Song 8:1 If only you were to me like a brother, who was nursed at my mother’s breasts! Then, if I found you outside, I would kiss you, and no one would despise me.
There is in these verses (1-4) a strong sense of unfulfilled longing.
A brother and a sister could openly display affection without public disapproval; whereas even a married couple would be frowned upon for such a display. The girl longs for a public recognition of their love.
Song 8:2 I would lead you and bring you to my mother’s house—she who has taught me. I would give you spiced wine to drink, the nectar of my pomegranates.
The longing for public recognition (v1) leads quickly to a desire for private intimacy.
She who has taught me – should possibly be emended to ‘she who gave me birth’ (Gledhill).
Song 8:3 His left arm is under my head and his right arm embraces me.
In context, this embrace would seem to be imagined rather that actual. She dreams of nestling in his embrace.
Song 8:4 Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.
Daughters of Jerusalem – ‘her alter ego, her conscience’ (Gledhill). She cries out to them ‘not to get her aroused before there is adequate and appropriate opportunity for the consummation of their love.’ Cf. Song 2:7; 3:5.
Despite various ambiguities, there is expressed clearly enough in vv1-4 a longing for public recognition. ‘Such public recognition by society is a valuable cement. The marriage certificate is not “just a piece of paper” which transforms an immoral cohabitation into an acceptable relationship. But it is a public exchange of vows that the couple will support and edify each other “for better, for worse, in sickness, in health, till death do us [sic] part.’ (Gledhill)
Song 8:5 Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover? Under the apple tree I roused you; there your mother conceived you, there she who was in labor gave you birth.
8:5-14 is regarded by some commentators as an unconnected anthology of fragments. However, it might be better regarded as a ‘curtain-call’, with all the actors making a brief reappearance: the brothers, King Solomon, the mother, the two lovers.
Who is this coming up from the desert leaning on her lover? – “Look at me”, exclaims the girl, ‘proudly displaying her beloved on her arm’ (Gledhill).
We can imagine, says Gledhill, the questions of family and friends: ‘Whose son is he? What clan is he from? How many cows and servants has the family? What are his prospects?’ These questions have modern-day equivalents: ‘What kind of degree has he got? What are his career prospects? Does he stand to inherit a fortune? Does he own property, and a good car? How does his bank balance stand? True love can brave the disapproval of those whose criteria are not met. But equally, the beginnings of love can be polluted by consideration of the worldly standards imposed by society.’
But if other people have expectations of us and of our chosen life-partners, we have our own expectations too. ‘Our partners may be exact opposites of ourselves temperamentally. We may choose to be attracted by them, to counterbalance our own temperaments. For example, a quiet person may feel the need to be stimulated by a noisy extrovert. The happy socialite may be challenged to think more deeply by a thoughtful reflective partner. We may wish to manipulate, or simply to serve. We may wish to mother and smother, or simply to be pampered. It would be good if we were able to clarify our own expectations in these matters before choosing a spouse. For we may be influenced by considerations which are often subconscious. We may choose partners who are as like or as unlike our parents, depending on what kind of a relationship we had with them. The role models (or anti-models) of our parents often deeply influence us in our choices.’ (Gledhill)
Different cultures have had different views of romantic love. But even in a culture of arranged marriages, such as we find in the Old Testament, romantic love keeps breaking through. ‘Our present-day society has perhaps an exaggerated view of the importance of romantic love. It becomes the touch stone for the survival of a relationship. But…romance comes and goes and comes again; it is a delicate plant that needs to be sensitively nurtured; a flickering flame that constantly needs to be fuelled. The will to refuel and nurture is the true love that makes for survival. We need to fan the flames by little acts of kindness, springing thoughtful surprises that break the patterns of dull routine.’ (Gledhill)
Song 8:6 Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave. It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame.
A seal carries the idea of ‘a publicly visible mark of identity or possession, peculiarly one’s own.’ (Gledhill) It also carries the connotation of preciousness.
‘The girl wants to have such close access to her beloved that all the world will see that he has taken her into his confidence. She longs for their union to be more than one of physical closeness; a union that is secure and firm and indissoluble even when they are separated from each other…But she herself is that seal, indelibly stamped upon his heart. She wants their union to be intimate (‘over your heart’) and public (‘on your arm’)…Perhaps the girl’s urgent desire, ‘place me like a seal…’ gives a slight hint of an element of urgent insecurity on her part. She is not quite sure whether he will forget her when she is absent from him. That is why she wants to be emblazoned on his ‘heart’. She wants, perhaps not unreasonably, to be the very centre of his existence. For she knows without a shadow of doubt that he is the centre of her life…She knows that she has already captured him (7:5)…but will he escape? Will she lose him to someone or something else?’ (Gledhill)
‘The publicly recognised aspect of their relationship…brings added security. The social pressure of public recognition is an added stimulus to the determination to make their relationship work…An engagement ring or a wedding ring is more than a mere sign that some form of ceremony has been enacted. It is the significance of what lies behind the seal that is important. It is obviously the public sharing of private joy. But more profoundly, it is the public pledge of mutual vows, a pledge of willingness to work at their relationship, to persevere throughout all the ups and downs of life, that constitutes the solemnization of marriage.’ (Gledhill)
For love is strong as death – We move from the relationship between the two young lovers to a more general meditation on the unconquerableness of love itself. This continues as far as the end of the next verse.
This expression does not mean that love survives death, but that its grip is as strong as the grip of death itself. It is a one-way, irreversible process. Its call, like that of death, is irresistible. Love, like death, holds us with a permanent bond.
Its jealousy unyielding as the grave – ‘Sheol’ probably means more than ‘grave’: it refers to the realm of the dead, and is described as a place of shadowy existence, from which none return, although beyond which the righteous emerge at last, fully vindicated by God.
It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame – lit., ‘Her darts, are darts of fire, a flame of Yah’ (Gledhill). ‘From the cold negative destructive forces of death, we are transported to flaming darts of fire, or lightning flashes of love.’ (Gledhill)
‘Cupid’s arrows strike in the most unexpected places, at the most inconvenient times; the victim is never consulted in advance, but is struck suddenly, forcibly, from without…Those who are smitten are engulfed in its conflagration, helpless in the baptism of love. It is not al all cold and calculating or manipulative or worked up. It is a happening, beyond all control.’ (Gledhill)
Song 8:7 Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away. If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned.
Many waters cannot quench love; rivers cannot wash it away –
‘It is inevitable that love will always be tested and tried, will always encounter forces that threaten to undermine and destroy it. These may be the outward circumstances that may erode love’s power: the pain of separation, the uncertainty of the present or the future, the loss of health or means of livelihood. But the love which is fuelled by the energy of God will triumph and overcome all these adversities and will emerge purer and stronger and more precious through the testing.’ (Gledhill)
If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned – True love is utterly priceless. It cannot be bought or sold.
As Gledhill points out, the similarity between Song 8:6f and Isa 43:2 is remarkable.
Song 8:8 We have a young sister, and her breasts are not yet grown. What shall we do for our sister for the day she is spoken for?
Song 8:9 If she is a wall, we will build towers of silver on her. If she is a door, we will enclose her with panels of cedar.
Song 8:10 I am a wall, and my breasts are like towers. Thus I have become in his eyes like one bringing contentment.
Song 8:11 Solomon had a vineyard in Baal Hamon; he let out his vineyard to tenants. Each was to bring for its fruit a thousand shekels of silver.
Song 8:12 But my own vineyard is mine to give; the thousand shekels are for you, O Solomon, and two hundred are for those who tend its fruit.
Song 8:13 You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice!
Song 8:14 Come away, my lover, and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the spice-laden mountains.