This is the final song, and portion, of the section covering 5:2-6:3. It is parallel with the initial scene in 5:2, providing a direct contrast between the enclosed house/room in the city and the enclosed garden (cf. below). This song is comprised of two verses.
“My love has gone down to his enclosure,
to the garden-beds of spice(s),
to pasture in the enclosed (space)s,
and to pluck up (the) lilies.”
In verse 2, the young woman provides the answer to the question posed by the “daughters of Jerusalem” in v. 1 (cf. the previous note): “where has your love gone…?” The answer is that he has gone down to his garden (/G~). Fundamentally, the noun /G~ refers to an enclosed and protected place—that is, specifically, an enclosed garden.
As we saw in 4:12-5:1, the garden, representing the young woman’s sexuality as well as the place of sexual union for the couple, was depicted as an enclosed space with a latched entrance. In this regard, the garden enclosure forms a precise parallel with the city house (and room), with its latched door, in 5:2 (cf. the earlier note on that verse). Let us consider how these two locales—house/room and garden—frame the thematic structure of 5:2-6:3:
- Enclosed room in the city (5:2)—separation between the lovers [union is not possible]
- Enclosed Garden (6:2-3)—the possibility and promise of union between the lovers
In order to emphasize this parallelism between two enclosed spaces, I have translated /G~ here as “enclosure, enclosed (space)”. There can be no doubt, however, that here in vv. 2-3 we are dealing with a garden. The motif of ‘garden-beds’ (togWru&), with growing plants and flowers, is picked up from the previous praise-song (5:13). This helps us understand the use of the plural <yN]G~, i.e., “gardens”, rendered here as “enclosed (space)s”, referring to all the luxurious spaces within the enclosure of the garden. The wording also alludes to the prior waƒf praise-songs, with their description of individual body parts (i.e., ‘places’ in the garden).
As in 4:16, it is referred to as “his garden” (cp. 5:1, “my garden”), in the sense that it belongs to him—i.e., the girls sexuality is reserved for him alone (and for no other young man)—and his seal of ownership is stamped upon it (spec. on the spring of water at the center of the enclosure, 4:12). As with the city-room, the garden enclosure has a latched entrance, which serves, at least temporarily, to separate the two lovers. However, this is not a barrier imposed by society, and once the girl invites the young man in, the two can be together in the garden of their sexual union.
This entrance of the young man was described (and/or anticipated) in 5:1, and the same imagery is essentially repeated here by the girl. He comes into the garden to graze, like the very sheep/goats that the young man (as a herdsman in the Song) pastures (vb hu*r*). There is wordplay between the verb hu*r* (“[give] pasture, graze, feed”) and the suffixed noun yu!r@ (“my companion,” 5:16) from a separate root hur (“associate with, be a friend”). In this context a “companion” means a lover, and the whole line of grazing/pasturing imagery in the Song is erotically charged (cf. 1:7-8).
Indeed, the motif of “plucking” (vb fq^l*) flowers here in the Song clearly alludes to the enjoyment of sexual pleasure and is suggestive of sexual intercourse. On the erotic symbolism of the blossoming “lilies” (<yn]v*ov), cf. the earlier note on 2:1-2. The entire imagery here, of course, is predicated upon the symbolism of the garden throughout of the Song (cf. above), much like the parallel vineyard motif (1:6, 14; 2:13, 15, etc).
The flower-beds are also one with the beds of spices (sing. <c#B#) in the garden. As I have mentioned repeatedly in these notes, spices (particularly, frankincense and myrrh) serve as a fundamental symbol of sexuality (and sexual union) throughout the Song—most recently in 5:13, cf. the prior note.
“I (belong) to my love,
and my love (belongs) to me—
(he is) the (one) pasturing in the lilies.”
These final lines emphasize again that the garden—that is, the sexuality of the young woman—belongs to this young man, and is reserved for him alone. This could be taken to imply that the boy and girl are betrothed to one another (that is, engaged to be married), but it is not necessary to read the verse in that light. In any case, the nearly identical wording in 2:16, where a clandestine night-time rendezvous is apparently being depicted, effectively undercuts any sense that marriage (even the expectation of marriage) is being emphasized here.
The two lovers belong to each other in a more rudimentary sense, quite apart from any regulation within the ordered world of society. It is love itself that establishes the bond, a love that certainly entails an overpowering sexual attraction. The societal order is symbolized by the city locale in 5:2-7, with the latched house-room, the city walls and streets, and the patrol going through the city as guardians (of order). By contrast, the garden represents an ideal world where the two lovers can be together, removed from the strictures and barriers imposed by society.
Whether or not the couple is engaged to be married is rather beside the point, at least in terms of the love poetry of the Song. The expectation and anticipation of marriage does play a role in the Song, but only (as I see it) in the concluding sections of each movement (3:4-11; chap. 8). On the whole, neither marriage nor the marital status of the two lovers is particularly emphasized in the earlier sections, nor is there any real evidence that it is in view here in 5:2-6:3.
Jewish and Early Christian Interpretation
The Targum explains the young man’s gathering of the flowers in terms of YHWH bringing His people back from exile (in Babylon); the spices refer to the re-establishment of sacrificial offerings (incense, etc) in the Temple. The Midrash similarly identifies the spice-beds with Israel, located within the garden of the world. The plucking of lilies in this context refers to God bringing about the blessed death of the righteous.
For verse 3, the Targum continues the same line of interpretation from v. 2, explaining the young woman’s declaration as a restoration of the covenant-bond between God and Israel, along with the indication that Israel is now worshiping YHWH with faithfulness:
“And in that day I worshiped the Lord of the World, my Beloved, and my Beloved made His holy Presence dwell with me and He fed me with delicacies.” (Pope, pp. 556, 558)
For Gregory of Nyssa, the declaration of mutual belonging in v. 3 establishes the fundamental point that “the purified soul must possess nothing but God alone, and must look to nothing outside of Him”. According to this line of mystical interpretation, which tends to run all through the sermons, the soul must purify itself “from every material thought and deed” so that “it may become completely transformed into something spiritual”. The soul that is cleansed is able to gaze upon the Beloved (Christ, the Word), and, as looking into a mirror (a favorite motif among mystics), is transformed according to the pure image of the Divine Beauty. Such a soul belongs to Christ, and lives for him alone (citing Gal 5:19-20 and Phil 1:21). Following the Beloved’s example, the Bride (the soul) feeds on the lilies, which symbolizes the possession of goodness and virtue, to the point that the virtues fill and embue the soul completely, making it radiant with the character of God.
References marked “Pope” above (and throughout these notes) are to Marvin H. Pope, The Song of Songs, Anchor Bible [AB], vol. 7C (1977).
Quotation of Gregory of Nyssa above are by Herbert Musurillo, S.J. (translator and editor) in From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2003), here pp. 281-4.