The Silences of Job
Evolution of Satan
First Lesson --Intro
Fifth--To the End
Putting it Together
Putting it Together II
SONG of SOLOMON
The Lovers--ch. 5
Lovers VI--ch. 8
Sex and Rape in the Song of Solomon V
Bill Long 12/26/08
Really Learning the Hard Way in 5:6-7
Now we are ready for the culmination of this steamy passage. Something just short of consummation has occurred, which has led to a lot of "dripping" in the lovers' presence. Indeed, my X-rated argument (only X-rated because the Scriptures are so) from the previous essay is that in v. 5 her hands are actually "dripping" because they are covered with her lover's semen. She likens it to myrrh, a chief characteristic of it is that "pieces of good quality selected myrrh should be slightly sticky..." This all takes place in the passionate darkness of the Lover's room. Then we have:
"6 I opened to my beloved,
but my beloved had turned and was gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but did not find him;
I called him, but he gave no answer.
7 Making their rounds in the city
the sentinels found me;
they beat me, they wounded me,
they took away my mantle,
those sentinels of the walls."
The Flow of 5:6-7
She yet again "opens" to her beloved. Because I have argued that there are numerous indications in previous verses that the Beloved is in the Lover's room, I would take this "opening" as a further longing of the Lover for closer sexual connection with the Beloved. After all, they have just had the intense time of initial conduct, where he plunged his hand into her "opening" and she had her fingers dripping with "myrrh." Most women aren't fully content with that kind of sexual encounter. They want more. So, she will "open" again to her Beloved. But, what happens? He flees. He isn't there. Her beloved has turned and gone. Why would he do that? Well, again we enter into the private world of lovers, to situations not spoken of in "polite" company, but into a situation that needs to be mentioned in order for the text to make sense. He is not there because he, like many men, has ejaculated and now has "lost interest" or "has cooled off." So, what he does is just leave. Not a very nice situation, and not, indeed a very nice guy. He leaves her high and dr....wet, I suppose you could say.
Ultimately what the Song of Solomon wants to teach us about this kind of sexual encounter is that it isn't good, that it leads to extreme pain, but at this point we don't yet have a "lesson." All we have is a story, a story of a young woman fully "open" to the Beloved but the Beloved's retreating after he has "spent" himself.
What's a woman to do? The middle of verse 6 tells us. First, she recalls his voice. Literally the text says, "My soul departed/failed at his word." She recalls the words he had spoken to her when they were locked in their most intimate embrace (you might want to imagine what those words were, but that is beyong my interest here), and they made her soul "faint" or "depart" or "go out"--i.e., she was pining for him again. That this is the right interpretation of these suggestive words is confirmed by the last words in verse 6--she decides to hunt him down. Her soul is already chasing him; she will have to give wings to her feet to match her soul's quest. What follows are some of the saddest words of Scripture, sadness which matches the elegiac character of anything in the Book of Lamentations:
"I sought him but did not find him;
I called him, but he gave no answer."
All of those verbs have rich covenantal associations, related to the people of Israel's quest for God. If people seek God, they find God; if people call, God answers. But this isn't the case with the Beloved. She pines, her heart goes out, she goes out, she seeks, but she cannot find.
Meeting the Unexpected...
The text never tells us how she was attired as she sought the Beloved. Had she just slipped on a light covering? Was she fully dressed? Might she have ventured out a tad disheveled? We don't know, but it wouldn't be unreasonable to speculate that in her haste and desire she hand't fully taken care to cover herself as completely as she might had she been going to market. All that was in her mind was HIM, the Beloved.
But she meets up with the sentinels, the guard, the "gestapo," as one person has characterized it. In fact, it says that they "found" her. Were they looking for her? Again the words are incredibly and sadly rich in Hebrew. The ones "surrounding" or "walking around" the city found her. The Hebrew word behind those words in quotation is the same word used to describe the way that God watches over or surrounds the people of God. The watchers, in the best sense, ought to have been the watchers for God, the ones in God's place who were appointed to keep order in the city. So they find her; they come upon her in her condition.
How do they treat her? Well, in a word, they mistreat her. The Jersualem Bible doesn't say what happened, but I think any honest reader of v. 7 has to conclude that they just didn't beat her and take her mantle; they raped her. The verbs of beating here are generic words, not telling us how the beating was done or exactly what it consisted of, but if we "freeze the action" for a moment when the sentinels found her, we might have something like the following: bedraggled female, probably scantily dressed, the watchmen "guys" who probably all didn't have degrees in divinity or mediation studies, the quick way that men in that situation notice vulnerability in a woman, the immediate way that the thought goes to their brain, or other parts of their anatomy, that here is a potential "freebie" right in front of them, the knowledge that there will be absolutely no repercussions for them if they give some attention to the woman (actually, they think, that is what she wants after all; maybe they even see her as a prostitute), that she, in fact "deserves" whatever treatment she gets. All of these things rush through their minds, and then one of them makes a comment, then makes an advance, then touches the woman to see how she responds. He probably said to his buddies, "We've got a live one here!" And that would be all it took for the rest of them to join in the action, piling on with the same kind of abandon which she showed in leaving the house. Everyone was now acting regardless of the consequences; they were just piling on. Nothing could beat what they had. A woman who was "ready," guards who were bored and chilled, and all for "free."
Verse 7 is especially poignant because the words "sentinels of the walls," become a literary envelope to "surround" all of v. 7. The words are there at the beginning and at the end of the verse. They provide a literary "surrounding" of the woman in the middle. But they don't protect. They abuse. They abuse their position before God and they abuse her. They strip her and leave her naked. They have their way with her.
What started out as a very common encounter between Lover and Beloved, an encounter that emerges from desire and lust, an encounter that becomes partially consummated when these emotions take over, has now turned very sour very quickly. The guards rape the woman. They clobber her with the kind of intensity that she never could have imagined. The next (and last) essay tells what happened next.
Copyright © 2004-2009 William R. Long