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The Song of Songs 5:8-16

Context
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! 1 

The Maidens to The Beloved:

5:9 Why is your beloved better than others, 2 

O most beautiful of women?

Why is your beloved better than others,

that you would command us in this manner?

The Beloved to the Maidens:

5:10 My beloved 3  is dazzling 4  and ruddy; 5 

he stands out 6  in comparison to 7  all other men. 8 

5:11 His head is like the most pure gold. 9 

His hair is curly 10  – black like a raven.

5:12 His eyes are like doves by streams of water,

washed in milk, mounted like jewels.

5:13 His cheeks are like garden beds full of balsam trees 11  yielding 12  perfume.

His lips are like lilies dripping with drops of myrrh.

5:14 His arms are like rods of gold set with chrysolite.

His abdomen 13  is like polished ivory inlaid with sapphires.

5:15 His legs are like pillars of marble set on bases of pure gold.

His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as its cedars.

5:16 His mouth is very sweet; 14 

he is totally desirable. 15 

This is my beloved!

This is my companion, O maidens of Jerusalem!

1 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.

2 tn Heb “How is your beloved [better] than [another] lover?”

3 sn The Beloved’s praise of his appearance follows the typical literary structure of the ancient Near Eastern wasfs song: (1) introductory summary praise (5:10), (2) detailed descriptive praise from head to foot (5:11-16a), and (3) concluding summary praise (5:16b). There are several striking features about this song that are unique from the typical wasfs. (1) The ordinary setting of the ancient Near Eastern wasfs songs was the wedding night. (2) They were ordinarily sung only by a man in praise of his bride. (3) Normally, the wasfs song will conclude with the feet after the legs; however, the Beloved concludes by praising his mouth after his legs.

4 sn The term צַח (tsakh, “dazzling”) is ordinarily used to describe the shining surface of jewelry or of smoothed rocks (Ezek 24:7-8; 26:4, 14; Neh 4:7). Likewise, אָדֹם (’adom, “ruddy”) can describe the redness of rubies (Lam 4:7). Throughout 5:11-15 she compares his appearance to valuable jewels, gems, and precious metals.

5 tn The adjective אָדֹם (’adom) denotes either “manly” or “ruddy,” depending upon whether it is derived from אָדָם (’adam, “man”; HALOT 14 s.v. I אָדָם) or אָדֹם (“red”; HALOT 14 s.v. אָדֹם). If it is “manly,” the idea is that he is the epitome of masculinity and virility. On the other hand, the emphasis would be upon his health and virility, evidenced by his ruddy complexion, or it could be a comparison between his ruddy coloring and the redness of rubies (Lam 4:7).

6 tn Heb “outstanding.” The participle דָּגוּל (dagul) functions as a predicate adjective: “My beloved is…outstanding among ten thousand.” The verb דָּגַל (dagal) is relatively rare, being derived from the noun דֶּגֶל (degel, “banner”) which often refers to a military standard which, when lifted up, was conspicuous for all to see (Num 2:3-4; 10:14-15). The verb דָּגַל only occurs three other times, all referring to raising military banners for all to see (Ps 20:6; Song 6:4, 10). Song 5:10 uses the term figuratively (hypocatastasis) to denote “outstanding” (HALOT 213 s.v. דֶּגֶל). This sense is closely related to the cognate Akkadian verb dagalu “to look, contemplate” and the noun diglu “eyesight, view (what is looked at).” Like a banner lifted high, he attracted the attention of all who looked at him.

7 tn Heb “from, among.” The preposition מִן (min) prefixed to רְבָבָה (rÿvavah, “ten thousand”) is taken in a comparative, locative sense: “outstanding among ten thousand” (e.g., KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV, NJPS).

8 tn Heb “among ten thousand.” The numeral “ten thousand” is the highest number used in comparisons in Hebrew poetry (1 Sam 18:7-8; 21:12; 29:5; Ps 91:7). It is not used to mark out a specific number, but to denote an indefinite number of persons of the largest possible proportions (Gen 24:60; Num 10:36; Deut 33:2; Ps 3:7). Her point is simply this: no other man could possibly compare to him in appearance, even if he were in a group of an infinite number of men.

9 tn Heb “his head is gold of pure gold.” In the genitive construct phrase כֶּתֶם פָּז (ketem paz, literally, “gold of pure gold”) the genitive noun פָּז (paz, “pure gold”) functions as an adjectival genitive modifying כֶּתֶם (“gold”), that is, “pure gold.” The repetition of two different words for “gold” suggests that the phrase should be nuanced “the most pure gold.” This phrase is a predicate nominate in a metaphorical statement: “his head is (like) the most pure gold.” In the OT gold is frequently used in comparisons to emphasize the idea of beauty, value, or rarity (Job 28:12-19; Pss 19:11; 119:127; Prov 8:19; Isa 13:12; Lam 4:2). Palestine had no known sources of gold, but had to import it, making it a rare and precious commodity (Ruth V. Wright and R. L. Chadbourne, The Gems and Minerals of the Bible, 65).

10 tn Literally “his locks [of hair] are curls.” The Hebrew adjective תַּלְתָּל (taltal) is a hapax legomenon whose meaning is somewhat unclear. BDB suggests that תַּלְתָּל is from the root תּלל (“mound, heap”; BDB 1068 s.v. I תּלל) which is related to Arabic tl “mound, hill, top” (E. W. Lane, Arabic-English Dictionary, 311) and Akkadian tilu “hill, mound” (AHw 3:1358). On the other hand, HALOT suggests that תַּלְתָּל means “date-panicle” and that it is related to the Akkadian noun taltallu “pollen of date-palm” (HALOT 1741 s.v. תַּלְתַּלִּים). The term occurs in Mishnaic Hebrew as תַּלְתָּל “curls, locks” (Jastrow 1674 s.v. תַּלְתָּל). It is used in the same way in the Song. The form tltl is a reduplicated pattern used for adjectives denoting an intense characteristic (S. Moscati, Comparative Grammar, 78-79, §12.9-13). It functions as a predicate adjective to the subjective nominative קוּצוֹתָיו (qutsotav, “his locks of hair”).

11 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.

12 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).

13 tn The term מֵעֶה (meeh) is used in reference to several things in the Old Testament: (1) the womb of a woman (Gen 25:23; Isa 49:1; Ps 71:6; Ruth 1:11), (2) a man’s loins (Gen 15:4; 2 Sam 7:12; Isa 48:19; 2 Chr 32:21), (3) the “inward parts” of a person, such as the stomach or intestines which are used to digest food (Num 5:22; Job 20:14; Ezek 3:3; Jonah 2:1-2), and (4) the external stomach or abdominal muscles: “abdomen” (Song 5:14).

14 tn Heb “sweetnesses.” Alternately, “very delicious.” The term מַמְתַקִּים (mamtaqqim, “sweetness”; HALOT 596 s.v. מַמְתַקִּים; BDB 609 s.v. מַמְתַקִּים) is the plural form of the noun מֹתֶק (moteq, “sweetness”). This may be an example of the plural of intensity, that is, “very sweet” (e.g., IBHS 122 §7.4.3a). The rhetorical use of the plural is indicated by the fact that מַמְתַקִּים (“sweetness”) is functioning as a predicate nominative relative to the singular subjective nominative חִכּוֹ (khikko, “his mouth”).

15 tn The term מַחֲמַדִּים (makhmaddim, “desirable”) is the plural form of the noun מַחְמַד (makhmad, “desire, desirable thing, precious object”; HALOT 570 s.v. מַחְמָד 1; BDB 326 s.v. מַחְמַד). Like the plural מַמְתַקִּים (“sweetness”) in the preceding parallel line, this use of the plural is probably an example of the plural of intensity: “very desirable.”



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