February 25: Song of Songs 2:1

Song of Songs 2:1-7

It is proper to regard 2:1-7 as distinct poetic unit within the Song, concluding as it does with the refrain addressing the “daughters of Jerusalem”. However, there are also signs that shorter poems or poetic fragments (lyrics) have been combined here as well. If so, they follow a chain of associations which clearly unites them into a single poem.

Song 2:1

” I (am) a saffron of the plain, a lily of the valleys”

Commentators (and botanists) continue to debate the identity of the flowers referred to by the terms tl#X#b^j& and /v^Wv here in verse 1. The former as variously been identified as a rose, tulip, narcissus, lily, crocus, and others. The purplish crocus or pink-purple meadow saffron is as good a guess as any. For smoother poetry, I have adopted the (meadow) saffron for my translation. The second flower-type (/v^Wv) probably refers to one of two lily types: either the white lily (Lilium candidum) or drooping red lily (Lilium chalcedonicum). Some commentators would instead relate it to the (Egyptian) lotus.

Each of these words occur elsewhere in the Old Testament, but only rarely. The noun tl#X#b^j& occurs only at Isa 35:1, in the context of a prophecy that the parched desert land (i.e., Israel following the punishment of conquest and exile) will once again blossom luxuriously. The noun /v^Wv is somewhat more common, occurring 7 times (in 5 locations) outside of the Song—1 Kings 7:19, 22, 26; 2 Chron 4:5; Psalm 45:1; 69:1; Hos 14:6. In Hosea 14:6-8, the context is similar to the Isaian passage mentioned above, referring metaphorically to the future blossoming of Israel. The main association with these flower-terms thus appears to be that of luxuriant fertility and growth. Its significance as applied to the young woman is as an expression of her blossoming sexuality.

The two expressions “saffron of the plain” and “lily of the valleys” are parallel, and should be taken together in a comprehensive sense—since the flat plain or tableland, along with the valley, comprise, in general terms, the two main fertile regions where flowers, etc, will grow especially well. It is possible that here the term /orv* (š¹rôn), with the definite article, refers to “the plain” —that is, the Sharon-plain, the fertile coastal region of Palestine, extending from Joppa (Jaffa) to just south of Mt. Carmel. If so, then it is almost certainly the white lily, which grows wild on the Sharon, that is meant by the term /v*Wv (cf. above).

In announcing her blossoming sexuality—with its implicit beauty and natural splendor—the young woman is essentially declaring her willingness and readiness for a romantic/sexual encounter with the young man she loves. Given the connection with what follows, in verses 2-3, it is possible to take the girl’s statement in verse 1 as part of the playful lovemaking, between the two characters, that runs poetically throughout the Song. The exchange in vv. 2-3, between the young man and young woman, will be discussed in the next daily note, at which point reference will be made to the Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation of vv. 1-3 together.

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