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The Song of Songs 4:1

Context
The Wedding Night: Praise of the Bride 1 

The Lover to His Beloved:

4:1 Oh, 2  you are beautiful, my darling! 3 

Oh, you are beautiful!

Your eyes behind your veil are like doves. 4 

Your hair is like a flock of female goats

descending 5  from Mount Gilead.

The Song of Songs 1:15

Context
Mutual Praise and Admiration

The Lover to His Beloved:

1:15 Oh, 6  how beautiful you are, my beloved! 7 

Oh, how beautiful you are!

Your eyes 8  are like doves! 9 

The Song of Songs 5:12

Context

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

washed in milk, mounted like jewels.

1 sn Song 4:1-7 is often compared to ancient Near Eastern wasfs songs sung by the groom to his new bride, praising her beauty from head to foot. Examples have been found in Egyptian, Syrian, Sumerian, and Arabic love literature. The wasfs song is a poetic celebration by the groom of his bride’s physical beauty. The typical form has three parts: (1) introductory words by the wedding guests, (2) invitation by the bride to the groom to celebrate her physical beauty, and (3) the groom’s poetic comparative praise of his bride’s beauty from head to foot – comprising the bulk of the song. The groom’s praise typically is characterized by three movements: (1) introductory summary praise of his bride’s beauty, (2) lengthy and detailed figurative description of her physical beauty, and (3) concluding summary praise which reiterates the introductory words of the song. Although the introductory words of the wedding guests and the invitation by the bride are absent, the form of the Lover’s praise of his bride is identical, as are the types of comparative praise. His song falls into the same three movements: (1) introductory summary praise of his bride’s beauty in 4:1a, (2) lengthy and detailed figurative description of her beauty in 4:1b-6, and (3) concluding summary praise in 4:7. See K&D 18:174-76; S. Krauss, “The Archaeological Background of Some Passages in the Song of Songs,” JQR 32 (1941-42): 125.

2 sn The introductory demonstrative particle הִנֵּךְ (hinneh, “Behold!”) is repeated for rhetorical effect. This particle is often used with verbs of seeing or discovering, making the narrative graphic and vivid. It enables the reader to enter into the surprise, wonder, and delight of the speaker (BDB 243 s.v. הִנֵּךְ c).

3 sn The repetition of יָפָה רַעְיָתִי (yafah rayati, “You are beautiful, my darling”) in 4:1 and 4:7 forms an inclusion, marking off the song of descriptive praise in 4:1-7.

4 sn The expression “your eyes [are] doves” is a metaphor (implied comparison). Like most of the other metaphors in 4:1-7, this is probably a comparison of sight rather than sense: (1) the shape of a woman’s eyes, especially in Egyptian art, resemble the shape of a dove, and (2) the white color of the eyeballs resemble the white color of a dove’s body. On the other hand, many Jewish and Christian interpreters have suggested that this is a comparison of sense, usually suggesting that the dove is a symbol for purity and that the eyes of a person are the windows of their soul or character, that is, the bride has a pure character as can be seen through her eyes.

5 tn Heb “flowing down” or “descending.” The verb שֶׁגָּלְשׁוּ (sheggalÿshu, “flowing down”) may be nuanced “descending.” The most recent lexicons define גָּלַשׁ (galash) as “to flow, leap” (DCH 2:357 s.v. גלשׁ); “to hop, move down” (HALOT 195 s.v. גלשׁ); and “to go down, glide down” (E. Klein, Comprehensive Etymological Dictionary of the Hebrew Language, 102). Earlier lexicons suggested the meanings “to sit, sit up, recline” (BDB 167 s.v. גָּלַשׁ). The Hebrew root is probably related to Arabic jalasa “to go up, to go down, sit up” (HALOT 195).

6 sn His praise begins with the exclamatory particle הִנֵּה (hinneh, “behold!”). This is often used to introduce a statement in which the speaker either newly asserts or newly recognizes something (BDB 244 s.v. הִנֵּה b.a).

7 sn The term רַעְיָתִי (rayati, “my darling”) is from רֵעַ (rea) “companion, friend” in general (e.g., Job 2:11; 6:27; 12:4; Pss 35:14; 122:8; Prov 14:20; 17:17; 19:6; 27:10) and “darling, beloved” in romantic relationships (e.g., Job 30:29; Jer 3:1, 20; Hos 3:1; Song 5:1, 16) (HALOT 1253-54 s.v. II רֵעַ; BDB 945 s.v. II רָעָה II.1). This is the most common term of affection to address the Beloved (Song 1:9, 15; 2:2, 10, 13; 4:1, 7; 5:2; 6:4).

8 sn In the ancient Near East there was an unusual emphasis on beauty of a woman’s eyes. This was probably due to the practice of women veiling themselves and wearing long robes so that no portion of their body or face was exposed to sight except for their eyes (e.g., Gen 26:17). The only indication of a woman’s beauty was her eyes. There was no better (and no other, in light of the attire) way to praise a woman’s beauty in the ancient Near East (G. L. Carr, Song of Solomon [TOTC], 86).

9 tn Heb “Your eyes are doves.” This metaphor compares her eyes to doves. There is no lack of suggestions as to the point of the comparison: (1) Arabic love literature describes doves having sentimental eyes, the point here (Marcia Falk, Love Lyrics from the Bible, 113). (2) The comparison has to do with the color of her eyes (G. L. Carr, Song of Solomon [TOTC], 86). (3) The comparison has to do with the glistening color of the dove and its quick movements, that is, her eyes had a beautiful color and had lively motion (M. H. Pope, Song of Songs [AB], 356). (4) The comparison has to do with the fluttering of her eyes which reminded him of the fluttering of a dove’s wings (M. D. Goulder, The Song of Fourteen Songs [JSOTSup], 5). (5) The comparison has to do with gentleness and purity, as well as longing and simplicity (K&D 18:38).



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