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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Song of Songs 3

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A Troubled Night, A Glorious Wedding Procession

A. The maiden searches for her beloved.

1. (Sgs 3:1-3) The restless maiden searches for her beloved.

By night on my bed I sought the one I love;
I sought him, but I did not find him.
“I will rise now,” I said,
“And go about the city;
In the streets and in the squares
I will seek the one I love.”
I sought him, but I did not find him.
The watchmen who go about the city found me;
I said,
“Have you seen the one I love?”

a. By night on my bed I sought the one I love: The maiden woke in the middle of the night and instantly felt alone, longing for her beloved. She sought him but could not find him anywhere in the house.

i. This snapshot probably records another dream or daydream of the maiden, as in the previous chapter. With this section ending with her addressing her companions, we don’t imagine that they haunted or stalked this loving couple with their actual presence at their intimacy.

ii. Since this is likely another dream or daydream of the maiden, it doesn’t matter if she recorded it as a married woman or yet-to-be-married maiden. She had the longings of a married woman (that her beloved would share her home and her bed), but did not act upon those longings until married.

iii. These lines do record the sexual longing of the maiden, and this is indicated by the particular term used for bed: “This is the common word for bed, distinct from the word for ‘couch’ in Sgs 1:16. In Ezekiel 23:17 the connotation is ‘love bed’, and in Genesis 49:4 and Numbers 31:17ff is used with overt sexual meaning. This is its only use in the Song.” (Carr)

iv. This connotation of the word for bed reminds us of Hebrews 13:4: Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge. The Bible consistently condemns sex outside of the marriage commitment (fornicators and adulterers God will judge). But the Bible celebrates sexual love within the commitment of marriage, as indicated in The Song of Solomon.

b. I sought him, but did not find him: The maiden always longed for her beloved and wanted him close. Yet now, in the middle of the night, she felt the longing more intensely. She felt alone and longed for his presence, so she imagined herself seeking after him.

i. Sought: “Very common in the Old Testament, and is used both literally and figuratively. It is always a conscious act, frequently requiring a great deal of effort (e.g. 1 Samuel 10:14; Proverbs 2:4) but with no guarantee of success.” (Carr)

ii. “This is very natural and very beautiful. Love creates a perpetual dread lest the loved one should be lost.” (Morgan) “Love not only brings a greater experience of joy, but a deeper capacity for pain as well. So as the joy of the kings’ presence became greater, so the sorrow from his absence became deeper.” (Glickman)

iii. The maiden allowed herself to feel needy without feeling helpless. She felt that she needed her beloved, and did not have an artificial sense of self-sufficiency. The maiden did not feel it was a bad thing for her to need her beloved.

iv. There is something good in the maiden’s seeking of her beloved; yet it came after their relationship was well established. The relationship did not begin nor was it founded upon her pursuit of him.

v. “With what constancy she sought this communion. She began at dead of night, as indeed it is never too late to seek renewed fellowship. Yet she sought on. The streets were lonely, and it was a strange place for a woman to be at such a strange time, but she was too earnest in seeking to be abashed by such circumstances.” (Spurgeon)

c. I will rise... and go about the city... I will seek the one I love: This emphasizes the urgency and depth of her seeking. She was safe (even under the supervision of the watchmen), but they could not help her find her beloved, even at her request.

i. “She did not sit down, and say to any one of them, “O watchman of the night, thy company cheers me! The streets are lonely and dangerous; but if thou art near, I feel perfectly safe, and I will be content to stay awhile with thee.” Nay, but she leaves the watchmen, and still goes along the streets until she finds him whom her soul loveth.” (Spurgeon)

ii. “It is probable that, lighting upon these watchmen, she promised herself much counsel and comfort from them, but was disappointed. It pleaseth God many times to cross our likeliest projects, that himself alone may be leaned upon.” (Trapp)

2. (Sgs 3:4) Finding her beloved.

Scarcely had I passed by them,
When I found the one I love.
I held him and would not let him go,
Until I had brought him to the house of my mother,
And into the chamber of her who conceived me.

a. I found the one I love: She dreamt that her diligent search was rewarded. Though the watchmen mentioned in the previous verse could not help her, she nevertheless found the one she loved.

i. It is repeated four times in these first four verses: the one I love. This is how she thought of her special man.

b. I held him and would not let him go: It is easy to picture the relieved maiden clinging to her beloved, feeling calmed and secure in his embrace.

i. Would not let him go: It seems to have been the same kind of embrace that Mary Magdalene had upon Jesus when she first saw her resurrected Lord (John 20:16-17).

ii. In either interpreting or applying Song of Solomon 3:1-4 to the relationship between Jesus and His people, many commentators have noted that this is an example of how the believer, under some sense of separation from Jesus, must seek after Him.

iii. “When, either in a dream, or in reality we lose our sense of His presence, let us search for Him; and then in the finding, with new devotion, let us hold Him, and refuse to let Him go.” (Morgan)

c. Until I had brought him to the house of my mother: The maiden dreamed of bringing her beloved home with her, to always be together with him – and to enjoy the intimacy of the chamber of her mother’s home.

i. “Still clinging to him, she leads him gently but forcefully to her mother’s house and into the maternal bedroom.” (Carr)

ii. The fact that it is in the house of her mother shows that she expected it to be when they were in fact married, and not as a pre-marital sexual rendezvous. “That there I might entertain and embrace him, and gain my mother’s consent, and so proceed to the consummation of the marriage.” (Poole)

iii. “She is not looking for an illicit consummation of their love. Consummation she wants, but even in her dream she wants the consummation to be right. Where in human literature does one find a text so erotic and yet so moral as this?” (Kinlaw)

iv. “This passage may also reflect ancient Israelite marital customs now unknown to us. Perhaps we should notice that Isaac brought Rebekah into the tent of his mother, even though Sarah was deceased, and there consummated their marriage (Genesis 24:67).” (Kinlaw)

v. Applying this symbolically, Charles Spurgeon noted the steps of the maiden’s progress towards her beloved:

· She loved him.
· She sought him.
· She found him not.
· She found him.
· She held him.
· She brought him.

vi. Spurgeon also made great application of the fact that the maiden held him and would not let him go. “Mark, that according to the text, it is very apparent that Jesus will go away if he is not held. ‘I held him and I would not let him go;’ as if he would have gone if he had not been firmly retained. When he met with Jacob that night at the Jabbok, he said, ‘Let me go.’ He would not go without Jacob’s letting him, but he would have gone if Jacob had loosed his hold. The patriarch replied, ‘I will not let thee go, except thou bless me.’ This is one of Christ’s ways and manners; it is one of the peculiarities of his character. When he walked to Emmaus with the two disciples, ‘he made as if he would have gone further:’ they might have known it was none other than the Angel of the Covenant by that very habit. He would have gone further, but they constrained him, saying, ‘Abide with us for the day is far spent.’ If you are willing to lose Christ’s company he is never intrusive, he will go away from you, and leave you till you know his value and begin to pine for him. ‘I will go,’ says he, ‘and return to my place, till they acknowledge their offense, and seek my face: in their affliction they will seek me early.’ He will go unless you hold him.” (Spurgeon)

· Jesus must be held; He will go unless you hold Him.
· Jesus is willing to be held; He is not trying to escape us.
· Jesus can be held; He we can grasp Him by faith.
· Jesus Himself must be held; not merely a creed, tradition, or a ceremony.

3. (Sgs 3:5) An exhortation to the maiden’s companions.

I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
By the gazelles or by the does of the field,
Do not stir up nor awaken love
Until it pleases.

a. I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem: This exhortation to the daughters of Jerusalem is another reminder that this section is to be understood as a dream or daydream of the maiden. We are not to imagine the couple together in the intimacy described in the previous lines with the daughters of Jerusalem observing.

b. By the gazelles or by the does of the field: This poetic phrasing (first found in Song of Solomon 2:7) surely sounded more natural and meaningful to the first readers of the Song of Solomon than it does to us

c. Do not stir up nor awaken love until it pleases: 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.”

B. The spectacular arrival of the wedding party.

1. (Sgs 3:6-8) Solomon’s entourage brings the maiden to the wedding.

Who is this coming out of the wilderness
Like pillars of smoke,
Perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
With all the merchant’s fragrant powders?
Behold, it is Solomon’s couch,
With sixty valiant men around it,
Of the valiant of Israel.
They all hold swords,
Being expert in war.
Every man has his sword on his thigh
Because of fear in the night.

a. Who is this coming out of the wilderness: The immediate impression upon reading this is to think that this is the beloved (Solomon) making a dramatic appearance. Yet the ancient Hebrew word translated this is in the feminine singular; the question “Who is this?” is properly answered, “It is the maiden arriving in Solomon’s palanquin, for the wedding described at the end of the chapter.”

i. Kinlaw explains that the word translated “this” is in the feminine singular, and believes it refers to the maiden herself. “It is obviously a wedding procession... our picture is of the groom and his men bringing his bride from her home to his city for the wedding.” (Kinlaw)

ii. The other times this question is asked (Who is this?) in Song of Solomon, the answer is the “the maiden” (see Song of Solomon 6:10 and 8:5). “In either case it cannot be Solomon (or the ‘king’) who is described.” (Carr)

iii. Notably, she came out of the wilderness, “From whence we little expected to see so beautiful and glorious bride to come, such persons being usually bred in courts or noble cities.” (Poole)

iv. “And, doubtless, whenever God shall be pleased to bring forth his Church in power, and to make her mighty among the sons of men, the ignorance of men will be discovered breaking forth in yonder, for they will say, ‘Who is this?'” (Spurgeon)

b. Like pillars of smoke, perfumed: This adds to the idea of the dignity and impressive character of Solomon’s entourage, which was then given to the maiden to bring her to her wedding. She seems to rejoice in this, and happily describes the group as they arrive, complete with the valiant of Israel.

i. The apocryphal, inter-testament book 1 Macabees described a similar wedding party: “Where they lifted up their eyes, and looked, and, behold, there was much ado and great carriage: and the bridegroom came forth, and his friends and brethren, to meet them with drums, and instruments of music, and many weapons.” (1 Macabees 9:39).

ii. This whole procession was very impressive. It even was filled with sacred and sacrificial significance, indicated by the description “perfumed with myrrh and frankincense.” “Although this form occurs only here, the word occurs elsewhere about 115 times with the meaning ‘go up in smoke’ or ‘make (a sacrifice) go up in smoke’.” (Carr) The idea is that the smell of myrrh and frankincense comes from their burning in a sacrificial sense, as an offering of incense.

iii. Solomon’s couch uses a different word than in Song of Solomon 3:1, and does not have a sexual connotation.

iv. “There is no reason though why [this] should not be read as it normally is and refer to the maiden. If so, we have the scene where the groom has sent for his bride, and she comes properly perfumed in a magnificently appropriate carriage and with an impressive array of protecting attendants.” (Kinlaw)

c. Sixty valiant men around it: We might say that Solomon’s wedding party had sixty groomsmen. They weren’t there to keep Solomon from backing out of the wedding; they were there to show that he was a powerful man who could genuinely protect his maiden.

i. “Of course when travelling through a wilderness, a royal procession was always in danger of attack. Arabs prowled around; wandering Bedouins were always prepared to fall upon the caravan; and more especially was this the case with a marriage procession, because then the robbers might expect to obtain many jewels, or, if not, a heavy ransom for the redemption of the bride or bridegroom by their friends.” (Spurgeon)

ii. Therefore the maiden had no need to worry in the fear of the night; because she was becoming one with her beloved, what belonged to him now also belonged to her. This expresses the oneness of life and the shared life that should exist between husband and wife. “She and Solomon were so identified with each other at this state that there was a perfect oneness between them. What was his, was hers. What he enjoyed, she enjoyed. This is union.” (Nee)

iii. “The very air is perfumed by the smoke of the incense that ascends pillar-like to the clouds; and all that safeguards the position of the Bridegroom Himself, and shows forth His dignity, safeguards also the accompanying bride, the sharer of His glory.” (Taylor)

iv. Spurgeon used this text to show that this answers fears people have about God’s church on this earth. “All good men are dead; there are none left to guard the church as before.” Yet by symbolic application, the text shows us:

· There are enough guards for the church.
· There are valiant guards for the church.
· There are guards in the right places, all about the church.
· The good guards of the church are well-armed, well-trained, always ready, and watchful.

2. (Sgs 3:9-11) Solomon enthroned and crowned.

Of the wood of Lebanon
Solomon the King
Made himself a palanquin:
He made its pillars of silver,
Its support of gold,
Its seat of purple,
Its interior paved with love
By the daughters of Jerusalem.
Go forth, O daughters of Zion,
And see King Solomon with the crown
With which his mother crowned him
On the day of his wedding,
The day of the gladness of his heart.

a. Solomon the King made himself a palanquin: The maiden saw (or imagined herself seeing) herself arriving for her wedding, coming upon the great entourage prepared for Solomon, carried by four or six strong men on a palanquin, sort of a portable, ornate couch for carrying an important person.

b. Pillars of silver... support of gold... seat of purple: The maiden was impressed not only with the opulence of this palanquin, but especially that he shared all these symbols of authority and prestige with her. Solomon shared his best with his maiden, and Solomon’s best was pretty good.

i. It was clear from this that the beloved (Solomon) could do the two essential things a man must be able to do before he is ready to be married: he must be able to protect and provide for his maiden. The protection was shown in the armed men who surrounded this procession; the provision was shown in the opulence of Solomon’s entourage. Of course, he cannot protect or provide for his maiden (or bride) until he can protect and provide for himself; then they live a shared life, a oneness, with whatever belongs to him now also belongs to her also.

ii. This is why a boy must grow up and become a man before he can be a good husband, and why the process of preparing to become a husband and being a husband is good for maturing men. “Love and marriage frequently bring out the noblest qualities in a person. A carefree and somewhat careless young man may become very responsible and diligent. A childish boy may become steady and manly. Why? Because love is the mother of virtue and the father of maturity... The one you love should bring forth your best qualities and make you a better person.” (Glickman)

iii. It also shows that the maiden respected and honored her beloved and saw his strength and authority as a good thing, not a threatening thing – because now it was also, in a sense, her strength and authority, because she would be one with him.

c. See King Solomon with the crownwith which his mother crowned him: When Solomon was anointed and recognized as king – even before the death of his father David – the high priest presided over the ceremony, not his mother Bathsheba (1 Kings 1:38-40). This may mean that the when his mother crowned him was when his mother crowned him for his wedding day, in a time of relative innocence when Solomon was captivated by and attached to only one woman.

i. “Not the royal crown used in the coronation/consecration ceremony, but a ‘diadem’ or ‘wreath’ made either of branches (like the laurel wreath of the Olympic games), or of precious metals and stones (Psalm 21:3), that is a symbol of honour and joy (gladness).” (Carr) This connects well with the rabbinic traditions that a bride and bridegroom were considered to be a “royal couple” on the day of their wedding.

ii. Considering that Solomon had his heart drawn away to many women and that these women drew his heart away from God, it is hard to see how this amazing collection of love poems could have come from such a corrupt man. This passage hints at one possible explanation. “Could it be that this is an indication that, if the Song did come from Solomon, it originated before his crowning in his most innocent period?” (Kinlaw)

iii. Yet the mention of his mother reminds us of Bathsheba, and the period when she helped Solomon take the throne of Israel (1 Kings 1:11-18; 1:28-31). The connection to 1 Kings 1 brings up the relation between the maiden of the Song of Solomon (called the Shulamite in Song of Solomon 6:13) and Abishag the Shunammite mentioned in 1 Kings 1:3-4, 1:15, From ancient times, many have wanted to associate the beautiful Abishag with the Shulamite. “According to the theory, as she ministered to David, she became romantically involved with his son Solomon and was later the subject of his love poem.” (Dilday in commentary on 1 Kings)

iv. Yet we must say that this conjecture at best – and Shumen is not the same as Shulam. “Shunem, the modern Solem, lay eleven kilometers south-east of Nazareth and five kilometers north of Jezreel in Issachar territory, and was visited by Elijah (2 Kings 4:8). There is no need to identify Abishag with the Shulammite of Song of Solomon 6:13.” (Wiseman in commentary on 1 Kings)

d. On the day of his wedding, the day of the gladness of his heart: It was a glad wedding, because their love was real, it was passionate, but it was also pure and restrained into the proper channels. This principle made it a glad day not only for the maiden and the beloved, but also for everyone.

i. “It was not only the day of gladness for the king but also for those who shared in his happiness... Their love had become a fountain from which all could taste the sweetness of their joy.” (Glickman)

©2013 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission
[A previous revision of this page can be found here]

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