The Beloved to Her Lover:

5:3 “I have already taken off my robe – must I put it on again?

I have already washed my feet – must I soil them again?”

5:4 My lover thrust his hand 8  through 9  the hole, 10 

and my feelings 11  were stirred 12  for him.

5:5 I arose to open for my beloved;

my hands dripped with myrrh –

my fingers flowed with myrrh

on the handles of the lock.

5:6 I opened for my beloved,

but my lover had already turned 13  and gone away. 14 

I fell into despair 15  when he departed. 16 

I looked for him but did not find him;

I called him but he did not answer me.

5:7 The watchmen found me as they made their rounds in the city.

They beat me, they bruised me;

they took away my cloak, those watchmen on the walls!

The Triumph of Love: The Beloved Praises Her Lover

The Beloved to the Maidens:

5:8 O maidens of Jerusalem, I command you –

If you find my beloved, what will you tell him?

Tell him that I am lovesick! 17 

1 tn Heb “my heart.” The term לִבִּי (livvi, “my heart”) is a metonymy of association for emotions (e.g., Prov 15:13; Song 3:11) or thoughts (e.g., Ps 90:12; Prov 18:15) or a synecdoche of part for the whole. If this verse is introducing a dream sequence in 5:2-8, this is a metonymy for the Beloved’s thoughts in her dream: “I was sleeping but my mind was dreaming.” If this verse depicts the Beloved beginning to doze off to sleep – only to be awakened by his knocking at her door – then it is a synecdoche of part for the whole: “I was about to fall asleep when I was suddenly awakened.”

2 tn Heb “but my heart was awake.” Scholars have interpreted 5:2a in two basic ways: (1) The Beloved had been asleep or was just about to fall asleep when she was awakened by the sound of him knocking on the door of her bedroom chambers. The term לִבִּי (livvi, “my heart”) is a synecdoche of part for the whole: “my heart” = “I.” The participle עֵר (’er) functions verbally, describing a past ingressive state: “was awakened.” The line would be rendered: “I was sleeping when I (= my heart) was awakened.” (2) The Beloved was sleeping, but her mind was dreaming (in her dream she heard him knocking on her door). In this case, לִבִּי (“my heart”) is a metonymy of association for the thoughts (e.g., Ps 90:12; Prov 18:15) and emotions (e.g., Prov 15:13; Song 3:11) she experienced during her dream: “my heart” = “my mind.” The participle עֵר functions verbally, describing a past progressive state: “was awake.” The line could be nuanced, “I was asleep, but my mind was dreaming.” Many translations adopt this approach: “I was asleep but my heart waketh” (KJV), “I was asleep but my heart was awake” (NASB, NIV), and “I was asleep, but my heart was wakeful” (NJPS).

3 sn The noun קוֹל (qol, literally, “sound, noise, voice”) is used as an exclamation: “Listen!” or “Hark!” (e.g., Gen 4:10; Isa 13:4; 40:3; 52:8; Jer 3:21; 4:15; 10:22; 31:51; 50:28; 51:54; Mic 6:9; Zeph 1:14; 2:14; Song 2:8; 5:2) (HALOT 1085 s.v. קוֹל 8b; BDB 877 s.v. קוֹל 1.f; Joüon 2:614 §162.e; GKC 467 §146.b). The term often refers to a loud or unexpected sound that arrests the attention of a character in a narrative. The speaker/writer uses it as a rhetorical device to dramatically portray his/her own startled reaction to an unexpected sound that called his/her attention. The Beloved is startled from her sleep by the unexpected sound of him loudly knocking at her bedroom door late at night.

4 sn The phrase קוֹל דּוֹדִי (qol dodi, “Listen! My lover …!”) that introduces this scene in 5:2-8 is the exact same phrase used in 2:8 to introduce the courtship section 2:8-11. In 2:8-11, the Beloved was excited about his unexpected arrival; however, in 5:2-8 she is apathetic about his unexpected approach. One should not miss the dramatic contrast between the Beloved’s eagerness to see her lover in 2:8-11 and her apathy about his approach on this evening in 5:2-8. The repetition of קוֹל דּוֹדִי (“Listen! My lover …!”) in 2:8 and 5:2 is designed to draw out the parallels and contrasts between 2:8-11 and 5:2-8.

5 sn The participle דוֹפֵק (dofeq) connotes present progressive or iterative action. The verb דָּפַק (dafaq, “to knock, pound, beat”) occurs only three times in biblical Hebrew, twice in reference to knocking at a door (Judg 19:22; Song 5:2) and once of beating cattle in order to drive them along (Gen 33:13). The Qal stem depicts the normal action of knocking at a door, while the Hitpael denotes a more intensive pounding, e.g., Qal: “to knock at the door” (Song 5:2) and Hitpael: “to beat violently against the door” (Judg 19:22) (HALOT 229 s.v. דפק; BDB 200 s.v. דָּפַק). The same connotations are seen in Mishnaic Hebrew, e.g., the verbs דָּפַק and דְּפַק (dÿfaq), “to knock at the door” (Jastrow 317 s.v. דָּפַק), and the nouns דּוֹפֵק “door frame (= what someone knocks on), movable tomb stone,” and דּוֹפְקָנִין (dofÿqanin, “knockers”; Jastrow 287 s.v. דּוֹפְקָנִין). The collocation of the verb פתח “to open” a door (HALOT 986-87 s.v. פתח; BDB 835 s.v. פָּתַח) clearly suggests that he is at the Beloved’s bedroom door.

6 tn The phrase “at the door” does not appear in the Hebrew but is supplied in the translation for clarity.

7 tn Heb “Open to me!” Alternately, “Let me in!” The imperatival form of פִּתְחִי (pitkhi, to open”) connotes a polite, but earnest request. The verb פָּתַח (patakh) refers to the action of opening various objects, e.g., sack (Gen 42:27), skin bottle (Judg 4:19), hamper (Exod 2:6), pit (Exod 21:33), mouth of a cave (Josh 10:22), grave (Ezek 37:12, 13), city gates (Neh 13:19; Isa 45:1), gate of a land (Nah 3:13), window (2 Kgs 13:17). When used with the accusative דֶּלֶת (delet, “door”), it refers to opening a door (e.g., Judg 3:25; 19:27; 1 Sam 3:15; 2 Kgs 9:3, 10; 2 Chr 29:3; Job 31:32) (HALOT 986-87 s.v. פתח; BDB 835 s.v. פָּתַח). Although the object דֶּלֶת (“door”) is here omitted, a bedroom door is clearly in mind in 5:2, as indicated by the collocated verb דָּפַק (dafaq, “to knock on a door”) in the preceding line. Translators have often rendered this line woodenly: “Open to me!” (KJV, NASB, NIV); however, NJPS nuances it well: “Let me in!”

sn The three-fold repetition of the verb פָּתַח (patakh, “to open”) (Song 5:2, 5, 6) indicates that it is a key word (Leitwort) in this section. While it is clear that the verb describes her action of opening the door of her bedroom chamber in 5:2, some suggest that in 5:5-6 it is used figuratively (hypocatastasis: implied comparison) of the Beloved “opening” her female genitalia for sexual intercourse (but see study notes below).

8 tn Possibly a euphemism (double entendre). The term יָד (yad, “hand”) normally refers simply to the physical hand (HALOT 386 s.v. I יָד 1; BDB 388 s.v. יָד 1). There are, however, at least three occasions when יָד refers to tall stone pillars (translated “monument” or “pillar”), such as those used in Canaanite fertility-cults in the form of phallic representations (1 Sam 15:12; 2 Sam 18:18; Isa 56:5). It is clearly used as a euphemism for the male copulative organ in Isa 57:8, 10. It is now an established fact that yad is sometimes used as a euphemism for the male sexual organ in Ugaritic literature (e.g., text no. 52:33-35) (UT 1072). The noun יָד is also used in the Qumran literature in this sense in a list of penalties for indecent exposure (Manual of Discipline 7:12-15). Thus, several scholars suggest that a subtle double entendre in 5:4-6. The imagery of the man thrusting his “hand” through the “hole” in the door, and the Beloved “opening” to her lover, with her fingers dripped with “myrrh” on the “handles of the lock,” might have a double reference to the literal attempt to gain entry to her bedroom and his desire to make love to her. See M. Delcour, “Two Special Meanings of the Word yd in Biblical Hebrew,” JSS 12 (1967): 230-40.

9 tn Heb “sent his hand through.” Most scholars suggest that it denotes “to send through,” that is, “to thrust through” or “to extend through.” For example, BDB 1018 s.v. שָׁלַח 3.a proposes that מִן + שָׁלַח (shalakh + min) means “to stretch out (his hand) from the outside, inward.” He was attempting to open the door from the outside by extending his hand inside the door through some kind of latch-opening: “he put in his hand by the opening of the door” (KJV), “he extended his hand through the opening” (NASB), “he thrust his hand through the latch-opening” (NIV). Others, however, suggest that the construction.
מִן + שָׁלַח denotes “to withdraw from” (e.g., 1 Kgs 13:4). The preposition מִן is taken to mean, not “through,” but “away from.” Thus, he was withdrawing his hand from the latch-opening, that is, he had given up and was leaving. This approach is adopted by NJPS: “My beloved took his hand off the latch.” His departure is clearly stated in 5:6, “I opened [the door] for my beloved, but my beloved had already turned and gone away; my heart sank at his departure!” (see study notes below on 5:6).

10 tn Heb “hole.” Probably “latch-hole” or “key-hole,” but possibly a euphemism (double entendre). The noun חֹר (khor, “hole”) is used in OT in a literal and metaphorical sense: (1) literal sense: hole bored in the lid of a chest (2 Kgs 12:10); hole in a wall (Ezek 8:7); hole in the ground or cave used as hiding places for men (1 Sam 13:6; 14:11; Isa 42:23); hole in the ground, as the dwelling place of an asp (Isa 11:8); and a hole in a mountain, as the den of lions (Nah 2:13); and (2) figurative sense: hole of an eye (metonymy of association), that is, eye-socket (Zech 14:12) (HALOT 348 s.v. II חֹר; BDB 359 s.v. III חֹר). While the meaning of חֹר in Song 5:4 is clear – “hole” – there is a debate whether it is used in a literal or figurative sense. (1) Literal sense: The lexicons suggest that it denotes “hole of a door, that is, key-hole or latch-opening” (HALOT 348; BDB 359). Most commentators suggest that it refers to a hole bored through the bedroom door to provide access to the latch or lock. The mention in 5:5 of כַּפּוֹת הַמַּנְעוּל (kaffot hammanul, “latches of the door-bolt”) suggests that the term refers to some kind of opening associated with the latch of the bedroom door. This approach is followed by most translations: “the hole in the door” (JB), “the latch-hole” (NEB), “the latch-opening” (NIV), “the latch-hole” (NEB), “the latch” (RSV, NJPS), and “the opening of the door” (KJV). The assumption that the hole in question was a latch-hole in the door is reflected in Midrash Rabbah: Rabbi Abba ben Kahana said, “Why is the hole of the door mentioned here, seeing that it is a place where vermin swarm?” The situation envisaged by his actions are often depicted thus: In ancient Near Eastern villages, the bolting systems of doors utilized door-bolts and keys made of wood. The keys were often stored either on the outside (!) or inside of the door. If the key was placed on the inside of the door, a small hole was bored through the door so that a person could reach through the hole with the key to unlock the door. The key was often over a foot in length, and the keyhole large enough for a man’s hand. Apparently, he extended his hand through the hole from the outside to try to unbolt the door latch on the inside. He could put his hand through the hole, but could not open the door without the key. (2) Figurative sense: Because of the presence of several erotic motifs in 5:2-8 and the possibility that a double entendre is present (see notes below), several scholars suggest that the term is a euphemism for the female vagina (HALOT 348). They suggest that חֹר (“hole”) is the female counterpart for the euphemistic usage of יָד (“hand”) in 5:4. See A. S. Cook, The Root of the Thing: A Study of Job and the Song of Songs, 110, 123; Cheryl Exum, “A Literary and Structural Analysis of the Song of Songs,” ZAW 85 (1973): 50-51; M. H. Pope, Song of Songs (AB), 518-19.

11 tn Heb “my inward parts,” “my intestines,” or “my bowels.” Alternately, “my feelings” or “my emotions.” The term מֵעֶה (meeh) is used of the internal organs in general (“inward parts”) (e.g., 2 Sam 20:10; 2 Chr 21:15, 18; Pss 22:14; 40:9) or the digestive organs in particular (“intestines, bowels, stomach”) (e.g., Num 5:22; Job 20:14; Ezek 3:3; 7:19; Jonah 2:1-2). It is frequently used as a metonymy of adjunct for the emotions which Hebrew psychology associated with these internal organs (see H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 63-66). These include pity (Isa 16:11), lamentation (Jer 48:36), distress (Jer 4:19; Lam 1:20; 2:11), and compassion (Isa 63:15; Jer 31:20) (HALOT 610-11 s.v. מֵעֶה 3; BDB 589 s.v. מֵעֶה 5). Most scholars suggest that the Beloved’s feelings of love were revived – a reversal of her feelings of indifference and apathy in 5:3. This is reflected in many translations which use equivalent English idioms: “the core of my being” (JB) and “my heart” (NIV, NJPS) over the woodenly literal “my bowels” (KJV, NEB, AV). On the other hand, the term is also used to refer to the procreative organs, both male (e.g., Gen 15:4; 2 Sam 7:12; 16:11; Isa 48:19; 2 Chr 32:21) and female (e.g., Gen 25:23; Ruth 1:11; Ps 71:6; Isa 49:1). NASB well renders the line, “my feelings were aroused for him” (NASB).

12 tn The exact meaning of this Hebrew verb is uncertain. The exact connotation of the verb הָמוּ (hamu) in 5:4 is debated. The verb הָמָה (hamah, “to murmur, growl, roar, be boisterous”) is related to the noun הָמוֹן (hamon, “sound, murmur, roar, noisy crowd”), הֶמְיָה (hemyah, “sound, music”), and perhaps even הָמֻלָה (hamulah, “noise, noisy crowd, crowd”). The Hebrew root המה is related to Aramaic המא (“to roar; to be agitated”). The Hebrew verb הָמָה has a basic two-fold range of meanings: (1) literal: “to make a noise” of some kind and (2) figurative: “to be in commotion, uproar” (e.g., often associated with noise or a noisy crowd). The lexicons suggest six distinct categories: (1) “to make a noise” or “to be in commotion,” particularly by a tumultuous crowd (1 Kgs 1:41; Pss 39:7; 46:7; Prov 1:21; Is 22:2; Mic 2:12); (2) “to roar,” of the sea and sea-waves (Isa 17:12; 51:15; Jer 5:22; 6:23; 31:35; 50:42; 51:55; Ps 46:4); (3) “to make a sound,” e.g., bear growling (Isa 59:11), dog barking (Ps 59:7, 15), bird chirping (Ps 102:8), dove cooing (Ezek 7:16); (4) “to moan,” (Ps 39:7; 55:18; Prov 1:21; Lam 2:18; Ezek 7:16; Zech 9:15); (5) “to be turbulent, boisterous” (Prov 7:11; 9:13; 20:1; Zech 9:5); and (6) figuratively of the internal organs: “to murmur, be restless, be turbulent,” used in reference to pity (Isa 16:11; Jer 4:19; 31:20; 48:36), discouragement (Ps 42:6, 12; 43:5), and murmuring in prayer (Pss 55:18; 77:4) (HALOT 250 s.v. המה; BDB 242 s.v. הָמָה). HALOT suggests “to be turbulent” for Song 5:4 (HALOT 250 s.v. 4), while BDB suggests “the thrill of deep-felt compassion or sympathy” (BDB 242 s.v. 2). Commentators offer a spectrum of opinions from the Beloved feeling agitation, pity, compassion, sexual arousal, or a revival of her love for him. A survey of the translations reveals the same lack of consensus: “my bowels were moved for him” (KJV), “my bowels stirred within me” (NEB), “my heart was thrilled within me” (RSV), “I trembled to the core of my being” (JB), “my heart trembled within me” (NAB), “my heart was stirred for him” (JPS, NJPS), “my feelings were aroused for him” (NASB), and “my heart began to pound for him” (NIV). While the precise meaning may never be agreed upon, whatever she was feeling she roused herself from her indifferent apathetic inactivity to arise and open for her beloved in 5:5. The phrase is used similarly elsewhere in OT, rousing the subject to irresistible action (Jer 4:19). The simplest course of action is to nuance this term metonymically (cause for effect), e.g., “my feelings were stirred up for him.”

13 tn The verb חָמַק (khamaq) occurs only in Song 5:6 (Qal: “to turn away, go leave”) and in Jer 31:22 (Hitpael: “to turn hither and thither”) (HALOT 330 s.v. חמק; BDB 330 s.v. חָמַק). It is related to the noun חָמוּק (“curve, curved lines” of a woman’s hips) which appears only in Song 7:2. This root does not appear in Mishnaic Hebrew nor has it yet been attested in any cognate language. However, it was understood in this sense by LXX παρῆλθεν (parhlqen, “he turned aside”), and also handled in a similar manner in Aquila, Symmachus, Peshitta, and Vulgate.

14 tn The verbs עָבָר חָמַק (khamaqavar, “he turned away, he went away”) may form a verbal hendiadys. Normally, the first verb will function as an adverb modifying the second which functions in its full verbal sense. Each functions as a perfect of recent past perfect action, describing a past event that took place shortly before another past event: “I opened [past action] for my beloved, but my lover had already turned and gone away [past perfect action].”

15 tn Heb “my soul went out.” The term נַפְשִׁי (nafshi, “my soul”) is a synecdoche of part for the whole person. The term נֶפֶשׁ (nefesh, “soul”) is used over 150 times as a metonymy of association with feelings: sorrow and distress, joy, love, desire, passion, hatred, loathing, avarice (HALOT 713 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 8; BDB 660 s.v. נֶפֶשׁ 6). The phrase נַפְשִׁי יָצְאָה (nafshi yatsah, literally, “my soul went out”) is a Hebrew idiom connoting great despair (e.g., Gen 35:18; Jer 15:9). The phrase is well rendered by NIV: “my heart sank at his departure.” Verses 6-7 clearly indicate that the Beloved fell into despair when he had departed: She searched desperately for him, but could not find him; she called for him, but he did not answer.

16 tn Alternately, “spoke.” Traditionally, the term בְדַבְּרוֹ (bÿdabbÿro) has been related to the common root דָּבַר (davar, “to speak”) which occurs nearly 1150 times in verbal forms and nearly 1500 times as a noun. This approach is seen as early as the LXX (although the LXX treated דָּבָר as a noun rather than an infinitive construct because it was working with an unpointed text): ἐν λογῷ αὐτοῦ (en logw autou, “in his word”). Although they differ on whether the preposition בְ (bÿ) is temporal (“when”) or respect (“at”), many translations adopt the same basic approach as the LXX: “when he spake” (KJV), “as he spoke” (NASB), “when he spoke” (NIV margin), “at what he said” (JPS, NJPS). However, many recent scholars relate בְדַבְּרוֹ to the homonymic root דָּבַר (“to turn away, depart”) which is related to Akkadian dabaru D “to go away,” Dt “to drive away, push back” (CAD 3:186ff), and Arabic dabara “to turn one’s back, be behind, depart, retreat” (HALOT 209 s.v. II דבר). Several examples of this root have been found (Pss 18:48; 47:4; 56:6; 75:6; 116:10; 127:5; 2 Chr 22:10; Job 19:18; Song 5:6; Isa 32:7) (HALOT 209-10 s.v. I). Several recent translations take this approach: “when he turned his back” (NEB), “at his flight” (JB), and “at his departure” (NIV). This makes better sense contextually (Solomon did not say anything after 5:2a), and it provides a tighter parallelism with the preceding line that also describes his departure: “My beloved had turned away (חָמַק, khamaq); he was gone (עָבַר, ’avar)” (NIV).

17 tn The genitive construct חוֹלַת אַהֲבָה (kholatahavah, “sick of love”) denotes “lovesick.” This is an example of a genitive of cause, that is, the Beloved was (physically/emotionally) sick because of her unrequited love for him. See study note on Song 2:5.



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