Song of Songs, Chapter Six

Once again, take warning all who read this post. The language that follows is somewhat explicit. If discussions of sex offend you, then you might want to skip this blog post. Of course, you might also want to make a point of avoiding ever reading the Song of Songs in your Bible.

Chapter Six

Where has your lover gone,
most beautiful of women?
Which way did your lover turn,
that we may look for him with you?

My lover has gone down to his garden,
to the beds of spices,
to browse in the gardens
and to gather lilies.
I am my lover’s
and my lover is mine;
he browses among the lilies. (6:1-3)

Following on from chapter five, the question comes from the daughters of Jerusalem, asking where he has gone — given his “disappearance”, i.e., he had spent himself and needed to recharge as it were. In the verses that follow, we find him getting excited again. Where has he gone? Back to enjoying himself with the delights of her body. She is his garden, the place where he spends his time and energy. Back in chapter 2:1 she calls herself a “lily of the valleys” and he agrees in verse 2 that she is like a “lily among thorns”. Then in 4:5 he says of her that “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.”

And, of course in chapter 4:12-14, she is described this way:

You are a garden locked up,
my sister, my bride;
you are a spring enclosed,
a sealed fountain.
Your plants are an orchard of pomegranates with choice fruits, with henna and nard, nard and saffron,
calamus and cinnamon, with every kind of incense tree, with myrrh and aloes and all the finest spices.

So the spice thing has been mentioned before. And then right after, in vs. 16 she tells him “Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits.”

Once again, these two lovers are enjoying the fruits of one another. The poetry is not complicated or difficult to understand. One simply must pay a little attention and let his or her mind wander in the direction that the imagery is trying to take it. The poet is skilled at creating images, making use of all our senses. Sex is something that, ideally, should engage everything in us, tantalize and please all five of our senses, and our entire selves, swallowing us up. As she says at last: “I am my lover’s and my lover is mine.” They are entirely obsessed and consumed by each other, completely and wholly one.

You are beautiful, my darling, as Tirzah, lovely as Jerusalem, majestic as troops with banners.
Turn your eyes from me;
they overwhelm me.
Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Gilead.
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep coming up from the washing.
Each has its twin,
not one of them is alone.
Your temples behind your veil are like the halves of a pomegranate.
Sixty queens there may be,
and eighty concubines,
and virgins beyond number;
but my dove,
my perfect one,
is unique,
the only daughter of her mother,
the favorite of the one who bore her.
The maidens saw her and called her blessed; the queens and concubines praised her.
Who is this that appears like the dawn, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, majestic as the stars in procession? (6:4-10)

I’m guessing here, and maybe you can enlighten me on this, but I think that women enjoy it if the man they are enamored of tells them that they are beautiful, that they are special, that they are unlike any other woman that has ever been in his life. And so the man, here, tells the woman, his beloved, that she is lovely; the images he uses are agricultural, and sheep and other domesticated animals seem to predominate as images; for us, we may not find the descriptions as aluring as the audience to whom this poem was originally written. I susepct most women would not want various parts of their anatomy to be compared with sheep. But lets not lose sight of the point: he loves her, and everything about her attracts him. I think I mentione before, that in a man who has grown past adolescence, a woman is not just a collection of body parts. Rather, the mature man finds his beloved’s legs, boobs, or whatever he likes wonderful because they are part of his beloved, not as objects in themselves. The man here describes how wonderful her teeth are, for instance, not necessarily because objectively they are the best teeth that ever existed, but because they are the teeth of the woman he loves, whom he is obsessed with. He no longer views them objectively; he cannot. He loves her, and thus there is no part of her physically that does not turn him on; he cannot help but find every part attractive, wonderful, and erotic, because they are part of his beloved, whom he loves in her entirety.

I went down to the grove of nut trees
to look at the new growth in the valley, to see if the vines had budded or the pomegranates were in bloom.
Before I realized it,
my desire set me among the royal chariots of my people.

Come back,
come back,
O Shulammite;
come back,
come back,
that we may gaze on you!

Why would you gaze on the Shulammite
as on the dance of Mahanaim?(6:11-13)

The man is speaking again; he describes his pleasure being in his garden. According to 6:7, which we saw last night, her temples are the halves of pomegranates; 2:13 told us, “the blossoming vines spread their fragrance…” in reference to the woman; in 2:1 she is described as a lily of the valley, and we have discussion in 2:14 we are told, “my dove in the clefts of the rock, in the hiding places on the mountainside…” so the imagery that we’ve seen before in reference to the woman, who is called a Shulammite, is consistently applied. And 1:9 tells us “I liken you, my darling, to a mare harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh.” Additionally we have the image of 3:7–“It is Solomon’s carriage, escorted by sixty warriors, the noblest of Israel…”

So, once again, he and she are together; the NLT explains that the royal chariots of my people means: “Before I realized it, I found myself in my princely bed with my beloved one.”

The dance of Mahanaim means “between two lines of dancers” or possible “a camp dance.” In either case, the sense is a provocative sort of dance, think “I dream of Jeannie” but with a few less clothes, perhaps. And the intent, of course, is to entice. So the answer to the question as to why gaze at her as upon that sort of dance is sort of obvious. And that is the point, no doubt.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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