Andrea has been an online writer for over five years. She's a dating consultant who gives advice on relationships and couples' issues.
Exploring Song of Songs Chapter 4
Chapter 4 comes almost entirely from the male perspective. The lover comments on his beloved's beauty. He compliments her in quick succession. He is pleading for affections from her. He is clearly attracted to her and obsessed. She accepts his invitation at the end of the song.
- This chapter is broken into 16 verses.
- The original language was Hebrew.
- Song of Songs may have been a collection of wedding songs.
- King Solomon may have been mentioned in the songs to bring interest and an era to the writing. Add a famous king to a story and it may give the story eternal life.
- Jewish tradition finds King Solomon authored the text, which this possible attribution influenced it to become canonical literature. There is debate among scholars as to whether he did. The original text is linguistically ambiguous.
The poem uses imagery of:
- Flora and fauna
- Military forts and weapons
- The season of spring
- Landscapes, mountains and dens
Finding More Meaning
What Is He Trying to Say?
First of all, if anyone is looking for some poetic, flirty lines -- I don't recommend using many of the examples from this chapter. I assure you women won't want their teeth compared to sheep, hair like that of goats, or their neck like that of a looming, cold tower. Some of these comparisons and what they meant for flattery have been somewhat lost with age. I still like to think the masculine verses in Song of Songs are meant to be a little funny and a little sarcastic. Who hasn't fallen for a funny lover?
The lover's compliments do start with the face and the eyes, which that probably is wise to follow if you are trying to woe someone. People like to have their eyes complimented.
- What we can learn about the beloved from the lover's descriptions: she had black hair. Goats of Canaan were usually black, so he is describing her dark hair. Mount Gilead was known for flocks of goats running through its good pastures.
- That crazy teeth thing: he's trying to say her teeth are really white. Sheep when shorn look clean and white. He also comments that her teeth are wet, which is meant to be alluring.
- He also compares her lips to a scarlet ribbon -- he may be comparing her lips to those who would use makeup or paint to bring out their features, which was popular in Egypt.
- He uses a pomegranate to describe her cheeks -- round and flushed. He'll refer to pomegranates a second time in this song.
- He describes her neck like the Tower of David decorated with warrior shields. It sounds really weird, but he's trying to say she has a long, pretty neck that is heavily jeweled.
- We can take from these verses that physical beauty is meant to be cherished. Beauty isn't seen as a vice or a harbinger of doom. Beauty isn't a trap but can lead us to epiphanies. Beauty gives us hope.
Mountainside of Lebanon
The lover continues with making metaphors and similes about her beauty. He also invites her to travel with him and leave remote places.
- Fawns represent young, delicate beauty. There is promise of growth and coming into maturity. This is an example of another spring-like comparison in Song of Songs, which were heavily featured in Chapters 1 and 2.
- He promises privacy and exclusion and to stay in love. Myrrh and incense are used to describe aromatic spaces where love resides.
- To the lover the beloved appears to have withdrawn to a remote place, like a mountain of Lebanon, Amana, or Hermon.
- He wants her to leave danger and be away from lions and leopards. He is promising security.
Senir, Mount Hermon, and Amana are all prominent mountains on the northern end of Israel. During the time this would have been written, Lebanon referred to both the Lebanese Mountains and the Anti-Lebanese mountains.
Amana means firm, faith, truth, trust, fidelity, and faithfulness.
Repeating Symbols and Expressions for Emphasis
Before you get concerned, the lover isn't talking about a literal sister in verse 9. It was common for lovers to address each other as brother and sister in love poetry of the ancient Near East.
The man again comments on her eyes and her jeweled neck. Wine is mentioned again as a pleasing aroma, as a signal of love, and as a symbol of their intimacy.
People in the ancient Near East associated sweetness with the delights of love, hence honeycomb. It may also be a reference to the Promised Land as a place flowing with milk and honey.
The locked up garden is in reference to the Garden of Eden. She is to be taken as exclusive to him. Their romance isn't meant to be shared with others. In the next section, he details what can be found in the orchard. Again, there are allusions to spring, fruits, scents, and young animals. The garden also refers to royal parks and forests -- it's a sacred place, it's been cultivated to be beautiful, it's a place for wandering and contemplating.
Spices of India
An Abundance of Spices, Scents, and Perfumes
The lover is name dropping fruits and spices as if they're celebrities. He is packing his description of her with symbols. It's meant to be very alluring and is symbolic of their passionate love. Instead of describing how the two exactly spend time with each other, it's coded and can be interpreted in several different ways -- many of which might be too heated for me to get into.
Let's take a look at some of his word choices that are meant to be seen as flattery.
Pomegranates: the fruit is considered symmetrical and beautiful. In Exodus, pomegranates are on the garment of the high priest and the temple. Bells and pomegranates alternate on the skirt of the high priest. This is a highly exalted fruit. In Christianity, the pomegranate is used as a symbol of the sweetness of heaven and eternal life. Pomegranates are native to a region from modern day Iraq to Northern India. They have been cultivated in the Mediterranean, Middle East, and South Asia for millenniums.
Henna: also to be taken as camphire. Henna has thorny branches that protect the valuable crop from animals and predators. The henna flowers are fragrant. A henna hedge protects vineyards.
Nard: spikenard, nardin, and muskroot is a class of aromatic amber colored oil derived from Nardostachys jatamansi. It's a flowering plant in the honeysuckle family which grows in the Himalayas of Nepal, China, and India. It was used in ancient medicines to prevent inflammation and protect against bacteria. It has an earthy and musky scent. The essential oil is highly prized in perfumes.
Saffron: a beautiful flower that's purple or white. When it is dried, it can be used as a cooking spice. Saffron is the most expensive spice in the world today, making it highly sought after and precious. In English, there is the nice play on words: Rose of Sharon, Rose of Saffron. It is native to Iran, the Mediterranean, and Asia Minor.
Calamus: the root is used to make medicine, particularly for stomach problems. It is mentioned 3 times in the Bible. In Exodus 30:23, God tells Moses to use it for special anointing oil. Calamus is described as sweet, aromatic, and fragrant. It's also mentioned in Ezekiel 27:19 as merchandise. Some people suspect calamus wasn't translated correctly and was actually cannabis. Calamus can be toxic and has been used for pest control. Cannabis originated in Central Asia. The drug has been documented in prehistoric findings in Eurasia and Africa.
Cinnamon: native to Sri Lanka, Malabar Coast of India, Myanmar, South America, and the West Indies. It also has a rich aroma. This was a desirable spice that also may have come to Israel through trading or foreign affairs. It comes from tree bark.
Myrrh: this item has been mentioned multiple times in the book. It has a pleasing scent to it. It is also extracted from certain trees like cinnamon.
Aloes: leaves filled with a gelatinous material. Aloes were used as an embalming oil in Egypt. Cultivated for cosmetic and medicinal reasons. Aromatic aloes were used for royal nuptial robes.
Many of the spices mentioned are from India. The song could be taken to mean the lover has taken on a partner who is from another country or background. It could be a poem that is open minded to relationships between people of different cultures or ethno-identities. King Solomon is rumored to have married or be in union with 700 wives and 300 concubines, whether a legend or hyperbole, many of those women came from foreign lands.
The song ends with the beloved accepting the lover's invitation. She invites him to come into the orchard where they can share of their... fruits. Take it as you will.
© 2020 Andrea Lawrence