The Beloved to the Maidens:
to the flowerbeds of balsam spices, 2
to graze 3 in the gardens,
and to gather lilies. 4
The Song of Songs 6:11Context
The Lover to His Beloved: 5
to look for the blossoms of the valley, 7
to see if the vines had budded
or if the pomegranates were in bloom.
1 sn The term גַּן (gan, “garden”) is used six other times in the Song. In five cases, it is used figuratively (hypocatastasis) to describe her body or the sexual love of the couple (4:12, 15, 16a, 16b; 5:1). There is only one usage in which it might refer to a real garden (8:13). Thus, this usage of “garden” might be figurative or literal: (1) He went to a real garden for repose. Solomon did, in fact, own a great many gardens (Eccl 2:4-7; 1 Chr 27:27). (2) The “garden” is a figurative description referring either to: (a) the young woman, (b) their sexual love, or (c) Solomon’s harem.
2 sn The phrase כַּעֲרוּגַת הַבֹּשֶׂם (ka’arugat havvosem, “flower-beds of balsam”) is used elsewhere in the Song only in 5:13 where it is a simile comparing his cheeks to a flower-bed of balsam yielding perfumed spices. The term הַבֹּשֶׂם (“balsam-spice”) by itself appears five times in the Song, each time as a figure for sexual love (4:10, 14, 16; 5:1; 8:14). Thus, the two options are: (1) the term refers to a real flower-bed of balsam to which Solomon had gone or (2) this term is a figure for sexual love.
3 tn The verb לִרְעוֹת (lir’ot, “to browse”; so NAB, NIV) is from the root רָעָה (ra’ah, “to feed, graze”) which is used seven times in the Song (1:7, 8a, 8b; 2:16; 4:5; 6:2, 3). All its uses appear to be either literal or figurative descriptions of sheep grazing. The verb is used twice in reference to sheep “grazing” in a pasture (1:7, 8). The participle is used once to designate “shepherds” (1:8), once in reference to two fawns which “which graze among the lilies” as a figurative description of her breasts (4:5), and twice as a figurative description of Solomon as “the one who grazes among the lilies” which is probably also a comparison of Solomon to a grazing sheep (2:16; 6:3). Therefore, it is likely that the usage of the term לִרְעוֹת (“to graze”) in 6:2 is also a figurative comparison of Solomon to a sheep grazing among garden flowers. Thus, there are two options: (1) nuance the term לִרְעוֹת as “to browse” (NAB, NIV) and take this as a literal action of Solomon walking through a real garden or (2) nuance the term לִרְעוֹת as “to graze” (NLT) and take this as a figure in which Solomon is pictured as a gazelle grazing on the flowers in a garden.
4 sn The term שׁוֹשַׁנָּה (shoshannah, “lily”) or שׁוֹשַׁנִים (shoshanim, “lilies”) appears eight times in the Song (2:1, 2, 16; 4:5; 5:13; 6:2, 3; 7:2). Of these five are unequivocally used figuratively as descriptions of a woman or women (2:1, 2), the color and softness of her breasts (4:5), the attractiveness of his lips (5:13), and her waist (7:2). The closest parallel to 6:2 is the description “the one who grazes among the lilies” (2:16; 6:3) which is a figurative expression comparing his romancing of his Beloved with a sheep feeding on lilies. However, this still leaves a question as to what the lilies represent in 2:16; 6:2, 3. The phrase “to gather lilies” itself appears only here in the Song. However, the synonymous phrase “to gather myrrh and balsam spice” is used in 5:1 as a figure (euphemistic hypocatastasis) for sexual consummation by the man of the woman. There are three basic options as to how “lilies” may be taken: (1) The lilies are real flowers; he has gone to a real garden in which to repose and she is picking real lilies. (2) The term “lilies” is a figure for the young woman; he is romancing her just as he had in 2:16 and 5:1. He is kissing her mouth just as a sheep would graze among lilies. (3) The term “lilies” is a figure expression referring to other women, such as his harem (e.g., 6:8-9). Two factors support the “harem” interpretation: (1) Solomon had recently departed from her, and she was desperate to find him after she refused him. (2) His harem is mentioned explicitly in 6:8-9. However, several other factors support the Beloved interpretation: (1) She expresses her confidence in 6:3 that he is devoted to her. (2) The immediately following use of “lilies” in 6:3 appears to refer to her, as in 2:16 and 5:1. (3) He praises her in 6:4-7, suggesting that he was romancing her in 6:2-3. (4) Although his harem is mentioned in 6:8-10, all these women acknowledge that he is disinterested in them and only loves her. (5) Her exultation “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine; the one who grazes among the lilies” (6:3) is a statement of assurance in their relationship and this would seem quite strange if he was cavorting with his harem while she said this.
6 tn The term אֱגוֹז (’egoz, “nut”) probably refers to the “walnut” or “walnut tree” (juglans regia) (DCH 1:116 s.v. אֱגוֹז). The singular form is used collectively here to refer to a grove of walnut trees.