Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee. — Song of Solomon 4:7
My father-in-law spent twenty years of his married life in a culture where at that time speaking favorably about one’s wife was considered improper, and compliments from others about her were immediately dismissed outright. Furthermore, men in that country never showed any public indicator of affection or appreciation toward their spouses — in fact, women typically walked three or four steps behind their husbands when together on the streets! You can imagine that this went against the grain of my loving and quite demonstrative father-in-law. In spite of cultural norms, he frequently admonished the men of his acquaintance there (as well as men here at home) to tell their wives, “I love you,” every single day!
Not only did my father-in-law verbalize his love for his wife, but he also demonstrated his regard for her in many visible ways. Rather than insisting that she walk behind him, he often took her hand or arm as they strolled together. He brought her little gifts “just because,” and wrote her touching poems. He was the first to compliment her, and made no secret of his appreciation for her cooking, her housekeeping skills, and her unwavering support of him. His example made an impression! To this day, more than a decade after his final trip to the country where the two of them had been missionaries, men who knew my father-in-law recall that he frequently told them to express their love for their wives on a daily basis.
Today’s text includes many beautiful compliments and tender expressions of love. Though unquestionably heartfelt, my father-in-law’s words were probably never as eloquent as those of Solomon or the Shulamite! The extravagant lyrics of this passage portray feelings of adoration and admiration in a manner many scholars consider unparalleled. Still, there is a lesson for all of us in this passage. When we love someone, we should not be hesitant to express our feelings, both in words and in actions.
After years of marriage, perhaps familiarity causes us to forget to verbalize our admiration or appreciation for our spouses. The same concept can extend to our children, other family members, and close friends. Loving words of affirmation, backed by thoughtful actions and caring concern, can enhance and strengthen any relationship!
This portion of the Song of Solomon describes the Shulamite’s dreams about her beloved, Solomon’s proposal and love songs, and the maiden’s rejection of his ardent efforts to win her hand.
Chapter 3:1-5 describes the Shulamite maiden telling the women of Jerusalem about her dreams which reflected her love for her shepherd sweetheart. In those dreams, she arose out of bed and went into the city streets searching for the object of her love. The inconvenience and danger of the hour were of no consequence to her because of her focus on her quest. In verse 5, she asked the women not to attempt to stir up love for the king. The inserted and italicized word my in this verse makes the reference seem personal, but without that addition to the original wording, the young woman was merely stating the principle that love must be handled with care and not aroused before its proper time.
Verses 6-11 give details of a royal procession which brought the Shulamite maiden and Solomon together. The word “bed” in verse 7 refers to a canopied couch, carried on men’s shoulders, and used by people of high status. The royal escort in verse 8 included armed guards which usually accompanied royal processions because of the danger of highway robbers in those times. Verse 11 refers to Solomon’s coronation day, in which his mother, Bathsheba, appealed to King David to make good his oath for Solomon to be his successor (1 Kings 1:15-40). The whole passage seems to be an attempt to promote Solomon and to persuade the young woman to accept his proposal.
Chapter 4 is a portrayal of Solomon as a suitor. The enamored Solomon described the maiden in words of admiration and praise, but in verse 6, the Shulamite demurred, and spoke instead of her longing for her mountain home. Solomon responded with his second song (verses 7-15), renewing his pursuit. Amana, Shenir, and Hermon in verse 8 refer to mountains in the Anti-Lebanon Range. The word “sister” in verse 9 is a term of affection showing that Solomon regarded the Shulamite with the respect and honor he would accord to one of his own blood.
The enclosed garden alluded to in verse 12 denotes sexual purity. In those days, the fields of the area were not fenced. While passersby were allowed to partake of crops for provender on their journeys, they were not permitted access to the walled gardens — those were for the pleasure of the owner only. “Saffron” in verse 14 refers to a purple flower which yields a yellow dye and makes a fragrant ointment when mixed with olive oil. “Calamas” refers to an aromatic spice, and “aloes” is an aromatic wood which came from Bangladesh and China.
Chapter 5 describes a time of separation. The Shulamite was at the palace in Jerusalem, and the women of the court were with her once more. Verses 2-8 describe another dream, in which the Shulamite dreamed her shepherd lover had come seeking her in vain. In verse 4 the term “bowels” refers to the seat of emotion or deep affection, similar to current usage of the term “heart.” In verses 10 through 16, the Shulamite described her beloved shepherd with beautiful imagery.
The first three verses of chapter 6 seem to be an inquiry regarding the whereabouts of the shepherd by one or more of the “daughters of Jerusalem.” The women expressed their interest in helping the Shulamite find him, but she indicated that her beloved was hers alone.
V. The Shulamite’s dream of her beloved (3:1-5)
VI. The king comes again (3:6 — 5:1)
A. The regal procession (3:6-11)
B. The second royal proposal (4:1 — 5:1)
VII. A song of the beloved (5:2 — 6:3)
A. The Shulamite’s second dream (5:2-8)
B. The Shulamite’s description of her beloved (5:9 — 6:3)
We may not have the eloquence of Solomon or the Shulamite, but our relationships will be strengthened if we do not hesitate to incorporate words of praise and appreciation.