Continuing with Mr.Dillow's book
THE WEDDING NIGHT
(Reflections #8, Song 4:1-5:1)
In Chapter 1:1-2:7, we find Shulamith's memory lingering
tenderly on their first night together and the events of the
wedding day. Then, in the window of her mind, she begins to
reflect on the events leading to the marriage. Her thoughts of
the wedding procession naturally lead her to thoughts of their
first night together. In this chapter we have an extended
description of their lovemaking on the wedding night.
It is difficult to be certain this is the wedding night, but
the close proximity with the wedding procession in the preceding
chapter tends to imply the wedding night is intended. It is
possible, however, that this chapter describes another lovemaking
experience months later in their marriage.
Thus, we assume the wedding ceremony occurred between
chapters three and four. Also, the events of chapter one with
Shulamith in the palace and later at the banquet table all occur
chronologically before this song but after the arrival of the
The royal couple is alone. Solomon outdoes himself in
praising the beauty of his bride. The beautiful love song in this
scene gives us a glimpse into the consummation of their marriage.
The time of the scene seems to be late afternoon or early
evening (4:6). (We must remember that for the ancients, the day
ended much earlier than it does for us.) It appears that the
wedding procession arrived sometime in the morning or about
midday. Shulamith was then taken to the palace where she prepared
for the wedding banquet. There we met her in the opening verses
of the book. In mid-afternoon the wedding banquet was held. Now
the afternoon draws to a dose and twilight comes. The bride and
groom retire to the bridal chamber eagerly anticipating the
consummation of their love in intercourse.
How beautiful you are, my darling,
How beautiful you are!
Your eyes are like doves behind your veil;
Presumably Solomon and his bride, on the couch in the bridal
chamber, have initiated their loveplay. Solomon is overwhelmed by
the beauty of his bride and begins to praise her charms as his
eyes and caresses pass over her body.
A dove (with which he symbolizes her eyes) is a traditional
symbol of purity, innocence, and beauty.
The reference to the veil most likely does not refer to the
veil that covers most of the face. Even though Delitzsch seems to
think it does, several factors make this improbable.
(1) It seems rather unnecessary and even awkward for a bride to
remain veiled on her wedding night. The veil was to seal her off
from the eyes of other men, not from her husband.
(2) The text clearly states that Solomon could see her teeth
(4:2), her lips (4:3), her cheeks (4:3), and her neck (4:4), all
of which would be covered by the oriental veil. Jews used a piece
of silk or other material to cover women's faces.
In view of this, it seems preferable to take the suggestion
of Lehrman and others that the veil here refers to her hair
cascading down her head. Thus, the long hair of his Shulamite
bride hangs across her face like a veil, but between the strands
of hair he sees and praises her beautiful features.
Now prepare yourself for some seemingly unflattering praise.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
That have descended from Mount Gilead.
If a modern husband said that to his wife on her wedding
night, he'd either be met with tears or a purse hurled in his
This is a metaphor of subjective response. Many times poets
use certain metaphors in order to create a subjective response in
the mind and emotions of the reader. In this particular case,
these goats refer to black goats with long silky hair that
glistens in the twilight sun. As they wound their way homeward
coming down the restful slopes of Mt.Gilead, they created a sense
of restfulness and beauty in the eye of the beholder. Solomon is
saying Shulamith is like that. As he beholds her hair and her
general beauty, he is overwhelmed with a sense of quiet. He loves
to just look at her and take in what he sees. He's actually being
Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes
Which have come from their washing;
To liken her teeth to sheep is to say they are as white as
snow. To say that they are like newly shorn ewes suggests they
are smooth. The allusion to the "washing" suggests that her teeth
glisten with saliva.
All of which bear twins
And not one among them has lost her young.
All her teeth are twins; they come in pairs, top and bottom,
and are evenly matched. Not only that, but she still has all her
teeth - she has lost none of "her young."
Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
And your mouth is lovely.
Shulamith apparently used lipstick of some type and other
cosmetics in a comely way which highlighted her natural beauty.
It is very difficult to imagine that Solomon's words are
separate from the parts of her body he is caressing. It would
seem rather awkward to simply stare at her without caressing the
parts of her body he is describing.
Thus, he starts his lovemaking by kissing her hair, teeth,
and lips and stroking these areas as well.
Next he kisses and caresses her temples or cheeks.
Your temples are like a slice of pomegranate
Behind your veil.
Her rosy cheeks veiled by her hair resemble the pomegranate
when cut open.
The preceding verse likened her charms to the rustic
background from which she came. But she is not only a country
maiden; she is the wife of the king of Israel. Hence, the
following features are likened to things associated with Solomon.
Your neck is like a tower of David
Built with rows of stones,
On which are hung a thousand shields,
All the round shields of the mighty men.
To liken her neck to a tower of David speaks of her erect
and queenly carriage. The shields refer to the ornaments that
normally adorned her neck as she walked in public. Shields were
often hung on the outside of a tower wall to protect the tower.
He is saying she is a source of strength to him. He needs her
strength and encouragement.
Your two breasts are like two fawns,
Twins of a gazelle
Which feed among the lilies.
Delitzsch comments, "The breasts are compared to a twin pair
of young gazelles in respect of their equality and youthful
freshness, and the bosom on which they raise themselves is
compared to a meadow covered with lilies, on which the twin pair
of young gazelles feed."
The imagery suggests her breasts are uncovered.
It is interesting to observe how otherwise brilliant Hebrew
commentators will allow their cultural preconditioning to reject
the obvious meaning of some of the passages of the Song. Zockler,
for example, the brilliant German exegete says concerning this
A more detailed parcelling out of the comparison, as for
instance ... by Weissb, who supposes a particular reference
in the young gazelles to the dark colored nipples of her
breasts as their especial charm, and in the lilies to the
snowy whiteness of her bosom is inadmissible, and leads to
what is in violation of good taste or to what is obscene.
Detitzsch and others believe the text teaches what Zockler
asserts to be in violation of good taste. Zockler rejects this
interpretation because to him it appears obscene. This is not an
exegete speaking. It is a man conditioned by his culture so that
probable interpretations of the Song are ruled out by cultural
preconditioning and not by hermeneutical principle. Others might
see nothing in violation of good taste or obscene, but on the
contrary, something beautiful.
The symbolism of gazelle and lilies is actually quite
delicate and very beautiful. The reference was to the dorcus
gazelle, an animal about two feet high at the shoulders, and a
marvel of lightness and grace. The beauty of its eyes was
proverbial. One of the most common associations with the gazelle
was that it was a delicacy served at Solomon's table (1 Kings
4:23). They are delicious to eat. They are fawn in color and when
tamed are very affectionate. Furthermore, they have a
frolicsomeness and gaiety which irresistibly enchants the eyes of
the beholder and attracts them to come near and touch theme The
lily is curvy and is often therefore alluded to as an
Casual reflections on the many associations connected with
the words "gazelle" and "lilies" make his description of his
wife's breast pregnant with beautiful connotations. They are very
curvaceous like the lily. Their beauty creates within his heart a
desire to reach out and fondle them as one would a gazelle
feeding by a brook. The notion of frolicsomeness suggests sexual
playfulness. The fact they were served as a delicacy to eat at
Solomon's table suggests his desire to caress them with his lips
and tongue. As gazelles were warm and affectionate, so was
Shulamith as a sexual partner.
Until the cool of the day
When the shadows flee away, (at twilight time)
I will go to the mountain of myrrh
And to the hill of frankincense.
This appears to be synthetic parallelism. Thus the mountain
of myrrh and the hill of frankincense are the same place. But
what do they represent?
The female genitals are referred to in 5:1 as a "garden" and
in 4:13 as "shoots" (see discussion on 4:13). In both passages,
myrrh and frankincense are described as characteristic scents of
Thus, when Solomon says he will go his way "to the mountain
of myrrh," the reference to the mountain of myrrh and to the hill
of frankincense becomes, in this interpretation, an obvious
reference to the proverbial "Mount of Venus."
That this is the intent of the imagery is further reinforced
by the fact that Solomon's praises and caresses start at her head
and work downward. Note the sequence:
1. eyes - like doves
2. hair - long and black
3. teeth - white and smooth
4. lips - red and lovely
5. cheeks - red
6. neck - erect
7. breasts - full and youthful
8. "garden" - (mount of myrrh, etc.) - erotically scented
Solomon now sums up the beauty of his bride by saying:
You are altogether beautiful my darling,
And there is no blemish in you.
I once counselled a couple who were having some difficulties
in the physical dimension of their marriage. The trouble, on the
surface, seemed to be the wife's inhibitions. The husband was
rather distraught at her refusal to disrobe and display her body
The first question I asked him was, "Have you ever told your
wife you thought her body was beautiful?"
She volunteered, "No he hasn't. I had no idea he thought my
body was appealing to him. In fact, because he never expressed
that it was appealing I sort of assumed it wasn't." As a result
the inhibitions set in.
Every woman wants to believe her appearance arouses her man.
Solomon's sensitive to this fact and expresses himself
accordingly. Like any woman, Shulamith wanted to hear Solomon
comment he liked what he saw when she entered the room.
The problem is, many women have "hang-ups" about various
parts of their anatomy. They can stand in front of a mirror and
see scores of imperfections that never even occurred to you. That
appendectomy scar, for example, looks to her as if it's 18 inches
long. If she has picked up a few stretch marks from having
babies, as far as she is concerned her tummy looks like a plowed
field. Her thighs are either too fat or too skinny. Her breasts
are either too big, too small or too something.
Tell her she is beautiful to you. That's what Solomon is
doing here and he's doing it in poetry!
Now there is a brief pause in their lovemaking while Solomon
sums up her beauty in 4:7 and discusses a journey to the Lebanon
mountains, her country home.
Come with me from Lebanon, my bride,
May you come with me from Lebanon.
The passage is somewhat difficult in view of the fact that
they are in the bridal chamber in Jerusalem. Delitzsch argues
that the Hebrew of the passage suggests he wants her to go with
him to Lebanon up to the steep heights of the mountains. He is
promising her a vacation in the country. He will take her to the
country home she loves. He describes what they will see and do
while in the mountains:
Journey down from the summit of Amana,
Amana is the name of one of the outermost peaks of the
From the summit of Sent, and Hermon,
Hermon is the most southern peak of the Anti-libanus chain.
This chain of mountains (about 10,000 feet) forms the
northeastern border of Palestine. The springs of the Jordan River
take their rise here. Senir is another section of the same
mountain range. It is very probable that Solomon built royal
residences in this region. It was his San Clemente and Camp
David, a sort of northern White House. He is, in effect,
promising her a vacation, or perhaps a honeymoon in the mountains
north of where she was raised.
From the dens of lions,
From the mountains of leopards.
Leopards live in these mountains even today, although lions
have long since become extinct. From the heights of these
mountains, Solomon promises they will honeymoon together and look
down where the lions and leopards dwell.
Before moving on to verse 9, let's consider several
principles related to sexual love that are evident in these
verses. Put yourself in Shulamith's position. Two days earlier
she had been walking around barefoot in the vineyards in the
Lebanon mountains to the north In the past forty-eight hours she
had been transported south in a gala wedding procession, placed
in the splendid palace of the richest man in the world,
officiated at a wedding banquet, and now she finds herself alone
with her new husband at last. That's quite a lot to happen to a
country girl in two days!
Without a doubt she is probably a little restless inside.
She probably is longing for her Lebanon home. She feels slightly
out of place. Also, it seems evident she was somewhat concerned
about her appearance in comparison to the lovely court ladies
(1:5,6; 2:1,2), feeling she was only a "lily of the valley," a
common country girl. In view of these inner feelings, Solomon's
approach to lovemaking seems very exemplary.
In 4:8 he deals with her first concern - her longing for her
country home. He promises her they will return there for the
honeymoon. Her second problem, her concern about her beauty, is
dealt with in 4:1-7 where he tells her how beautiful she is.
Solomon's a mind reader! He is very sensitive to his wife's
psychological and emotional concerns and is not only concerned
with his own satisfaction on the physical level. Too frequently
men tend to divorce sex from the total relationship. Women on the
other hand tend to be so concerned about the relationship and the
"spiritual" aspects of sex that to view it as pure pleasure and
fun is offensive. Both extremes are wrong. Solomon is being
extremely thoughtful and tender toward his new bride. A woman
needs to feel her husband wants to make love to her as a person
and not as a "body" or thing. Their loveplay here was relaxed,
unrushed, and a time for enjoying one another as persons and not
just as objects. Too many men carry a "thirty-second" approach
into the bedroom and wonder why their wives never seem to be
responsive. In order for sex to be an expression of love, the
needs and desires of the other person should be more important
than your own.
Do nothing from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in
humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you
should look not only to your own interests, but also to the
interests of others (Phil 2:34).
If your lovemaking tends to last only five or ten minutes,
you might consider whether or not you are really making love to
your wife as a person or simply using her for a sexual release.
Solomon's main concern was to satisfy his bride and not
himself, as a result he received plenty of satisfaction in return
After a brief interlude and joyful conversation, their
lovemaking resumes at a faster pace in the following verses.
You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride.
You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of
Her eyes were apparently very alluring and had the ability
to arouse him.
You have made my heart beat faster with a single strand of
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride,
How much better is your love than wine,
Solomon says her love ("caresses," see discussion on 1:2)
are beautiful (2:3). They are more beautiful than wine, a symbol
for supreme pleasure.
When he says her love is better than wine, he is
complimenting her on her love skill. She was a skilful mistress!
And the fragrance of your oils
Than all kinds of spices!
Her oils, those she naturally produces, are more fragrant to
him than "all kinds of spices." Since the spices are also oils of
myrrh, etc., the contrast must be between naturally produced
"oils" (the moistness associated with feminine passion), and
external man-made perfumes.
Your lips, my bride, drip honey;
Honey and milk are under your tongue,
These symbols speak of the sweetness of her kisses. "No
doubt some historians of romance are under the illusion that a
certain kind of kissing originated in France in recent centuries.
This Song, however, was written long before that" one writer has
And the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of
This apparently refers to a flimsy, scant, and perfumed
negligee she is wearing while they are enjoying their love
together. It must be sheer; he can see her breasts through it
(4:5) and her "mountain of myrrh" (4:6). This attire provided
Solomon with ample access to her feminine charms. Shulamith knew
how to dress for bed!
One woman in a book I recently read put it this way: "Wives,
if your husbands like black, see-through lingerie, don't wear
flannel pyjamas to bed. You're not living in a nunnery, you are
sleeping with a man." He's not interested in fighting through
yards of cloth or "missionary mumus" in order to find you.
A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
A rock-garden locked, a spring sealed up.
The garden refers to her vagina. When Solomon says it is
locked, he is saying it has never been entered; she is a virgin.
Gardens and vineyards in Palestine were surrounded by rock walls
to prevent intrusion of strangers. Only the lawful possessor of
the garden could enter it.
Solomon's use of the word "garden" to describe his wife's
genitals is full of poetic and symbolic beauty. The Hebrew word
"gannah" 's literally translated, "a covered or hidden place,"
and in the Eastern traveller's mind denotes much more than an
ordinary garden does today. Gardens in biblical times "were
usually walled inclosures, as the name indicates in which there
were paths winding in and out among shade and fruit trees, canals
of running water, fountains, sweet-smelling herbs, aromatic
blossoms and convenient arbors in which to sit and enjoy the
The literature of ancient Egypt, Palestine, and Babylon
indicates kings were especially fond of gardens and laid out vast
expanses of rich gardens containing the rarest trees and plants.
To the oriental mind, a garden was a place of shade and
refreshment. Frequently the ancient picture of Paradise involves
a shaded garden, the air laden with sweet perfumes from the
fruits and flowers, accompanied by the music of running water and
a couch upon which to recline. To the Hebrew mind, especially,
the reference to a "garden" recalled the beauty and perfection of
the Garden of Eden.
Only one who has travelled for days in a dry, glaring desert
country (such as surrounds Palestine), and has come upon a
beautiful shaded garden can appreciate how similar to Paradise
these gardens can appear. Thus to describe Shulamith's vagina as
a garden is to say it is beautiful to behold, like flowered
gardens of the East. It is also a source of sexual refreshment
for him to experience. As a carefully cultivated Eastern garden
yields delicious "fruit," so Shulamith's garden is a source of
delicious fruit (sexual pleasures), when "cultivated."
Furthermore, it is a source of fertility. To make love with
her is like entering Paradise. Her pleasures are secret and
hidden from all but Solomon - the rightful owner of the garden.
Not only does Solomon refer to her vagina as a "garden," but also
as a "spring sealed up" (4:12). Because water was scarce in the
East, owners of fountains sealed them with clay which quickly
hardened in the sun. Thus, a sealed fountain was shut against all
impurity; no one could get water out of it except its rightful
Thus, Shulamith was closed against the world and
inaccessible to all who would disturb her pure heart or desecrate
her pure person.
Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
With choice fruits, henna with nard plants,
Nard and saffron, calainus and cinnamon,
With all the trees of frankincense,
Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices.
The Hebrew word translated "shoots" is used in the Old
Testament to mean a missile or a weapon. It is also used of
plants or fruit (Jer.17:8; Ps.80:12). Both meanings make no sense
here. It seems Solomon's giving the word a distinct meaning
unique to the love song. This should not be unexpected as he
takes other common words and gives them erotic meanings ("oils,"
"garden," "fruit," etc.). Some of the commentators suggest the
word should be translated "they sendings forth." Although this
interpretation has the advantage of being very literal, it lacks
Perhaps Harris Hirschberg is correct when he says that since
the preceding verses are referring to the female anatomy, we
should think of the Arabic "shalkh," or vagina. Thus "the shoots"
would refer to her "garden." This interpretation gains prominence
in that the aroma of frankincense is attributed to her "shoots"
in 4:14 and also to her "garden," or vagina, in 5:1. The plural,
"shoots," is somewhat awkward in this interpretation, but it is
probably a plural of intensity like elohim (God - Gods is a
plural of intensity emphasizing the divine majesty). Zockler says
the term "plants" refers to a single plant.
To be continued
Entered on this Website July 2007