Song of Solomon - Chapter 1
By Robert G. Goll
The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s. (Song of Solomon 1:1, NASB95).
The first verse is most often translated along the lines of “Song of Songs, which is Solomon's”. It may be translated “Song of Song's, which is about Solomon”, but evidence throughout the Song points to Solomon as the author. The title “Song of Songs” is the same style as “King of kings and Lord of lords”, it implies that this is the best of all love songs.
Song 1:2 (Beloved)
May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine. (Song of Solomon 1:2, NASB95).
As we look at the beginning of the book we don't see the Creator God as we do in Genesis, the delight of the blessed as in Psalms, the value of wisdom, righteousness and justice as in Proverbs or deep reflection on life as in Ecclesiastes. What we do see is the desire of a woman for the kisses from the mouth of her man. As we look further into this book we will watch as her desire for him and likewise his desire for her, turn into dating, marriage and sex. We will watch as their relationship deepens, as their respect deepens and as their physical intimacy deepens. As we watch their relationship it is important to note that it is always presented as good and as pleasing to God. It is shown as following the proper timing, God's timing, and within that timing to be delightful to them and to God.
Now, back to this young girl who desires that her man kiss her with the kisses of his mouth. The author here used a clever word play in that the Hebrew for “He will kiss me” sounds similar to “to give a drink”. This leads into the second half of the verse that his love is better than wine. However it does not answer the question of “Why did she desire him so?”. She tells us why she desired him, his love was better than wine. Wine can give pleasure, but it is nothing compared to the deep soul satisfying kisses of the one you love, the one you are committed to, and the one who loves and is committed to you.
Song 1:3-4 (Beloved)
“Your oils have a pleasing fragrance, Your name is like purified oil; Therefore the maidens love you. “Draw me after you and let us run together! The king has brought me into his chambers.” “We will rejoice in you and be glad; We will extol your love more than wine. Rightly do they love you.” (Song of Solomon 1:3-4, NASB95).
The girl then continues her description on some of the reasons his “love is better than wine.” She first says that his “oils have a pleasing fragrance.” It was customary in this culture for both men and women to apply ointments to their bodies both to cover up the smells if they were unable to take a bath or to add fragrance after a bath before a festival. The point is that this man has cleaned himself up. To today's gentlemen, she is simply saying he has taken a bath and has made himself look and smell nice. She then continues by saying “Your name is like purified oil.” A person's name is what they are known for, it is their character. When you hear someone's name what do you think of? Do you think of someone honest, or a lier? Do you think of someone who is generous or the local miser? A person's name represents their character. She is saying that this man is respectable, he is honest, he is hard working. This man will take care of me, and treat me well. His name, his reputation, is so good that it is “like purified oil.” It is more important than the oils on his body that bring a pleasing fragrance. His name, his character, is more important than his looks and smell. However, his looks and smell, his taking care of himself, are still important.
This man has taken care of his body and has good character. Therefore this girl desires him. She desires to be with him, to run together in life and to be intimate with him. His qualities cause not only her to love him but for all the maidens to love him. All the girls desire him. He is a great guy to have.
Men: Take a bath. If you have been out working or playing and are sweaty (or even if you haven't) go take a bath before going on a date or getting together with others. Pay attention to what you are known for. What is your reputation? We don't want to always be living for the approval of others, but if you are known for your quick temper and laziness, you may want to take look if these are true and take steps to change these areas of your life.
Women: Just as Proverbs 31:30 says that “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain” for the women, it also holds true for the man. You want a man that you are physically attracted to (who's oils have a pleasing fragrance), but it is much more important to have the “purified oil” of a man with good character.
Men & Women: One question that may come from this is “How do I know a man's character?” or for the men “How do I know a women's character?”
1. Look at their friends. - It is said that “A person can't choose their family, but they can choose their friends.” What type of friends does a man or women have? Do you like their friends?
2. How do they treat their father or mother? - How does the man treat his mother? How does the girl treat her father? Chances are good they will treat you the same way in the future.
3. How do they get along with their roommates? - If they are in a situation where they live in close proximity with others, how do they get along with those they live with? How are their relationships with others around them?
The best way I know to find the best spouse is to run hard after God. Spend time with him and be running in the direction that God has for you. Be doing what he has for you to do. While you are running on the road, running after God take a look around and see who is running with you. Then continue running after God. A little while later take another look around. You may notice several who are still running with you from before. Say “hello.” Continue running after God. After a while, again look around. When you see there is still someone running with you can you invite them to come over and run together. Seek hard after God and find someone who has the same (or complimentary) calling to your own so that you can seek God and follow him together.
Song 1:5-6 (Beloved)
“I am black but lovely, O daughters of Jerusalem, Like the tents of Kedar, Like the curtains of Solomon. “Do not stare at me because I am swarthy, For the sun has burned me. My mother’s sons were angry with me; They made me caretaker of the vineyards, But I have not taken care of my own vineyard. (Song of Solomon 1:5-6, NASB95).
The girl has been praising the man she loves. She nows moves to herself and the tone changes noticeably. Her first description of herself is that she is black. From Song 1:6 we can see that she is embarrassed by this fact and that it was not considered beautiful to be dark in that culture. Her brothers had her work in the vineyards and she was darkened by the sun.
This girl knew how to work. She hadn't been pampered while growing up. She hadn't grown lazy and selfish. She had been taught how to work. Guys look for a girl that knows how to work. On the flip side, girls, look for a guy who knows how to work. They may not be the best cook or carpenter or whatever else, but they should have a work ethic. They will need to know how to help around the house and be willing to do so.
While the girl is embarrassed about the darkness of her skin she still knows that she is lovely. She is a beautiful girl. She has some insecurities about her appearance, but she still knows she is worthy to be treasured.
“She compares herself to the “tents of Kedar” and the “curtains of Solomon.” ???, “Kedar,” refers to an Arab bedouin [nomadic desert tribe] tribe. [...]As the shelters of Arab bedouin, one may surmise, the tents of Kedar were probably made of tanned hides or coarse sackcloth and were dark in color. They also must have been very sturdy since they had to withstand the rigors of the wind, sand, heat, and the occasional storm as the only shelter these travelers would possess. They may have been proverbial as tough, reliable tents. The curtains of Solomon, by contrast, would have been of the finest craftsmanship and would have had exquisite detail. Perhaps the curtains had interwoven colors, beads, or even pearls, as well as lacelike patterns. Therefore, the woman claims that she is dark like the tents of Kedar—and she is equally as sturdy as those tents. But she is also beautiful, like the curtains of Solomon, and worthy to receive the admiration given to princesses. The structure of v 5 also brings out a pattern meaning “dark like the tents of Kedar” and “beautiful like the curtains of Solomon.”1
This girl has insecurities, but she knows she is worthy to be respected and praised.
Women – Respect your self. You have been created by God in just the way he wants you to be. He says in Romans 9:21 “The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it?” (Romans 9:20-21, NASB95). He has made you for His purposes and He delights in you. Do not feel you must settle for any guy who will accept you. You can acknowledge your weaknesses and you will likely have insecurities, but know that God created you just the way He wants you to be. You are a creation and child of the King of the universe and are worthy of respect.
Men – Every girl (just as every boy) wants to be respected, some girls (just as some boys) have developed a low view of themselves and think and act as though they are not worthy or do not desire respect, but every person desires to be respected. Take the time to really listen to your wife (or girlfriend, etc) and to understand her thoughts. It is also common for girls to have more insecurities about their bodies. There is often more emphasis on female beauty and girls are keenly aware of the ways in which they do not meet the cultural standards. Recognize these insecurities and build the girl up rather than making her feel more insecure and inferior. As you are a man with whom she is safe, respected and encouraged she will be able to open her heart more deeply to you and you can find the diamonds that are hidden inside.
Song 1:7-8 (Beloved and either Solomon or Friends)
“Tell me, O you whom my soul loves, Where do you pasture your flock, Where do you make it lie down at noon? For why should I be like one who veils herself Beside the flocks of your companions?” “If you yourself do not know, Most beautiful among women, Go forth on the trail of the flock And pasture your young goats By the tents of the shepherds. (Song of Solomon 1:7-8, NASB95).
The girl desires her man, but she does not know where he is. She does not want to look for him, since she is concerned about this will require. She is then given the advice to go look for her lover. It is interesting to note that while Song 1:1-4 show the lover as a king, we now see the lover as a shepherd. We see the ways in which the girl's views her man changing in different situations.
Before looking at commentary and application, there are several questions about this verse that need to be addressed.
First we will look at who is saying what. Translations and commentators almost unanimously agree that the girl is speaking in Song 1:7 and the man in Song 1:9. However, there are differing views given over Song 1:8. Some hold that Solomon is speaking and some that the friends are speaking. The section headings were not in the original text, so we are left with an uncertainty. Either way the reply is the same, “Go look for your man.”
The second question concerns Song 1:7. Depending on your translation you may read:
"Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock and where you rest your sheep at midday. Why should I be like a veiled woman beside the flocks of your friends?" (Song of Solomon 1:7, NIV).
"Tell me, O thou whom my soul loveth, where thou feedest, where thou makest thy flock to rest at noon: for why should I be as one that turneth aside by the flocks of thy companions?" (Song of Solomon 1:7, KJV).
"Tell me, my love, where are you leading your flock today? Where will you rest your sheep at noon? For why should I wander like a prostitute among your friends and their flocks?" (Song of Solomon 1:7, NLT).
"Tell me where you’re working —I love you so much— Tell me where you’re tending your flocks, where you let them rest at noontime. Why should I be the one left out, outside the orbit of your tender care?" (Song of Solomon 1:7, The Message).
In these translations we have their girl either spending time near, wearing a veil beside, wandering like a prostitute or being left out. There is also much discussion over the possibility that the girl is saying “Why should I have lice like the shepherds.” With in these translations there is room for the girl to 1. be a shepherdess, 2. be a prostitute, 3. be a wanderer among the shepherds 4. have lice from being with the sheep (which could result from any of the other choices). Whatever the case, she desires her man and sees the results of looking for him as being less than desirable.2
This girl desires her husband and she knows where he may be (with the flocks), but she is afraid to go looking for him. We have seen in Song 1:6 that she has a less than favorable view of her brothers. This may influence her view of men in general. She is afraid to enter into the world of her lover, the world of men. Her friends or Solomon (depending on whom you hold to be speaking in Song 1:8) tell her what they see to be the obvious answer... Go look for your man. Go to the sheep. They even go so far as to say that she should become a shepherd. She should enter into her lover's world.
Women – Just as you want your man to spend time with you, he wants you to spend time with him. Just as you want him to understand you, your desires, your enjoyments, your work, your life more, he also desires these things. You, like Solomon's beloved, may be afraid to enter into his world, you may feel like an outsider in that world. For many girls, the world of men can be a strange and scary thing. However, to truly enter his heart, you need to enter into his life. There need to be times when he enters your world, and when the two of you have time along in a world by yourselves, but there also need to be times when you enter into his world, meet his co-workers, participate in activities he enjoys. Express your concerns to your man and then draw courage and enter into his world.
Men – It will likely not be so scary for you to enter into your beloved's world, however it may be equally strange and seem equally undesirable to you. However, it is equally important. Both of you need to enter into each other's worlds, to more fully understand each others joys and desires as well as pains and fears.
Women & Men – While it is important to make efforts to enter into each other's worlds, no matter how strange or scary they may be, it is also important to recognize that this may be an undesirable proposition for your spouse. Guys, you may desire for your beloved to get into the football game with you, but you also may need to understand and be appreciative when she is willing to stand on the sideline and cheer. (Perhaps you can have a private time to play basketball while talking about your days, thus creating an in between ground that you can both enjoy.) Ladies, you may be glad when your husband comes with you for a shopping trip, but if you are going for a full day manicure, you may want to go with the other girls and give your husband the 1 minute summary of your day over dinner. It is important that we enter into each other's worlds, but also important that we recognize how much we can request of our beloved. It is also important to work on developing activities that can be enjoyed together and possible to stop activities that one person enjoys, but the other really can't stand. It is important to have each other included in the fun times in our lives.3
Song 1:9-11 (Lover)
“To me, my darling, you are like My mare among the chariots of Pharaoh. “Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, Your neck with strings of beads.” “We will make for you ornaments of gold With beads of silver.” (Song of Solomon 1:9-11, NASB95).
We now find ourselves enjoying the wedding day. The groom, Solomon, sees his bride dressed in her wedding clothes and is captivated by her beauty.
Men, if any of you in your quest to be biblical in your wooing of your wife have quoted this verse, “I compare you my darling, to a horse.”, you may have found that it was not as effective as it may have been for Solomon. In fact, you may have gotten a punch in the mouth that left you with teeth looking like a horse. However, if we read his beloved's response in Song 1:12-14 we see that she continues to praise and express her love and desire for him. Either this girl was very forgiving, deaf, or this comparison had a different meaning in that culture than it would in our own.
First let us look at Song 1:9 in several common translations:
"I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh." (Song of Solomon 1:9, NIV).
"“To me, my darling, you are like My mare among the chariots of Pharaoh." (Song of Solomon 1:9, NASB95).
"You are as exciting, my darling, as a mare among Pharaoh’s stallions." (Song of Solomon 1:9, NLT).
"I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh’s chariots." (Song of Solomon 1:9, KJV).
The original Hebrew of this verse consisted of five words, meaning:
1. ?????? – "Mare”, “Horse”
2. ??????????? - “Chariot”, “Military Chariot group”
3. ???????? – “Pharaoh”
4. ????????????? - “like”, “resemble”
5. ?????????? – beloved
This has left some variation in translations. It could mean as in the NIV that the mare is harnessed to a chariot of Pharaoh. It could also mean that a mare is among the chariots of Pharaoh.
If the later is correct, that there is a Mare among the chariots of Pharaoh, it could be referring to the ability of the female horse to attract all the male horses. However, the context gives little evidence of this. It is more likely that the real point of the verse is not the affect on the other horses, but on the fancy decoration and noble appearance of the horse. The horses pulling pharaohs chariots were decorated with fine jewelry. Solomon was likely comparing this girls beauty with the beauty and decoration of one of the horses of Pharaoh. This is supported by Song 1:10 which talks about her appearance rather than her affect on others. Solomon (in Song 1:11) will give her even more fine jewelry.
Women – While it is true that “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” (Proverbs 31:30, NIV) that does not mean that we are not to take care of ourselves. According to Dr. Willard Harley in “His Needs, Her Needs” one of a man's greatest needs in a relationship is that “He needs a Good-looking Wife.” He then explains that “Attractiveness is what you do with what you have.” You don't need to be the most naturally beautiful woman in the world, but do try your best to look good. This does meet a need for your husband.
Men – Most women do not have the same need for a handsome husband that men have for an attractive wife. However, men, it is still important that you take care of yourself. Also, be willing to allow your wife to spend some money to buy some nice clothes etc. Just as Solomon was having earrings of gold and studded with silver made for his wife, you can invest in clothes, etc. for your wife that will make her look more beautiful.
Song 1:12-14 (Beloved)
“While the king was at his table, My perfume gave forth its fragrance. “My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh Which lies all night between my breasts. “My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms In the vineyards of Engedi.” (Song of Solomon 1:12-14, NASB95).
As Solomon delighted in the beauty of his bride on their wedding day, the bride now delights in her husband. She is looking forward to his taking her as his bride and their physical intimacy that the evening will bring.
In many of your translation Song 1:12 may be translated something along the lines of “While the king sat at his table” or “What the king was on his couch.” In the original Greek the word translated “table” or “couch” is simply “circle”. Young's Literal Translation may have the most accurate translation with “While the king is in his circle,...” (Song of Solomon 1:12a, YLT). Given this vague reference the Hebrew has been often translated as “on his couch” or “at his table”. However, it could even be referring to his embracing her or “encircling” her. It may be that this ambiguity was intentional to catch both the official wedding banquet together with friends and family as well as the private wedding banquet they would have as they enjoyed each other later that evening.
Whether referring to her groom as laying on his couch, sitting at his table or embracing her, the sexual meaning and desire is evident as we look at Song 1:13. “If the “circle” is a couch or bed, then the intimate implications are obvious. If it is a banquet, the idea is possibly that the groom will feast as if at a banquet upon the pleasures the woman provides.”4 This type of imagery can also be seen in Song 2:4, 6 when he has brought her into his banquet hall and his left hand is under her head and his right hand embraces her. In other words, he has brought her to feast on the pleasures she brings. Also, in Song 4:16 we here the bride saying “May my beloved come into his garden and eat its choice fruits!” and in Song 7:8 we get a glimpse at the choice fruits “May your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the fragrance of your breath like apples.”
The girl wants her perfume to give forth its fragrance and to draw her man to herself that he may delight in her fruits.
She then continues to long for the physical intimacy they will experience at the end of their wedding day. She compares him to a pouch of myrrh which will lie all night between her breasts. She desires for her husband to enjoy her fruits, to bring both of them into sexual intimacy and pleasure ALL NIGHT LONG. She longs for her lover to be intimate with her.
She also compares her lover to “a cluster of henna blossoms in the vineyards of Engedi.” Henna was a bush that grows to about 10 feet (3 meters) tall and has white, fragrant flowers that may have been used in making perfumes. She refers to them being places among the vineyards to add to the vineyards appearance and fragrance. Engedi was an oasis known to have had carefully tended vineyards where Solomon's father , David, found rest after being chased by Saul in 1 Samuel 23:28. To this girl, her groom is a place of safety and beauty. She delights in him and looks forward to entering into his tender, intimate embrace.
When my wife and I were studying this passage together, she was able to give me some great insight that other commentators may have missed. My wife is Chinese and although customs have changed she was able to relate to me the very traditional wedding customs. At the wedding celebration, the men, including the groom, would sit at one table and the women, including the bride, would sit at another. During the evening, the bride would retire early to prepare for her husband to come to their private room. Meanwhile the groom would continue to party and drink with his friends. When he was done partying he too would go to meet his bride, who would be waiting for him siting on the side of their bed with a red veil over her face. The groom would then lift the veil and praise his bride. This was the first time he would have seen her that day, and possibly in their whole lives. They would then consummate their marriage. In such a culture the bride may too have desired that her perfume give forth its fragrance and drift to her lover who was dining at his table.
Two important qualities are found in this passage, desire and restraint. The girl longs for deep sexual intimacy with her man. She longs for this evening, their wedding night, when he will for the first time lay with her and delight in her physically and she in him. There is definite longing and yet there has been definite restraint. She longs for her groom, her lover, and yet this, their wedding night is the first time that they will fulfill this desire. God delights in sexuality. He created it. He created the male and female bodies to work together for great delight. He created sex to be an act that can touch our souls. It can draw a man and wife closer together. It can make deep bonds between them. God delights in our sexually, and he wants us to enjoy it in the way that he knows is best. He has given us sexuality in creation, he has showed us his delight in sexuality in Song of Songs and he has instructed us on how to best enjoy this gift through out his word. We are told in Hebrews 13:4 that “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” (NASB95).He clearly tells us that sexuality is to be enjoyed, to be delighted in, but only within the covenant of marriage. He explains some of his reasoning in 1 Corinthians 6:16, “Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh” (NASB95). When a man and a women are joined together through sex, they have become as one flesh. This verse specifically refers to a prostitute, but can be applied to any male-female sexual encounter. Then we are reminded just a few verses later that our body is a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we are God's, not our own. This is because we have been bought with a price and are to glorify God with our body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20). We had turned from following God and the result was to be eternal separation from our loving Creator, but he bought us, but paying the price through Jesus death in our place. Jesus paid the price of our rejecting God and bought us back so that we can once again have relationship with him.
So the main application, which will be repeated again and again through the book is delight in your sexuality. Delight in intimate physical union with your husband or wife. As we read in Song 5:1 “Oh, lover and beloved, eat and drink! Yes, drink deeply of your love!” (NLT). And to drink deeply of love in the way that is best... in a marriage covenant with your spouse.
Song 1:15-17 (Lovers' Mutual Admiration)
How beautiful you are, my darling, How beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves.
How handsome you are, my beloved, And so pleasant! Indeed, our couch is luxuriant!
The beams of our houses are cedars, Our rafters, cypresses. (Song of Solomon 1:15-17, NASB95).
The lovers have been praising and expressing their desire for one another. In these verses they continue their exchange of praises through quick complementary remarks.
The translation of this passage is fairly straight forward. The only uncertainty is who is speaking in Song 1:17. It may be that the man is speaking (as in the NIV) or that the woman is speaking. Either way does not affect the meaning of the passage. The woman's praise of the man as “handsome” in Song 1:16 is simply the male form of the word “beautiful” in Song 1:15. The Hebrew is nearly identical (????? = beautiful, ????? = male; notice the slight differences in the marks under the character)
The man begins by praising his bride. The meaning of “Your eyes are doves” is not clear, but is obviously a form of praise within the context of her praising her beauty. The bride then echoes his praises, the man is handsome and pleasant to be with.
The Hebrew for “luxuriant”, ??????? , is used 20 times in the Old Testament and is almost always used in connection with a reference to trees. Elsewhere in the Bible, such as Deut 12:2; 1 Kgs 14:23; 2 Kgs 16:4; 17:10; Isa 57:5; Jer 2:20; 3:6, 13; Ezek 6:13; 2 Chr 28:4, the reference to green trees “refers to the groves and woodland shrines where the sacred prostitution of the fertility cult flourished5. By describing their bed this way she is referring to deep sexual pleasure which they are about to experience together. Song 1:17 then continues this joyous description by making their whole house one of pleasure and seclusion from the rest of the world. They are alone to delight in each other.
This passage fits perfectly with the Chinese marriage custom mentioned above. While they were at separate tables at the banquet the bride desired her perfumes to spread and attract her man. Now, finally, they are in the privacy of their bedroom. He has lifted her veil and seen his bride for the first time. He begins to praise her “You are beautiful” and says her eyes are beautiful. She then echoes his praising and draws his attention to their marriage bed. They are both excited to consummate their marriage and drink deep of sexual pleasure in one another.
This section has three applications that we will find throughout the book: passionately delight in your spouse, praise each other and do it all in the way that God has created and knows is best. In the case of sex, within marriage.
As we have looked at this chapter we have seen the couple desire each other. We have seen their desire grow as they moved closer to their wedding day. We have seen this desire not only as physical and sexual, but as emotional as well. We have seen them praise one another and delight in each other's presence. We will continue to see these themes repeated throughout the book together with the urgent plea not to arouse or awaken love until the proper time (Song 3:5).
1 Garrett, D. (2004). Vol. 23B: Word Biblical Commentary : Song of Songs/ Lamentations. Word Biblical Commentary (132). Dallas: Word, Incorporated. [Brackets indicate changes to the original text.]
2 For more discussion of the translation of verse 7 see: Garrett, D. (2004). Vol. 23B: Word Biblical Commentary : Song of Songs/ Lamentations. Word Biblical Commentary (137). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
3 For more information about men's and women's needs in marriage see Harley, W. F. (2001). His needs, her needs : Building an affair-proof marriage (15th anniversity ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fleming H. Revell.
4 Garrett, D. (2004). Vol. 23B: Word Biblical Commentary : Song of Songs/ Lamentations. Word Biblical Commentary (146). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.
5 Garrett, D. (2004). Vol. 23B: Word Biblical Commentary : Song of Songs/ Lamentations. Word Biblical Commentary (148). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.