Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Song of Songs: Chapter 1

1: The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's.

This is a classic method of giving authorship to a famous person. Scholars agree that this does not make the poem about Solomon or by him.

2: O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth! For your love is better than wine,
3: your anointing oils are fragrant, your name is oil poured out; therefore the maidens love you.

Take a moment to think about a simple kiss. The kiss is in all cultures a seal. It is a seal of trust and union. This is going to be a strange comparison in a biblical commentary, but if people remember the movie Pretty Woman there is a connection. In the movie the prostitute will not kiss people because it is too personal. Anything else, but not a kiss. A simple kiss is more intimate than anything else.

You may kiss the bride. It is a seal of the sacramental marriage. It is A union of two people where the breath of life enters and exits the body. There is nothing simple about a kiss. In many liturgies there is a kiss of peace. At the sign of peace in church my wife and I kiss each other. The poem does not begin with lurid description. The kiss is not a carnal exchange, but a seal. The desire for a kiss is a sign to the reader that this is love.

Your name is oil poured out. Christ, the anointed one.

4: Draw me after you, let us make haste. The king has brought me into his chambers. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.

Draw me after you. As Christ says we will be drawn to Him by the Father. We will rejoice in our savior because rightly do we love Him.

5: I am very dark, but comely, O daughters of Jerusalem, like the tents of Kedar, like the curtains of Solomon.
6: Do not gaze at me because I am swarthy, because the sun has scorched me. My mother's sons were angry with me, they made me keeper of the vineyards; but, my own vineyard I have not kept!

The sections that mention the dark skin of the woman is not an indication of race. Almost all scholars agree that the dark skin is indicates that the woman labors outside. Pale skin is a sign of wealth and station because you did not have to work out in the sun. Dark skin shows that you engage in manual labor. The request in this verse is to look past the surface. Look at the true person of your love and not their station in life.

Another view is that the bride (in the role of God's people) is dark because of sin. But God looks past our flaws. He frees us from sin. We are sinner, but beautiful to God, who lifts us out of sin.

For those curious the Kedar region was known for making their tent from black goat hair, hence the comparison to the tents of Kedar.

7: Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon; for why should I be like one who wanders beside the flocks of your companions?

The shepherd, it is an image that is never far away from the Christian heart (PS 23:1, Jn 1:39). This is the search for Christ. Tell me O’ Lord where to find you and I will follow. Why should I wander by the flocks of others my Christ when I am yours. It is the cry of faithfulness in marriage. She wants no other. She does not want the union others have, but the one meant for her and her beloved.

A line of utmost beauty: “Tell me you whom my soul loves…”

The love of my soul. This is not a love only of the flesh, based in immediate desire. This is the love at the core of a person. This is an eternal love. It is God’s eternal love for his people. It is the love of sacramental marriage that forsakes all others and joins two into one.

8: If you do not know, O fairest among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your kids beside the shepherds' tents.

This interplay between the shepherd and his love is at heart a reminder of Jacob and Rachel. These verses reach deep into the history of Israel. Genesis Chapter 29 tells the story of Jacob serving Laban for the hand of Rachel. The imagery of the lover being a shepherd reverses the roles. Israel becomes Rachel, searching for the divine shepherd and their shared love.

One of the most simple and beautiful lines of scripture comes from this story.

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.
Genesis 29:20

9: I compare you, my love, to a mare of Pharaoh's chariots.
10: Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.
11: We will make you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.

In the culture of ancient Israel the bride was adorned with jewels. Even the poor found a way to adorn a bride in finery. But here, after the desire to look past the obvious toward the soul, the bride is the jewel. This thought, and the previous plea of the woman to look past the surface is echoed in 1 Peter 3-4:

Let not yours be the outward adorning with braiding of hair, decoration of gold, and wearing of fine clothing, but let it be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable jewel of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious.

Here, in the perfection of union, there is the surface and the soul as one. There is no difference. The body and the soul are in union with each other like the glorified body of the Risen Christ. The Body is sanctified.

12: While the king was on his couch, my nard gave forth its fragrance.
13: My beloved is to me a bag of myrrh, that lies between my breasts.
14: My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Enge'di.

Myrrh releases it’s scent most efficiently when heat is applied. Many who read the poem pause here. A holy book has mentioned breasts. Yes. Yes it has: Breasts that nurse a child, Breasts that reside above the area of the heart. Her lover is placed above her heart and resides there.

15: Behold, you are beautiful, my love; behold, you are beautiful; your eyes are doves.
16: Behold, you are beautiful, my beloved, truly lovely. Our couch is green;
17: the beams of our house are cedar, our rafters are pine

At the end of chapter one, the lovers, live in nature. It is their home. It is a garden, a new garden like the one we had in the beginning. Eden is restored by this love, by the union of Christ and His people. It is restored by the union of sacramental marriage. And the last verses of chapter one hold the echo:

Behold you are beautiful my beloved, truly lovely.


The first chapter introduces us to the man and the woman. We see their love for each other in it’s purity. We see their total desire for each other as a call to mutual unity. There is the point to look past the outside to the inner self and the Love of the soul. There is the redemption of the body and the unity of the body and soul in the Risen Lord.

This chapter is the marriage proposal. It holds the promise of Christ and the deep history of Israel. Nature in the chapter, so corrupted by sin, is restored.


CMinor said...

I jumped over from Neferteeti and will be reading your posts on this with interest. Mo's commentary sent me back to the Song as well! Having read the section he cited, I've got some ideas on where it's coming from so I'd love to hear what the scholars have to say.

DavidNic said...

I hope I do a good job. Feel free to add comments at any time.

The Song is really beautiful and has so many levels.

Bent El Neel said...

Excellent job David. Thank you for your fine work.

I'd like to post a link to this so that more people can have the chance to share in this marvellous effort.

Bless you always:)

DavidNic said...

Thanks! As always, you may link to anyting I put up over here.