Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
How beautiful are thy feet with shoes, O prince's daughter! the joints of thy thighs are like jewels, the work of the hands of a cunning workman.1. thy feet with shoes] Lit. thy steps in sandals. Budde emphasises the fact that the feet are not spoken of here, but the steps, i.e. in his view the dancing movements of the feet in the sword dance. Oettli on the other hand emphasises the shoes, pointing out that the country maiden had probably not worn them before, but the ladies say how well she walks, and how well they become her. The latter is the sense which accords best with the view of the poem which we have taken.
O prince’s daughter] This does not mean that the bride was actually of a noble family. Even if Budde’s interpretation of the poem were accepted, it would be a strange thing to call the bride a nobleman’s daughter, for it would be ridiculous to call a peasant bride, who was a queen only as a bride, a prince’s daughter, and even if Abishag were referred to she was not that either. Nor can the phrase be a substitute for queen, for strictly speaking Solomon’s queens were not noblemen’s but kings’ daughters. On the dramatic view, bath nâdhîbh must mean ‘a born lady’ as we say, i.e. one who would adorn any station. Siegfried thinks that the words arise from a confusion with the Shunammite woman in 2 Kings 4:8, who is called ‘a great woman,’ i.e. a woman of good position. Cheyne would read here, as in Song of Solomon 6:12, daughter of delights. That would suit our view admirably, but there seems to be no sufficient support for it.
The joints of thy thighs are like jewels] Probably this should be rendered as in the R.V. margin, Thy rounded thighs are like jewels, except that the diminutive force which the word ‘jewels’ has is rather inappropriate here, where some large ornament must be meant. The graceful curves of the hips are for beauty of form like ornaments. Some with less probability explain the word to mean the rhythmical movements of the dance.
a cunning workman] Cunning, of course, is used here in the old sense of ‘skilful,’ and probably ’ommân is equivalent to ’âmôn, a skilled artisan. Stade, Gramm. p. 12, gives it as a word of the Northern dialect.
Chap. Song of Solomon 7:1-6. The Praises of the Ladies of the Hareem
This song or section contains the praises of the Shulammite by the ladies of the hareem; but the circumstances under which the words are spoken are in no way indicated. Some, as Oettli, would make it part of the previous scene. But we can hardly suppose that her dress in the presence of Solomon would be such as to suggest the kind of references to her person here made. It would rather seem to us that they were made in the privacy of the women’s apartments, when the Shulammite was being dressed by the women of the court to receive Solomon. In that case it would stand by itself as a separate picture. The object of this fulsome flattery would be to induce her to accept the king’s addresses. The phrase ‘a king is prisoner in its locks’ (Song of Solomon 7:5) is the climax, and reveals the purpose of the whole.
Thy navel is like a round goblet, which wanteth not liquor: thy belly is like an heap of wheat set about with lilies.2. Thy navel] Better, Thy body.
which wanteth not] This should be let not liquor be wanting.
liquor] Heb. mezegh is wine mixed with snow or water.
thy belly is like a heap of wheat] The point of the comparison is the yellowish-white colour of wheat threshed and winnowed, which is considered in Syria the perfect colour of the human skin. The soft curves of such a heap may also be referred to. The lilies may possibly indicate some part of the dress, but most probably belong to the simile only. Heaps of corn are still decorated with flowers on festal occasions, and the contrast of the scarlet lilies or anemones would bring out the colour of the grain.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins.3. This is a repetition of Song of Solomon 4:5, with the exception that the lilies of that passage are omitted here, as they have been mentioned in the preceding verse.
Thy neck is as a tower of ivory; thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bathrabbim: thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus.4. a tower of ivory] Not a tower entirely built of ivory, but some well-known tower, or kind of tower, adorned with enriching panels or medallions of ivory. Cp. “the ivory palaces,” Psalm 45:8, and “the divans of ivory,” Amos 6:4, and Driver’s note there. A tower-like neck has always been regarded as beautiful.
the fish pools in Heshbon] the pools. The A.V. follows the Vulg. piscinae. Heshbon was the ancient capital of Sihon king of the Amorites. Probably it had before that belonged to Moab (Numbers 21:27 ff.). After the conquest by Moses it was assigned to the tribe of Reuben; but in Isaiah’s time it had long been in the hands of Moab again. To-day it is represented by a large mound in the Wady Hesban, and among the ruins a large well-built tank has been found, which is probably one of the pools referred to here, as it lies outside the walls. The point of comparison is the soft shimmer of the eyes.
by the gate of Bath-rabbim] i.e. either opposite a gate which led to a place called by this name, or the gate of the populous city, literally ‘the daughter of many.’ But if the latter had been intended, ‘mother’ would have been more appropriate and natural than ‘daughter.’ But cp. “daughter of troops,” Micah 5:1 (Song of Solomon 4:14, Heb.).
thy nose is as the tower of Lebanon which looketh toward Damascus] This comparison seems to us inappropriate, for though we cannot now ascertain what particular tower was meant, the probability is that it was some watch-tower placed in a lofty and impregnable position on Anti-Libanus, to keep watch upon, or to overawe Damascus. The writer must have regarded a prominent nose as a beautiful feature.
Thine head upon thee is like Carmel, and the hair of thine head like purple; the king is held in the galleries.5. Thine head upon thee is like Carmel] Mount Carmel, looked at from the North especially, is the crown of the country, towering over sea and land in solitary majesty; hence the comparison to a head proudly held. The A.V. margin, following some Jewish authorities, renders ‘crimson,’ regarding karmel as equivalent to karmîl, and Ginsburg, adopting this explanation, thinks that the words mean that her hair was arranged in the form of a murex shell.
the hair of thine head] The word translated ‘hair,’ which occurs nowhere else in the O.T., appears to mean flowing tresses.
like purple] Apparently the text means to indicate that the bride’s hair was of that intense black which is sometimes called blue black. For argâmân see note on Song of Solomon 3:10.
the king is held in the galleries] Better (cp. R.V.), a king is held captive in the tresses thereof. The word translated ‘tresses’ occurs in the O.T. three times only, Genesis 30:38; Genesis 30:41, and Exodus 2:16, where it means ‘water troughs.’ The connexion between these and a woman’s hair is not obvious, unless it be that it flows down like water from a water trough. That is hardly satisfactory, but that tresses is intended seems certain. The idea of a lover being held captive in the hair of his lady is common in the love poetry of all lands. Cp. Lovelace’s poem To Althea from Prison:
“When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The birds that wanton in the air
Know no such liberty.”
Budde and Siegfried take the ‘king’ here to mean as usual the young husband of the king’s week. But in that case it would more naturally be the king.
How fair and how pleasant art thou, O love, for delights!6. for delights] Better, among delights, i.e. how surpassingly delightful is love above all other pleasures of life. The word translated delights does not necessarily, or even generally, mean sensuous delights, as some say. Cp. Proverbs 19:10; Micah 1:16; Micah 2:9. This sudden turn to the praise of love, not the beloved, is abrupt, but it has frequent parallels in the love poetry of the East, cp. the ode written out for Wetzstein at Kenakir. (Cp. his Essay on the Threshing-Board, loc. cit.) That the Heb. verb yâphâh may be used of love in this abstract sense may be inferred from Ezekiel 28:7, where the noun of this root is used in a similar abstract way in the phrase, “the beauty of thy wisdom.”
This thy stature is like to a palm tree, and thy breasts to clusters of grapes.7. This thy stature] or as we should say, this form of thine.
is like to a palm tree] This is a very favourite figure with Oriental poets, graceful slenderness and tall stature being specially admired. Hence Tamar = ‘palm’ was a frequent woman’s name.
clusters of grapes] Heb. ashkôlôth, not necessarily of grapes. Cp. ch. Song of Solomon 1:14, where we have a cluster of henna, and here the clusters of ripe dates hanging from the palm are evidently meant. Oettli thinks their sweetness, not their form, the point of the comparison.
Chap. Song of Solomon 7:7—Chap. Song of Solomon 8:4. The King and the Shepherdess—the last Assault
We may suppose that after her attendants have completed the Shulammite’s adornment, and have finished their fulsome praises of her beauty, she receives a new visit from the king. In Song of Solomon 7:7-9 he gives utterance to his admiration in more sensuous terms than ever, and in Song of Solomon 7:9 b she turns his talk aside, and dwells upon her lover. In Song of Solomon 7:10 she gives her final answer in the exclamation that she belongs to him alone. The king then withdraws, and in Song of Solomon 7:11-13 she lets her heart go out to her absent lover, and calls upon him to go back with her into their obscure but happy country life. In Song of Solomon 8:1-3 she expresses a wish that he were her brother, so that she might love him without reproach, and concludes in Song of Solomon 7:4 with a modification of the adjuration in Song of Solomon 2:7 and Song of Solomon 3:5.
I said, I will go up to the palm tree, I will take hold of the boughs thereof: now also thy breasts shall be as clusters of the vine, and the smell of thy nose like apples;8. I said] I have said or thought = I am minded to climb up the palm tree to take hold of its branches.
now also thy breasts shall be, &c.] Better, as R.V., let thy breasts be as clusters of the vine.
the smell of thy nose] i.e. as R.V. paraphrases, giving the meaning correctly, the smell of thy breath like apples.
And the roof of thy mouth like the best wine for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.9. and the roof of thy mouth] Better, as R.V., and thy mouth. Chçkh is the palate, but it is used for the mouth. Cp. ch. Song of Solomon 5:16; Hosea 8:1. The reference here as in Song of Solomon 5:16 is to the sweet words of love which she whispers, they intoxicate like wine.
for my beloved, that goeth down sweetly] This should be, as in R.V., that goeth down smoothly for my beloved. Instead of smoothly, R.V. marg. gives ‘aright.’ Cp. for the phrase Proverbs 23:31, R.V. and margin. Budde would read lěchikkî, ‘for my palate,’ instead or lědhôdhî, ‘for my beloved,’ but there is no support for such a change in any version or MS. The translation of the A.V. is according to the accents, but most recent commentators, who take the dramatic or semi-dramatic view of the whole, assign these words to the bride, supposing that she interrupts the king and turns off the simile to her beloved.
causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak] Better, as R.V., gliding through the lips of those that are asleep. The A.V. may, following Jerome and Kimchi, have connected the word dôbhçbh with dibbâh, a calumny or evil rumour, or they may have read dôbhçr or medhabbçr. But dôbhçbh has no connexion with dibbâh, but is rather related to zâbh, and means ‘to go softly,’ hence the translation ‘going softly’ or ‘gliding’ over the lips of sleepers, or of those about to sleep. The whole clause would then mean that this wine was such that men drank it till they were rendered slumberous by it. But this is not very satisfactory, and the suggestion that, following the LXX, Aq., Syr., Vulg., we should read ‘gliding over my lips and teeth,’ or ‘over his lips and teeth,’ might perhaps be adopted.
I am my beloved's, and his desire is toward me.10. In this verse the bride openly rejects the king whom she had already tacitly rejected, saying, ‘I belong to my beloved alone, and he on his part longs after me only.’ As Oettli says, the words should be conceived as uttered with an almost triumphant gesture of rejection towards Solomon. Budde supposes Song of Solomon 7:10 to be perhaps an editorial connecting clause borrowed from ch. Song of Solomon 2:16, as Martineau and Bickell also do.
Come, my beloved, let us go forth into the field; let us lodge in the villages.11. let us lodge in the villages] The verb lûn = ‘to pass the night,’ does not always mean a passing sojourn. Consequently there is no hint here that the home of the Shulammite and her lover was distant several days’ journey. The verb is often used where simply ‘dwelling,’ ‘remaining,’ is meant; but it must be admitted that the cases where this meaning is clear are nearly all figurative, e.g. Job 19:4; Job 41:22; Psalm 49:12 (Hebrews 5:13).
in the villages] The Heb. bak-kěphârîm may mean among the henna flowers, as in ch. Song of Solomon 4:13, or among the villages. Either signification would give a good meaning here, but perhaps the former is preferable. ‘Let us dwell among the henna flowers’ would suit the tone of the passage best.
Let us get up early to the vineyards; let us see if the vine flourish, whether the tender grape appear, and the pomegranates bud forth: there will I give thee my loves.12. if the vine flourish] whether the vine hath budded, R.V. Cp. Song of Solomon 6:11.
whether the tender grape appear] Rather, and its blossom be open, R.V. For the word semâdhar = ‘blossom,’ cp. ch. Song of Solomon 2:13; Song of Solomon 2:15. It is found nowhere else in the O.T.
there will I give thee] There, in contrast to here and now. As Oettli remarks, first freedom, then love.
The mandrakes give a smell, and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits, new and old, which I have laid up for thee, O my beloved.13. The mandrakes give a smell] Heb. had-dûdhâ îm (LXX, οἱ μανδραγόραι), lit. ‘love plants.’ The mandrake is fully described in Tristram, Nat. Hist. pp. 466 ff. It belongs to the family of plants to which the potato belongs. The flowers are cup-shaped, of a rich purple colour. The fruit has a peculiar but decidedly not unpleasant smell, and a pleasant, sweet taste. In Groser’s Script. Nat. Hist., Mariti is quoted to the following effect: “The fruit when ripe, in the beginning of May, is of the size and colour of a small apple, exceedingly ruddy and of a most agreeable odour. Our guide thought us fools for suspecting it to be unwholesome. He ate it freely himself, and it is generally valued by the inhabitants as exhilarating their spirits.” It is mentioned here as denoting the time of year, May, the time of the wheat harvest, or for its pleasant smell, not, as in Genesis 30:14-16, as an aphrodisiac.
and at our gates are all manner of pleasant fruits] Rather, over our doors. This would seem to indicate that in village houses it was the custom to lay up fruits on shelves or in cupboards placed above the doorways.
pleasant fruits] or, as R.V., precious fruits. Cp. ch. Song of Solomon 4:13; Song of Solomon 4:16.
which I have laid up] This relative clause refers to the old fruits, as the new fruits were only now ripening. If Solomon were the bridegroom it is difficult to see how the shepherdess could have laid up fruits for him, as she had not been home since he carried her away.