Song of Solomon 8:6-8
New English Translation
The Nature of True Love
The Beloved to Her Lover:
6 Set me like a cylinder seal[a] over your heart,[b]
like a signet[c] on your arm.[d]
For love is as strong as death,[e]
passion[f] is as unrelenting[g] as Sheol.
Its flames burst forth,[h]
it is a blazing flame.[i]
7 Surging waters cannot quench love;
floodwaters[j] cannot overflow it.
If someone were to offer all his possessions[k] to buy love,[l]
the offer[m] would be utterly despised.[n]
The Brother’s Plan and the Sister’s Reward
The Beloved’s Brothers:
8 We have a little sister,
and as yet she has no breasts.
What shall we do for our sister
on the day when she is spoken for?[o]
- Song of Solomon 8:6 sn In the ancient Near East חוֹתָם (khotam, “seal”) was used to denote ownership and was thus very valuable (Jer 22:24; Hag 2:23). Seals were used to make a stamp impression to identify the object as the property of the seal’s owner (HALOT 300 s.v. I חוֹתָם). Seals were made of semi-precious stone upon which was engraved a unique design and an inscription, e.g., LMLK [PN] “belonging to king […].” The impression could be placed upon wet clay of a jar or on a writing tablet by rolling the seal across the clay. Because it was a valuable possession its owner would take careful precautions to not lose it and would keep it close to him at all times.
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn The term לֵבָב (levav, “heart”) is used figuratively here as (1) a metonymy (container for the thing contained) for his chest over which the cylinder seal was hung or (2) a metonymy (concrete body part for the abstract emotions with which it is associated) for his emotions, such as love and loyalty to the Beloved (e.g., Judg 16:25; Ruth 3:7; 1 Sam 25:36; 2 Sam 13:28; 1 Kgs 8:66) (HALOT 514-15 s.v. לֵב) (see H. W. Wolff, Anthropology of the Old Testament, 40-58).sn There were two kinds of cylinder seals in the ancient Near East, namely, those worn around one’s neck and those worn around one’s wrist. The typical Mesopotamian seal was mounted on a pin and hung on a string or necklace around one’s neck. The cylinder seal hung around one’s neck would, figuratively speaking, rest over the heart (metonymy of association). The Beloved wished to be to Solomon like a cylinder seal worn over his heart. She wanted to be as intimate with her lover as the seal worn by him (W. W. Hallo, “‘As the Seal Upon Thy Heart’: Glyptic Roles in the Biblical World,” BRev 2 : 26).
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn Literally “cylinder-seal” or “seal.” The term חוֹתָם (khotam, “cylinder-seal”) is repeated in 8:6 for emphasis. The translation above uses the terms “cylinder seal” and “signet” simply for the sake of poetic variation. The Beloved wanted to be as safe and secure as a cylinder seal worn on the arm or around the neck, hanging down over the heart. She also wanted to be placed on his heart (emotions), like the impression of a cylinder seal is written on a document. She wanted to be “written” on his heart like the impression of a cylinder seal, and kept secure in his love as a signet ring is worn around his arm/hand to keep it safe.
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn Alternately, “wrist.” In Palestine cylinder seals were often hung on a bracelet worn around one’s wrist. The cylinder seal was mounted on a pin hanging from a bracelet. The cylinder seal in view in Song 8:6 could be a stamp seal hung from a bracelet of a type known from excavations in Israel. See W. W. Hallo, “‘As the Seal Upon Thy Heart’: Glyptic Roles in the Biblical World,” BRev 2 (1985): 26.
- Song of Solomon 8:6 sn It was a common practice in the ancient world to compare intense feelings to death. The point of the expression “love is as strong as death” means that love is extremely strong. The expression “love is as cruel as Sheol” may simply mean that love can be profoundly cruel. For example: “His soul was vexed to death,” means that he could not stand it any longer (Judg 16:16). “I do well to be angry to death,” means that he was extremely angry (Jonah 4:9). “My soul is sorrowful to death,” means that he was exceedingly sorrowful (Matt 26:38 = Mark 14:34) (D. W. Thomas, “A Consideration of Some Unusual Ways of Expressing the Superlative in Hebrew,” VT 3 : 220-21).
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn Alternately, “jealousy.” The noun קִנְאָה (qinʾah) has a wide range of meanings: “jealousy” (Prov 6:34; 14:30; 27:4), “competitiveness” (Eccl 4:4; 9:6), “anger” (Num 5:14, 30), “zeal” (2 Kgs 10:16; Pss 69:10; 119:139; Job 5:2; Sir 30:24), and “passion” (Song 8:6). The Hebrew noun is related to the Akkadian and Arabic roots that mean “to become intensely red” or “become red with passion,” suggesting that the root denotes strong emotion. Although קִנְאָה is traditionally rendered “jealousy” (KJV, RSV, NASB, NIV), the parallelism with אַהֲבָה (ʾahavah, “love”) suggests the nuance “passion” (NJPS). Coppes notes, “This word is translated in the KJV in a bad sense in Song 8:6, ‘jealousy is as cruel as the grave,’ but it could be taken in a good sense in parallel with the preceding, ‘ardent zeal is as strong as the grave’” (TWOT 2:803).
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn Heb “harsh” or “severe.”
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn Heb “Its flames are flames of fire.”
- Song of Solomon 8:6 tn The noun שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה (shalhevetyah, “mighty flame”) is related to the nouns שַׁלְהֶבֶת (shalhevet, “flame”), לֶהָבָה (lehavah, “flame”), and לַהַב (lahav, “flame”), all of which are derived from the root להב “to burn, blaze, flame up” (HALOT 520 s.v. לַהַב). The form שַׁלְהֶבֶתְיָה is an unusual noun pattern with (1) a prefix שׁ (shin) that is common in Akkadian but rare in Hebrew; it has an intensive adjective meaning, (2) a feminine ת (tav) ending, and (3) a suffix ־יָה (yah) whose meaning is debated. The suffix ־יָה has been taken in three ways by scholars and translators: (1) יָה is an abbreviated form of the divine name יהוה (“Yahweh”), functioning as a genitive of source: “the flame of the Lord” (NASB). The abbreviated form יָהּ is used only in poetic texts as a poetic variation of יהוה (e.g., Exod 15:2; 17:16; Pss 68:5, 19; 77:12; 89:9; 94:7, 12; 102:19; 104:35; 105:45; 106:1, 48; 111:1; 112:1; 113:1, 9; 115:17, 18; 116:19; 117:2; 118:5, 14, 17-19; 122:4; 130:3; 135:1, 3, 4, 21; 146:1, 10; 147:1, 20; 148:1, 14; 149:1, 9; 150:1, 6; Isa 12:2; 26:4; 38:11). However, the Masoretes did not point the text as שַׁלְהֶבֶת־יָהּ (shalhevet yah) with maqqef and dagesh in the הּ, as would be the case with the divine name. (2) Thomas suggests that, just as אֱלֹהִים (ʾelohim) and אֵל (ʾel) are sometimes used to express superlatives or intensive ideas, so יָה expresses the superlative/intensive: “a mighty flame” (D. W. Thomas, “A Consideration of Some Unusual Ways of Expressing the Superlative in Hebrew,” VT 3 : 209-24). Examples of אֱלֹהִים (ʾelohim): “a mighty wind” (Gen 1:2), “a mighty prince” (Gen 23:6), “a great struggle” (Gen 30:8), “a great fire” (Job 1:16), “an exceeding great city” (Jonah 3:3). Examples of אֵל (ʾel): “the mighty mountains” (Ps 36:7) and “the mighty cedars” (Ps 80:11). Examples of יָה (yah) suffixed: “darkest gloom” (Jer 2:31), “mighty deeds” (Jer 32:19), and “mighty deeds” (Ps 77:12). (3) The most likely view is that יָה is an intensive adjectival suffix, similar to—iy and—ay and—awi in Aramaic, Akkadian, and Arabic: “a most vehement flame” (KJV), “a mighty flame” (RSV, NIV), and “a blazing flame” (NJPS). This also best explains “darkest gloom” (Jer 2:31), and “mighty deeds” (Jer 32:19) (see S. Moscati, Comparative Grammar, 81, §12.18, and 83, §12.23).
- Song of Solomon 8:7 tn Heb “rivers.”
- Song of Solomon 8:7 tn Heb “all the wealth of his house.”
- Song of Solomon 8:7 tn Heb “for love.” The preposition ב (bet) on בָּאַהֲבָה (baʾahavah, “for love”) indicates the price or exchange in trading (HALOT 105 s.v. בְּ 17), e.g., “Give me your vineyard in exchange for silver [בְּכֶסֶף, bekhesef]” (1 Kgs 21:6).
- Song of Solomon 8:7 tn Heb “he/it.” The referent (the offer of possessions) has been specified in the translation for clarity. Some English versions take the referent to be the man himself (ASV “He would utterly be condemned”; NAB “he would be roundly mocked”). Others take the offer as the referent (cf. KJV, NASB, NIV, NRSV “it”).
- Song of Solomon 8:7 tn The root בּוּז (buz, “to despise”) is repeated for emphasis: בּוֹז יָבוּזּוּ (boz yavuzu). The infinitive absolute frequently is used with the imperfect of the same root for emphasis. The point is simply that love cannot be purchased; it is infinitely more valuable than any and all wealth. Love such as this is priceless; no price tag can be put on love.
- Song of Solomon 8:8 sn The Beloved’s brothers knew that once a couple is betrothed, sexual temptations would be at their greatest. Thus, in v. 9 they devise a plan to protect the purity of their sister: If she is a virtuous young woman, they would reward her; however, if she is prone to temptation, they will restrain her and guard her from promiscuity.