August 17: Song of Songs 6:5-7

Song 6:5-7

Verses 5-7 represent a specific kind of praise-song in love poetry, known in the Arabic tradition as a waƒf. The poet sings the praise of the beloved, focusing on one body part at a time. Earlier waƒf-songs occurred in 4:1-7 (by the young man) and 5:10-16 (by the young woman). This current song repeats lines from the earlier song by the young man; vv. 5b-7 are nearly identical with 4:1b-3 (cf. the earlier note on those verses). This repetition can be explained several ways:

    • On the theory that the author of the Song is primarily an editor/arranger of traditional material, it may be that two different (pre-existing) poems were included that contained similar traditional material.
    • The previous praise-song by the young woman focused on the mouth (5:13, 16), and on kissing as the principal expression of love (and love-making); in order to create a sense of continuity, this aspect was emphasized again, by repeating the initial lines from 4:1-7 (describing the head/face/mouth).
    • There is a dramatic purpose to the repetition. Overcome and disturbed by the young woman’s striking beauty (vv. 4-5a), the young man is unable to find the words to praise her properly, and resorts instead to repeating what he had said earlier.

Verse 5a

“Turn your eyes from in front of me,
for they—they disturb me.”

The song in 4:1-7 also begins with the eyes of the young woman, but here the wording and thrust is quite different. Far from the pure and gentle dove-like beauty described in 4:1a, now the fierce and penetrating beauty of her eyes causes him great disturbance. In looking at her, the girl’s eyes are directed back at him, being right “in front of” him (preposition dg#n#). This is overwhelming for the young man, and so he asks his beloved to “turn around” (vb bb^s*) so that her eyes no longer face him. He further declares that her eyes disturb him; the verb used for this is bh^r*, in the Hiphil (causative) stem. The root bhr has a relatively wide semantic range, but it generally denotes wild or boisterous action, sometimes applied specifically to a raging storm. A guide to its meaning here can be gleaned from the usage in Aramaic/Syriac and by the cognate verb in Arabic— “tremble, be alarmed/frightened”. A good translation, that generally corresponds to this range of meaning is “cause disturbance”, i.e. “disturb”. A more concrete poetic rendering of the phrase would be “they make me tremble”.

Verses 5b-7

“Your hair (is) like a flock of goats
streaming (down) from the Gil’ad.
Your teeth (are) like a flock of sheep
that have come up from the washing,
all of them twin, bearing a double
and none is childless among them.
<Like a thread of crimson (are) your lips,
indeed, your place of speech (is) beautiful,>
(and) like a slice of pomegranate (is) your cheek
from behind your veil.”

As noted above, these lines are virtually identical with those in 4:1b-3. The only real difference is the use of the plural noun <yl!j@r=, i.e., (female) sheep, instead of the (passive) participle tobWxq= in 4:2, referring to sheep that have been shaved. Another small difference is the reading “from the Gilead” instead of “from mount Gilead”. Also the first part of 4:3 is missing here (highlighted in gray text above) in v. 7. It is quite possible—I would say probable—that this portion was originally present, but has dropped out of the MT; it is present in the Greek and Syriac versions, but unfortunately the verse was not preserved in the surviving Dead Sea fragments of the Song, so those manuscripts can provide no help in confirming the original Hebrew here.

For the commentary on these verses, see the discussion in the earlier note on 4:1b-3.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Midrash Rabbah on v. 5a used an illustrative parable to explain its meaning, likening YHWH to a king who was angry with his queen and had her banished from his sight, suggesting that it relates to the sins of Israel. On the other hand, the verb bh^r* in the Hiphil stem (cf. above), understood in the sense of “overcome”, was applied to the religious devotion of Israel that was able to overcome the Divine anger. Cf. Pope, p. 565.

Gregory of Nyssa follows the LXX of v. 5a: “Turn away your eyes from me, for they have raised my wings [a)nepte/rwsan me, i.e., excited me, set me ‘flying’]”, and reads the phrase specifically as “they have given me wings.” Based on this reading, Gregory looks at Scriptural imagery that describes God with wings like a bird, and applies the imagery to the soul who would follow the Divine example. Under the loving shelter of His wings (cf. Psalm 16:8; Matt 23:37), we are stripped of our natural wings and grow new wings “through holiness and righteousness”. The eyes of God (and Christ), gazing upon the faithful and purified soul, transforms it ever further in accordance with the Divine image.

For Jewish and early Christian interpretation of the remainder of the imagery in vv. 5-7, cf. the earlier note on 4:1-3.

References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).



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