Song of Solomon 6
Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
Whither is thy beloved gone, O thou fairest among women? whither is thy beloved turned aside? that we may seek him with thee.
Ch. Song of Solomon 6:1. These words are parallel to ch. Song of Solomon 5:9. In Song of Solomon 6:8 the Shulammite had adjured the daughters of Jerusalem, if they found her beloved, to tell him she was sick for love. They ask what is there special about her beloved that they should do so. She answers by describing him. Moved by this, the daughters of Jerusalem are eager to seek him, and now ask whither he is gone.

Whither is thy beloved turned aside?] R.V. Whither hath thy beloved turned him?

My beloved is gone down into his garden, to the beds of spices, to feed in the gardens, and to gather lilies.
2. The bride gives them an evasive answer, becoming jealous perhaps of their eager interest. She simply says he has gone forth to his usual haunts. Budde would strike out Song of Solomon 6:1-3, on the ground that the garden, the beds of spices, and the lilies are figures for the bride’s person, as similar natural objects are in Song of Solomon 4:12 f., Song of Solomon 5:13, Song of Solomon 2:16, Song of Solomon 5:1. Here they cannot be that, since the bride is confessedly describing an absent lover, and they must consequently on his theory be put in by someone who did not understand the other references. But this curious reversion to the allegorical interpretation of the Song in a physical sense, by the opponents of allegorical interpretation in a spiritual sense, must be rejected. In all the passages referred to, save Song of Solomon 2:16, which must be taken literally, the simile or metaphor is fully stated; the bride is like so and so, or her cheeks are so and so. No one, consequently, could possibly misunderstand them. Here the absence of any indication of simile makes the literal interpretation necessary, and so understood these verses have a perfectly natural and appropriate meaning. The similes referred to are taken in the first instance from surrounding nature, and when the Shulammite’s lover disappears it would be among these surroundings he would disappear. Taken simply as they stand, the words mean that he has gone back for a time to his ordinary occupations, and she thinks of him as gathering a garland for her as he had often done before. Further, the expression lilqôt shôshannîm is in favour of this view. ‘To pluck lilies’ would be a very strange expression if lilies meant ‘lips’ here.

to feed] i.e. ‘to feed the flock.’

I am my beloved's, and my beloved is mine: he feedeth among the lilies.
3. Here she expresses her jealous feeling. They are not to search for him with her. That is her business alone, they have no claim to be even thus interested in him. She fears she has overshot the mark in the praises she has uttered concerning her beloved. She has held him up for their admiration, but seeing how great it is, she snatches him back as it were, lest she should lose him. ‘I alone am his and he is mine, he who is feeding his flock among the lilies.’

Thou art beautiful, O my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem, terrible as an army with banners.
4. Tirzah] = pleasantness, is mentioned in Joshua 12:24. It was an ancient Canaanite city, famed as its name and our passage shew for its beautiful situation. It was the royal residence of the Northern kings from the time of the abandonment of Shechem by Jeroboam I till the 6th year of Omri, who left it for Samaria, but it was apparently still of importance in the time of Menahem (2 Kings 15:14; 2 Kings 15:16). Neither the O.T. nor Josephus contains any indication as to the situation of Tirzah. But Brocardus in the 13th century, and Breydenbach in the 15th, mention a Thersa, three hours eastward of Samaria. Robinson, therefore, has identified it with the large village of Talluza, two-and-a-half hours E. of Samaria, and two hours N. of Nablous. Conder, however, has suggested that the village of Teiasir may be Tirzah. It lies two-and-a-half hours to the N. of Talluza, and has been identified by Porter in Murray’s Guide-book, 1858, with Asher a town of Manasseh, placed by Eusebius on the 15th mile from Neapolis to Scythopolis, anciently Bçthshe’ân. An objection which seems fatal is, that it lies too far from the great thoroughfare of the country for the ancient seat of the Israelite kings. From Tirzah being mentioned along with Jerusalem, this reference probably is to it as the capital of the N. kingdom. Its ancient rank as a Canaanite royal city can hardly have been in the writer’s mind. Consequently, unless this be an interpolation, as Budde makes it, the Song cannot have been written by Solomon. But it does not prove that it was written during the period that Tirzah was the capital. For the name of the town at least was known up till the 15th century of our era, and the site must always have been beautiful. Therefore, if the writer of the Song was a Northern man, who knew its beauty and history, he might have inserted the reference centuries after it had become an unimportant place, or even a ruin. Tirzah may have been chosen along with Jerusalem instead of Samaria, because of the evil odour in which the latter was held after Nehemiah’s day, or for its significant name and well-known beauty.

terrible as an army with banners] The last four words represent the Heb. word nidhgâlôth, partic. niphal of a denominative from deghel = a banner. Cp. dâghûl, ch. Song of Solomon 6:10 : literally it would be ‘beflagged things,’ if we might coin such an expression; hence companies of soldiers gathered about a flag. Rightly the LXX, θάμβος ὡς τεταγμέναι (sc. φὰλαγγες), a terror (i.e. terrible) as ranked (phalanxes). As Oettli remarks, this simile indicates that a king, not a shepherd, is speaking here. Whether the bannered hosts are terrible as overcoming, conquering, so that we have here praise of the Shulammite’s beauty, or whether we have praise of her inaccessibility as frowning upon her flatterers, must be left to individual taste. The former seems simpler, but the latter agrees best with the next clause. Cheyne suspects corruption in the text (Jew. Quart. Rev. Jan. 1899). For Tirzah he would read chabhatstseleth, and for Jerusalem and the words following it, he would read keshôshannath ǎmâqîm. His translation would therefore be, ‘Thou art fair, my friend, as the crocus, and comely as the lily of the valleys.’ But this would make the verse a mere repetition of Song of Solomon 2:1.

for they have overcome me] Rather, for they [i.e. thine eyes] have made me afraid. The word translated ‘overcome’ in A.V. is found elsewhere in the O.T. only in Psalm 138:3, where it is variously translated; A.V. ‘thou didst strengthen,’ R.V. ‘encourage,’ Variorum Bib. ‘make proud.’ Here also some have taken it in this sense. But against that is the last clause of Song of Solomon 6:4, and the “turn away” of Song of Solomon 6:5. Moreover Hitzig has shewn that in Syr. and Arab. the forms corresponding to that here used in Heb. mean, ‘to terrify.’ The LXX seem to favour that view, for their translation ἀνεπτέρωσάν με may mean ‘agitate me,’ probably with fear (cp. θάμβος in the previous verse). This would suit the context best. It is not probable that there is in the words any reference to the magic of the evil eye.

From here to the end of Song of Solomon 6:7 we have a mere repetition of Song of Solomon 4:1-3 b, with very slight variation. The only differences are that here we have ‘from Gilead’ instead of ‘from mount Gilead,’ and instead of ‘shorn ewes,’ simply, ‘ewes.’ For the commentary see Song of Solomon 4:1, &c. The repetition may be intended to indicate that the words are mere stock phrases in Solomon’s mouth (Oettli), but more probably they are stock phrases taken by the poet from the marriage wasfs, which must have consisted mainly of just such phrases.

Chap. Song of Solomon 6:4-13. The King fascinated

Here we have a renewed assault by Solomon. Just after the Shulammite’s impassioned claim to belong wholly to her lover her royal persecutor returns, and bursts out into praise of her physical beauty as before, Song of Solomon 6:4-9. In Song of Solomon 6:10 he repeats the words used by the court ladies in praising her. In Song of Solomon 6:11-13 the Shulammite, ignoring Solomon, recalls what she was doing on the fatal day when she was so praised, and her attempt at flight from the court ladies.

Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me: thy hair is as a flock of goats that appear from Gilead.
Thy teeth are as a flock of sheep which go up from the washing, whereof every one beareth twins, and there is not one barren among them.
As a piece of a pomegranate are thy temples within thy locks.
There are threescore queens, and fourscore concubines, and virgins without number.
8. This is evidently a description of a hareem, and it can only be Solomon’s own. The word translated are here is somewhat anomalous, and Budde would substitute ‘to Solomon are.’ But this is a much more moderate hareem than the account of Solomon’s given in the historical books would lead us to expect, e.g. 1 Kings 11:3, where we read of 700 wives and 300 concubines. Solomon being here the speaker, it is natural that he should in his present circumstances minimise the size of his establishment, and veil it under the vague last phrase.

queens] These are wives of royal birth.

concubines] Heb. pîlaghshîm, plur. of pîlegesh or pillegesh, appears in Greek as πάλλαξ, παλλακή, and is probably there a loan word from the Semitic peoples. But the derivation is unknown. Oettli says that as the king speaks here, he witnesses against Delitzsch’s idea that he was united in marriage to the Shulammite in ch. Song of Solomon 5:1, by using the word tammâthî, ‘my undefiled’; but that is surely to press the word too far. Marriage was not regarded as impairing a woman’s purity.

virgins] The word used here, ‘ǎlâmôth, does not necessarily mean ‘virgins,’ but young women of marriageable age. Consequently, either subordinate members of the hareem, or young women not yet, but about to be, taken into it are intended.

My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her.
9. but one] The one here is numerical in contrast to the 60 and 80: in the second clause of the verse one is qualitative, unica or unice delecta. As in ch. 2, he compares her to the women of the hareem, and intimates that she alone is worth them all.

the choice one] Heb. bârâh from bârar, ‘to separate,’ and hence ‘to purify.’ LXX, ἐκλεκτή. Here it is the former idea which predominates, the choice one, the darling of her mother, for the relation of mother and daughter is not one to which the idea of ‘purity’ is specially congruous. The only thing against this is that the adj. bar is not used in the O.T. in any sense but ‘pure’ or ‘clean’ (see Oxf. Lex.). But in 1 Chronicles 7:40 and elsewhere the verb is used in the sense of ‘to choose’ or ‘select.’ As the Song is late, but not so late as Chron. probably, it would not be unnatural that the later meaning should be found alongside the earlier in Song of Solomon 6:9-10 here.

The daughters saw her, and blessed her] Better, daughters, i.e. women, cp. Genesis 30:13 and Proverbs 31:29, saw her and called her happy. Cp. Proverbs 31:28, where the whole of this clause substantially occurs.

the queens and the concubines, and they praised her] Cp. ch. Song of Solomon 5:9, “O thou fairest among women.” On the hypothesis that the book is a mere collection of wedding songs, this statement that the women of Solomon’s hareem had seen and praised the Shulammite would be absurd. On our view, it would be quite natural, and unless the bride be brought in some such way as we suppose into connexion with Solomon’s court it is impossible to imagine how this verse could be true. Budde admits the difficulty, but gets over it in a very light-hearted fashion. He admits that a figure of speech which would permit the bridegroom who is called Solomon only because he is a bridegroom, to refer with scorn to the hareem of the actual Solomon, would be bold; but in a somewhat obscure sentence he says it hardly goes beyond what is possible in the circumstances as he supposes them to be. Few, we imagine, will be of that opinion.

Who is she that looketh forth as the morning, fair as the moon, clear as the sun, and terrible as an army with banners?
10. These words evidently express the admiration of the ladies of the court for the Shulammite. Most commentators who regard the book as a connected whole take Song of Solomon 6:10 to be the praises referred to in the previous verse. Song of Solomon 6:9 would then end with a colon, and saying must be understood. The R.V. however marks a paragraph. Oettli emphasises the tense, and they praised her, and regards the words as those used by the court ladies when she was first met by the royal party. This is much the best hypothesis, for it gives a connecting point for the next verses as the words of the Shulammite. Delitzsch, on the other hand, makes this the beginning of a new act, and supposes that the Shulammite walks forth from some recess in the royal gardens and is greeted by the ladies with these words.

looketh forth as the morning] Better, as the dawn, i.e. as the dawn looks forth over the eastern hills, cp. Shakespeare, Hamlet, Acts 1. sc. 1,

“But, look, the morn, in russet mantle clad,

Walks o’er the dew of yon high eastern hill.”

clear] This is the word translated “choice one” in the previous verse, but it must mean clear here.

terrible as an army with banners] It is a marked peculiarity of the Song to repeat similes and epithets. They are introduced first for some special reason, then immediately they seem to crystallise into standing epithets. Cp. “feeding among the lilies.” The words used here for sun and moon are not the ordinary ones shemesh and yârçach, but chammâh, lit. ‘heat,’ and lěbhânâh, lit. ‘whiteness,’ exclusively poetic names, found together again in Isaiah 24:23; Isaiah 30:26.

I went down into the garden of nuts to see the fruits of the valley, and to see whether the vine flourished, and the pomegranates budded.
11. nuts] Heb. ’ěghôz, a word found here only in the O.T., Arab. gawz, Syr. gauzo, Pers. djaus, dialectically aghuz. Probably it is borrowed from the Persian, like pardçs. It is properly the walnut, which is a native of Persia; Tristram, Nat. Hist. p. 413. It is largely cultivated in N. Palestine.

the fruits of the valley] Rather, the green plants of the valley, as in R.V. The A.V. has followed the LXX and the Targum, probably, in translating the word for green plants by fruits. But cp. Job 8:12, where the word is used of the rush, “while it is yet in its greenness.”

to see whether … the pomegranates buaded] R.V. were in flower.

11–13. The bride speaks here. According to Oettli, the words of the court ladies were spoken on the fatal day when Solomon first saw her. This carries her back to that time, and ignoring Solomon’s pleadings and flatteries, as she always does, she recalls what she was doing then. Translate accordingly, I had gone down, &c. Delitzsch regards the words as an account of what she has just been doing, and as revealing her modest acceptance of her unexpected elevation, and her delight still in simple country pleasures. This would seem to be Budde’s view also. In accepting that view Budde admits once more that the poem, as we have it, has dramatic movement and connexion.

Or ever I was aware, my soul made me like the chariots of Amminadib.
12. This is probably the most difficult verse in the whole book to interpret satisfactorily. Perhaps it may best be rendered as in R.V. my soul (or, desire, marg.) set me among the chariots of my princely people. That nephesh may mean ‘appetite’ or ‘desire’ is clear from Proverbs 23:2. So taken, the words would mean that when she was engaged in inspecting and enjoying the gardens, suddenly, before she knew, her longing to see the plants brought her among the chariots of her noble people, i.e. of noble people who were hers, i.e. rulers of her land. She suddenly came upon the train of King Solomon, as they were on the way from or to some royal dwelling in the North. But it must be confessed that the translation of Ammi-nadib as ‘my princely people’ is not very satisfactory, though the omission of the article with the adj. after a noun defined by a pronominal suffix is not uncommon. (Cp. Ges.-K. Gramm. § 126, h and z). The text may be corrupt, but the extensive changes of reading proposed by Budde, Grätz, and Cheyne do not mend matters much, and are none of them convincing. But if the meaning we have found in these words is even generally correct, it is fatal to Budde’s theory that the book is a mere collection of unconnected marriage songs. Nothing can be made of them on that hypothesis, and all who support it have to get rid of them, either by amending them, or excising them.

Return, return, O Shulamite; return, return, that we may look upon thee. What will ye see in the Shulamite? As it were the company of two armies.
13. It is not clear at once who the speaker in this verse is. There must be either more than one person concerned in it, or quotation, for there is an evident interchange of question and answer. Probably we should, with Oettli, assign the verse to the bride. She is rehearsing all that happened on the eventful day when Solomon came upon her. When she found herself among the royal chariots she turned to flee, and the ladies called to her to return. Hearing the call, she stopped to ask, ‘Why would ye gaze at the Shulammite as upon the dance of Mahanaim’? See below.

O Shulammite] This name for the bride occurs here only, and cannot be a proper name, otherwise even in the vocative there would be no article, as there is here. It must, therefore, mean ‘maiden of Shulam’ (cp. the Shunammite, 1 Kings 1:3). Not knowing her name, the courtiers call her by the name of the village near which they were when they saw her. This village was doubtless Shunem, in the plains of Esdraelon, which belonged to the tribe of Issachar. It has been identified by Robinson (Researches, 11. 325) with the modern Solam, a village in the neighbourhood of Jezreel on the southern slope of the east end of Little Hermon, as Nain is upon its northern slope. From the fact that the modern name has l for n, it is probable that Shulam is a later form than Shunem.

that we may look upon thee] The Heb. verb with the construction it has here means generally ‘to look upon with pleasure,’ but also simply ‘to gaze at’ (cp. Isaiah 47:13). In the first clause here we have the first meaning, in the second the other according to many expositors. In this latter case, “What will ye see” should be What would ye gaze at? But it is better to keep the same meaning and translate, Why would ye look upon the Shulammite?

As it were the company of two armies] The R.V. gives As upon the dance of Mahanaim? and probably this is the right translation. As she endeavours to escape, the Shulammite asks, would they stare at her as at a public spectacle. Some have thought that there is a reference here to the angel hosts from which Jacob is said to have named the place (Genesis 32:2). But there is no hint that there was anything resembling a dance in their movements. The probability, therefore, is that after Jacob’s vision Mahanaim became a holy place, if it was not one before, and that God was there praised in the dance (cp. Jdg 21:21), and that these dances had become famous either for their gracefulness or for their splendour. That Mahanaim was a place of importance, whether for political or for religious reasons or for both, is clear from the fact that Ishbosheth, Saul’s son, set up his kingdom there, and that David fled thither when he was driven away from Jerusalem by Absalom. It was also a Levitical city. It lay to the N. of the Jabbok not far from the valley of the Jordan, on the heights above that valley. Its exact site is unknown, as it can hardly have been el-Michne as Robinson supposes, for that is too far both from the Jabbok and from the Jordan. That places were famed for dances is shewn by the name Abel-Mecholah = ‘Dance meadow.’ The R.V. has in the margin, “a dance of two companies.” This might be supposed to be a dance specially worth seeing. Such a dance is described by Wetzstein, who says that in the Gof, or as Palgrave writes it, the Djowf, a region of N. Arabia, there is a variety of the dance called Sahqa, which is danced by two companies of men standing opposite each other, as in our country dances. But these Bedouin and Arab customs have no known connexion with the people west of the Jordan. Budde would change the dual into the plural and would read machanim and translate “as upon a camp dance,” i.e. ‘a sword dance,’ which forms part of the marriage customs Wetzstein describes. But a camp dance would be a very odd name for the sword dance, and though it is true that the place-name Mahanaim does not occur with the article, the article here may quite well define the dance, not Mahanaim.

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