THE SONG OF SOLOMON
- Year from the Creation of the World, according to Archbishop Usher, 2990.
- Year from the Flood of Noah, according to the common Hebrew text, 1334.
- Year before the birth of Christ, 1010.
- Year before the vulgar era of Christ's nativity, 1014.
The bride's love to her spouse, 1-5. She confesses her unworthiness; desires to be directed to the flock, 6,7; and she is directed to the shepherds' tents, 8. The bridegroom describes his bride, and shows how he will provide for her, and how comfortably they are accommodated, 9-17.
Notes on Chapter 1
The song of songs
A song of peculiar excellence. See the Introduction. The rabbins consider this superior to all songs. TEN songs, says the Targum, have been sung; but this excels them all. 1. The first was sung by Adam when his sin was pardoned. 2. The second was sung by Moses and the Israelites at the Red Sea. 3. The third was sung by the Israelites when they drank of the rock in the wilderness. 4. The fourth was sung by Moses when summoned to depart from this world. 5. The fifth was sung by Joshua when the sun and moon stood still. 6. The sixth was sung by Deborah and Barak after the defeat of Sisera. 7. The seventh was sung by Hannah when the Lord promised her a son. 8. The eighth was sung by David for all the mercies given him by God. 9. The ninth is the present, sung in the spirit of prophecy by Solomon. 10. The tenth is that which shall be sung by the children of Israel when restored from their captivities. See the Targum.
Let him kiss me,
She speaks of the bridegroom in the third person, to testify her own modesty, and to show him the greater respect.
Thy love is better than wine.
The versions in general translate dodeyca, thy breasts; and they are said to represent, spiritually, the Old and New Testaments.
Thy name is as ointment poured forth
Ointments and perfumes were, and still are, in great request among the Asiatics. They occur constantly in their entertainments. Thy name is as refreshing to my heart, as the best perfumes diffused through a chamber are to the senses of the guests.
Therefore do the virgins love thee.
She means herself; but uses this periphrasis through modesty.
Let me have the full assurance of thy affection.
We will run after thee
Speaking in the plural through modesty, while still herself is meant.
The king hath brought me
My spouse is a potentate, a mighty king, no ordinary person.
Into his chambers
He has favoured me with his utmost confidence.
The upright love thee.
The most perfect and accomplished find thee worthy of their highest esteem.
I am black, but comely
This is literally true of many of the Asiatic women; though black or brown, they are exquisitely beautiful. Many of the Egyptian women are still fine; but their complexion is much inferior to that of the Palestine females. Though black or swarthy in my complexion, yet am I comely-well proportioned in every part.
As the tents of Kedar
I am tawny, like the tents of the Arabians, and like the pavilions of Solomon, probably covered by a kind of tanned cloth. The daughters of Jerusalem are said to represent the synagogue; the bride, the Church of Christ. It is easy to find spiritual meanings: every creed will furnish them.
Because the sun hath looked upon me
The bride gives here certain reasons why she was dark complexioned. "The sun hath looked upon me." I am sunburnt, tanned by the sun; being obliged, perhaps, through some domestic jealously or uneasiness, to keep much without: "My mother's children were angry; they made me keeper of the vineyards." Here the brown complexion of the Egyptians is attributed to the influence of the sun or climate.
My mother's children were angry with me
Acted severely. The bringing of a foreigner to the throne would no doubt excite jealousy among the Jewish females; who, from their own superior complexion, national and religious advantages, might well suppose that Solomon should not have gone to Egypt for a wife and queen, while Judea could have furnished him with every kind of superior excellence.
Tell me-where thou feedest
This is spoken as if the parties were shepherds, or employed in the pastoral life. But how this would apply either to Solomon, or the princes of Egypt, is not easy to ascertain. Probably in the marriage festival there was something like our masks, in which persons of quality assumed rural characters and their employments. See that fine one composed by Milton, called COMUS.
To rest at noon
In hot countries the shepherds and their flocks are obliged to retire to shelter during the burning heats of the noon-day sun. This is common in all countries, in the summer heats, where shelter can be had.
One that turneth aside
As a wanderer; one who, not knowing where to find her companions, wanders fruitlessly in seeking them. It was customary for shepherds to drive their flocks together for the purpose of conversing, playing on the pipe, or having trials of skill in poetry or music. So VIRGIL:-
Forte sub arguta consederat ilice Daphnis Compulerantque greges Corydon et Thyrsis in unum: Thyrsis oves, Corydon distentas lacte capellas; Ambo florentes aetatibus, Arcades ambo, Et cantare pares, et respondere parati. ECL,. vii. v. 1.
"Beneath a holm repair'd two jolly swains: Their sheep and goats together grazed the plains; Both young Arcadians, both alike inspired To sing and answer as the song required." DRYDEN.
This does not express the sense of the original: from the different pastures in which they had been accustomed to feed their flocks, they drove their sheep and goats together for the purpose mentioned in the pastoral; and, in course, returned to their respective pasturages, when their business was over.
If thou know not
This appears to be the reply of the virgins. They know not exactly; and therefore direct the bride to the shepherds, who would give information.
I have compared thee-to a company of horses
This may be translated, more literally, "I have compared thee lesusathi, to my mare, in the chariots or courses of Pharaoh;" and so the versions understood it. Mares, in preference to horses, were used both for riding and for chariots in the East. They are much swifter, endure more hardship, and will go longer without food, than either the stallion or the gelding. There is perhaps no brute creature in the world so beautiful as a fine well-bred horse or mare; and the finest woman in the universe, Helen, has been compared to a horse in a Thessalian chariot, by Theocritus. Idyl. xviii. ver. 28:-
ωδεκαιχρυσεαελεναδιαφαινετενημιν πιειρημεγαληατανεδραμενογμοςαρουρα ηκαπωκυπαρισσοςηαρματιθεσσαλοςιππος
"The golden Helen, tall and graceful, appears as distinguished among us as the furrow in the field, the cypress in the garden, or the Thessalian horse in the chariot."
This passage amply justifies the Hebrew bard, in the simile before us. See Jeremiah 6:2.
Thy cheeks are comely
D'Arvieux has remarked that "the Arabian ladies wear a great many pearls about their necks and caps. They have golds chains about their necks which hang down upon their bosoms with strings of coloured gauze; the gauze itself bordered with zechins and other pieces of gold coin, which hang upon their foreheads and both cheeks. The ordinary women wear small silver coins, with which they cover their forehead-piece like fish scales, as this is one of the principal ornaments of their faces." I have seen their essence bottles ornamented with festoons of aspers, and small pieces of silver pearls, beads, One of these is now before me.
Borders of gold
I have observed several of the handkerchiefs, shawls, and head attire of the Eastern women, curiously and expensively worked in the borders with gold and silver, and variously coloured silk, which has a splendid effect.
While the king sitteth at his table
bimsibbo, in his circle, probably meaning the circle of his friends at the marriage festivals, or a round table.
He shall lie all night betwixt my breasts.
Mr. Harmer contends that it is the bundle of myrrh which the bride says shall lie all night betwixt her breasts, to which she compares the bridegroom, his name being as pleasing and refreshing to her mind, as the myrrh or stacte was to her senses, by its continual fragrance.
A cluster of camphire
Mr. Hasselquist supposes this to mean a bunch of the Cyprus grape; but this is supposed to mean a shrub so called, not any production of the isle of Cypress; the best kinds of which were found at En-gedi. This place belonged to the tribe of Judah.
Perhaps the poet alludes to the dark colour of the hair, which by the Greeks was not unfrequently compared to the bunches of grapes; by no means an unfit similitude for thick black clustering curls. The following lines represent the same idea:-
"The dark black locks that ornament her neck Hang thick and clustering like the branchy palm."
Thou hast doves' eyes
The large and beautiful dove of Syria is supposed to be here referred to, the eyes of which are remarkably fine.
Also our bed is green.
eres, from its use in several places of the Hebrew Bible, generally signifies a mattress; and here probably a green bank is meant, on which they sat down, being now on a walk in the country. Or it may mean a bower in a garden, or the nuptial bed.
The beams of our house are cedar
Perhaps it was under a cedar tree, whose vast limbs were interwoven with the beroth, a tree of the cypress kind, where they now sat. And this natural bower recommended itself to the poet's attention by its strength, loftiness, and its affording them a shady cover and cool retreat. How natural to break out into the praise of a bower, by whose branches and foliage we are shielded from the intense heat of the sun! Even the shelter of a great rock to a weary land is celebrated by the pen of the first of prophets and greatest of poets, Isaiah 32:2.
With this chapter the first day of the marriage ceremonies is supposed to end.