Poem Ten: A Royal Wedding Procession (3:6–11)

Song of Songs 3:6–11 clearly stands out as a separate poetic unit. It begins with a question that draws the reader’s attention out to the wilderness where what is soon to be identified as a palanquin (and later a litter) is kicking up dust that looks like a pillar of smoke (3:6). The remainder of the poem describes this luxurious vehicle as well as the guards that accompany it. The poem concludes with a focus on the wedding crown of Solomon (3:11).

Indeed, King Solomon plays a major, though enigmatic, role in this poem. Solomon’s name occurs a mere seven times in the book, including once in the superscription (1:1), a second time in a description of tent curtains (1:5), and two times at the end of the book (8:11, 12). Here, his name occurs three times (3:7, 9, 11), but his role is still not certain, as will become clear when we discuss interpretive options.

We may describe three main schools of thought concerning the role of Solomon and the meaning of the poem, though even these schools have variations. Each school reflects the interpreter’s overall understanding of the Song of Songs (see Introduction for extensive description and analysis).

First, perhaps the least likely (see criticism in the Introduction) interpretation is a mythological approach to the text. T. J. Meek argued that in the original form of the poem it was not Solomon but rather a god whose name was Shulman (or Shelem) who was being brought to the temple for the sacred marriage rite. More recently, G. Gerleman connects the poem to “a description of a procession to and from the Theban necropolis in Egypt during the annual Opet festival, when the god Amun was transported at night from Karnak to Luxor.” 1  Such interpretations arise from those commentators who have a cultic/mythological approach to the Song, which was criticized in the Introduction. The only textual evidence used to support this approach is the reference to the pillar or column of smoke. In the Exodus event, this represents God’s presence with the people as they wander from Sinai to the promised land (Exod. 13:21–22). However, though perhaps hinting at a meaning on the divine-human level in a general sense, Gerleman takes this connection much too far.

Second, a more widely held approach than the first is the interpretation that 3:6–11 describes an actual historical event—that is, a wedding processional associated with Solomon. The only question for advocates of this approach concerns the identity of the person in the palanquin and that person’s destination. Connected to this question is the additional issue of who is speaking. Perhaps the most common view is that Solomon is in the vehicle, and he is going to his beloved’s house. In such a view, the woman herself could be seen as the speaker. However, since the occupant of the palanquin is not specifically named, but only its owner, there are some who believe, on the basis of the feminine demonstrative pronoun that begins the poem (see vs. 1), that the woman is in the palanquin; that the chorus of young women speaks in verses 6–10; and then finally that the woman speaks to them in verse 11 after she arrives. 2  Still others, for instance, J. Balchin, argue that Solomon and the woman are in the palanquin and are together heading for Jerusalem. 3 

Third, throughout the commentary, we have maintained an approach to the Song that appreciates its poetic quality. Here too, we understand that this poem offers not historical description but rather a poetic description that draws upon the traditional opulence of Solomon’s life and kingdom in order to celebrate love and marriage. The Solomon/royal fiction is being exploited here, not because of Solomon’s reputation in the area of love per se (where he has a dubious reputation!), but rather because of his incredible wealth. In other words, this poem expresses the woman’s poetic imagination as she reflects upon the wonders of love and, in the case of this poem at least, marriage.

Because of its connection to marriage, this is the poem that is most like the only other marriage poem in the Bible, Psalm 45. Perhaps in both cases the language used to describe the love and marriage of a king draws on an actual historical person or marriage, but that is not the point. Both the psalm as well as the poem in the Song can be, and are intended to be, appropriated by other nonroyal couples.

The Woman

6  What  4  is this coming up  5  from the wilderness

like a pillar 6  of smoke,

perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,

from all the scented powders of the trader?

7  Look sharp, 7  it is the palanquin of Solomon;

sixty heroes surround it,

Israel’s heroes.

8  All of them bear the sword; 8 

they are battle-trained.

Each one has his sword on his thigh,

against the terrors of the night. 9 

9  The king has made a litter 10  for himself;

that is, Solomon—from the wood of Lebanon.

10  Its posts 11  he made of silver;

its canopy 12  of gold;

its riding seat 13  of purple; 14 

its interior 15  inlaid 16  with love 17  by the daughters of Jerusalem.

11  Come and look, O daughters of Zion,

at King Solomon with the crown with which his mother crowned him,

on the day of his wedding,

on the day of his heart’s joy!

6 The new poem is introduced by a question that draws our imagination to a cloud of smoke rising in the wilderness. We will see a similar rhetorical strategy through the use of a closely worded question in 8:5. Again, in 3:6, it is clear that a poet and not a historian speaks in this verse. All that is seen is the smoke in the distance, but it is described not only by vision but also by smell, which can only be the result of poetic imagination since smells do not cover such a distance. The smell is the sweet smell of perfume, indeed, the finest smells including myrrh and frankincense. Such scents are not native to Israel but are brought in from far distant places like Arabia and India, a fact that adds to the exotic and luxurious atmosphere of the scene. The question draws our attention and raises our curiosity as to what possibly could be on the horizon. 18 

7 It is not clear who is speaking in this section. Certainly in 3:11 it is the young woman addressing the daughters of Zion again, but should this whole section be ascribed to the young woman (so NIV), or should perhaps verses 8–10 be placed in the mouth of the daughters of Zion (so NLT)? The case is not clear. If it is the former, though, we can imagine that the woman is speaking throughout to the daughters of Zion. Since there are no clear indications of a change of speaker after verse 5, we will side lightly with the NIV and associate the whole poem with the voice of the young woman.

In this verse we get the answer to the question raised in verse 6. Who is it? It is Solomon! The specific answer to the question is “it is the palanquin of Solomon,” which is why the NRSV translates the subject in verse 6 as “What” rather than “Who.” Yet the real object of attention is the occupant, not the vehicle, though significant attention will be lavished in the following verses on the vehicle. However, even that attention is to accentuate Solomon’s wealth and the grandeur of his wedding.

Before proceeding, we should mention the viewpoint that it is the woman who is in the palanquin. A lot of weight is put on the similarly worded rhetorical questions found in 6:10 and 8:5. In those contexts the answer to the question is “the young woman.” However, we have to study the local context of the question first before identifying the occupant. The only way Gledhill 19  can argue that the woman is the occupant of the question is to treat 3:6 as completely separate from the following verses, which yields an inelegant hypothesis.

The word translated palanquin (miṭṭâ) is literally a “bed” or “couch.” In other words, it is a piece of furniture on which one reclines. However, from the context we know it is a moveable recliner, and so a palanquin—although the English word is rare it seems a fairly precise equivalent since it denotes “a conveyance, usually for one person, consisting of an enclosed litter borne on the shoulders of men by means of poles.” 20  This palanquin is a symbol not only of wealth and luxury but also of power, since it is accompanied by a troop of sixty men, and not ordinary men but distinguished soldiers. It is commonly pointed out that the retinue of sixty men is twice that which accompanied David according to 2 Samuel 23:18–19, 23.

8 Verse 8 dwells on the heroes who accompany the palanquin of Solomon. Talking about their skills emphasizes the grandeur of the litter and the importance of its occupant. They are battle-ready. They not only have a sword ready-to-hand, but they know how to use it; that is, they are battle-trained. The reference to terrors of the night (pahad balêlôt) show that their protection never stops. They are constantly ready for any threat, especially at night, because evil often seeks the cover of darkness. There has been some speculation, based on a reference in Tobit 3:7–17, that the night threat are demons who “were believed to be especially dangerous at nuptial affairs and to lie in wait for newlyweds.” 21 

9 The next two verses describe the opulence and beauty of the palanquin/litter. Litter (ʾappiryôn) is the second of the two words to describe this portable bed (see v. 6 for miṭṭâ). 22  The word only occurs here in the Hebrew Bible, 23  but from the context we understand it to signify the portable recliner already referred to in the poem. Thus, we choose the English translation litter, though sedan chair might also have worked. Solomon is described as its maker, though it is doubtful we are supposed to imagine Solomon with tools in hand. It is rather that he had this beautiful and comfortable vehicle made for him, for his own use.

At this point, we should remark on Solomon’s role in this poem (for Solomon’s connection with the book as a whole, see the commentary on 1:1 and the Introduction), taking note of the ambiguity of the references. In this poem, I believe it is Solomon’s wealth and grandeur that are being applied here to emphasize the magnificence of the wedding and, by association, the marriage relationship itself. It is not imparting historical information as such, though it may be built on the remembrance of Solomon’s ornate weddings. The Song is not about Solomon as such, though it uses Solomon and his legend both to praise love, as in this poem, and to warn about the dangers of illicit love, as in 8:11–12.

The parallelism of this verse is difficult to understand. Where should we make the break? Is the name Solomon a gloss? 24  Translating the verse while preserving the syntax would result in the following rendering:

A litter he has made for himself the king Solomon from the wood of Lebanon.

We would be tempted to translate the line according to the following poetic format:

King Solomon has made a litter for himself

from the trees of Lebanon. 25 

However, this creates a large imbalance between the first and the second cola, more obvious in the Hebrew where the word count would be five to two. Thus, we have suggested the break between king and Solomon, though the result seems a little awkward in English if judged according to the standards of prose.

It remains to comment on the composition of the litter. It is made from the wood of Lebanon. The wood of Lebanon simply “represented the best quality lumber available.” 26  As such, it would be relatively rare and expensive, and thus it is an indication of wealth and opulence. It was used for the temple and the royal palace, for instance (1 Kings 5:13 [4:33]; 5:20, 23, 28 [5:6, 9, 14]; 7:2; 10:17, 21). During Solomon’s lifetime, he imported it through the agency of Hiram of Tyre. Usually cedar was associated with Lebanon, but other types of precious trees were also available, although here perhaps the scent of cedar is also being called to mind.

10 This verse continues the description of the litter begun in verse 9. Different parts of the vehicle are described one by one. We might expect, accordingly, to get a better picture of the litter; however, for the most part rare, apparently technical terms are used whose nuances escape us (see notes to the translation). The overall impression of the description of the litter is nonetheless impossible to miss. This object is luxurious; it radiates wealth and power. It is made out of the most precious of materials: silver, gold, and purple cloth, all associated with royalty. Purple cloth was particularly rare, being made from a pigment from the murex shellfish. According to R. L. Alden, 27  the Phoenicians were the only ones who could make the dye.

The most difficult colon of the verse is the last one. What does it mean that its interior is inlaid with love? We might expect an inlay of pearl or some other precious object, but an emotion like love? It appears that the emphasis has shifted from the objective qualities of the litter to its subjective qualities. The women are skilled at the craft of decorating the interior, and they do so not out of compulsion but out of affection.

Some commentators unnecessarily resort to changes to make the colon conform more closely to the previous three. Such a view misunderstands parallelism, which actually allows for considerable variation between related cola. One approach is through emendations, most notably that of Gerleman, who prefers ʾăbānîm (stones) to love (ʾahăbâ); 28  the other approach is to retain the word but appeal to an Arabic cognate for the meaning “leather.” 29  M. H. Pope understands the word as love but takes it as referring to love scenes that decorated the interior. In his words, “love scenes are an appropriate decoration for a love couch.” 30 

11 The poetic structure of this verse is difficult and complicated by the question of its connection to the end of verse 10. Many modern commentators buck the versification and argue that the concluding reference in verse 10 to the daughters of Jerusalem should begin the last verse of the section, and indeed it is true that the result would be a nice chiastic beginning to verse 11:

O daughters of Jerusalem, come;

look, O daughters of Zion.

The resulting parallel is so compelling that we cannot rule this out as a possibility, except that the “daughters of Jerusalem” is prefixed by a mem, which we have taken in an agentive sense  31  in the previous verse. Pope, R. E. Murphy, and others argue that something else is going on here. For instance they suggest that perhaps the Masoretes got confused about an enclitic mem that was connected with the word “love” and mistakenly prefaced it to daughters.  32  I personally find such an argument all too convenient and overused by scholars who know their Ugaritic perhaps a little too well.

In any case, the daughters of Zion only appears here in the Song, but is a suitable and expected alternate for daughters of Jerusalem; in other words, the two phrases refer to the same group of women (see commentary at 1:4). Zion, after all, is the metaphorical center or apex of Jerusalem, the location of the holy place, a metonymy for the city as a whole.

The woman, more experienced in love, urges the younger women to rush out and gaze on Solomon wearing his crown, a crown associated with his marriage. This is “the only unambiguous use of the piel of ʿṭr, ṣrown,” since its qal meaning is “to surround” and the other piel occurrences could be either. 33  We are uncertain whether this is his royal crown or a special wedding crown. We might think of the former since the latter is unattested elsewhere, but then again so is the idea that the queen mother crowns her son at either his coronation or his wedding. 34  We may be dealing here more with poetic imagination than actual custom. In any case, the reference to the crown serves to add glory to the wedding ceremony, an impulse that we also observed with the description of the palanquin/litter in the immediately preceding verses.

The focus is on the day of his wedding. The word wedding (ḥătunnâ) only occurs here in the Song, but the verb (ḥtn) and another noun (ḥātān, meaning son-in-law, fiancé, bridegroom) occurs with some frequency throughout the Old Testament. See the introduction to this section for a survey of different interpretations of Solomon’s wedding in this section. The parallel indicates the joyous nature of this day, this ceremony. It is the day that made his heart rejoice.



 1 See the excellent article on this verse by R. Wakely, “ḥătunnâ,” NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 328–30, whose survey of interpretive options helped me organize my own survey here. She is here describing Gerleman’s approach in his commentary (Ruth, Das Hohelied, 2nd ed. [1981]).

 2 This is the view of Delitzsch, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, Song of Solomon, pp. 60–70.

 3 J. A. Balchin, “Song of Songs,” in The New Bible Commentary, 4th ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1994), p. 623.

 4 So the NRSV. Some, such as the NIV, translate mî as “who.” The Hebrew word is more typically translated who, but what is also philologically justified on the basis of the Akkadian cognate (also “what” is the force of mî in Judg. 13:17 and Mic. 1:5). The word this (zô’t) is feminine and may refer to the feminine noun palanquin. In the context of the parallel line in 8:5, however, “who” is called for. For the argument that the context allows a translation “who” since the focus is on the bridegroom Solomon, see P. B. Dirksen, “Song of Songs III 6–7,” VT 39 (1989): 219–25.

 5 The verb suggests that the object is moving toward Jerusalem. One “went up” (ʿālā) to Jerusalem, particularly from the wilderness to its east; cf. Keel, The Song of Songs, p. 126, with a reference to Ps. 122:4.

 6 According to NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 289, the word tîmarā is derived from the noun tamar, which means “palm tree.” Thus, tîmarā denotes a palm-shaped column. Besides Song of Songs 3:6, the noun also appears in Joel 3:3 (English 2:30) in reference to columns of smoke that will rise up in the last days.

 7 For hinnēh, which functions as an attention-getter, cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 1032.

 8 Pope (Song of Songs, p. 435) suggests “held fast by the sword,” that is, “skilled with the sword.”

 9 Literally, “nights” (lêlôt) for the use of the plural here, see the analogous situation in 3:1.

 10 For an early etymological study of the word ’appiryôn, see F. Rundgren, “’prywn: Tragsessel, Sänfte,” ZAW 74 (1962): 70–72. He opposes the idea that the word is a Persian loanword and sees it rather as connected to the Greek phoreion.

 11 From ʿamûd, which means column, pillar, but in this case either posts or perhaps (carrying) poles.

 12 From the verbal root rpd “to spread out, support.” This is the only use of the noun form, but perhaps the Arabic riida “saddle-blanket” provides insight into its meaning.

 13 For this meaning of merkāb also see Lev. 15:9; 1 Kings 5:6 (English 4:26).

 14 According to Pope, Song of Songs, p. 444, ʿargāmān “designates cloth dyed with the reddish purpose dye extracted from the murex shellfish. The dye was very expensive and became at an early period the emblem of royalty.”

 15 Literally, “its midst” (tôkô).

 16 A hapax legomenon, though perhaps the noun riṣpa “pavement” is related.

 17 G. R. Driver (“Supposed Arabisms in the Old Testament,” JBL 55 [1936]: 101–20) argued that the word here is not “love” but, based on an Arabic cognate, “leather.” This seems an unnecessary and stretched argument, since “love” fits the context well and Arabic cognates are always easy to find. D. Grossberg (“Canticles 3:10 in the Light of a Homeric Analogue and Biblical Poetics,” BTB 11 [1981]: 74–76) supports Driver’s argument but suggests that there is a double entendre here, the poet wanting us to understand both “love” and “leather.”

 18 G. Barbiero (“Die Liebe der Töchter Jerusalems: Hld 3, 10b MT im Kontext von 3, 6–11,” BZ 39 [1995]: 101) draws our attention to the fact that the description in vv. 6–11 go from outside to inside (“von aussen nach innen”).

 19 Gledhill, The Message of the Song of Songs, p. 148.

 20 So the Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary (Springfield, MA: G. and C. Merriam, Co., 1951), p. 604.

 21 Pope, Song of Songs, p. 435.

 22 We believe the context indicates that the two words are referring to the same vehicular recliner.

 23 As Murphy comments (The Song of Songs, p. 149), “There is no certainty whether it is originally Greek, Sanskrit, or Persian” in origin.

 24 So suggests the textual note in BHS.

 25 The Septuagint divides the verse in this manner, as does Murphy (The Song of Songs, p. 148), though he transfers ’appiryôn to the second colon to balance things out.

 26 NIDOTTE, vol. 4, p. 901.

 27 R. L. Alden, “’argāmān,” NIDOTTE, vol. 1, p. 498.

 28 Gerleman, Ruth, Das Hohelied, pp. 139, 142.

 29 Driver, “Supposed Arabisms in the Old Testament,” pp. 101–20.

 30 Pope, Song of Songs, p. 445.

 31 B. K. Waltke and M. O’Connor, An Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 1990), p. 213, example 13.

 32 Pope, Song of Songs, p. 446; Murphy, The Song of Songs, p. 150.

 33 NIDOTTE, vol. 3, pp. 384–85.

 34 Perhaps the mention of the mother here may be explained by the fact that she plays an important role throughout the Song (noted particularly when we observe the absence of the father; see Introduction: Characters).