Posted: 30 Apr 2011 12:00 AM PDT
SONG 5:2–16 BEGINS A NEW UNIT, with the relationship cooling and at least potentially in jeopardy. Probably the most common interpretation is that this section is part of a dream sequence. Note the opening words: "I slept but my heart was awake"—almost a definition of a dream. Dream or not, the intensity of the relationship is declining. In Song 5:2 the lover wants to come to the beloved, but her initial response is cool: "I have taken off my robe—must I put it on again? I have washed my feet—must I soil them again?" (Song 5:3)—scarcely the words of passionate expectation and welcome.
These and the following lines can be read on two levels. On the first, the beloved has gone to bed and cannot even be bothered to get up and open the door; she might get her feet dirty. The lover puts his hand through a hole in the door and tries to raise the latch. The beloved has second thoughts. Rather belatedly she drags herself out of bed, now with at least some anticipation, only to open the door and find her lover gone (Song 5:5–6). Disappointed and ashamed, she roams the city looking for him, and this time the night policemen, the "watchers," beat her up (Song 5:7)—why is unclear, though some have suggested she is making such a commotion that this was the only way they could keep her quiet. On this reading the "daughters of Jerusalem" (Song 5:8–9) are not friends but city girls who are finally persuaded to join the search, which ultimately proves successful.
At the second level, there is a string of double entendres. "Feet" (Song 5:3) sometimes serve as a euphemism for genitals (e.g., the Hebrew of Judg. 3:24; 1 Sam. 24:3; Isa. 7:20; Ezek. 16:25 [KJV; the NIV translation loses the word foot in each instance]; and the parallelism between "wash your feet" and "lie with my wife" in 2 Sam. 11:8, 11). English Bibles often use "latch-opening" or the like in Song 5:4, but that is certainly not mandated by the relatively rare original—and the rest of the verse, and the next two, suggest a different opening, and arousal on the part of the woman. But by this time the lover, for whatever reason—impatience? disappointment?—is gone.
What shall we make of this? First, all marriages, even the best of marriages, sometimes go through periods of coolness or reserve which, unchecked, could destroy them. Second, dream sequence or not, the way forward is a mutual pursuit of the lover and the beloved, a renewed commitment to the language and self-giving of love. Third, Paul is scarcely less explicit, though more prosaic, when he insists that married Christians, apart from explicit exceptions, are not to deprive their spouses sexually (1 Cor. 7:5; see meditation for February 20).
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