The Bible’s Love Poem
An EasyEnglish Bible Version and Commentary (2800 word vocabulary) on the Song of Songs
Commentary: Keith Simons. Translation: Mark Kirkpatrick
This commentary has been through Advanced Checking.
Words in boxes are from the Bible.
A word list at the end explains words with a *star by them.
The Song of Songs (also called the Song of Solomon) is a poem about love between a man and a woman. They love each other deeply, and later, they marry.
The author of the Song probably lived about the same time as King Solomon. It is possible that Solomon himself wrote the Song. But Solomon had very many wives. And this Song is about one man’s love for one woman. So it is hard to see how Solomon could be the author. Therefore, many people think that someone else wrote it. If so, that person wanted to give honour to Solomon, who was famous as Israel’s wisest king. So the author used Solomon’s name as the name of the man in the poem. And he also used the word *Shulamite, which is the female form of Solomon’s name, to refer to the woman.
There are many different opinions about the meaning and the purpose of the Song. You can read more about these opinions in the separate Bible Commentaries that our team members have written. But this Commentary is a simpler one. Its purpose is to explain the subjects that are clear in the Song.
Bible students disagree about the meaning of the Song:
· Some Bible Students think that the Song is simply a poem about love. That is, the love that a man and a woman have for each other.
· Other Bible Students think that the Song is about God’s love for his people. The man is a word picture for God. And the woman is a word picture for the person who loves God.
Bible students also disagree about the purpose of the Song:
· Some Bible Students think that the Song is simply a beautiful poem.
· Other Bible Students think that the Song’s purpose is to teach lessons about love.
We know that for about 2000 years, people have used the Song to teach about love for God. But we do not know how people used the Song before that.
Because the Song of Songs is a poem, it does not contain clear instructions like some other Bible books. If we want to learn from it, we must learn from the attitudes and actions of the people in the Song.
If the Song is about human love, then the main lessons are about the ideal relationships between men and women:
· At the time of the Song, men often married many wives. But the Song shows love between one man and one woman.
· The Song emphasises greatly the importance of love in a married couple’s relationship. It is wrong when husbands and wives continuously force each other to do things. They should respect each other because they love each other.
· The Song shows how beautiful it is for a husband and wife to be loyal to each other. Elsewhere, the Bible teaches that sex should only happen between a man and woman after their marriage. And after marriage, people must continue to be loyal to their husbands and wives. It is very wrong when they have sex with other people.
· The Song emphasises that love is a decision. It is not merely an emotion. A husband and wife should choose to love each other. And then their love for each other will grow and increase.
If the Song is about God’s relationship with people, then the lessons are similar:
· A person’s relationship with God should be a personal relationship. Someone does not become a Christian because that person’s family are Christians. It does not happen because someone is born in a Christian nation. It only happens when that person begins his or her own personal relationship with God.
· Love is very important in a person’s relationship with God. In fact, Jesus taught that this was the most important of all God’s commands. ‘Love the *Lord your God with all your heart…’ (Mark 12:29-30).
· People must be completely loyal to God. And they must trust God completely. Elsewhere, the Bible speaks about people who were not completely loyal to God. Perhaps they wanted to serve false gods as well as the real one. Or perhaps they were unwilling to trust God.
· A person’s relationship with God begins when that person decides to love God. It is a decision – the person’s emotions and feelings are unimportant. Of course, afterwards, the person will discover this most wonderful fact: God already chose that person (1 John 4:10)! It is God who made it possible for that person to love him. Afterwards, the person’s love for God does not remain the same. It grows and increases.
Of course marriage brings about a great change in the lives of both the man and the woman. The Song of Songs emphasises how much the marriage changes the young woman’s life. At the beginning, the woman is working for her brothers, who deal cruelly with her (1:6). They have power over her life, and they use that power for their own advantage. She works hard in the hot sun. So she complains that her skin is dark. Probably, she is aware that other people do not respect her. Perhaps she is afraid that a young man will therefore consider her unattractive. However, the young man who truly loves her respects her greatly. He can see that she will be a beautiful wife for him (1:8).
That young man’s love for her made it possible for a great change to happen in this young woman’s life. It was the custom in ancient Israel that men had to pay a price for their brides (Genesis 29:15-27). That payment freed them from the control of their family. So because of their marriage, this young woman becomes free from the control of her brothers.
Many men in the ancient world, as today, used their wives cruelly. However, that is not how God wants husbands and wives to live (Ephesians 5:22-33). In the Song of Songs, the young man marries the woman because he truly loves her. He does not marry her because of any desire to control her. 1 Corinthians 13:4-6 describes well the kind of love that he shows to her. He truly cares about her; their wedding is just the beginning of their love.
The young man does not marry her for his own advantage. However, in the end, he gains much from their marriage (8:12; Proverbs 31:10-31). That is because the young woman uses her freedom to express her love to him. Before her marriage, she worked hard, but she gained no reward for her effort. Now her work brings her great rewards (8:12). However, true love does not cause a person to be selfish, but to be generous. Many people benefit from her activities now – but her greatest love, and therefore her greatest reward, is for her husband.
From the beginning, the woman feels very strong desires for the man. And his desire for her is very strong too. Even his name seems special to her. But they do not yet have a real relationship. As the woman says in verse 3, other women feel love for the man, too.
By the ‘king’, the poet means the young man. Sometimes the poet describes him as a king, but sometimes as a *shepherd. It is already clear that the young woman wants to marry him.
In the middle of verse 4, a group of people add to what the woman has said. We do not know who they really were. We have called them the ‘friends’ here. They praise the young man. It is clear that they agree with the young woman’s description of the man.
The woman emphasises the darkness of her skin. It is dark because she has to work outside. She worries that the young man will not like this. Her skin is dark, like the tents of the Arabs who lived in Kedar. Their tents were probably very plain. But her skin is also beautiful. It is like the curtains that the king owned.
The woman’s brothers were strict with her. They did not allow her to look after her own possessions. They gave her many tasks.
The woman wants to be with the young man. The poet now describes him as a *shepherd. A *shepherd has to wander to many places as he leads his sheep. So people will not know where to find him. But this woman wants to find him.
The man replies that it is easy to find him. She should simply follow the route that his sheep have gone. There, she will find him. And she can bring her own animals with her. It is his desire that she should be with him.
Experts do not think that *mares actually pulled the *chariots of Pharaoh (the king of Egypt). But the fact is unimportant in the poem. Clearly, the young man does not think that the woman’s dark skin makes her unattractive. In fact, he thinks that she is impressive. Those royal horses were tall, beautiful and very strong.
The young man considers that she is very beautiful. But he wants to make her even more beautiful. Gold and silver would make her seem so pretty!
The poet mentioned the idea of royal things in verse 9. Here again he describes the young man as a king. But the young woman seems present all round him! The smell of her *perfume is everywhere. It is as if he cannot escape her! But of course, he does not want to escape her.
And she does not want to escape him either! She wants him to be present with her always. She wants him to be like a small quantity of precious *perfume that she carries about her body.
Engedi is a special place. It is a beautiful village with gardens that is in the middle of a desert. So these flowers, which came all the way from those gardens, would seem very special. That is how special this woman considers this man to be.
They express how attractive they consider each other to be. And together, they start to describe a word picture of their love. They are like *doves. And like *doves, green leaves surround them. And like *doves, they will choose a home in the forest. The trees become the beams and the ceiling of their house. People would use those trees to build a beautiful wooden house.
The man and woman are not actually building a house. This is just a word picture.
The man and woman seem to disagree with each other here. In verse 1, she explains that she is like a common flower. That is, of course, very different from her description of him in 1:14. She is saying that there are many other women like her. She does not consider herself special.
But in verse 2, the young man does not agree with her. He agrees that she is like such a flower. But only if one compares that flower with *thorns. Of course, *thorns are not attractive. But he considers her very precious and attractive.
She continues the conversation with a similar description of him. He is like an apple tree. But that tree is not in a garden where there are many other similar trees. It is in the forest, where she is very pleased to find it. And that tree is wonderful. It provides shade from the hot sun. It provides a meal of fruit. That fruit will make her strong. She needs to be strong, because she feels weak. Love seems so powerful an emotion that it has made her weak. And he seems to be the only remedy!
This is a very important verse in the Song. It appears here, in 3:5, and in 8:4. The woman urges people to make a serious promise. There is a proper time to express love. It is so important not to do that before the proper time.
The woman speaks about wild *gazelles and *deer as she says this. That is because wild *gazelles and *deer know the proper season to mate. This fact is very clear from their behaviour. Nobody tells them when the right time is. But they already know it.
However, people often find it much more difficult to work out when the right time is.
The young woman has spoken about the wild *gazelles and *deer. And now she sees one. Actually, she does not see an animal. She sees the young man. But he seems like a wild *gazelle or a *deer to her.
That is because he seems to know the right time for their marriage! He is so pleased to come to her. But he comes gently. He does not force his way into her home. He will not force her to do anything. But he will invite her to marry him.
The young man’s invitation is very gentle. He is simply trying to prove that the right time for marriage has arrived. He describes a series of events in nature. These events happen between winter and spring. They happen in the order that he describes. The birds are singing. The plants are flowering. They all know the right time. And so, he argues, now is the right time for their marriage, too.
At the end of the events in verses 10-13, the *doves build their nests in the cliffs. So the man says that the woman is ‘like a *dove’. He hopes that she will agree to marry. Then, like the *doves with their nests, the man and woman will be able to have a home together.
Love is not without danger. In verse 13, the man compared their love to the flowers in the *vineyard. Young *foxes will spoil the young fruits that grow in a *vineyard. Unless the farmer catches them, there will be no harvest from the *vines.
And unless the young woman acts now, their marriage cannot happen yet. So their love will not bring about any permanent result. It will just be an emotion that may disappear.
Verse 16 is another important verse. Similar words appear here, in 6:3 and 7:10. Each time, the words change slightly. They show how the woman’s attitudes become more mature.
Here, she seems to respect the man only slightly. Yes, she loves him. But his love is like her love, she says. She again speaks about the flowers in 2:1. There, she said that there were many women like her. Now, she says that he is like a *gazelle. He is choosing a flower, and he has many flowers to choose from. So the man speaks nice words. But she pretends that he would speak those words to other women too.
Like the *gazelle, he must turn and go to the mountains. There may be a proper time for their love. But she is not ready. He must go away.
This man and woman cared very much about the right time for their marriage. They did not want to do anything too quickly. Instead, they waited until they were both ready to become engaged.
During this period of history, people studied very much how to be wise. One of the things that they studied was the right time to do things (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). So, as the man and woman thought about the right time for marriage, they too were studying wisdom. Perhaps that is why the Song of Songs is among the Bible’s wisdom books.
Still today, young people care very much about the right time to do things. They ask when it is right to hug or to kiss. They ask whether they should be alone together. They want to know when they may have sex. They inquire when they ought to become engaged or to marry.
The Bible gives clear instructions about some of these matters. For example, it says that a man and a woman should not have sex before their marriage.
But there are other matters where the Bible does not give clear answers. For example, different societies have different ideas about when it is right to hug or to kiss. But the Bible does encourage us to study to be wise. And if we study to be wise, we shall learn good answers. So, it is never wise to allow your emotions to become out of control. And you should never put yourself in danger with someone who may not be responsible.
Also, the Bible does not say at what age a person should marry. But it does teach that the married relationship should last. It should continue for the whole life of the husband and wife. So you should not marry until you are ready to make such an important and permanent decision.
Many people teach that the Song of Songs is mainly about a person’s relationship with God. And there is also a right time to begin a relationship with God. That time is called ‘today’ (Hebrews 4:7)! Also, there will be a future time when Jesus will return. He will return like a bridegroom who comes to marry his bride. Only God the Father knows that time (Mark 13:32). But it will happen – at the right time!
The Bible often uses darkness as a word picture for the state of someone who has made a foolish decision. This woman refused when the man proposed marriage to her. Of course, it is not foolish to be cautious. One must be especially careful about such an important matter as the decision to marry. But it is foolish to act without proper thought.
This woman felt genuine love in her heart for the man. He showed her in chapter 2 that the time was right for their marriage. But she still refused his request to marry. She knew her decision was foolish. That is why she could not sleep.
It can be hard to make things right after you have made a foolish mistake. It would have been much easier for this woman if she agreed to marry at the right time. She had her opportunity when he asked her to marry in chapter 2.
But now she must deal with the matter.
Most people lived in ‘cities’. They were not particularly large – today we might consider them to be small towns. But even the small ones had strong walls round them. At nightfall, the city’s guards would lock the gates. Nobody could enter or leave the city until morning. During the night, the guards would walk about the streets or they would watch from the walls. They would suspect anyone who moved about the city during the night.
The woman was, of course, very pleased to find the man. And she was desperate not to repeat her previous mistake. She urged him to come with her. She took him home, to meet her mother. It was the custom for mothers to make arrangements for a marriage (see also verse 11).
The passage does not actually say why the man met the mother. That is probably because any reader would recognise the customs at that time. The man had to meet the mother in order to arrange his marriage to the woman. Together, they would work out the arrangements for the marriage.
So, the man and the woman would become engaged. In other words, they made a serious promise to marry each other.
When the woman spoke these words in 2:7, she seemed unsure about the right time for marriage. Now she seems sure. And she is eagerly making arrangements for her marriage.
It is clear that 1:1 to 3:5 describe events before the marriage. And it is clear that 7:1 to 8:14 describe events afterwards. But the middle section of the Song is less clear. It contains some events, and some passages that describe the couple’s love. It is clear that the man and woman become engaged and married during the middle section of the Song. But it is hard to recognise the series of events.
That is probably because people had complex traditions for their weddings. And today, we do not know about all of these traditions. There is some useful information about marriage traditions in the Bible:
· Genesis chapters 24 and 29, Judges chapter 14 and the Book of Ruth contain information about more ancient traditions. It is hard to know the dates of these passages. Those weddings in the Book of Genesis may have happened 900 years before Solomon’s rule. The other ones seem to be between 100 and 300 years before Solomon’s rule.
· John chapter 2 contains information about more recent traditions. The wedding in that passage happened about 1000 years after Solomon’s rule.
We do not know the date of the Song of Songs. If the poet wrote it during Solomon’s rule, then its date was about 950 B.C. (years before Christ). But some Bible students think that the book has a much later date.
These seem to be the traditions at the time of the Song of Songs:
(1) Before they became engaged, unmarried men and women would not normally meet each other. They certainly would not meet in private. Possibly, they would not even speak to each other. (So, the conversation in the Song of Songs may just be the poet’s way to describe their thoughts.)
(2) When a man and woman wanted to marry, they became engaged. This means that they made a serious promise to marry each other. There were probably happy parties at this time.
(3) After the man and woman became engaged, they would not live together. And they would not have sex until after their marriage. Often, the man left the woman during this period. He would go back to the town where his family lived. He would prepare a home where he and his bride would live after their marriage.
(4) Several months or even years might pass before the actual marriage. But when the man was ready, he would come to collect his bride. This event would be their wedding. The man’s friends would come with him for this special occasion. And at the bride’s home, there would be a series of special parties. It seems that those parties usually lasted for several days.
The poet begins to describe a wonderful procession. People in Israel loved processions. They arranged them for many reasons. This one might seem to be a military procession. But we read about wonderful smells in verse 6. Those smells show us that this procession has a different purpose. In the Song, the poet often links those smells with the idea of love. So, clearly, this procession is a happy occasion because of the love that the man and woman have. Perhaps this is their wedding. Or perhaps this happens because they are becoming engaged.
This seems like a military procession again, because of the soldiers. But as we have seen, it is not a military procession. It was the man’s friends who would come with him. And they seem so noble and strong that they are like soldiers!
And they seem to bring the king. But again, the poet describes the young man as if he were the king. He is so noble and magnificent that he seems like the king!
King Solomon was famous for the things that he made. He used the best materials for everything that he built. He built great palaces, and the splendid temple (house of God) in Jerusalem.
This young man has behaved like King Solomon. He has made everything splendid in order to give pleasure and honour to the young woman.
The poet calls the people to come to the party! They will see how this young man is like a king. They will see how his mother approves of the marriage. They will see how happy this occasion is.
Chapter 4; Verses 1 and 2
For the first time, the man gives a description of the young woman. Sometimes he uses word pictures that may seem unusual to us today. But the meaning of the whole chapter is that she is beautiful. He appreciates her completely. He is very pleased that she loves him.
He looks at her carefully. Probably it was not proper for him to stare at her before they became engaged. But now he can look at her properly. And he can tell her how beautiful she is.
He uses many agricultural pictures. Her long hair reminds him about a long procession of goats that come down from the mountains. Her teeth remind him about how clean and white the sheep seem. And like the pairs of sheep, her teeth match each other perfectly.
He describes her face. He cannot see it perfectly, because she is wearing a *veil. Even now, she is not ready to remove it. (It seems that Leah did not remove her *veil until after the wedding night – Genesis 29:23-25.) This woman is still wearing her *veil in 6:7. But it seems that she removes it at the start of chapter 7.
Her neck is tall and impressive. Soldiers would hang their *shields on the walls when they did not use them. And sometimes kings made splendid gold *shields just to hang them on walls.
He repeats the same word picture that she used about him in 2:16. But this time, he is describing her breasts. It may hardly seem proper to do that today!
People today often link breasts with the idea of sex. But at the time of the Bible, people were very aware of the real purpose for a woman’s breasts. Of course, it is to provide milk for babies. If a woman was unable to produce milk, the baby was in great danger. If another mother could not help, the baby would certainly die.
So the man would link the breasts with the idea of whether their babies would live. It was very important to him that her breasts were healthy.
The female *gazelle’s breasts in the passage were healthy: she had *twins. And she was strong and healthy enough to provide milk for them both.
He continues to repeat her word picture from 2:17. But this time, he will go to a mountain where there are beautiful smells. The couple often use beautiful smells as a word picture for their love. So, he has chosen to be with her. And together, they will be able to express their love for each other.
The man has now completed his description of the woman’s body. It is as if he has examined it. And he has made his decision: it is perfect. She is completely beautiful! She is completely perfect!
The man now describes the adventure of his love with this woman. He must be brave – but his reward will be very special!
On several occasions, the poet mentions the country called Lebanon. This country is to the north of Israel, where the couple lived. The poet seems to use Lebanon as a word picture for the woman. It is interesting to compare the two countries:
The trees in Lebanon are beautiful, and they are very tall. The quality of the wood that they produce is splendid.
Trees do not grow so well in Israel. In many places, the soil is too dry for them.
Lebanon has plentiful rain. The sources of many rivers are there.
Most of Israel is a dry country.
Lebanon has many of the tallest mountains in the region.
Israel has some beautiful hills, but they are much smaller than the ones in Lebanon.
Lebanon was then a country of forests and wild plants. People could not produce crops there.
There are some areas where crops grow well.
Few people lived in Lebanon. There were dangerous wild animals there. And people could not produce crops there. People entered Lebanon to cut down trees or to collect wild plants.
People who lived in Israel had to work continuously. The country was a good country, but the agricultural work was often hard.
So the woman was beautiful. And her beauty was natural beauty. It was beauty that God had given to her. It was not the product of human effort.
The man felt as if he was going to another country to take away its best products! To him, this felt a dangerous thing to do. But it was a very exciting adventure!
He has many words to describe this beautiful young woman. Now, he chooses to describe her as a ‘sister’ or a ‘bride’. Of course, she is not actually his sister. These are just his fond words to describe her.
And he has words to describe her love. It is like wine, like milk, or like honey. People considered these to be very special foods and drinks. They are sweet, and they make people strong.
Again, he refers to the beautiful smells. It is not the smells that matter. It is the picture that they give to us of this couple’s love.
Verse 11 mentions ‘the smell of Lebanon’. That may seem a little strange; forests do not always have beautiful smells. Perhaps he refers to the smell of wood from Lebanon. One of the best trees there is called the cedar. Its wood is one of the most precious woods; and it has a good smell.
This is a splendid description of a beautiful garden. We can learn much about gardens in the Bible from this short passage.
This garden has a wall round it. That wall was important to protect the plants from wild animals, like *foxes. And it also protected the plants from thieves. But walls in gardens are useful for other purposes too. Because of the walls, some plants can benefit from the shade or from the light. The walls can protect plants against cold. And they can also provide a warmer area for plants that need it. The most skilled gardeners know how to use the walls for these purposes.
There is a long list of the plants in the garden. Some of these plants yield fruits. Most are plants that people have selected for their beautiful smells or for medicine. Some do not usually grow in Israel. It seems that, even then, people were importing plants for their own gardens.
Water is essential for every garden. In a dry country, like Israel, it is very important. Nothing will grow without a good supply of water. Here, the supply of water is so good that it seems to flow from Lebanon! But this garden does not depend on a supply from elsewhere. It has its own supplies of water! It has wells and fountains! It has plentiful water, and that water is fresh!
So this is a description of a woman who has great skills. She will provide well for her family. She will work carefully to make their life together successful. All these things seem to be a secret, like a garden behind a wall. But there is a surprise for us. The woman does not want this garden to be secret! She wants the young man to enter the garden. In other words, she wants them to share married life together. And she wants the benefits of their love to be like a beautiful *perfume that everyone can smell. Everyone should enjoy such a beautiful place!
Chapter 5; Verse 1
Of course, the man is very pleased that the young woman has invited him into her life. And he is very pleased with everything that her love brings. He was right in 4:10-11. There is honey, wine and milk for him. And there are many beautiful smells, too!
The group of other people speak now. This is the first time that they have spoken since 1:4. Perhaps they have smelt the beautiful smells, as the woman requested in 4:16. And they are pleased. They tell the man and woman to enjoy the love that they have for each other.
Although this passage is similar to 3:1-4, people consider it difficult to understand. There are very many different ideas about its meaning. Some people say that these events happened on the night after the wedding, or soon after that. Some people say that this was just a dream. So they think that these events never happened. And other people say that the woman is simply remembering the events in chapter 3.
But the poet considered that his poem was complete without any further explanation. So we are unwise to add any ideas that are not in the original passage. In this commentary, we shall simply study the events that the poet describes.
Again, these sad events happened by night. She was sleeping inside, and she had locked the door. He arrived at the closed door, and he spoke loving words to her.
In the past, she described how he spoke to her through the window (2:9). And on this occasion too, he tried to speak to her. He asked her to open the door; probably because he wanted actually to see her. And now they were engaged (or perhaps married). So, the customs of their society allowed him to see her.
This event may have happened when they were engaged, but not yet married. If so, his visits to her might be very rare. It may have been several months or even years since they became engaged. And this might be their first opportunity to meet during all that time.
However, on this occasion, she refused to meet with him. Her reason was simply that it was not convenient. She did not want to make her feet dirty. She did not want to put her dress on again. (Notice that she would not see him without her dress on. It mattered very much to this couple that they did everything in a proper manner.)
She did not love him enough to do something that she considered unpleasant.
The man very much wanted to see the woman. He tried to open the door from outside. However, she had locked the door, so he was not successful.
He remained outside. She had promised to love him. But when it was not convenient, she was not willing to see him.
She quickly changed her mind. She saw that he wanted to be with her. And she decided to open the door. But it took time for her to put on her dress again. And when, at last, she had opened the door for him, she was too late.
Again, she had made a wrong, foolish decision. She had delayed for much too long. And the result was that she had lost her opportunity to be with him.
It is interesting to compare this story with Jesus’ story in Matthew 25:1-13. Jesus’ message was that people must always be ready for his return.
This woman was not ready for the man’s return, and that caused her many troubles. But there will be much, much worse troubles for those people who are not ready for Jesus’ return. In time, this woman managed to deal with her troubles. But if people are not ready for Jesus’ return, they will never be able to deal with their troubles.
The city’s guards behaved in a very cruel manner to the woman. They probably did not believe that she was outside by night for a proper reason. Thieves went out by night. Women who were not loyal to their husbands would visit other men by night. There were murderers on the streets by night. And some women offered their bodies for sex by night. They all would use the darkness to hide. And the guards did not want any of them to be about the city.
The woman’s situation felt hopeless. The man she loved had returned to her. But she sent him away. And she felt as if he would never return. So, she asked the other women to help her. Perhaps they would show kindness to her. Perhaps they could speak to the man on her behalf. She asked them to take a message to him. They should tell him that she is desperate for his love.
The women in Jerusalem reply here and in 6:1 to the woman’s request for help. There are two things that they want to know.
· Why is this man better than other men? (They ask this in 5:9.)
· Where did he go? (They ask this in 6:1.)
Many people, like me, believe that the man in the Song is a word picture for God. The first question is an important one for us. Her reply to it (verses 10-16) describes how wonderful God is. But other people do not agree. They say that she is simply describing a wonderful man. And that man seems very wonderful to her because she loves him deeply.
He is so beautiful that his face seems to glow. It is a healthy red colour, like the colour of a man’s face after he has been working hard.
His head is so precious to her that she compares it with gold. His hair is the darkest black.
His eyes are so beautiful that they seem like precious stones.
Beautiful smells in the Song always seem to refer to love. She describes many beautiful smells that remind her of him.
These substances are all strong and beautiful. His whole body seems so strong and powerful; but it is also very beautiful. Especially, this is so about his arms and legs.
And he is tall, like the beautiful *cedar trees in Lebanon.
He speaks such beautiful words with his mouth.
This is the woman’s only complete description of the man. But the man describes the woman in three places: 4:1-7; 6:4-7 and 7:1-9. There are other astonishing descriptions of God, Jesus, or God’s glory (the beauty of God’s splendid greatness) in the Bible. See, for example, Ezekiel 1:26-28; Daniel 10:6 and Revelation 1:13-16. Those descriptions are rather similar to this one.
In chapter 5, the woman refused to open her door when the man visited her. The man went away, and then she changed her mind. She opened the door, but he had left. So she began to search desperately for him. She asked the women in Jerusalem to help her. First, they asked her to describe the man. And then they asked her which way he went.
The woman knows where the man went. In fact, it was she who told him to go there (4:16)!
He has gone to the garden where there are many plants with beautiful smells. Those beautiful smells are a word picture for their love. She has lost him, but he has found love! That is, he knows constant love for her. But for a short time, she seemed to forget her love for him.
She repeats phrases from 2:16-17. She spoke those phrases when he first proposed marriage to her. At that time, she was not ready for him or for his love. But now she speaks these phrases because she is ready. She wants their love to be complete. She wants him to find the beautiful things that their love will provide.
When she expresses these thoughts, something wonderful happens. She discovers that he is very near to her. She worried so much that she had lost him. But his love for her is as strong as it ever was. When, at last, she was ready to love him, he was ready for her.
That is like God’s love. Elsewhere, the Bible compares God to a husband whose wife has left him. (See especially the Book of Hosea.) Such a husband may eagerly wait for his wife to return. And God eagerly waits for people to return to him. When people are ready to return to God, God is pleased to receive them. (See also Luke chapter 15.)
The man begins another wonderful description of the woman. She is like the city called Jerusalem. Jerusalem was well-known for its beauty. Or she is like the city called Tirzah. We do not know much about that city. For several years, it was the capital city of the northern part of Israel. Probably therefore, it had great houses and palaces.
For the second time, the man describes the woman’s body. On this occasion, he only describes her face. It is interesting that she is still wearing her *veil. So he still cannot see her face clearly. This description is like the one in 4:1-3.
Since the beginning of chapter 3, the poet has been describing how the couple became engaged and married. But often, we have not been sure what events he is describing. That is because we do not know all the traditions. Those traditions were, of course, very familiar to the first readers of the Song.
However, the poet is now describing traditions that seem more familiar.
At the end of the wedding parties, the bridegroom would take his new wife home. This seems to be the event that 6:8-13 describes. It is important to realise that those parties would usually last for several days. So the man and the woman were already married. And this was a final opportunity for the woman’s friends and relatives to say goodbye to her.
It was the tradition that the wife’s family would try to delay this occasion. They would urge the woman (and her new husband) to remain with them. They would continue to arrange more parties that the couple would have to attend! They would give many excuses why the couple could not leave yet. The strongest example of this is perhaps Jacob. He had to remain with his wives’ parents for another 14 years after the marriage. And still they did not want him to return home! (See Genesis chapters 29 to 31.)
In verse 8, the poet describes the many wives of different ranks that kings often had. King Solomon was well-known for all his wives! He married them for political reasons. When he wanted to make peace with another king, he married that king’s daughter. In the end, he had 700 wives and 300 women of lower rank. He built palaces for them in Jerusalem.
There were all these beautiful women in Jerusalem. But if this man could choose any of the women in the palace, he would still choose this woman. In fact, if he could choose any of the beautiful young women in Israel, he would not select another woman. That is how special he considers her. That is how much he loves her.
And it was not just the man who praised her. Everyone in Jerusalem could see her beautiful character. Even the queens and the other women in the palace praised her.
Some translations consider that verses 10-12 are the words of the man. We cannot be sure.
But in our translation, the women in Jerusalem speak the words in verse 10. As the man said in verse 9, they praise her. They compare her with four different things that give light.
Previously the man has compared her with things that give beautiful smells. And now the people compare her with things that give light. The meaning of these word pictures is probably similar. She impresses people. Her beauty, her wisdom and her kindness seem so wonderful. Everyone benefits when she is with them.
When the woman wanted to know the right time for love, the man advised her to look at nature (2:10-15). The plants and animals seem to know the right time for love. And now the young woman followed this advice. She examined the plants, as a farmer would examine them. She saw that, in Spring, they were beginning to grow. And this was like a promise that there would be fruit and nuts in the Autumn.
This is a difficult verse to understand. It seems to mean that, at once, it was time for her to enter her husband’s *chariot. That may be the carriage in 3:7. But she uses a different word for it in the original language.
It was time for her to leave with her husband. Again, she uses royal words to describe him. On this occasion, he seems like a king or a prince. And she is like the queen who rides next to him.
The woman’s friends and family do not want her to leave. She seems so wonderful that they want her to stay! They want to look at this woman who seems to give light (verse 10)! They urge her not to leave them.
They use the word *Shulamite to describe her. That may mean that she is from the town called Shulem. But the word is also the female form of the name Solomon. And Solomon is the name that the poet uses for the young man.
So when the people call her the ‘*Shulamite’, perhaps they mean this. They know that she belongs to her husband. She does not still belong to them. They have no right to order her to remain with them. They realise that she must leave. But they feel desperate for her to stay.
She does not reply. Her new husband replies on her behalf. They want to look at her as they look at a dancer. He says that her dance has a name: ‘Mahanaim’.
Mahanaim was the name of a town in Israel. The Bible mentions it in a few places. But it seems that the dance has this name because of the word’s meaning. Mahanaim means ‘two armies’ or ‘two camps’. There are many different translations of this phrase. Here are some of them:
Name of translation:
Good News Bible
I dance between the rows…
King James Version
…the company of two armies.
…the dance of two army camps.
New International Version
….the dance of Mahanaim.
So she was moving between one side and the other side. Perhaps she was actually doing this as she danced. Or perhaps this was just a word picture. She was moving from her friends and family towards her new husband. And soon she would leave them permanently to be with him.
This passage seems to continue from 6:13. The man may be describing her as she dances. But this description is different from the two previous ones (4:1-7 and 6:4-7). It is different because:
· He describes the lower part of her body for the first time. On the previous occasions, he only mentioned her head and her breasts. On this occasion, he also mentions her legs, her feet and her stomach.
· Again for the first time, he does not mention a *veil in the description.
There is probably the same reason for both of these. The man and woman are now married. They are husband and wife.
Before this chapter, the man did not consider it proper to stare at her lower body. But when they became married, he had the right to do so.
Before this chapter, she wore the *veil so that he would not see her face clearly. But after their marriage, she allowed him to see her without a *veil.
These facts are important for young men and women today. They should not just look at each other’s bodies. And they should not just undress together. They should ask themselves what is right to do. It is not right to do these things just because of your emotions. And it is not right to do them just because you love someone. This man and woman would not do these things until after their marriage. They were always very careful to behave in a proper manner.
It is clear that this is not a description of sex. She is wearing *sandals. That fact shows that it may be a description of her dance (7:1). People would often lift their clothes as they danced (2 Samuel 6:20).
Everything that he sees is beautiful. Her feet and legs seem perfect. He would not guess that she had to work outside (1:6). Her feet are like a princess’s feet!
Wine and wheat were among the most important and valuable agricultural products in Israel.
We have already seen this description in 4:5.
He said that her neck was like a *tower in 4:4. But now he improves his description. It is like the precious substance called *ivory. *Ivory is white. So perhaps the *shields in 4:4 refer to a high collar. And when she removed the collar, the skin of her neck was white. It was white although her other skin was dark because of the sun (1:6).
Heshbon is in high hills above a valley. It was at one time a royal city. There are pools in the valley near the steep path that goes into the city.
On previous occasions, the description of her hair is like a group of goats (4:1; 6:5). That seems to be a description of its length and its quality. But now he considers her to be like a queen. So he selects royal words to describe her head and her hair. Our translation says that her hair is ‘long and smooth’, like ‘silk’. But the original language says that it is ‘like something purple’. Purple was the royal colour.
The man compares her head to a crown. Or, he says, it is like the mountain called Carmel. Carmel is the richest place in its entire region. People can see it across much of Israel. Its soil is the best quality. And people produce much wine and oil there.
He completes this last description of his wife. She is very beautiful. She pleases him completely.
Next, he speaks about his desires for his wife. He says that she seems as tall as a *palm tree.
Of course, she was not really as tall as a tree! The *palm is an especially tall tree. And near the top, it carries its fruits. The fruits grow in huge groups. They hang down in the same shape as a woman’s breasts.
The *palm tree produces very much fruit. And the man wants his wife to have many, good results from her life. He wants her to have children. And of course, he wants her breasts to provide plentiful milk for them.
It is very difficult to climb a *palm tree. The person who climbs it must be brave! This man will be like the person who harvests fruit. He will achieve the best things that his relationship with his wife can bring. He knows that they will have problems and difficulties. But such matters do not frighten him. He considers his wife to be so wonderful that these problems seem unimportant to him.
She adds that her desire is to provide the best things for her husband.
This is the final form of the phrase that she used at 2:16 and 6:3. This time, she shows a mature attitude. She has made a decision to give her life to her husband. And she is very pleased that he wants her.
That is the right attitude for a wife. It is the right attitude for a husband, too. A husband should give himself completely to his wife (Ephesians 5:33).
The woman requests that she may go with her husband into the country. They need to examine the plants. This is a word picture that she used before, in 6:11. Then, she was explaining how she understood about the right time for marriage.
This time, she seems to speak about the right time to express love to her husband. The right time matters very much to a married couple who want to have children. The Bible says not to have sex during the period in the month when the woman bleeds (Leviticus 15:24). And it is wise for a woman to improve her health before she tries to have a baby. If she is too weak, the baby may not be strong enough.
Women would sometimes use the plants called mandrakes when they wanted a baby (Genesis 30:14). They were, perhaps, a type of medicine that would help the woman’s body.
The woman adds that she has many precious things for her husband. These gifts are things that are both old and new. She has saved them especially. And they are all for him.
Love is not just about the relationship between a bride and her bridegroom. It is much more wonderful even than that. In this chapter, the poet mentions some new subjects, like love between brothers and sisters. And the poet shows how love continues after marriage and even to death. Love is, he says, ‘as strong as death’ (verse 6). It seems that he wants to emphasise the greatness and the power of love.
When this chapter begins, the man and woman are already married. Some people think that they may already have children. Certainly, the woman is thinking about how children behave. She imagines herself as a little girl. She wishes that she knew her husband then! Her love for him is so wonderful. So she wishes that she had always known that love.
For a long time before their marriage, this man and woman loved each other. But they had to be very careful about their behaviour. They were anxious only to do those things that were proper. In their society, a young woman would not kiss a young man whom she liked. But a little girl can kiss her young brother. Nobody thinks that such an act is wrong. So this woman imagines that the man was her brother. Then she could have always shown love to him, even in public.
Such a little girl can show love to her brother in many different ways. She can stay with him, and she can lead him about. She can take him into her home. She can make a special drink for him.
That drink is wine. Its juice comes from *pomegranates. It contains *spices. Elsewhere in the Song, those things are all word pictures for love. So, the girl is showing love to her brother. She is showing it by her desire to look after him well. She wants him to be content and happy. So she works hard for him, and she gives him precious things. All of these things are expressions of love. And this is real love.
We must not imagine that sex is the only way to express love. And we must not imagine that we can only have real love for our husbands and wives. Sex is only for husbands and their wives. But love for brothers and sisters can be real love. Love for friends can be real love. Love for children and parents can be real love. The Bible tells us that Christians should love each other, too. We express such love when we use our lives to help other people (see verse 7).
The woman repeats her words from 2:6-7. If she were still a little girl, she could show love for her brother. But at that time, she could not show love to the man who would become her husband. Even when she became a young woman, she could not express love to him until the right time. There is a proper time for love. And she knew that she had to wait for that time. As she waited, she had to be careful about her behaviour with him. She could only marry him when the right time arrived. And only then did she have the opportunity to express her love to him completely.
As she walked, she leaned on him. She walked close to him. And she depended on his strength.
The passage that follows is difficult to understand. But it is a beautiful passage.
At its start, the passage mentions an apple tree. In 2:2-5, the woman used an apple tree as a word picture for the man. She described how she loved to sit in its shade and to eat its fruit.
Here, she links the tree with the idea of birth. The poet is showing a relationship between love and birth. The poet’s style is impressive, because in the next verse he will write about death. He is making his poem much more serious. And he achieves this very suddenly. This makes the effect even more impressive.
A *seal is a mark. Its purpose is often to show that someone owns something. The mark is permanent. The woman mentions the *seal to say that their love is permanent. It will last for their whole lives. It is so powerful that they must never end it.
Love is as strong as death. This husband and wife will love each other for as long as they both live. When one of them dies, the married relationship will end. But the love will not end. The other one might remarry. But that person’s life will always be different because of the love that the original married couple knew.
Death is powerful. It overcomes a person completely. But love is also powerful. Love also overcomes a person completely. In fact, God’s love is so powerful that in the end, it will even defeat death (John 3:16; 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 21:2-4). When Jesus became alive again after his death, he overcame the power of death (Romans 6:8-9).
Love is like fire. This is so for the same reason that love is like death. Fire too overcomes people completely. The Bible sometimes compares death to a terrible animal that eats people alive! Fire is like that too; nobody can control it. And love is like that, but of course in an opposite manner. It is powerful, but real love is always good. It always benefits people. It always helps people. It always is kind to people. Read 1 Corinthians chapter 13.
Plentiful water can put out a fire. But nothing can put out love. Nothing can destroy real love.
Love is not something that a person can buy. It is a gift. One person gives it, without price, to another person. Or God gives it, without price, to us.
Love does cost something. It costs the person who gives it. It costs that person’s life. That is so, because the person gives his or her life to another person. When a person marries, that person does not still have complete freedom. That person cannot still do whatever he or she wants to do. If a husband and wife genuinely love each other, that will affect their whole lives.
And God’s love too was not without cost. It cost the life of his son, Jesus. He gave his life for us, because he loved us. And now he wants us to invite him into our lives. He wants to have the relationship with us that only his love could provide. We cannot earn that relationship and we cannot pay for it. But we can receive it, because he offers it to us as a free gift.
After such serious matters, the poet returns to the subject of children.
The woman’s brothers were cruel to her. They forced her to work hard (1:6). But that is not a proper way for brothers to behave towards their younger sisters. It is clear from the Song that a woman’s purpose is not to live like a slave. A young woman deserves proper honour. People should respect her.
So, the people discuss the proper way to look after a girl. They try to work out how they should prepare other girls to marry well.
This sister’s breasts are still small because she is just a child. She is not old enough to marry yet. But if her family want her to marry a good husband, they should start to prepare now.
The people answer their own question.
If people want a wall to be stronger, they build a *parapet over it. If people want a door to be stronger, they put boards round it. So, the answer is clear. The family must look after the girl well. Then she will become stronger.
But the family do not just want her to be stronger. They also want her to be more beautiful. And they want her to have a more pleasant character.
If people use silver instead of stone, a wall would be very beautiful and pleasant. If people use the best wood, their door would be very beautiful and pleasant. So the family must train the girl well. And then she will become a graceful and pleasant young woman.
The young woman seems pleased with the answer that the people have given. She compares herself to a wall with strong *towers. By the *towers, she means her breasts. This is not how the man described her breasts earlier (7:3). He compared her breasts to small animals. But now she refers to something that everyone considered large.
A woman’s breasts become much larger when she produces milk for a baby. So it is possible that this verse shows that she has a baby. Not everybody agrees about that. But clearly, she is saying that her breasts are strong. And that they will make her family strong. When she does have a baby, that baby will have a good supply of milk. And, as a wall defends a city, so this woman will defend her family well.
The result of this is that she has made her husband content. He is content, and he is safe. The word ‘content’ here is the same as the word for ‘safety’ or ‘peace’. She defends her family well – they are like a peaceful city!
The woman returns to the subject of her *vineyard. She mentioned that *vineyard in 1:6.
It was not usual for women to own their own land in ancient Israel. Sometimes they might receive land after their fathers’ deaths, if they had no brothers. So we cannot really say how she began to own this land. We could guess that her father gave her the property to help her to find a husband. But that is just a guess. Ruth had rights because of her family’s property in Ruth 4:3-5.
However, the Song says that this woman had her own *vineyard. Before her marriage, she neglected it. She did not want to neglect it. But her brothers forced her to work hard for them. So she did not have any time to look after her own *vineyard.
But now, after her marriage, she can manage her *vineyard. She is not working there herself. But she has employed workmen. However, this is not just a commercial arrangement, like the royal *vineyards in verse 11. Instead, the profits are her gift to her husband (whom she calls by the king’s name, Solomon). She gives him these rich profits because she wants to give a generous gift to her husband. She loves him, and this gift shows her love.
The gift in verse 12 is very precious. But the man does not just appreciate his wife’s gifts! He genuinely loves her. He loves to hear her voice. He respects her, and he gives her honour. He asks her to end the Song.
Other people are present (verse 13), but the woman does not speak to them. Instead, she speaks only to her husband. She wants to show her love to him alone. She invites him to join her. Like the *gazelles and the *deer, he knows the right time for love. And she does too. The right time is now. And the right place is the mountains, where beautiful smells fill the air.
With that lovely picture in words, the Song ends.
bee ~ a type of insect.
cedar ~ a type of tall tree, or wood from the cedar tree.
chariot ~ a vehicle with two wheels. A horse pulls it.
dear, dearest ~ someone that you love in a special way.
deer ~ an animal.
dew ~ small amounts of water that appear on the ground during the night.
dove ~ a bird.
fig ~ a fruit.
flock ~ a group of sheep, goats or other animals.
fox ~ a wild animal that is like a small dog.
gazelle ~ an animal.
grape ~ a small soft fruit.
incense ~ a *spice that produces a sweet smell.
ivory ~ part of an elephant (called the ‘tusk’). It is hard and white. People use ivory to make beautiful things.
jewel ~ a precious stone.
leopard ~ a dangerous animal.
Lord ~ God.
lotus ~ a flower.
mandrake ~ a plant with white flowers; part of the plant can look like a person. Women used this plant when they wanted to have babies.
marble ~ a very hard material; it is a type of stone; it can have colours.
mare ~ a female horse.
myrrh ~ a substance that comes from trees; people use it in *incense.
necklace ~ precious stones that people wear on a chain or string round their neck.
palm ~ a tree.
parapet ~ a low wall at the edge of a roof.
perfume ~ a sweet smell.
pomegranate ~ a fruit which is the size of an orange.
raven ~ a black bird.
sandal ~ a shoe that is open at the top.
seal ~ a design that marks something. People use it to make an envelope, or something similar, safe.
shepherd ~ someone who looks after sheep.
shield ~ a board or a piece of metal that a soldier uses to protect himself.
Shulamite ~ the woman may be called the Shulamite because she comes from a town called Shulem. But this word is also the female form of the name, Solomon.
spice ~ a special plant that has a strong smell and taste. People use spices to make *incense and *perfume.
thorns ~ plants with sharp points that can hurt.
tower ~ a tall building.
twin ~ one of a pair - both come from one mother in one birth.
veil ~ a piece of cloth that a woman wears over her face. It is possible to see through it.
vine ~ a plant with fruit; grapes (a small, soft fruit) grow on them.
vineyards ~ a place where *vines grow.
virgin ~ a woman who has never had sex.
waist ~ the middle part of the body.
Various writings and sermons by C.H. Spurgeon, J. Wesley, G. Whitefield, H. Bonar and other important writers
Various articles from: The Temple Bible Dictionary edited by Ewing & Thomson; New International Bible Dictionary edited by D. Tenney; and the International Standard Bible Encyclopaedia edited by J. Orr
Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible by Jamieson, Fausset and Brown
Young’s Analytical Concordance
W.E. Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary of Old and New Testament Words
The New Strong’s Expanded Dictionary of Bible Words
Bibles - NIV, KJV, NKJV, TEV, LITV, RSV, occasional use of Hebrew text, and other translations
© 2016, Wycliffe Associates (UK)
This publication is in EasyEnglish Level B (2800 words).
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