Another Frantic Search (Song 5:2-8)
Song 5:2-8 begins a lengthy poem which bookends what many scholars understand to be a distinct poetic unit beginning with Song 3:1-5 and ending with 6:3. There are obvious similarities between the poems in 3:1-5 and 5:2-8, but more notable are the contrasts. Here’s what I mean:
|1. The woman wakes up to find that her lover is not with her.||1. The woman wakes up to the sound of her lover knocking at the door. He asks to come in. The woman hesitates. She is already bathed and not dressed for a visitor. She hears her beloved try to open the door. She runs to let him in, but finds that he is gone.|
|2. She goes out into the city to find him and comes across the city watchmen. She asks if they have seen him.||2. She goes throughout the city searching for him and comes across the city watchmen. They attack her, leaving her bruised and battered.|
|3. She suddenly finds her lover and remains close by him.||3. She does not find her beloved.|
|4. Having found her lover, she appeals to the chorus of Jerusalemite women: “[Do not] stir up or awaken love until it pleases”.||4. She appeals to the chorus: “If you find my beloved, tell him I am sick with love.”|
If you’ve been following along since we looked at chapter 3, you’ll have probably noticed that a storyline is now coming into focus:
- The woman wakes up to find that the one whom her soul loves is not in bed with her. She searches for him and quickly finds him (3:1-5).
- A beautiful wedding scene follows. The man and the woman are united to one another (3:6-11).
- The man and woman are together in the garden, blissfully in love (4:1-5:1).
- One night, the woman wakes up to the sound of her husband knocking at the door, but she hesitates to answer. He walks away, and she is left vulnerable, wounded, and lovesick (5:2-8).
Throughout this series of studies, I have advocated for an allegorical reading of the Song of Songs, arguing that the details of the poems are most easily connected and understood with the story of Israel’s salvation history in view.
It is a well attested fact that Israel was lulled into a sinful sense of invincibility at numerous points throughout her history. Sacrifices and ceremonies became obligatory ritual instead of worship; leaders fell victim to worldly temptations; Israelites frequently turned to false idols for comfort or protection. In light of this, perhaps Song of Songs 5:2-8 is a warning or even a lament; a reflection on how far Israel had strayed from blissful union with the Lord.
Israel has fallen asleep, unaware that the Lord is not present with her. When he knocks at the door, she does not immediately run to let him in. Is it shame at her unfit state to welcome him in? Is it pride? Laziness? Whatever her justification, Israel is left alone; vulnerable as a naked woman running through the streets of the city.
How often does your laziness, pride, shame, or even a false sense of spiritual invincibility act as a lock on the door, preventing God from searching you? Our Scripture passage today is a reminder that, when God leaves us to our own devices, we are quickly reminded how vulnerable we are.