Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New TestamentSONG OF SOLOMON 8
This final chapter is more eloquent in what it does NOT say than in what is clearly declared. Note that the Shulamite is not with king Solomon. She is not in his harem. She is in her own vineyard, not in the one Solomon let out for a thousand pieces of silver.
I WISH YOU WERE LIKE MY BROTHER
Oh that thou wert as my brother, That sucked the breasts of my mother! When I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; Yea, and none would despise me. I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, Who would instruct me; I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine, Of the juice of my pomegranate. His left hand should be under my head, And his right hand should embrace me."
Balchin saw these verses as, "the maiden's soliloquy."F1 "She expresses here a longing for the closest intimacy with her lover."F2 It is difficult to see any real connection here with rest of the Song. "It may be a separate piece altogether."F3 "The Shulamite is addressing her lover on their way to the fields together; and she wishes he were as a brother, so that she might kiss him affectionately in public."F4 The background of this is that in the East brothers and sisters might show their affection in public, but not so with husbands and wives. This fragment offers no solution as to the identity of the lover, whether he is the shepherd or king Solomon; but the weight of evidence favors the shepherd. If Solomon had been the lover, he would have taken her into the royal bedroom adjacent to his harem, not into the house of the bride's mother.
THE FAMILIAR REFRAIN
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, That ye stir not up, nor awaken my love, Until he please."
This is repeated in Cant. 2:7 and Cant. 3:5. See comment under those verses. It is not clear why this refrain is repeated just here.
Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness, Leaning upon her beloved?
We have great respect for Waddey, his scholarship, insight and perception; and although we cannot agree with his interpretation here, we cite it as one view of the passage:
"Solomon appears with his bride on his arm; as the loving couple approach, Solomon points to the very spot where they first met (under the apple-tree!)."F5 To this writer, there seems to be an impossible incongruity in the king of the mightiest empire on earth seducing some country girl under an apple tree!
Our interpretation of this verse is inherent in the stark contrast with the expression in Cant. 3:6, "Who is this that cometh up from the wilderness like pillars of smoke, etc."
In Cant. 3:6, the reference was to the royal parade of the magnificent Solomon in all his glory.
Here in Cant. 8:5, the reference is to this simple maid leaning upon her shepherd lover.
Note the contrast: Solomon stands for all the worldly allurements: wealth, power, fame, glitter, pomp and circumstance, ease, luxury, ostentation, feasting, sensuality, lust and gratification. That disgusting picture answers the question in Cant. 3:6.
The Shulamite stands for simple beauty, purity, wholesomeness, fidelity, patience, true love, morality, truth, honor and holiness, representing the Church in the days of her probation, sorely tempted, wooed, solicited and flattered by the evil world, but clinging, nevertheless, to the Shepherd above who is her true love, and to whom the Church is faithful even in his absence "in the far country." This answers the question of, "WHO IS THIS"? as it appears in Cant. 8:5.
Balchin elaborates this understanding of the passage, as follows:
"The Shulamite and her shepherd lover here approach their home. The question, `who is this'? is on the lips of the villagers. The king's court with its luxuries and allurements is now far away; and she is now at home in every sense. Her shepherd lover tells how he made love to her under the apple-tree in her mother's garden."F6
THE SHEPHERD'S ACCOUNT OF HIS WOOING THE MAIDEN
Under the apple-tree, I awakened thee; There thy mother was in travail with thee, There she was in travail that brought thee forth. Set me as a seal upon thy heart, As a seal upon thine arm: For love is strong as death; Jealousy is cruel as Sheol; The flashes thereof are flashes of fire, A very flame of Jehovah. Many waters cannot quench love, Neither can floods drown it: If a man would give all the substance of his house for love, He would utterly be contemned."
All of these short paragraphs in this chapter are dramatically separated in the American Standard Version; and there remains the possibility mentioned by Jordan that, "We have here a series of lyrical fragments."F7
The most acceptable interpretation which we have encountered for this short section is that, "It has in it the deepest and most comprehensive statements concerning true love that are found in the whole Song."F8 These marvelous words about genuine love could not possibly have been uttered by a man like Solomon. These wonderful words about love would fit Solomon exactly like a diamond ring in a swine's snout. The divine jealousy concerning his Church's constancy ("Jehovah is a jealous God") appears here. The Divine love for the Church is beyond comparison. No human power can overcome it. The flood waters of death, Sheol, Satan, and all the allurements of the world and the flesh cannot dissipate the love of Christ for his Church. "And true love is not only unquenchable; it is also unpurchasable. Solomon had made every effort to buy the Shulamite's love with all the glittering luxuries of his court, but to no avail."F9
There thy mother was in travail with thee
(Cant. 8:5b). This is a reference to the bride's home place, not merely to the apple-tree in the orchard.
Here the Shulamite pleads with her lover to set her as a seal in his very heart; she has seen through all the tinsel ugliness of Solomon's ostentatious court, and here renounces all of it for the genuine and eternal love of her shepherd.
What a beautiful picture of Christ's holy Church is this? She rejects all of the golden promises of a materialistic and sensual world for that "Love of God that passeth understanding."
THE SONG OF THE LITTLE SISTER
We have a little sister, And she hath no breasts: What shall we do for our sister In the day when she shall be spoken for? If she be a wall, We will build upon her a turret of silver: And if she be a door, We will inclose her with boards of cedar. I am a wall, and my breasts like the towers [thereof] Then was I in his eyes as one that found peace.
The paragraphing we have followed here is that of the Revised Standard Version. It is not clear who the "little sister" may be. It could be that the Shulamite is merely stating the principles of the family in which she was reared. "In the days of her adolescence, they were concerned to protect her innocence and purity until she was of marriageable age. `If she be a wall,' meant that she would be strong and virtuous, and that no man would be able to seduce her. `If she be a door,' meant that she would be weak and easily `entered,' as through a door, by some seducer."F10
(Song of Solomon 8:10). I was a wall,F11 is far better here, corresponding with the past tense in the next line. This means that the Shulamite kept herself chaste and pure for the man she married.F12
Then was I in his eyes as one that found peace
(Cant. 8:10b). This means (1) either that Solomon, realizing that he cannot conquer her, desists from further amorous warfare and `calls it a day,' or (2) that she finds peace in her exclusive relationship with her true lover.F13 Our view is that both these meanings are in the passage.
Jordan mentioned the interpretation we have just written, saying that, "It seems far-fetched to make the `peace' mentioned here to mean one to whom Solomon gave peace because he could not conquer her."F14 Indeed this is so; but we have never seen any interpretation of this Song that was not far fetched! Certainly we have found no better explanation than the one offered here.
THE SHULAMITE'S INDEPENDENCE OF SOLOMON
For these two verses, we shall use the following version:
Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon; But let out the vineyard to keepers; Each one was to bring for its fruit a thousand pieces of silver. My vineyard, my very own, is for myself,' You, O Solomon, may have the thousand, And the keepers of the fruit two hundred."F15
What is the Shulamite's vineyard? "The whole spirit of this passage justifies the view that she is speaking of her own person."F16 Granting this view to be correct, Bunn's interpretation is eloquent and convincing: "Solomon's vineyard is that immense harem with a thousand women in it; the 'keepers' are the eunuchs in charge of it. Solomon can have his godless harem and all its profits. The Shulamite's `vineyard' is her own chaste and virtuous person, reserved for her lover alone."F17
It is extremely significant that the great king is not giving orders in these verses; it is the Shulamite who is `calling the shots.' This passage alone is absolute proof that Solomon did not overpower this young woman and succeed in taking her into his harem, despite his constant efforts to do so. We have encountered no convincing denial of this obvious fact.
THE ABSENT BRIDEGROOM CALLS FOR THE BRIDE TO SPEAK
Verses 13, 14
Thou that dwellest in the gardens, The companions hearken for thy voice: Cause me to hear it. Make haste, my beloved, And be thou like to a roe or to a young hart Upon the mountains of spices.
"The Song of Solomon closes here with the bridegroom's request, for the bride to speak so that his friends may hear her voice. This reflects the constant desire of Christ the heavenly Bridegroom to hear the prayers of his people.F18 Inherent in this request is the evident physical absence of the bridegroom.
Back in Cant. 8:5, the bride is seen "leaning on the arm of her lover"; but here they are separated. How is this? Christians are "with Christ" continually. We walk with him; we commune with him; and he is `with us' always (Matthew 28:18-20); and yet he is physically absent. The narrative corresponds to that paradox.
The absence of the bridegroom shows that Solomon was not the woman's lover. Solomon was present.
(Song of Solomon 8:14). Balchin catches the spirit of this perfectly: In this, the bride's final recorded response, she earnestly requests that her husband come to her with the speed and agility of a gazelle or a young stag. This anticipates the Bride of the Apocalypse and her cry, `Yea, ... come quickly. Amen; Come, Lord Jesus'! (Revelation 22:20).F19
This should be contrasted with the interpretation that must rest on these verses if the theory is received that Solomon was the woman's husband. In that case, what we would have here is a neglected, disconsolate, love-starved woman in Solomon's immense harem, pleading and waiting in vain for her jaded old lover to call her to his bed. How does that stack up against the interpretation which we have adopted here? How does the love of God for his Church appear in that comparison? (And practically all the scholars admit that this is the essential ingredient in the whole Song).
As this writer sees it, the overwhelmingly predominant question in this book is simply, "Who is the Shulamite's lover"? Solomon, or a shepherd? We sincerely believe that we have correctly answered this in seeing him as the shepherd, on the grounds of his being a far more acceptable representative of Christ than Solomon.
We confess that this does not answer all the questions, solve all the mysteries of this book, nor fit every single verse in the Song. We would welcome a better solution if we could find it. We pray that God through Jesus Christ will forgive any errors we have made or solutions which we have overlooked.
Footnotes for Song of Solomon 8
1: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 586.
2: Peake's Bible Commentary by Arthur S. Peake (Edinburgh: T. C. and E. C. Jack, Ltd., 1924), p. 423.
4: Preacher's Homiletic Commentary, Vol. 14b, p. 119.
5: James Waddey, p. 124.
6: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 586.
7: Peake's Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 423.
8: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 585.
10: James Waddey, p. 126.
11: From the Revised Standard Version.
12: James Waddey, p. 127.
13: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 587.
14: Peake's Bible Commentary, op. cit., p. 423.
15: Revised Standard Version.
16: The Pulpit Commentary, Vol. 9c, p. 184.
17: Broadman Bible Commentary (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1972), Vol. 5, p. 148.
18: The New Bible Commentary, Revised, p. 587.