Song of Songs 4 – “Praise and Desire”

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I. Summary
The man praises his lover’s body. He then attempts to woo her, and she reciprocates.

II. Photo
The man speaks to his lover in v. 1: “Ah, you are fair, my darling, Ah, you are fair. Your eyes are like doves Behind your veil…”

III. Important Verses

v. 1: Ah, you are fair, my darling, Ah, you are fair. Your eyes are like doves Behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats Streaming down Mount Gilead.
v. 5: Your breasts are like two fawns, Twins of a gazelle, Browsing among the lilies.
v. 7: Every part of you is fair, my darling, There is no blemish in you.
vv. 10-11: How sweet is your love, My own, my bride! How much more delightful your love than wine, Your ointments more fragrant Than any spice! Sweetness drops From your lips, O bride; Honey and milk Are under your tongue; And the scent of your robes Is like the scent of Lebanon.
v. 16: Awake, O north wind, Come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, That its perfume may spread. Let my beloved come to his garden And enjoy its luscious fruits!

IV. Outline

1-7. The man tells his lover abour her beauty
    1a. Introduction
    1b-5. Praise of eyes, hair, teeth, mouth, face, neck, and breasts
    6. Declaration of intent
    7. Conclusion
8-15. The man’s song of admiration
    8. Invitation
    9-15. Descriptive metaphors
16. The woman invites the man

V. Comment
Chapter 4 contains two major units: the man’s description of his lover’s body (vv. 1-7), and the man’s song of admiration for his lover accompanied by her response (vv. 8-16). In terms of structure, the chapter contains the following inclusios: (1) v. 1 says hinnakh yafah “Ah, you are fair” and v. 7 says kullakh yafah “Every part of you is fair,” (2) v. 8 says itiy milevanon “From Lebanon come with me” and v. 11 says kereach levanon “like the scent of Lebanon,” and (3) v. 12 says gan na’ul “A garden locked” and v. 16 says ma‘yan gannim “a garden spring.” In regards to genre, Murphy writes that the first section is “a description of the physical beauty of one’s beloved. Such a description, which enumerates parts of the body in sequence, has become known by the Arabic term wasf. It has a long history in the Near East” (p. 114). For other examples of wasf in the Song of Songs, see 5:10-16 and 7:1-6.

The man invites the woman in v. 8: “From Lebanon come with me; From Lebanon, my bride, with me! Trip down from Amana’s peak, From the peak of Senir and Hermon, From the dens of lions, From the hills of leopards.” What does the mentioning of a mountain indicate? Also, are the lions and leopards significant? Garrett thinks that mountains and lions were associated with Ishtar, the Mesopotamian goddess of love and sexuality. He writes (p. 192, parentheses removed): “This strophe depicts the woman in goddesslike terms. She is high in the mountains of the north where she dwells with lions and leopards. Keel points out that the Anti-Lebanon range is the highest in the vicinity of Israel, attaining to a height of 3,088 meters above sea level… Keel also notes that cylinder seals from the Akkad period (ca. 2200) depict Ishtar ascending a mountain or standing with her foot on the back of a leashed lion, and he reproduces an Egyptian image of a nude goddess standing on a lion.” Thus, it is possible that the man is alluding to a conventional love motif when he speaks of mountains and lions.

The chapter is permeated with metaphors, many of which sound strange. For example, v. 2 says: “Your teeth are like a flock of ewes Climbing up from the washing pool; All of them bear twins, And not one loses her young.” Garrett tries to explain this phenomenon. He writes (p. 199): “A man from the southern United States might well compare his beloved’s beauty to that of a magnolia blossom or declare that his love for her is as enduring as the flow of the Mississippi. A man from Colorado or Alberta might in his mind merge his love for his wife with his love for the Rocky Mountains. A man from the coast of Maine might experience something of the same feelings when he looks at waves breaking into stony cliffs or smells the sea air as when he looks upon his wife or smells her fragrance. This does not mean that the woman is an allegory for these regions or that the local natural history is an allegory for the woman. Still less does it mean that the woman actually looks like or smells like the regional metaphors. One’s love of homeland is often localized in particulars—the bluebonnet flowers of Texas, the desert flora of Arizona, or the magpies of Korea. When a man loves his wife and loves his homeland, the two loves can merge in a way that is complementary and not competitive. So strong is this bond that a soldier at war in a distant land may perceive himself to be fighting to protect wife and country almost as though they were one and the same… For us who are outsiders to the ancient land of Israel and its pastoral ways, many of these comparisons sound strange if not comical. But for the audience that knew and loved this land and its ways, his praise of her would have been evocative of deep sentiments and thus would have told them why the man so loved this woman. Love for one’s spouse, like love for one’s homeland, is specific and bound to particulars.”

Before finishing the comment, it is important to note that the word kallah “bride” appears five times in vv. 8-12 (it appears once more in 5:1). Indeed, Hakham titles this chapter “The Bride’s Praise.” Garrett belives that “this canto depicts a bridegroom calling his new bride on their wedding night to their first union. He tenderly woos her, in effect seducing her rather than simply claiming his right as husband to her body… The point is that to truly be a bride she must descend to him and open her garden to him. Finally in Song 5:1, at the celebration of their sexual union (as I interpret it), he calls her “bride” for the last time. From that point forward, she is no longer a bride but a wife.”

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Murphy, Wisdom Literature (Forms of Old Testament Literature)
Hakham, Chamesh Megillot: Shir Hashirim (Daat Mikra [Hebrew])
Garrett, Song of Songs (Word Biblical Commentary)

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