Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Baby, It’s Warm Outside (Song of Solomon 2)

In which book do you find this: “For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; the flowers appear on the earth, and the time of the singing of birds is come”? Song of Solomon (Song of Solomon 2:11, 12)

The Song of Solomon (or Song of Songs) is a conversation between two lovers. The woman famously advises, “Do not arouse or awaken love/until it so desires (Song of Solomon 2:7 NASB)”, or in other words, wait until the time is right.

This admonition is immediately followed by the composition’s eighth poem (Song of Solomon 2:8-17). In it, the woman recounts that her lover has said:

For behold, the winter is past, The rain is over and gone. The flowers have already appeared in the land; The time has arrived for pruning the vines, And the voice of the turtledove has been heard in our land. (Song of Solomon 2:11-12 NASB)
The back and forth banter between the lovers is comparable to the pop standard “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, premiered by Frank Loesser (1910-1969) and Lynn Garland (b.1917) in 1944 and re-popularized by Zooey Deschanel (b. 1980) and Leon Redbone (b. 1949) in the 2003 film Elf. The song features seesawing repartee between a suitor and his sweetheart in which the man repeatedly attempts to convince the woman to stay inside with him because it is cold outside. Song of Solomon also features alternating dialogue with a man attempting to convince a woman that the time is right for love; only his argument is that it is warm outside.

The man’s thesis centers around the time of year as he attempts to draw his lover’s attention to the pronounced change in seasons experienced by Israel. J. Cheryl Exum (b. 1946) writes:

With the particle hinnēh, “Look!,” the man directs the woman’s (and the reader’s) attention to spring’s unfolding. (The immediacy of “look” is even more pronounced in the fragment of this text found at Qumran, which reads hinnēh at the beginning of Song of Solomon 2:12 and Song of Solomon 2:13 as well [4QCant, 11.3. 5]). “Winter” refers to the rainy season, which usually ends around mid-April. The time described seems to be May or June, when figs and vines ripen and migratory birds, like the turtledove, appear. Hebrew zāmîr is associated with two different roots, one meaning “singing” and the other “pruning.” Christian D. Ginsburg [1831-1914] argues that singing is meant, since, like all the other pleasures of spring depicted, it is a gift of nature to be enjoyed, whereas pruning involves engaging in labor. (Exum, Song of Songs (Old Testament Library), 127)
Tremper Longman III (b. 1952) concurs:
The man’s invitation in the previous verse (Song of Solomon 2:10) now receives a motive clause. Winter is gone and spring has arrived. Springtime is the universal time for love: warm weather, the fragrance of flowers — a time to go outside, a time for the removal of clothes and intimacy. The couple can leave the urban setting and go out to the countryside, the place of lovemaking and union. While the word for winter (setēw) is rare, the word for rains (gešem) is one of the more common words out of the many for rain in Israel. Since winter (October-April) is the only real time for rain in Palestine, the two words are variants on the same theme. Since the rains end in April, it is likely that the scene evokes a temporal setting in May...It’s springtime, the right time for love. (Longman, Song of Songs (New International Commentary on the Old Testament), 121)
Othmar Keel (b. 1937) adds:
The statements...emphasize primarily the propitiousness of the hour. The Hebrew word for “flowers” in Song of Solomon 2:12a...does not refer merely to the splendor of the flowery meadows but to the blossoming of brushes and trees, especially the grapevines (Genesis 40:10; Sirach 50:8)...The vines are pruned or cut between January and March, before the new sap rises and before the time of the other signs enumerated in this verse...The turtledove mentioned in Song of Solomon 2:12 is a migratory bird (cf. Jeremiah 8:7)...it shows up in Israel about the middle of April (at the end of the rainy season). Its amorous cooing seems to provide the beat for the song of Song of Solomon 2:12b. Song of Solomon 2:12 seeks to motivate the call to go...primarily by calling attention to the favorable time. (Keel, The Song of Songs (Continental Commentary Series), 101)
Tommy Nelson (b. 1950) commends:
What a wonderful picture of courtship! Like springtime, their relationship had blossomed fully...Solomon was calling to the woman to be with him exclusively. He wanted to be alone with her, and in the “secret places” he wanted to communicate with her, get to know her, and deepen a relationship with her. He was committing to discover all he could about her. (Nelson, The Book of Romance: What Solomon Says About Love, Sex, and Intimacy, 67)
Not surprisingly, the man paints a highly idealized picture of springtime, accentuating its many benefits. Dianne Bergant (b. 1936) explains:
All of these images are somehow associated with springtime, the time when nature awakens to new life...Winter, the rainy season, is over and nature is coming alive anew. This is the time of the profusion of vibrant wildflowers that cover the earth like a mutlicolored carpet. It is the time of the sound of the migratory turtledove recently returned from its winter haven. It is the time when the flow of sap through the fig trees begins the ripening of its fruits. It is the time of the regeneration of vines as they bring forth blossoms and give forth fragrance. These are the harbingers of springtime. They are also all fitting images of innocent love. This is the time to “arise” from the old and “come away” to the new. The delicacy of new life and the promise that it extends, the enchantment with which spring invades the senses, both evoke and mirror the splendor of the passion of these lovers. Calling the woman into springtime is really calling her into love. (Bergant, The Song of Songs (Berit Olam: Studies In Hebrew Narrative And Poetry), 30)
J. Cheryl Exum (b. 1946) notes that the man skillfully appeals to all of his lover’s senses:
The invitation to share the delights of spring derives its persuasive power from its appeal to the senses: blossoms are seen, the turtledove’s cooing is heard, the budding vines fill the air with fragrance. There is even a hint of taste in the mention of ripening figs and grape vines. The repeated references to “the land,” “our land,” in Song of Solomon 2:12 suggest a widening of perspective, with the entire countryside participating in the total sensory picture. (Exum, Song of Songs (Old Testament Library), 127)
Ariel Bloch (b. 1933) and Chana Bloch (b. 1940) see parallels between the season and the lovers themselves:
The poem is set in early spring, with its intimations of ripening. The rains of the winter season have just ended, the vines are in blossom, the air is alive with scents and birdsong. Since the poem speaks through metaphor, this setting reveals something essential about the lovers, who live in harmony with the natural world. The images of spring reflect their youth, and the innocent freshness of their passion. (Bloch and Bloch, The Song of Songs: A New Translation, 3)
Robert W. Jenson (b. 1930) reminds that the man’s feelings may be effecting the man’s perception of his environment:
Why the lover’s long praise of spring’s beauty? It is not itself metaphor, nor does it seem to carry any erotic double meaning; it is straightforward praise of spring’s empirical, if here perhaps somewhat exaggerated, delights. Therewith the poem brings to the surface an underlying motif of the Song’s general construal of reality: whenever in the Song the lovers step outdoors or imagine themselves there, they enter at Eden, a nature furnished only with beautiful, fruitful, and sweet-smelling flora and populated by fauna far from red in tooth in claw, where even rainy weather appears only as something just past that brought the flowers. (Jenson, Song of Songs (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching), 34)
Like more contemporary love songs, the man has spring when his lover is close. When it is cold outside, he has the month of may (“My Girl”). Birds suddenly appear every time she is near (“Close to You”).

As such, the woman still has concerns. Iain Provan (b. 1957) documents:

The man has suggested to her that her present location is a limiting one defined by fear, and he has spoken of the outside world only in glowing terms, designed to make it attractive to her. Her response is to remind him, however, that the outside world is in fact a dangerous place for herself and the other women (the “us” of Song of Solomon 2:15). Their reluctance to come outside is justified. (Provan, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs (The NIV Application Commentary), 288)
What love songs can you think of that evoke springtime imagery? Why is spring associated with love? How important is timing to a relationship? In other ventures? Have you ever interpreted a change in season as a sign to make a change in your life? What is it time for you to do now?

Given the erotic nature of Song of Solomon, many have interpreted the book allegorically though spring still factors into the reading. Marvin R. Wilson (b. 1935) notes:

During the Passover festival the Song of Songs is read. Since this book alludes to the beauty of springtime (Song of Songs 2:11-13), the very season of Passover, the rabbis interpreted it as a picture of God’s love for his people Israel. (Wilson, Our Father Abraham: Jewish Roots of the Christian Faith, 249)
The book’s spring setting reminds that there is always hope for rebirth. John Eldredge (b. 1960) asks:
What if nature is speaking to us? What if sunrise and sunset tell the tale every day, remembering Eden’s glory, prophesying Eden’s return? What if it shall all be restored? (Eldredge, Desire: The Journey We Must Take to Find the Life God Offers, 108)
Have you ever found hope due to a change in the weather? Is your personal winter ending? Do you believe that it will?

“The deep roots never doubt spring will come.” - Marty Rubin (1929-1994)

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