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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Song of Songs 8

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On Mountains of Spices

A. The maiden's loving words.

1. (Sng 8:1-2) The maiden's passion for her beloved.

Oh, that you were like my brother,
Who nursed at my mother's breasts!
If I should find you outside,
I would kiss you;
I would not be despised.
I would lead you and bring you
Into the house of my mother,
She who used to instruct me.
I would cause you to drink of spiced wine,
Of the juice of my pomegranate.

a. Oh, that you were like my brother … If I should find you outside, I would kiss you: The maiden's idea is based on the cultural acceptance of some public displays of affection between brother and sister. She wished that she could be as open with her beloved as she would be allowed to with her actual brother.

i. "She would like the liberty in public that the brother and sister in that day had. So she wishes she could freely kiss him in public." (Kinlaw)

b. I would lead you and bring you into the house of my mother: The maiden wanted to enjoy the intimacy of married love with her beloved, but to enjoy in the context of the approval of their family. There was nothing impure or secretive about their love.

i. Lead: "The verb is used nearly ninety times in the Old Testament, with the meaning 'teach' or 'learn' … the teacher is the mother who has instructed her daughter in the 'facts of life' and it is to that 'schoolroom' she wants to return to show how well she has learned her lessons." (Carr)

ii. "In this moment of deepest intimacy, when no prying eyes are wanted, she thinks of her mother and her friends … Again we are reminded that we are social creatures inextricably bound up in a web of human relations." (Kinlaw)

iii. Spiced wine: "Wine rendered peculiarly strong and invigorating. The bride and bridegroom on the wedding day both drank out of the same cup, to show that they were to enjoy and equally bear together the comforts and adversities of life." (Clarke)

2. (Sng 8:3-4) The maiden's plea to the Daughters of Jerusalem.

His left hand is under my head,
And his right hand embraces me.
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
Do not stir up nor awaken love
Until it pleases.

a. His left hand us under my head: This phrase was used before in Song of Solomon 2:6, describing the maiden's desire for lovemaking. The idea is that the maiden is reclined and her beloved caresses her with his right hand (perhaps intimately).

b.  I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem, do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases: This is the third time that this phrase is used in the Song of Solomon (previously at 2:7 and 3:5). As in its previous usage, this idea can be understood as a plea to leave her sweet romantic dream uninterrupted. Or, it can be understood both in the context of relationship and in passion.

i. In terms of relationship it means, "Let our love progress and grow until it is matured and fruitful, making a genuinely pleasing relationship - don't let us go too fast." In terms of passion it means, "Let our love making continue without interruption until we are both fulfilled. Don't let us start until we can go all the way."

ii. "What is this warning? That love is so sacred a thing that it must not be trifled with. It is not to be sought. It stirs and awakens of itself. To trifle with the capacity for it, is to destroy that very capacity." (Morgan)

iii. "The reader having just see their lovely portrait of marriage might be tempted more than ever to force such a relationship in impatience." (Glickman)

B. Final words from the loving couple, their family, and their friends.

1. (Sng 8:5) A relative speaks to the loving couple.

Who is this coming up from the wilderness,
Leaning upon her beloved?
I awakened you under the apple tree.
There your mother brought you forth;
There she who bore you brought you forth.

a. Who is this coming up from the wilderness, leaning upon her beloved? As with a few passages in the Song of Solomon, it is difficult to say with certainty who the speaker and the intended hearer are with these words. Perhaps it is best to simply assign it to an observer, either a relative (such as the maiden's brothers who will be mentioned later) or one of the Daughters of Jerusalem.

b. Leaning upon her beloved: The idea here is not that the maiden is old and infirmed; rather that she simply accompanies her beloved and walks with him in the closeness characteristic of husband and wife.

i. Charles Spurgeon used this as a picture of the closeness and dependence of the Church upon Jesus Christ. Many things could be said as true regarding both the maiden and the people of God.

- She leaned because she was weak and needed strength.

- She leaned because the way was long.

- She leaned because the way was perilous.

- She leaned because the path was ascending, going higher and higher.

- She leaned because her progress took her more and more away from others and more and more to her beloved's side.

- She leaned because she was sure her beloved was strong enough to bear her weight.

- She leaned because she loved him.

ii. "Beloved, there is no part of the pilgrimage of a saint in which he can afford to walk in any other way but in the way of leaning. He cometh up at the first, and he cometh up at the last, still leaning, still leaning upon Christ Jesus; ay, and leaning more and more heavily upon Christ the older he grows." (Spurgeon)

c. I awakened you under the apple tree: The speaker reminds the couple of their youth and family roots. They were now grown and happily married, but still connected to and the product of their families.

i. "Or it may be understood of the following circumstance: The bridegroom found her once asleep under an apple tree, and awoke her; and this happened to be the very place where her mother, taken in untimely labour, had brought her into the world." And here the bridegroom, in his fondness and familiarity, recalls these little adventures to her memory." (Clarke)

2. (Sng 8:6-7) The maiden describes the strength of her love.

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
As a seal upon your arm;
For love is as strong as death,
Jealousy as cruel as the grave;
Its flames are flames of fire,
A most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
Nor can the floods drown it.
If a man would give for love
All the wealth of his house,
It would be utterly despised.

a. Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: Using this strong image of a seal, the maiden appeals to her beloved, asking him to recognize the permanence of their commitment.

i. Married love should be like a seal, in these sense that it speak of permanence, belonging, and security. "Her love is so total and so strong that she wants their mutual possession of each other to be as lasting as life. It is a strongly poetic demand for 'until death do us part.'" (Kinlaw)

b. For love is as strong as death: The maiden considered that love was like death in its permanence and strength. Death is strong enough to make every man answer to it; love is much the same way and the strength of romantic love is more powerful than many powerful men (Samson as one example).

c. Jealousy as cruel as the grave: It is hard to know if this was meant in a positive or a negative sense. There is a jealousy that is good and appropriate in the marriage relationship, and there is another aspect of jealousy that is corrosive and destructive. In the context, it is more likely that this speaks of the unrelenting desire for appropriate oneness that is not broken by a romantic competitor.

i. We should have a jealously in our heart regarding our love for Jesus, hating anything that might come between Him and us. He certainly has such a jealousy towards us.

ii. "Whenever love absorbs the heart, jealousy will guard the object of affection. Only let a provocation occur, something of jealousy is sure to appear. Your love to Christ especially lacks the genuine stamp if it is never roused to jealousy by the malice of foes and the faithlessness of professed friends of our Lord. Many Christians nowadays have a kind of love which is too fond of ease, and too full of compromise to kindle any jealousy in their breasts." (Spurgeon)

d. Its flames are the flames of fire, a most vehement flame: The idea is that love is like a fire, with great power and usefulness - for good or even for destruction. Love has lifted some to great heights; it has consumed others and left only ashes.

i. A most vehement flame: The Jerusalem Bible and the American Standard Version take the last syllable of the Hebrew word translated vehement flame (salhebetya) as being the divine name Yahweh, the LORD. Therefore they translate, a flame of Yahweh himself (JB) and a very flame of Jehovah (ASV). "The meaning could be 'love is a flame which has its origin in God'; while this is technically true, the fact that this is the only place in the Song a possible use of the divine name appears militates against this understanding of the final syllable. More likely, this is simply a use of a standard idiom for the superlative." (Carr)

ii. "More forcible is the language of the original - 'The coals thereof are the coals of God,' - a Hebrew idiom to express the most glowing of all flames - 'the coals of God!' as though it were no earthly flame, but something far superior to the most vehement affection among men." (Spurgeon)

iii. "The love on which a beautiful love is built is a persevering flame burning as brightly at the beginning as it does later on." (Glickman)

e. If a man would give for love all the wealth of his house, it would be utterly despised: This phrase reflects the sentiment of a popular song from many years ago, that "money can't buy me love." Love has its own economy, often dramatically separate from our normal financial reckonings.

i. If a man did give for love all the wealth of his house, "He would be despised for reducing love and the person from which it comes to an object. If you set the price of love at a billion dollars, you would then reduced it to nothing. By its very nature love must be given. Sex can be bought; love must be given." (Glickman)

ii. All in all, these verses give us four remarkable pictures of love:

- Love is like a seal on the heart and arm. Therefore, love belongs to those who are willing to give up something of themselves to another person who is also willing to give up something of themselves.

- Love is like death, in that it is persistent and keeps reaching out; it is total and irreversible. Therefore, the bond of love needs to be nourished and regarded as permanent.

- Love is like a raging fire and cannot be extinguished. Therefore, one must take care how, where, and with whom the spark of love is ignited.

- Love cannot be bought or sold; it is not a piece of merchandise. Therefore, love must be appreciated for its great value and not be taken for granted.

3. (Sng 8:8-9) The maiden's brothers.

We have a little sister,
And she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
In the day when she is spoken for?
If she is a wall,
We will build upon her
A battlement of silver;
And if she is a door,
We will enclose her
With boards of cedar.

a. We have a little sister, and she has no breasts: The idea is that Song of Solomon 8:8-9 is a look back at a planning session held by the maiden's brothers when she was still a fairly young girl. They recognized that they had a responsibility towards her; to plan ahead for the day she would be spoken for - the day of her marriage.

i. Upon this verse, the Puritan John Trapp made a curious comment by allegory: "A society of men without the preaching of the Word is like a mother of children without breasts."

ii. Matthew Poole had another allegorical idea: "This signifies the present doleful state of the Gentiles, which as yet were not grown up into a church estate, and wanted the milk or food of life, as for itself, so also for its members."

b. What shall we do for our sister in the day when she is spoken for? The idea is that the brothers wondered what they could do to prepare and protect their sister before her eventual marriage (when she is spoken for).

i. We might normally think that this supervisory role would be more assumed by a father in the family instead of brothers. There is no certain explanation as for why the father is not mentioned in this context; there could be any number of reasons.

ii. "Shulamith's brothers took their responsibility seriously, for long before she was of marriageable age they determined to keep her pure for her husband (Song of Solomon 8:9). They resolved to provide guidance and positive pressure to help Shulamith remain a virgin." (Estes)

c. If she is a wall, we will build upon her … and if she is a door, we will enclose her: The brothers wisely decided to guide and help their sister according to her own character and choices. If she were like a wall that stood effectively against despoilers and exploiters, they would reward, encourage, and build upon her. If she were more like a door allowing unwise access, they would then restrict her freedoms in her own self-interest (we will enclose her).

i. "If she be a wall, built upon the true foundation, strong and stable, she shall be adorned and beautified with battlements of silver; but if unstable and easily moved to and fro like a door, such treatment will be as impossible as unsuitable; she will need to be inclosed with boards of cedar, hedged in with restraints, for her own protection." (Taylor)

ii. "If she could handle responsibility, they would give it to her; if not, she would be restricted." (Glickman)

iii. This presents a principle that is often overlooked in the western world and dangerously over-emphasized in other parts of the world: that the family has a shared responsibility for the purity and romantic supervision of the young of the family.

4. (Sng 8:10) The maiden answers her brothers.

I am a wall,
And my breasts like towers;
Then I became in his eyes
As one who found peace.

a. I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers: In response to the statement of the brothers the maiden - perhaps leaving the retrospective remembrance and thinking of her present maturity and honorable courtship and marriage - reminds her brothers that in the descriptions they offered (wall or door in Song of Solomon 8:9), she was and is definitely a strongly defended wall, even with the strength of towers.

i. The phrase "my breasts like towers" does not intend to describe the appearance of her figure, but simply connects with the idea of a wall used in this and the previous verse. Her honor was strongly defended.

ii. "She herself had chosen to be a wall. And finally she grew up. Her breasts were like towers. The towers were the fortresses of the land. They inspired a somber appreciation from the citizens and a healthy respect from their enemies." (Glickman)

b. Then I became in his eyes as one who found peace: The maiden described her married state. Her blessedness could be described as making her as one who found peace. There was a peace, a well-being, a security in her life, flowing in part from the health of her marriage.

i. Then I became in his eyes as one who found peace: This slightly changes a familiar Old Testament expression - to find grace in the eyes of the LORD (as in Genesis 6:8 in reference to Noah). "Frequently, as in this case, it refers to a girl finding love in the eyes of a man. She is said to have fond grace in his eyes. So when this young girl says she has found peace in his eyes, she is saying that she has found romance in Solomon's eyes." (Glickman)

ii. We dare not miss the connection between the wise and noble defense of her honor and virginity described in these and the previous verses, and the health and peace she now found in married life. Her wall-like character was an important part of the foundation for the blessed married life she now enjoyed.

iii. It was also important that her family encouraged this concern and character development in her from a young age. One reason this is important is that once we experience something - such as premarital sex - the temptation to do it again will be stronger. This is confirmed by not only experience, but also by neurobiology. When we get a chemical/hormonal/biological rush from a physically pleasurably experience, it builds brain circuits that look for a repeat of the same rush. The body also compensates by decreasing the production and contribution of natural and healthy chemical/hormonal/biological agents.

iv. In all this, medial research agrees with the Bible: His own iniquities entrap the wicked man, and he is caught in the cords of his sin (Proverbs 5:22). If we fail to be a wall against certain sins, we will be caught in the cords of those sins, and never know the goodness of becoming as one who found peace.

5. (Sng 8:11-12) The maiden understands her value.

Solomon had a vineyard at Baal Hamon;
He leased the vineyard to keepers;
Everyone was to bring for its fruit
A thousand silver coins.
My own vineyard is before me.
You, O Solomon, may have a thousand,
And those who tend its fruit two hundred.

a. Solomon had a vineyard … he leased the vineyard to keepers: The idea in these verses seems to be an appreciation of the cost and value of something. Solomon's vineyard had value, and so it cost something to use it.

b. My own vineyard is before me: The maiden recognized her own value, and after defending her honor and virginity both in her youth and courtship, she was then able to freely and rightly give it to Solomon (You, O Solomon, may have a thousand).

i. "Her own vineyard represents her own person (Song of Solomon 1:6; 2:15). Its 'position' before her emphasizes that she is under her free direction to do with herself as she pleases." (Glickman) And, she chose to give herself to Solomon, her beloved. The entire value of it (a thousand silver coins) was given to him.

ii. The attitude of the maiden is quite different than most people in modern western culture. She saw genuine value in both her virginity and more importantly in herself. She was not to be cheaply and easily given away; and therefore she found a man who truly valued her, estimating her worth correctly and highly.

iii. "Shulamith's life was her vineyard. Because she was pure, she could give herself entirely to her husband. Her heart was undivided, and her body was not tainted by premarital sex." (Estes)

iv. "There is always the possibility, though difficult for us, that the reference to Solomon's vineyard is to be taken literally while the reference to the spouse's vineyard is metaphorical. Jesus did the same kind of thing when he said, 'Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days' (John 2:19)." (Kinlaw)

v. "There are a great many people, who seem to forget that they have a vineyard of their own to keep; or else, if they remember it, they cannot say, 'My vineyard, which is mine, is before me,' for they go about gazing on other people's vineyards, instead of keeping their eyes fixed upon their own. They say, 'Look at So-and-so's vineyard; I don't think he trims his vines in the new style.'" (Spurgeon)

c. And those who tend its fruit two hundred: It is a little difficult to understand exactly what the maiden refers to here. In context, it is probably a way of giving credit to her brothers, for their concern and effort in guarding her honor before marriage.

i. "The probability is that references that were easily understandable when written have become problems for us because of distance and its accompanying ignorance of ancient customs." (Kinlaw)

ii. By analogy, Charles Spurgeon considered that those who tend its fruit were pastors and ministers of the gospel, and that they also were due their own two hundred. He thought this spoke of the responsibility of a congregation to support their minister.

iii. "I may, perhaps, have some members of country churches present, who are not kind to their minister. I can speak plainly upon this point, because my people are almost too kind to me; but I say to members of other churches, - Take care of your minister, for you will never get a blessing unless you are kind to him whom God has set over you. If your minister does not have his two hundred, - that is, if he has not your love and respect, and if you do not give him sufficient to keep him above want, - you cannot expect the Spirit of God to work with you. I believe there are scores of churches in which no good is ever done, for this very reason. God says, 'You starve my minister, so I will starve you. You find fault with him, and quarrel with him; then I will find fault with you, and quarrel with you. There shall be no blessing upon you; you shall be like Gilboa, there shall be neither dew nor rain upon you.'" (Spurgeon)

6. (Sng 8:13) The beloved answers his maiden.

You who dwell in the gardens,
The companions listen for your voice-
Let me hear it!

a. You who dwell in the gardens: This seems to be the beloved addressing the maiden with this title. She could be called one who did dwell in the gardens, in places of delight, well-cared for, and associated with their love (Song of Solomon 4:12-16, 6:2, 6:11).

i. "In these last two verses we 'overhear' Solomon and Shulamith whispering tenderly to each other." (Estes)

ii. Because her husband, the beloved, cherished her so much her life was indeed as pleasant as a garden. Dr. Jeff Schloss noted how important it was for a wife to feel this, explaining that husbands and wives rank their happiness in correlation to how much they believe they are loved and cherished by their spouse. Wives who do not have the confidence that they are loved and cherished by their husband in fact dies sooner, and they die sooner than single women. These findings are true across cultures.

b. Let me hear it! Though others also enjoyed the company of the maiden (the companions listen for your voice), the beloved longed to enjoy the blessing of oneness and companionship with his maiden. Therefore he asked to hear her voice in a place fond to their remembrance.

i. Some believe that these last two verses speak of a separation between the maiden and her beloved; some business or necessity has kept them apart. She is safe and blessed in the gardens, and here the beloved longs to hear her voice. If so, then these closing verses show the relationship strong and blessed, even when the couple cannot be together as much as they would like to be.

ii. "In other words- when I am far away from thee, fill thou this garden with my name, and let thy heart commune with me." (Spurgeon)

7. (Sng 8:14) The maiden calls out to her beloved.

Make haste, my beloved,
And be like a gazelle
Or a young stag
On the mountains of spices.

a. Make haste, my beloved: If we take the suggestion that these last verses speak of a necessary separation between the maiden and the beloved, then this is her response to his desire to hear her voice once again (Song of Solomon 8:13). She calls for him to make haste so they can be reunited.

i. Thus we see that the Song of Solomon closes with the same sense of passion and intensity with which it opened. It reminds us that though the relationship between the maiden and the beloved and aged and matured, it had not lost its passion and excitement.

ii. "In every way we have seen a marriage in maturity. In their more intimate sexual experience, in the greater security of the wife, in her playful freedom to initiate love, and finally in the fullness of their relationship the poet has sketched a revealing portrait of the model couple." (Glickman)

iii. If we make the analogy to the relationship between Jesus and His people, then we can say that the words "Make haste" speak of her desire for His soon return. "I believe that our relationship to the Second Advent of Christ may be used as a thermometer with which to tell the degree of our spiritual heat. If we have strong desires, longing desires, burning desires, for the coming of the Lord, we may hope that it is well with us; but if we have no such desires, I think, at best, we must be somewhat careless; perhaps, to take the worst view of our case, we are sadly declining in grace." (Spurgeon)

b. And be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spices: Previously the maiden thought of her beloved as like a gazelle or a young stag upon the mountains of Bether. Here the similar idea is connected with mountains of spices.

i. Spices speak of beauty, of fragrance, of value, of wealth, of sweetness; and these are mountains of spices! This was how great, how precious, how wonderful their relationship was to the maiden. No wonder she longed for his soon return.

ii. "The final invitation is to a continued celebration of the love and communion which the happy couple shares. The joys of physical union and mutual enjoyment are stamped with God's approval, for the Song of Songs is part of his holy Word." (Carr)

iii. "The figures of the deer and the mountains of spices symbolize for the last time the lover and his beloved. Restraints are gone. He is hers and she is his. They are free to pursue those delights of love that image a love to come for every believer." (Kinlaw)

©2008 David Guzik - No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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