March 1: Song of Songs 2:4-5

Song 2:4-5

“He brought me (in)to (the) house of wine,
and his appearance over me (was) love.
Take hold of me with fruit (cluster)s,
spread out (a bed under) me with apples,
for I am sick from love!”

In this section, the young woman is speaking again, and several motifs from the prior poems are combined here in these lyrics.

The “house of wine” (/y]Y`h^ tyB@) is synonymous with the expression “house of drinking” (hT#v=m! tyB@), as in Jer 16:8; Eccl 7:2; Dan 5:10. In Esther 7:8, we have the longer expression “house of drinking wine”(cf. also Esth 5:6; 7:2). The basic image is of a (royal) banqueting hall, as in 1:4. The young man (= her “king”) brings her into this royal hall, where the two will lay down together (v. 5). As in that earlier poem, the royal banquet-hall reflects the love shared between the young man and woman; anywhere they can meet  together becomes, for them, a royal banquet room.

The meaning of the much disputed noun lg#D# here should be determined in relation to the use of the verb lg~D* in 5:10 (also 6:4, 10). The fundamental meaning (cp. Akkadian dagalu) of the root has to with the look or appearance of something—something which is clear, conspicuous, or otherwise stands out. Elsewhere in the Old Testament, lg#D# refers specifically to a flag or banner, such as carried by armies in battle. Conceivably, it could refer here to a banner that hangs in the ‘banquet hall’ over where the two lovers lay together. More likely, however, it is a reference to the appearance of the young man as he rests over her. It may also express the young man loving gaze (or look) at her. The noun for their love here is hb*h&a^ rather than doD.

In verse 5, the woman’s love is expressed in terms of love-sickness (vb hl*j*). This sickness can only be relieved by experiencing the young man’s love in a romantic/sexual encounter. The sexual aspect is brought out clearly though the fruit-imagery, continued from verse 3 (cf. the previous note). She asks the young man to “take hold” (vb Em^s*) of her with tovyv!a&. The precise meaning of the noun hv*yv!a& is uncertain, but it seems to refer to a cluster of fruit, or fruit that has been pressed together (cf. 2 Sam 6:19; Hos 3:1). There may be an implicit association with wine (cf. above). In any case, she asks that he grab hold of her, presumably in the sense of an embrace, though the verb Em^s* also connotes the idea of giving strength or support.

The noun j^WPT^ was used in verse 3, and signifies a fragrant fruit (spec. apples or apricots). The sexual and erotic association with apples (and apple-trees) was mentioned in the previous note, and many other examples could be cited on that point. The verb here is dp^r*, which fundamentally means “spread (out)”, as in preparing a bed. Such a ‘bed of apples’ clearly symbolizes the two lovers lying down together, but there may also be a connotation of rest and refreshment, which relieves the young woman of her love-sickness.

Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation

The Targum interpreted the “house of wine” as the place where one studies the Torah. One receives God’s commandments in love, just as faithful Israelites would proclaim: “All that YHWH has commanded, I will do and I will obey”. Similarly, the cure for love-sickness is to be found in the study of the Law (cf. Pope, pp. 377, 383):

“…bring me to the House of Study, and sustain me with the Words of the Law, upon which the world is based…explaining the holy words which are sweet on my palate like apples of the Garden of Eden.”

The Great Midrash associates the noun hv*yv!a& (cf. above) with va@ (“fire”), and connects it with key fire-motif passages in Old Testament and Jewish tradition, including the idea of the written Torah and oral Torah as black and white fire, respectively.

Origen, in his Commentary on the Song, naturally draws upon imagery identifying wine (or the vine) with the person of Christ. At the allegorical level, the “house of wine” symbolizes the Church, in which faithful souls partake of the wine that comes from the True Vine (John 15:1ff). He begins a long line of tradition that reads verse 4b as “set love in order in me”, drawing upon the LXX translation: ta/cate e)p’ e)me\ a)gaph/n. This theme of ‘rightly ordered love’ would become a regular part of subsequent Christian commentary on the Song. Rightly-ordered love is that which corresponds to the example and teaching of Christ, the Word of God. It is a love that shines with purity and truth within the soul.

Gregory of Nyssa adopts this more mystical line of interpretation, and gives special emphasis to the woman’s love-sickness (cf. above), again following the LXX which translates the Hebrew as “I am (one) having been wounded by love”. The idea of this spiritual love as a wound which strikes the purified soul would also become an important point of exposition for subsequent commentators (especially those in the monastic and mystic traditions). He says of this ‘wound’:

“…it is a good wound and a sweet pain by which life penetrates the soul; for by the tearing of the arrow she opens, as it were, a door, and entrance into herself… no sooner does she receive the dart of love than the image of archery is transformed into a scene of nuptial joy.” (Daniélou, p. 179)

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

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