A Country Girl in King Solomon’s Court
The Song of Solomon is a play which can be viewed as a series of portraits. These paintings are brushed with the dialog of the characters instead of pigments. Our opening scene is the arrival of a young woman.
2 “May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine.
3 “Your oils have a pleasing fragrance,
Your name is like purified oil;
Therefore the maidens love you.
4 “Draw me after you and let us run together!
The king has brought me into his chambers.”
As we mentioned earlier, the original text does not state which actors are expressing which lines. However, this does not mean the division of the text is totally arbitrary. We can make some very sound guesses based on the pronouns and phrases being used.
You will find most translations assign these lines to The Shulammite, The Bride, or The Beloved. The name Shulammite comes from Song of Solomon 6:13. Some commentators speculate that this means the young woman came from the region or town of Shulam. However, if this is true, it is the only place in the Scriptures that this place is mentioned and we are unable to locate it through archeology. A better explanation for the name is to notice that Solomon’s name means “peace” in Hebrew with a male connotation (Shelomoh). The female form of the word for peace is shulammith. In other words, Shulammith would be a way of saying “Mrs. Solomon.” This would also explain why she is not so named earlier in the Song, as she does not marry Solomon until the end of chapter 3.
From her opening lines, we see a giddy young lady who is madly in love. She wants nothing more than to smooch and run through the fields with her man. Everything about him pleases her. She likes his cologne. She likes his good reputation, and she is not the only one who perks up when his name is mentioned. A good reputation is an important quality. It is a better indicator of the worth a person than his looks or butterflies in your stomach.
Even more subtly we see something of this young woman’s character. She holds what we would call a traditional view of the roles of men and women. Man leads and a woman follows.
Solomon has brought the young woman to his palace for their engagement period. Traveling even short distances was difficult in those days and a king is constantly busy. If the two of them are to get acquainted, she would have to live near by.
The chambers mentioned are not Solomon’s personal bed chambers. They refer to Solomon’s palace, which has many rooms (or chambers). Likely, the young woman was brought to the woman’s section of the palace where she is introduced to the other ladies of the court.
4 “We will rejoice in you and be glad;
We will extol your love more than wine.
Notice the change from singular pronouns to plural pronouns. This indicates we have shifted to a new set of players. They are named in Song of Solomon 1:5 as the daughters of Jerusalem. As I just stated, these are the ladies of the court, the wives of Solomon’s political marriages, potential brides for future arrangements, as well as the wives of Solomon’s noblemen who attend him at court (Song of Solomon 6:8).
Imagine if you were one of many wives to a great king and the king has just introduced you to his next bride-to-be. But this is not just the bride of another politically arranged marriage. No, this woman would become the official queen of the king. How would you greet her? You probably would greet her with a pasted-on smile and a few polite words.
We will learn of their true feelings about this young upstart a bit later. However, the next few lines return to the young woman and let us see her discomfort in being in the presence of so many fine people.
4 “Rightly do they love you.
5 “I am black but lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
Like the tents of Kedar,
Like the curtains of Solomon.
6 “Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
For the sun has burned me.
My mother’s sons were angry with me;
They made me caretaker of the vineyards,
But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.”
The young woman mentioned in verse 3 that all the maidens loved the king and now that she has seen the palace and the behavior of these fine women in the presence of Solomon, she can see that their love for him is just. In fact, all of these fineries are making her aware of her modest appearance.
While she admits to being lovely in form, the young woman is painfully aware of her deep tan from working outdoors in a vineyard. In those days, most people would be dark from exposure to the sun. Only noble women, who did not have to work for a living, could afford to stay inside. It was considered a sign of wealth to have pale skin. In contrast to the light skin of these women, our young bride-to-be is as dark as the heavy cloth used for tents by the people of Kedar or the curtains used in Solomon’s palace to block out the sun in the early morning.
Not only is the young woman embarrassed by her looks, but she can feel the eyes of these maidens comparing her looks to their own. The young woman feels the need to explain herself to these noble ladies. She was forced to work in a vineyard by her stepbrothers. We assume they were not full brothers because they are called her mother’s sons. Perhaps, as often happens in families where the siblings are not full blood relatives, the brothers’ treatment of their half-sister was less than ideal or even kind. Instead of setting her aside as a treasure to be married-off one day, they forced her to pull her own load in supporting the family. The fact that she had to work did not give her time to take care of her appearance.
One of the symbols used frequently in the Song of Solomon is that of a vineyard. Vineyards are places of cool beauty in hot countries such as Israel, but they require a lot of maintenance to achieve their full potential. One’s own vineyard is an allusion to your own body, which can also be a thing of beauty, but requires care to reach its full potential.
Now, before you get feeling too sorry for this young woman, we will learn by the end of the Song that the reason she and Solomon meet was because the vineyard she worked in just happened to be owned by the king. It was because the king noticed a beautiful, industrious woman in his vineyard that this young woman eventually became engaged and married to the mighty King Solomon. At this early time, she sees her forced labors as a detriment, but when she matures she will see the benefit that came from her stepbrothers’ decision.
7 “Tell me, O you whom my soul loves,
Where do you pasture your flock,
Where do you make it lie down at noon?
For why should I be like one who veils herself
Beside the flocks of your companions?”
Before Solomon leaves her, his beloved asks him where he takes his noon break. The reference to his flocks could be just poetic imagery, or a figurative reference to Solomon’s duties among his people – his flock, or it could be a literal reference to some sheep that Solomon personally tended. It was typical in those days for kings to be expected to have a trade (II Kings 3:4). Saul in his early kingship was once found driving oxen (I Samuel 11:5). Perhaps Solomon kept sheep in his younger days before David selected him as his successor and he continued to watch a flock for the peace it gave him. We do know that Solomon owned herds (Ecclesiastes 2:7). He also was a “hands on” king, getting personally involved in his projects (Ecclesiastes 2:11). (See the later discussion on Song of Solomon 6:2).
Solomon’s fiancee is concerned about appearance. She doesn’t want to be seen wandering aimlessly around like a prostitute looking for hire.
The outfit of a prostitute varies greatly by region and time period. During the time this Song was written, prostitutes wore veils over their faces so they could not be readily identified. Shepherding can be a lonely business with long stretches of nothing to do but watch sheep graze. Prostitutes had a steady market among the shepherds and were often seen wandering the hillsides where the sheep grazed.
The young woman had enough concern about her appearance compared to the ladies of the court. She doesn’t want to leave the wrong impression about her character among those who might see her.
8 “If you yourself do not know,
Most beautiful among women,
Go forth on the trail of the flock
And pasture your young goats
By the tents of the shepherds.
Given the nature of this answer, I have a hard time imagining this young woman’s love-of-her-life saying this, despite many translators attributing the remark to Solomon. The remark is more fitting of a flock of jealous women who see their chance to put the newcomer in her place.
They basically said, “Well, if you don’t know how to find the king on his break, you just take that trail over there that goes out to the pasture land. Oh, and don’t forget to bring your goats with you.” I can just imagine the insincere grin on the woman’s face.
Most common people did not carry money around with them. Instead, they usually bartered for items and services, trading what they had for something someone else possessed. The typical payment for the use of a prostitute was a young goat (Genesis 38:14-18). One could often spot a prostitute by the flock of small goats that followed her.
Our young woman was concerned about the proper protocol to see the king on his noon break and the advice she receives is the very thing she wants to avoid. These women are out to embarrass the young maid and embarrass her well!
Fortunately, Solomon rescues his beloved bride-to-be. In front of these grand and haughty women, Solomon praises the beauty of his beloved.
9 “To me, my darling, you are like
My mare among the chariots of Pharaoh.
10 “Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
Your neck with strings of beads.”
One of the phrases that Solomon always uses to refer to his fiancee is “my darling” or “my love.” Now some of you may not think it fabulous to be compared to a horse, but Solomon is referring to the lead horse in the king of Egypt’s parade chariot. First impressions are important and the mare chosen to lead the team drawing Pharaoh’s chariot was the finest mare that could be found anywhere. Here she was concerned about how poorly she looked among all these fine women and Solomon said she was the most beautiful among rare beauties!
He goes on to say that the jewelry she selected that day complemented the beauty of her cheeks and her necklace enhanced the beauty of her neck. So much for her fears of being too tanned!
Gentlemen, take note! Notice that Solomon allayed her discomfort by complementing just the right thing. If he had denied that she was too dark skinned, she would have thought he was just saying that to please her. Instead, his sincere complement turned what she viewed as a detriment into a desired quality. In other words, Solomon showed her respect in front of others.
The ladies of the court didn’t miss the hint thrown their way. Solomon loves this woman, so they better behave themselves. His compliment is a disguised rebuke to the ladies that they had overstepped their bounds.
11 “We will make for you ornaments of gold
With beads of silver.”
“Okay, Solomon likes jewelry on his new trophy. I’ll tell you what darling, lets see if we can’t dress you up really fine.” The ladies offer to make new jewelry for the young woman is not so much generosity on their part as an attempt to regain the good graces of Solomon.
1) How do you get someone of the opposite sex to notice you?
2) Is “sex appeal” important?
3) How do potential contenders for the same man react? How must the man react?
4) Was the young woman overly concerned about her looks? What can a man do to counter this?
5) Why is spending time together important during courtship?
6) Does it mater how a relationship appears to other people?
7) Is timing important in delivering a compliment? Why did Solomon not contradict the young woman immediately when she said she wasn’t pretty? How did timing enhance what Solomon said?
8) Which is more effective: a private compliment or a public one?