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Song of Songs [9/15]; I am sick with love

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posted on Jul, 21 2013 @ 05:07 PM
I’m still exploring the intended meaning of the Song of Songs.
The next passage I’m considering is part of the fifth chapter- ch5 vv2-9.
(The translation being used is the RSV)

I need to explain my naming of the “speakers” in these passages.
The two main characters of the Song are frequently called “the Lover” and “the Beloved”, giving the first name to the male.
Those labels make the male the active pursuer, following the conventions of romance.
They mask the reality of this poem, that the woman is patently doing most of the pursuing.
That should be one of the clues that this is not a conventional romance.
So I’m calling these characters “the Woman” and “the Loved One” in that order.

This poem has been describing the relationship between the Woman and her Loved One.
I’ve already proposed that this is the relationship between God and his people.

In the next passage, there’s another change of scene.
There’s another “separation” theme developing, but this time it’s a symptom that things are going wrong.

v2 Once again, as a couple of chapters previously, the Woman is at home in bed.
Her mind may be asleep, but her heart is awake, and therefore sensitive to the approach of the Loved One.
He knocks on the door and calls on her (still calling her his sister and his dove) to let him in.
He complains that his head is wet with the dews of night.

v3 However, the woman is slow to respond.
Her answer, or at least her thought, is that getting out of bed to answer the door would involve recovering her clothing, which she’s already removed.
It would also involve getting her feet dirty again (which may say something about the poverty of the assumed household).

v4-5 When he repeats his attempts to open the door, her heart can no longer resist him, and she gets up to open it herself.
She is so excited with love that her perfumes are dripping onto the bolt.

v6 Yet when the door is opened, she finds a paradox.
The impatient Loved One cannot be seen.
She goes looking for him, as she did before, but she cannot find him, and he doesn’t answer her calling.
Once again, “I sought him and found him not”
The Loved One’s mysterious disappearance and the fruitless pursuit are turning the story into something like a dream, or rather a nightmare.

v7 The climax of the nightmare is the second encounter with the watchmen.
On this occasion, they have clearly turned against her
They beat her and wound her and take away one of her garments.

We might have a better understanding of this episode if we knew what the garment was.
Some translations call it a “cloak”, and the suggestion is that the watchmen mistook her for a prostitute.
However, the connection between identifying her as a prostitute and taking her cloak away is not at all obvious.

My theory is that the garment is some item which identifies her as a married woman.
That gives the event a rationale.
They are obstructing her search for her husband because they don’t accept her married status.
They don’t want her to find him again.

v8 So the Woman adjures the daughters of Jerusalem to find the Loved One, and tell him that she is sick with love (and wants him to return).
“Sick with love” was how she described herself in the happier circumstances of the second chapter (ch2 v5); that is the relationship which needs to be restored.

This passage describes a separation between the Woman and the Loved One which is much more ominous, and seems more difficult to overcome, than the earlier separations.
There is a sense that the Woman has been at fault, that she has allowed the relationship to slip between her fingers.
In fact the connection is not fully healed, at least in the Woman’s perception, in the portion of the Song that remains.

If this poem is about the relation between God and his people, then the separation in this chapter indicates a separation between God and his people.
The nearest approach to such a separation, in the Old Testament period, was the Fall of Jerusalem and the Babylonian Exile.
In the middle of this catastrophe, God’s people would have been oppressed with a sense that the Covenant relationship had broken down, that their God had become unreachable.
The prophets were telling them that this was their own fault.
If the Woman in this poem is God’s people, then the experience described in this passage must be representing those events.

Who, then, are the “watchmen” in this episode, and why have they turned hostile?
Since the function of the watchmen is the protection of the city, they might be understood as representing political authority.
Before the Fall of Jerusalem, political authority was an independent kingdom, serving the God of Israel.
After the Fall of Jerusalem, political authority served under a foreign dominion, whether Babylonian or Persian.
The difference between the two eras would account for the great contrast between their tacit co-operation in the previous “night-search” (ch3 vv3-4), and their obstructiveness in the present case.
The “beating and wounding” would represent the violence of the siege and capture of the city.
It might also reflect a Persian reaction to attempts to restore the house of David- for which possibility, see the early chapters of Zechariah and the role of Zerubbabel.

Once we take that interpretation of the passage, the rest of the poem falls into place around it.
In the earlier chapters, the Woman is recalling the happiness of the original relationship, and in particular the “honeymoon period” associated with the reign of Solomon.
The later chapters, to anticipate, are combining two different themes.
On the one hand, the Woman regrets the absence of the Loved One and the loss of the old relationship.
On the other hand, at the same time, the Loved One is assuring her that he is not absent and that the old relationship has not been lost.
Indeed the final note of the passage, even now, is the Woman’s eagerness to seek out the Loved One afresh and recover his love.
That is the hope which keeps her going through the rest of the poem.

This passage, for me, is the central episode of the Song of Songs, because it explains why the poem was written.

posted on Jul, 23 2013 @ 05:14 PM
My interest in the Song of Songs was originally inspired by the reading of the sermons of Bernard of Clairvaux.
Especially by his comments on the words “I am black, but beautiful”, as applied to the spiritual state of the church or the individual soul. The idea of being sinful and imperfect, but still beloved by God.
Knowing the history of the church, I was very conscious of its imperfections, so it all rang very true.
However, my own interpretation obviously strikes out a very different line from Bernard, in all sorts of different ways.
Nor is there space for me to take the devotional approach.
But I would argue that gaining a good sense of the writer’s conscious intentions would provide the most sure foundation of any approach, including the devotional.

posted on Jul, 24 2013 @ 05:06 PM
For information;

The next thread in this series will complete the fifth chapter.

posted on Sep, 11 2013 @ 04:49 PM
This whole series is now indexed at the following location;

The Unseen Husband

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