Song of Songs, Chapter Eight

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 Eight

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.
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. (8:1-2)

Of course, if, as a surprising number of commentators take this, you assume the woman is talking literally and wishes that he were her brother, and that she could take him home with her to her mother, then this little segment here makes not a whole lot of sense. It startles me that so many commentators insist on an interpretation that makes no sense; it reminds me of when Vanessa is reading and gets frustrated and tells me that the sentence makes no sense. She reads it, says a nonsense word, and I ask her, do you know a word like that? Well, no. So do you think that’s what that word really is? Well, maybe not. At least she has the sense to ask, and doesn’t just accept the nonsense.

The term brother in the ancient Near East, like the term sister (which we’ve seen before in Song of Songs) is term of endearment, used like “honey” or “darling”. Hense, she is expressing the desire for a romantic and intimate relationship, and one that is legitimate, rather than sereptitious, since in most cases the term sister and brother were used by husbands and wives. She wants their affair to be open and legitimized. Her mother’s house is not a place she lives; rather, it is her genitals (consider the earlier usage of this term in Song of Songs). And of course the spiced wine, nectar of pomegranites, and the like is all referencing kissing (again, look at the usage earlier in the poem).

His left arm is under my head
and his right arm embraces me.
Daughters of Jerusalem,
I charge you:
Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.

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.
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.
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. (8:3-7)

The opening lines are reminiscent of what we’ve seen before in 2:6; if you recall, I suggested then that we might be looking at oral sex; I’m still not certain. It is interesting to compare this passage in general with that one, because there are other connections. Thus, I will quote 2:3-7, so that you can see clearly all the similarities and then we’ll talk about it a bit:

Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest
is my lover among the young men.
I delight to sit in his shade,
and his fruit is sweet to my taste.
He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love.
Strengthen me with raisins,
refresh me with apples,
for I am faint with love.
His left arm is under my head,
and his right arm embraces me.
Daughters of Jerusalem,
I charge you by the gazelles
and by the does of the field:
Do not arouse or awaken love
until it so desires. (2:3-7)

Cool, huh? In the earlier passage, the woman compares him to an apple tree, his fruit is sweet to the taste, and so on (which is part of why I thought possibly in terms of oral sex); in the earlier passage she is faint with love, asking to be strengthened with raisins, refreshed by apples.

Now, in the current passage, she is leaning on her lover, reminiscing:

“Under the apple tree I roused you;
there your mother conceived you,
there she who was in labor gave you birth.”

She is not talking about being born, but rather the birth of their love, and their first encounter. The “mother conceived you” would imply genital to genital sex, rather than oral sex, however.

The remainder of the Song of Songs I find interesting because of how it is consistent with what Paul will write a thousand years later in 1 Corinthians 13. So consider the Song of Songs 8:6-7:

for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.
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.

Then compare it with 1 Corinthians 13:4-8:

Love is patient,
love is kind.
It does not envy,
it does not boast,
it is not proud.
It is not rude,
it is not self-seeking,
it is not easily angered,
it keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
It always protects,
always trusts,
always hopes,
always perseveres.
Love never fails.

Love is strong as death, it is an unquenchable fire that no amount of water can put out, and no amount of money would be enough to make the beloved reject the one he or she loves. Love cannot be undone, it does not go away, it cannot be extinguished.

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?
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.

I am a wall,
and my breasts are like towers.
Thus I have become in his eyes
like one bringing contentment.
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.
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.
You who dwell in the gardens with friends in attendance, let me hear your voice!
Come away, my lover,
and be like a gazelle
or like a young stag
on the spice-laden mountains. (8:8-14)

The poem ends as erotically as any other part of it. The woman worried about her breast size, but thanks to the attention of her lover, they are now big enough. I don’t think she means that they actually expanded, but rather, her self-perception has improved. She has a better body image thanks to his genuine love for her. Because he loves her and accepts her unconditionally, she can see that she indeed is beautiful and that she brings contentment and satisfaction to him.

Playing off the line from chapter seven, she comments, “If one were to give all the wealth of his house for love, it would be utterly scorned” (8:7). She speaks to those who might try to bribe her away from him for a thousand shekels of silver. It isn’t enough; as she says, “But my own vineyard is mine to give”. Love cannot be bought, and love cannot be turned off for money. And so she ends the poem by calling for him to come away to her, and to enjoy her once again; the implication is that they will live happily ever after, of course.

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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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