August 3: Song of Songs 5:2

Song 5:2-6:3

The next section of the Song is one of the longest, spanning 5:2-6:3. It is a sophisticated literary work, and no mere arrangement of individual poems; the hand of a true artist and poet is evident, here more so than perhaps anywhere else in the Song. Important themes from the first movement (chaps. 1-3) are developed and expanded, woven together into an effective and powerful dramatic scene. At the core of this section are the two major songs of 5:3-9 and 5:10-6:1, each of which ends with an address to the “daughters of Jerusalem”, with a question from that chorus in response. The overall structure is as follows:

    • Introductory scene between the Girl and Boy (5:2)
    • The Girl’s First Song (5:3-9)
      • Chorus of the “daughters of Jerusalem” (v. 9)
    • The Girl’s Second Song (5:10-6:1)
      • Chorus of the “daughters of Jerusalem” (6:1)
    • Closing song of the Girl (about the Boy) (6:2-3)

The overall drama of the section is inspired by the earlier mini-drama in 3:1-3ff; the first song in 5:3-9 is specifically related to that earlier scene. However, other portions from chapters 1-3 are also developed, such as the night-time rendezvous in 2:9-10ff and the girl’s search for her beloved in 1:7-8. The praise song of 5:10ff is essentially an expansion of 1:16-17, just as the corresponding song by the young man (4:1-7) is an expansion of the declaration in 1:15.

Song 5:2

“I (am) asleep, but my heart is waking—
(the) voice of my love (is) urging (me):
‘Open (up) to me, my sister, my companion,
my dove, my perfect (one)!
(For it is) that my head is filled by dew,
my locks with (dew-)drops of (the) night.'”

This is a wonderfully enigmatic scene, with echoes of 3:1 and 2:9-10. As in the earlier night-time rendezvous scene in 2:9-10ff, the young man is apparently standing outside of the young woman’s room (or the wall of her house, since he seems to be outside). At the same time, as in 3:1, the girl is asleep, and so the entire scene has the flavor of a dream. The phrase “my heart is waking” primarily reflects her longing and desire, expressed most vividly even when she is asleep. The wording allows for the dramatic scenario of an anticipation of the young man’s arrival while she is sleeping—the girl awakes to find that he is indeed there outside, calling to her.

The overall scene is parallel to that of 4:12-15ff. There the boy was outside of the garden enclosure waiting for the girl to let him inside; here she is in her own room, while the young man is outside, hoping that she will let him in. The poetic location may be different, but the conflict is the same—the young man is eager and longing to come in to be united (romantically and sexually) with his beloved. There is almost certainly a sexual double entendre here when he urges her (vb qb^D*) to “open (up)” to him.

The urgency is also due to the circumstances of the young man’s night-time journey to her. He has clearly come from some distance, in the middle of the night, for the chance to be together with her. His hair is wet, soaked with the night-time dew. There is a clear parallel in (Ps-)Anacreon’s description of Love personified asking for entrance (iii. 10):

“Open! I am just a youth, do not fear. For I am drenched with wandering about in the moonlit night.” (Fox, p. 144)

The noun toXw%q= occurs only here (and also v. 11) in the Old Testament; its presumed meaning of “locks of hair” has to be determined from parallels in Syriac, Arabic, and later Hebrew. Similarly, the noun sys!r* occurs only here, and its meaning (“drops”) must be discerned from the poetic parallelism in context. It may be the same as the sys!r* in Amos 6:11, presumably from a root (again determined from Late Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic) meaning “break into pieces” —i.e., “pieces, fragments”.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum interpreted the woman’s “sleeping” historically, in terms of Israel’s sin and exile, while her “waking”, correspondingly, referred to her repentance and return from exile. The Midrash followed a similar ethical-religious line of interpretation, relating the states to ‘sleepiness’ and ‘alertness’ in the observance and study of the Torah, performance of the required ritual, and so forth. The expression “my heart” referred to God, on the basis of Psalm 73:26, and the call to “open” was explained as the opening through which Israel’s repentance would come, and which God had enlarged by His mercy. The various images used by the young man for his beloved were similarly explained in terms of God’s love for Israel and His relationship to her. Cf. Pope, p. 513f.

The imagery of the sleeping body but the waking heart was given a suitably philosophical and mystical interpretation by Gregory of Nyssa in his sermon. The higher part of the soul, purified of sin and earthly concerns, lives within itself, undisturbed by the senses as the rest of the body “sleeps”:

“The contemplation of our true good makes us despise all these things, and so the eye of the body sleeps. Anything that the eye reveals does not attract the perfect soul, because by reason it looks only to those things which transcend the visible universe.” (Daniélou/Musurillo, p. 242)

The higher form of pleasure that the purified soul experiences is spiritual and without passion. Theodoret gives to the passage a more ethical-religious explanation, drawn from references to sleep/wakefulness in the New Testament. In calling his beloved “perfect” (Heb <T*), this description was explained in terms of Jesus’ directive to his disciples in Matt 5:48 and 19:21, etc, thus being applied to the believer who truly follows the teaching and example of Jesus. Only the one who follows the Bridegroom (Christ) will be able to come close to him and unite together in spiritual union; Theodoret cites James 4:8 in this regard: “Draw near to me, and I will draw near to you”.

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).
Those marked “Fox” are to Michael V. Fox, The Song of Songs and the Ancient Egyptian Love Songs (University of Wisconsin Press: 1985).
Those marked Daniélou/Musurillo are to From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings, selected by Jean Daniélou, S.J., translated & edited by Herbert Musurillo, S.J. (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2001).