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David Guzik :: Study Guide for Song of Songs 5

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The Maiden's Dream

A. The maiden describes her dream.

1. (Sng 5:2) The maiden dreams of her beloved coming to her door at night.

I sleep, but my heart is awake;
It is the voice of my beloved!
He knocks, saying,
 "Open for me, my sister, my love,
My dove, my perfect one;
For my head is covered with dew,
My locks with the drops of the night."

a. I sleep, but my heart is awake: In this poetic snapshot, the maiden described another dream-like experience. The maiden is described as being either asleep yet dreaming, or in the twilight of almost-sleep where one is not quite sure if they are awake or asleep.

b. It is the voice of my beloved! In her half-awake, half-asleep state the maiden heard the voice of her beloved outside her door. He had come, either for an unexpected rendezvous or after a long day of looking after his responsibilities.

c. He knocks, saying, "Open for me, my sister, my love": Having come in some way unexpectedly (perhaps later than expected), the beloved found himself locked outside the maiden's home - which, presumably, was also his own home.

i. It isn't really important whether this section should be chronologically arranged after or before the wedding and consummation previously described. The emphasis here is not on the married or non-married status of the leading man and woman, but on a difficulty in their relationship.

d. My sister, my love, my dove, my perfect one: First the beloved called for his maiden, but the sound of his voice was not enough to persuade her to open the door. Then he affectionately praised his maiden, with each of these warm and complimentary terms. Yet this also was not enough to persuade her to open the door.

i. My sister: One suggestion with this title is permanence. One remains a sister forever, and that is how long the beloved wanted to be connected with his maiden.

ii. My love, my dove: "The title of dove signifies her chastity and constant faithfulness to her Husband, for which doves are famous." (Poole)

iii. My perfect one: "The AV undefiled suggests 'virgin', but that connotation is absent from the Hebrew. Ethical and moral blamelessness is more the idea." (Carr)

e. For my head is covered with dew: The final appeal of the beloved was a description of the discomforts he had endured in seeking after the maiden. Like a shepherd out late at night watching over the flocks, his head was wet with the moisture of the dew that covered the land that night.

i. "He alludes to the custom of lovers, which oft and willingly suffer such inconveniences for their hopes and desires of enjoying their beloved." (Poole)

ii. The beloved made several appeals to the maiden:

- The appeal of his presence; simply knowing that he sought her out and was at the door might have persuaded the maiden to open the door.

- The voice of the beloved; the sound of his call to her should have prompted her to open the door.

- The specific request; when the beloved asked, "Open for me," it should have been enough to make the maiden to open the door.

- The warm and affectionate appeal; the tender and beautiful names that he called the maiden should have melted her heart. Nowhere else in the song does he pour out upon her so many affectionate names.

- The description of his own discomforts for her sake; if nothing else, these should have warmed her heart to open the door.

iii. Yet for all this, the maiden did not open the door for the beloved and allow him to enter in!

iv. This picture - of the beloved standing outside the door and appealing to his maiden for entry - this picture may provide the only New Testament reference to the Song of Solomon, found at Revelation 3:20: Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.

2. (Sng 5:3-6) The maiden fails to meet her beloved at the door.

I have taken off my robe;
How can I put it on again?
I have washed my feet;
How can I defile them?
My beloved put his hand
By the latch of the door,
And my heart yearned for him.
I arose to open for my beloved,
And my hands dripped with myrrh,
My fingers with liquid myrrh,
On the handles of the lock.
I opened for my beloved,
But my beloved had turned away and was gone.
My heart leaped up when he spoke.
I sought him, but I could not find him;
I called him, but he gave me no answer.

a. I have taken off my robe; how can I put it on again? In response to the warm appeal of the beloved, the maiden answered only with excuses. She was comfortable in her bed, so he could not come in. She could not be bothered with the inconvenience of dressing herself and preparing herself or sleep again (I have washed my feet; how can I defile them?).

i. How can I: "Often it is found in songs of mourning or lamentation, and here reflects a petulant unwillingness to act rather than the impossibility of action … she appears unwilling to put herself to any trouble even for her lover." (Carr)

ii. My robe: "It is the garment worn next to the skin, not the 'garment' of Song of Solomon 4:11 which served as a bed-covering, nor the common begged which was used to described clothing in general. Delitzsch's comment 'she lies unclothed in bed', catches the precise meaning of the colon." (Carr)

iii. Perhaps she was simply not willing to be inconvenienced; perhaps she did not appreciate the unexpected nature of the beloved's visit; perhaps he came much later than she had expected him, and therefore she felt annoyed. Perhaps this was her effort to control the relationship ("Why should I run as soon as he knocks? He can wait a little while.") Whatever the specific reason, she refused to promptly rise from bed and open the door.

iv. Her problem was not that she didn't go to the door; but that she did it so slowly and reluctantly, making excuses all along the way. "This attitude shows an insensitive spirit. She was thinking only about her comfort and not at all about Solomon's desires or her relationship with him." (Estes)

v. "This is a remarkable picture of the kind of adjustments that are necessary in life style in marriage. Our natural sloth, the differences between a man and a woman, our uncertainty about the other's thinking, the variations in our life rhythms, our unwillingness to alter our preferred patterns for the other, our own self-consciousness - all contribute to the problem of reading each other's advances." (Kinlaw)

vi. "Although this romance is an ideal, it is not a fantasy. It is realistic, and presents the realistic problems of marriage … also the principles for solving them." (Glickman)

b. My beloved put his hand by the latch of the door: The maiden could hear that the beloved put his hand upon the latch mechanism of the door. This was a clear (and final) indication of his desire to enter and be with her, but only at her invitation. The beloved would not break or force the latch of the door, but insisted that the way be opened to him.

i. Some commentators and translators have wondered if the wording here presents a double entendre, cleverly describing sexual intercourse between the beloved and the maiden. The basis for this is found in the fact that on at least one occasion (Isaiah 57:8) in the Old Testament, this Hebrew word translated hand is a euphemism for the male sexual organ. In addition, the word translated latch of the door is more literally "opening" or "hole."

ii. The idea behind this double entendre is better illustrated by comparing some other translations of the phrase:

NIV: My lover thrust his hand through the latch-opening.
NASB: My beloved extended his hand through the opening.
LXX: My kinsman put forth his hand by the hole of the door.
KJV: My beloved put in his hand by the hole of the door.
NLT: My lover tried to unlatch the door.

iii. While allowing for the slight possibility of such a double entendre, it clearly is not the direct meaning of the section, as demonstrated by the context. The idea of the couple engaged in intercourse does not match the context, which places the beloved as outside the presence of the maiden, which is the dynamic that drives the entire section. If anything, the double entendre may refer to the conflicted sexual longings within the maiden (especially with the phrase, my heart yearned for him). She obviously loved and longed for her beloved, yet refused to promptly open the door for him.

iv. "If it were a real scene, which is mentioned in this and the two following verses, it must refer, from the well-known use of the metaphors, to matrimonial endearments. Or, it may refer to his attempts to open the door, when she hesitated to arise, on the grounds mentioned. But this also bears every evidence of a dream." (Clarke)

v. "None of this is decisive, of course, but as Cook notes, the double entendre by nature is 'so delicate as to leave some doubt about its presence at a specific point'. Nevertheless, this appears to be one text where the erotic meaning is present. If yad does mean the male member here, hor is its female counterpart." (Carr)

c. I arose to open for my beloved: It wasn't that the maiden refused to open for her beloved; it was that she long delayed to do so, and delayed out of self-interest and self-indulgence, probably connected with some resentment towards the beloved.

i. Here the writer gave us an emotionally accurate picture of the dynamic of conflict in a relationship, especially in marraige.

- The maiden felt resentment towards the beloved (the nature and reasonableness of that resentment is impossible to determine).

- The beloved refused to force himself upon his maiden, and would only enter at her invitation.

- The beloved made a true and persistent appeal to his maiden, that they might be together and enjoy their relationship.

- Because of her resentment, the maiden long delayed her response to the desire of the beloved.

- When she finally did respond, it seemed too late - the moment had passed and her beloved was gone.

ii. In applying this dynamic of conflict to a relationship, one may fairly reverse the roles of maiden/beloved and wife/husband, but the fundamental principles remain. Significant damage may be done to a relationship by:

- Holding on to resentments and refusing to be generous with forgiveness.

- The attempt to force one's interest and affections upon another, and not waiting for their response.

- Refusing or delaying response when approached in a loving and persistent way.

- Failing to appreciate the value of an appeal to resume or build relationship, typically out of self-interest and self-indulgence, or a desire to control the relationship.

d. And my hands dripped with myrrh: As the maiden finally rose from bed and came to the door, she noticed that the door or the latch of the door had been anointed with sweet perfume. This was another reminder of the beauty and the quality of his love for her.

i. According to Clarke, it was a custom among some ancient peoples to anoint doors used by a bride with fragrant oils, and this same custom (or some form of it) may have existed among the ancient Jews. (Clarke)

ii. "He simply left her a 'love note' and then went away. In their culture a lover would leave this fragrant myrrh at the door as a sign that he had been there." (Glickman)

iii. His response - not of anger, not of objection, but simply a non-threatening display of love - would soon awaken a loving response in her. This is a wonderful picture of the way a husband should respond when he feels disrespected by his wife; instead of angrily demanding respect, he should instead display his love for her in a non-threatening way and wait for the response of love to her.

e. I opened for my beloved, but my beloved had turned away and was gone: When the maiden finally came to the door - shaking off her previous self-indulgence, laziness, and perhaps desire to control the relationship - she found that her beloved was gone. She was too late.

i. "The presence and comfort of her Bridegroom are again lost to her; not this time by relapse into worldliness, but by slothful self-indulgence … And more than this, the door of her chamber was not only closed, but barred; an evidence that His return was neither eagerly desired nor expected." (Taylor)

f. I called him, but he gave me no answer: Now the roles were reversed. Where once the beloved called for the maiden and heard no response, now the maiden calls for him but hears no answer. She had foolishly waited too long to respond, actually working against her own self-interest.

i. If we consider this all happening, it lends to the idea that this is in fact a dream sequence of the maiden. In the sense of the text, it does not seem that she lingered so long that when she did open the door it was too late to see where he went. Yet in the creative nature of dreams, it is entirely natural. In whatever sense dreams make, the slowness of her response was directly connected to her difficulty in finding him.

3. (Sng 5:7-8) The maiden's disappointing search for her beloved.

The watchmen who went about the city found me.
They struck me, they wounded me;
The keepers of the walls
Took my veil away from me.
I charge you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
If you find my beloved,
That you tell him I am lovesick!

a. The watchmen who went about the city found me. They struck me, they wounded me: In her dream, the maiden sought and called for her beloved (Song of Solomon 5:6), extending her search to the streets of the city. This ended only in disappointment, because she did not find her beloved, nor did she find any help from the watchmen or from the keepers of the walls.

i. Since this happened in a dream and not in reality, this may reflect the maiden's guilt over her previous response to her (or lack thereof). Kinlaw asks this question: "Does this treatment by the watchmen reflect the girl's guilt and sense of failure at the slowness of her response to her husband?"

b. The keepers of the walls took my veil away from me: In her dream, not only was the maiden unsuccessful, but those who did not sympathize enough with her search also mistreated her.

i. This veil is probably better understood as a scarf or mantle; it is a distinctly different article of clothing that which was mentioned in Song of Solomon 1:7, 4:3, 4:11, and 5:3.

c. Tell him I am lovesick! The maiden's plea to the daughters of Jerusalem shows that she came to regret and suffer under her previous actions. Now she was lovesick, but not at all in same sense as previously mentioned in Song of Solomon 2:5. Previously she was overwhelmed by the presence of love; here she was aching at its absence.

i. "There is a realism in the Song that merits our respect. The course of true love seldom runs smoothly for long. For every moment of ecstasy, there seems to be the moment of hurt and pain." (Kinlaw)

ii. By application to spiritual life, we may say that there are some sicknesses that are unique to the saints:

- Sin-sickness, when the soul hates sin and wants nothing to do with it.
- Self-sickness, when the soul comes to hate self-indulgence, self-seeking, self-exalting, and self-reliance of every sort.
- Love-sickness of the first type, when the believer is so deeply moved by the love of God that they feel they can hardly bear it.
- Love-sickness of the second type, when the believer feels distanced from or deserted by Jesus, and longs for a renewed sense of closeness.

iii. Spurgeon described this second type of lovesickness in this way: "It is the longing of a soul, then, not for salvation, and not even for the certainty of salvation, but for the enjoyment of present fellowship with him who is her soul's life, her soul's all … It is a panting after communion." (Spurgeon)

B. The maiden describes her beloved.

1. (Sng 5:9) The Daughters of Jerusalem ask about the beloved.

What is your beloved
More than another beloved,
O fairest among women?
What is your beloved
More than another beloved,
That you so charge us?

a. What is your beloved more than another beloved: The dream-sequence request to the daughters of Jerusalem in the previous verse (Song of Solomon 5:8) now had a response. In essence, the daughters of Jerusalem wanted to know what was so special about the maiden's beloved. They wanted an explanation as for why she was so lovesick (Song of Solomon 5:8) and why she so desperately sought him.

i. "Her anguish at her loss was so extreme, her heart-sickness was so agonizing, her frenzy so bewildering, that they were startled into feeling that he of whom she was bereft was no common lover." (Meyer)

b. O fairest among women: This may have been spoken sarcastically, because (in her dream) the maiden's appearance may have been neglected by her rapid rising, her frantic search, and her mistreatment by the watchmen (Song of Solomon 5:7).

2. (Sng 5:10-16) The maiden responds by describing the beloved.

My beloved is white and ruddy,
Chief among ten thousand.
His head is like the finest gold;
His locks are wavy,
And black as a raven.
His eyes are like doves
By the rivers of waters,
Washed with milk,
And fitly set.
His cheeks are like a bed of spices,
Banks of scented herbs.
His lips are lilies,
Dripping liquid myrrh.
His hands are rods of gold
Set with beryl.
His body is carved ivory
Inlaid with sapphires.
His legs are pillars of marble
Set on bases of fine gold.
His countenance is like Lebanon,
Excellent as the cedars.
His mouth is most sweet,
Yes, he is altogether lovely.
This is my beloved,
And this is my friend,
O daughters of Jerusalem!

a. My beloved is: With this, the maiden began an extended description of her beloved, somewhat answering to his description of her in Song of Solomon 4:1-7. It showed the she could be as eloquent in describing him as he was in describing her.

i. "Love songs describing the physical beauty of the beloved are common in the ancient Near East, but most of them describe the female. Such detailed description of the male, as here, is seldom recorded." (Carr)

ii. The description uses many figures of speech and expressions that sound strange to us, but the main idea is unmistakable. She was attracted to her beloved both by his character and by his physical appearance. "Here she may seem to speak with the tongues of men and of angels, performing, as lovers used to do, that for him that he had done for her before." (Trapp)

iii. "Instead of thinking of herself, she started thinking of her beloved. Instead of wanting her comfort and convenience, she desired to nurture the relationships she had started to take for granted." (Estes)

iv. Curiously, in the context of her dream, she did not say these things to her beloved, but she said these things about him in the presence of others. It was more important for her to be convinced of these things than it was for him to hear them.

b. My beloved is white and ruddy, chief among then thousand: Here she described both his countenance (white and ruddy) and his greatness (chief among ten thousand). She loved him not only for who he was to her, but also for the greatness of his character and accomplishments.

i. Ruddy: "Most commentators take this simply as the normal complexion of a healthy young man." According to Carr, the ancient Hebrew word is adom, and Carr says: "The Hebrew noun adam, 'man', is a more likely source for the term here, in which case, her lover is 'manly'."

ii. This admiration of a man's greatness is a strong motivator for accomplishment among men. A man very much wants his wife to recognize whatever greatness or accomplishments he has attained.

iii. "The metaphors are ancient Near Eastern ones, but the import is clear: he is one in ten thousand." (Kinlaw)

c. His head is like the finest gold; his locks are wavy: The maiden saw her beloved as radiant and attractive, from beginning with his head and continuing down in her description of his appearance. His head is like the finest gold, with the idea that his face is well-proportioned and colored, with the idea of quality and prestige.

d. His eyes are like doves by the rivers of waters … His cheeks are like a bed of spices … His hands are rods of gold … His countenance is like Lebanon, as excellent as the cedars: The description is of a man who is more than attractive, but also strong and of great character.

i. Washed with milk, and fitly set: "The sense appears to be describing the contrast of the iris with the white of the eye, both fitly set (NIV mounted like jewels) in the face." (Carr)

ii. His cheeks are like a bed of spices: "But it has been supposed to refer to his beard, which in a young well-made man is exceedingly beautiful. I have seen young Turks, who had taken much care of their beards, mustachios, &c., look majestic. Scarcely any thing serves to set off the human face to greater advantage than the beard, when kept in proper order. Females admire it in their suitors and husbands. I have known cases, where they not only despised but execrated Europeans, whose faces were close shaved. The men perfume their beards often; and this may be what is intended by spices and sweet-smelling myrrh." (Clarke)

iii. His countenance is like Lebanon: "As Lebanon exalts its head beyond all the other mountains near Jerusalem, so my beloved is tall and majestic, and surpasses in stature and majesty all other men." (Clarke)

iv. Watchman Nee approached this book primarily as an allegory describing the relationship between Jesus and His people. On that basis, he took the features of this description and allegorically applied them to Jesus.

- White and ruddy: "The ruddy complexion of perfect health. This indicated that He was vibrant with fullness of life and power."

- His head is like the finest gold: "This is a description of His divine attributes. He possessed God's life and God's glory."

- His locks are wavy, and black as a raven: "An indication of His everlasting vigor and power."

- His eyes are like doves: "Eyes are the seat of expression, and this description also speaks of an intimacy known by the spouse."

- His cheeks are like a bed of spices, banks of scented herbs: "These same cheeks had undergone much shame and despite … No wonder, then, that such a believer as this one looked upon His cheeks as a bed of fragrant spices or scented herbs."

- His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh: "The 'lilies' referred to here speak of kingly glory … How glorious were the teachings of Christ! And how sweet were the words which dropped from His lips!"

- His hands are rods of gold: "The strength of His hands to establish firmly and bring to completion the purposes of God."

- His body is carved ivory: "The Lord Jesus, too, was a Person rich with the deepest sensibilities, that He was moved with great feelings of love for His people."

- His legs are pillars of marble: "They signify His power to stand … as having immovable stability."

- His countenance is like Lebanon, excellent as the cedars: "Shows something of His elevated character. Though a Man, yet He was now a Man glorified in the heights of heaven."

- His mouth is most sweet: "It speaks of a certain aspect of His mediatorial work."

v. Spurgeon mused on this spiritual analogy, and the importance of the believer considering Jesus: "When you get sick, and sad, and weary of God's people, turn your thoughts to God himself; and if ever you see any spots in the Church, Christ's bride, look at her glorious Husband, and you will only love him the more as you think of his wondrous condescension in having loved such a poor thing as his Church is even at her best." (Spurgeon)

e. Yes, he is altogether lovely: She summarized her description with this one general phrase. In her mind, there was something complete and great in his physical appearance and standing as a man.

i. "The force of the whole unit is that in the girl's eyes her lover (be he king or peasant) is beyond comparison." (Carr) He was tall, dark, and handsome; with a tanned face and dark hair, but his eyes were soft and tender. His cologne smelled good and his hands were so strong and gentle that they were as precious as gold. He was strongly built from head to toe and most of all had a dignified bearing.

ii. If we apply this to the relationship between the believer and Jesus Christ, these descriptions gives a sense of how greatly the beliver prizes their Lord. "But all of these gathered together are poor and unworthy emblems of the peerless beauty of Emmanuel. White in purity, ruddy with the bloodstain, his bushy locks emblematical of immortal youth, his eyes like waterbrooks reflecting the deep azure of the sky and telling of eternal love. Ransack earth for metaphors, and they fall short of the truth. Words fail to express his beauty, his loveliness: let us try to reflect his glory." (Meyer)

iii. Some things are beautiful from one angle, and not from another. Some are beautiful when they are younger, but not when they are older. Some things look beautiful from a distance, but not up close. Some things are beautiful in one way, but not in another. Jesus is altogether lovely; yet for all of His beauty and perfection, it is almost entirely unappreciated by the world. "The vain world cannot see in him a virtue to admire. It is a blind world, a fool world, a world that lieth in the wicked one. Not to discern the beauties of Jesus is an evidence of terrible depravity. Have you, my dear friend, frankly to confess that you were never enamoured of him who was holy, harmless, and undefiled, and went about doing good?" (Spurgeon)

f. This is my beloved, and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem: The maiden assured herself of how highly she prized her beloved, happily calling him her friend. We sense a confidence and strength of conviction in these words.

i. "The Bride replies by describing him in all the wealth of oriental imagery. Yet any other woman might have used every figure in describing her beloved. But, at last, and as I think half unconsciously, the truth is out as she said: 'This is my beloved, and this is my friend.'" (Morgan)

ii. This is my friend: "A common Old Testament word, rea expresses companionship and friendship without the overtones of sexual partnership … friendship goes far deeper than mere sexual compatibility and excitement. Happy is the husband or wife whose spouse is also a friend." (Carr)

iii. "The Song of Solomon is unabashedly erotic. Yet it is never satisfied to be content with the physical alone. A normal person finds the erotic ultimately meaningful only if there is trust and commitment, delight in the other's person as well as in their body. The writer of the Song understands this. Our hero is her lover, but he is more: he is her friend." (Kinlaw)

iv. The conclusion of the maiden leads to the logical question: "Then why were you so slow in responding to his call? How could you risk losing such an altogether lovely one?" Brought back to a fresh appreciation of the one she loved, the maiden was all the more sorrowful for her prior selfish response.

v. A wife may think that this is the kind of man she could love; but she should probably remember that at one time, her husband was this kind of man. She can see him that way again. Instead of thinking "I deserve better than him," she started being amazed at what she once had and still does. Of course, the exact same reasoning applies to a husband in reference to his wife.

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

CONTENT DISCLAIMER:

The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.

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