Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Love in the Key of Delight 3

The young woman, intoxicated with the delightful love of her young lover, describes herself in the presence of the other women of Jerusalem — who watch her love like a chorus surrounding the scene — with these words:
5 Dark am I, yet lovely,
O daughters of Jerusalem,
dark like the tents of Kedar,
like the tent curtains of Solomon.*
6 Do not stare at me because I am dark,
because I am darkened by the sun.
My mother’s sons were angry with me
and made me take care of the vineyards;
my own vineyard I have neglected.
7 Tell me, you whom I love, where you graze your flock
and where you rest your sheep at midday.
Why should I lose my way among the flocks of your friends?

The woman is deeply tanned “dark” in color (the word does not mean “race” — see Exum) because she works in the vineyards and is exposed to the sun. She invites the women to gaze at her. She’s not like city women whose skin is protected from the sun. Her beauty is natural. She knows her beauty. It is good to think you are beautiful even when the standard image might be otherwise.
Her self-consciousness of her own beauty emerges out of tough circumstances: her brothers were angry with her and forced her to take care of the vineyards. She turned that injustice into an opportunity to discover her beauty.
With her deftly poetic “my own vineyard” the young woman refers either to her chastity or to her self-esteem/personhood or to her beauty. The first view is supported by 6:11 and 7:13, and the second is an option for those who think the image is general. The third by the previous line. I think she is referring to her beauty — she’s not been able to look after her beauty as the city-ladies have, but she is nonetheless beautiful.
Now she turns to thinking about her young love (now a shepherd): Where will you be grazing your sheep? Is she evoking his sexuality or asking a question for information? The reader of the Song may not know. Poetry is like that.
When she speaks of wandering … and I’ve edited the NIV here … she seems to be asking for precise information (where will you be?) so she won’t get lost among his fellow shepherds or because she doesn’t want to waste time searching for him. When I get to the camp, she is saying, which tent will you be in?
The woman announces that she will come at midday to his tent — and that means she wants to find him, to lie with him, and to enjoy love with him.
A woman needs to know her beauty. A woman can assert her beauty. A woman has no need to be overwhelmed by the body-image of others. To love the other, one must know oneself. She does. And her circumstances don’t stop her from finding that place of knowing her own beauty. So confident is she of her love and the delightfulness of that love that she will chase her lover down in the middle of the day. All she needs is directions.

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posted April 4, 2007 at 6:50 am

I had understood a different emphasis than you make here. I thought she was being self-conscious and didn’t like being tanned from the sun; other ladies had more luxury than her. But you have taken it that she is confident in her beauty, regardless of what others look like. Interesting.

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posted April 4, 2007 at 9:20 am

I love this.
I think our culture has such a narrow definition of what a beautiful woman is supposed to look like. And when women don’t meet that definition, they fear being unloved.
Also, I just cant help but be drawn to the fact that the reason she looks different is because of her poor relationship with her brothers – and apparently there was no parent who was stepping in to help. That had a real effect not just on her life, but on her body. MANY of the women I’ve met who have been through some kind of sexual abuse also bear evidence of that abuse in their bodies through eating disorders or cutting or something else. And yet, she is this woman who is beautiful and deeply loved and desired.
This was a breath of fresh air, Thanks Scot!

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John W Frye

posted April 4, 2007 at 12:01 pm

A year ago Julie and I saw some shepherds in Turkey who were resting with their sheep in the shade of trees. It was midday. Your commentary came alive with those images in my mind. Good stuff.
It seems that you are saying that “beauty” is a choice. The dark woman “chose” her beauty in the face of the city-women. She wasn’t going to allow an outside standard take her beauty away. I wonder if USAmerican women can recover this choice.

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posted April 4, 2007 at 1:17 pm

What do you think of the view that the book has three characters (the young woman, the shepherd, and Solomon)?
I always thought that the two character view was better, but I came across the three character view in Andrew Hill and John Walton’s OT survey, and they suggest that it was growing in popularity.

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Scot McKnight

posted April 4, 2007 at 2:25 pm

I’m a 3-character reader of Song of Songs. Part of the reason I’m doing this series is to work it out in my own mind.

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Ted Gossard

posted April 4, 2007 at 7:52 pm

Great thoughts here on post and comments.
I do think it is so important for a woman to appreciate her God-given beauty and enhance that (as this song does bring out). I think this is presented in such a way that we can all identify pretty readily with it, of course myself from the masculine side. I found myself the other day, when meditating on beginning verses in this book, thinking of the hold and give and take between my wife and myself. I much look forward to learning more because I may be more deficient in understanding this book than any of the others (or at least tied with a few others).

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C Grace

posted April 5, 2007 at 7:36 am

I think that it is signifigant that right before this passage (in vs 2-4) she is thinking about how much she is loved. A woman rejoices in her own beauty through the eyes of those who love her. She sees herself as beautiful when someone else admires her. This is think is intrinsic in what it means to be a woman.
That does not mean an unadmired woman need be overly self-conscious or always worried about her appearance. I myself grew up in a broken home and my reaction was simply that I became a tomboy. That part of my heart that cared about being beautiful simply closed up and it was not awakened until much later through the grace of God and my husband.

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