in (the) concealed places of the high cliff,
in (the) hidden place of the steep rock,
let me see your sights,
let me hear your voice,
for your voice (is) sweet,
and your sights lovely!”
In this short song in v. 14, the young man is clearly speaking. The dove (Heb hn`oy) is a traditional symbol of love and (female) sexuality, being associated, for example, with the goddesses Ishtar (in Mesopotamia) and Aphrodite (in Greece). Dove-figurines have been found in religious settings, including the Canaanite temple to Astarte in Beth-Shan (cf. Pope, p. 399f). The young woman had previously been compared to a dove in 1:15, and again in 4:1, where the focus is on the beloved’s eyes. In 5:12, the same image is also used to refer to the young man’s eyes, but elsewhere in the Song it symbolizes the young woman’s beauty and sexual appeal (5:2; 6:9).
This little song is comprised of 3 parallel couplets. In the first couplet, the focus is on the two lovers having the opportunity to be together in a secluded spot. The image of a dove leads to the idea of a hiding place, suitable for doves, high up in the cliffs. Two parallel expressions are used for this:
- “concealed places of the high cliff” —the rare noun wg`j&, which occurs elsewhere only in Jer 49:16; Obad 3, refers to a concealed or hidden location; a ul^s# is a steep “cliff”, a split in the mountainside
- “hidden place of the steep rock” —a rt#s@ is a place of cover, a hiding place; the rare noun hg`r@d=m^ (elsewhere only in Ezek 38:20) is a “steep place” that leads up high (a “staircase” in post-Biblical Hebrew).
The second couplet expresses the reason why the young man wants a secluded location: so that he can have intimate contact with his beloved. He wants to “see her sights” (i.e., see all of her, every part), and to hear her voice in all its clarity. I have translated the plural of the noun ha#r=m^ quite literally as “sights, things seen”; it could also be understood in a verbal sense, the act of seeing, i.e., seeing the young woman repeatedly.
In the short final couplet, the boy expresses his love in terms of the girl’s appeal to him: her voice is br@u* (“sweet, pleasant”) and the sight of her is hw#an` (“lovely, beautiful”).
If we were to combine this song with the previous vv. 10-13, then the intended scenario might be that the two lovers have “gone away” together to find a secluded spot for their love-making. They are in the process of finding such a ‘hiding-place’ here in v. 14. The overall context of vv. 8-17, in terms of the dramatic setting of the Song, will be discussed further in the next note (on v. 15).
Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation
Jewish interpretation, in the Targum and Midrash, explained the dove as symbolizing Israel, and the crevices of the cliff-side represented both the narrow straits of their predicament—e.g., at the Reed Sea during the Exodus—but also the protection given to them there by YHWH. Hiding in the shadow of the mountain could also be symbolic of Israel’s experience standing before Mt. Sinai. Somewhat more interesting, from a modern perspective, is the Talmudic use of this passage to explain the relationship between man and woman (b. Niddah 31b; cf. also b. Berakot 24a, etc; Pope, p. 402).
Origen, in his Commentary, develops the scene from v. 13b (cf. the previous note), explaining the passing of winter in terms of the purification of the soul from all earthly/fleshly vices. The soul is called to “go away” with the Word of God, not only out of the house, but out of the (earthly) city completely. It was natural to understand the “rock” as a symbol of Christ, drawing upon Paul’s interpretation of the rock of Exod 17:6 (esp. according to Jewish tradition) in 1 Cor 10:4. Similarly, he relates this image to the scene in Exod 33:21-23, of Moses being set by God within a cleft of the rock, where he beholds the glory of YHWH (cp. 2 Cor 3:18). Within this secret place in the rock, the Son/Word of God reveals the hidden things of the Father (Jn 1:18).
Gregory of Nyssa generally follows the same line of interpretation, but gives to it a more pointed spiritual explanation. This is done, in part, by playing on the dual-meaning of the dove image—both as symbolic of the purified soul and of the Spirit. The upward ascent of the soul, into the hiding place in the high rocks, is a spiritual journey of ascent, in which the soul comes to be transformed “from glory to glory” (2 Cor 3:18). He also understands the ‘cleft in the rock’ in connection with the wall of v. 9. The lattices of this wall were explained in terms of the imperfect revelation of God through the Law, to be contrasted with the more complete revelation (of Christ) in the Gospel. The purified soul casts away the material form of the Law, entering into its spiritual essence (cf. Rom 7:14), which is identified with the Gospel, the truth of which is experienced in the ‘cleft of the rock’.
References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).