(Click here to read the whole Sex in Song of Solomon series.)
Song of Solomon, chapter 4. In chapter 3 we spied on the Beloved’s dream on the night before her wedding and we saw her reaction to her Lover’s approach on their wedding day. Chapter 4 opens with the Lover’s admiration of his Beloved’s beauty as he arrives at the wedding. He begins at the top of her body and works his way down…
1 Behold, you are beautiful, my love,
behold, you are beautiful!
Your eyes are doves
behind your veil.
Your hair is like a flock of goats
leaping down the slopes of Gilead.
2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes
that have come up from the washing,
all of which bear twins,
and not one among them has lost its young.
3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread,
and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate
behind your veil.
4 Your neck is like the tower of David,
built in rows of stone;
on it hang a thousand shields,
all of them shields of warriors.
5 Your two breasts are like two fawns,
twins of a gazelle,
that graze among the lilies.
6 Until the day breathes
and the shadows flee,
I will go away to the mountain of myrrh
and the hill of frankincense.
7 You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.
The Lover is completely entranced with the beauty of his Beloved! He compliments all the features we men notice in modern times, and he grows more intimate as he moves down her body. Eyes, hair, teeth, lips, neck, breasts… but what’s this about a mountain and a hill? Some commentaries suggest that the mountains in the metaphor refer to the Church, and that the myrrh and frankincense refer to the scented incense that was used in Jewish temple rituals. Maybe! Song of Solomon is a metaphor for Christ’s love for the church, just as the institution of marriage itself is.
But! It’s not that hard to follow the Lover’s progression down his Beloved: head, neck, breasts, and then a heavenly-scented mountain that is perhaps too intimate to name directly. “Until the day breathes and the shadows flee”, the Lover will be caught up in his Beloved’s girly bits. It’s a lovely picture, and in my mind’s eye I can see the Beloved blushing in coy arousal. The intimacy and love described here are beautiful — the Lover is utterly smitten.
9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride;
you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes,
with one jewel of your necklace.
10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride!
How much better is your love than wine,
and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
11 Your lips drip nectar, my bride;
honey and milk are under your tongue;
the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon.
The Lover then describes his Beloved as garden of delight.
12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
a spring locked, a fountain sealed.
13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates
with all choicest fruits,
henna with nard,
14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon,
with all trees of frankincense,
myrrh and aloes,
with all choice spices—
15 a garden fountain, a well of living water,
and flowing streams from Lebanon.
The garden is locked, the spring is locked, the fountain is sealed. The Beloved belongs to her Lover alone, and the intimacy of their relationship is tightly guarded from outsiders. This intimacy is sexual, but not only sexual. It is their whole relationship, uniquely protected for just the two of them. The Lover ends with an evocative exhortation that is not difficult to interpret:
16 Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
The Lover’s words drip with erotic intimacy, and upon hearing her Lover’s profession of desire the Beloved does what any sensible woman would do:
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
To paraphrase: Come get some.
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