Song of Songs 2:14-17 states,
"O my dove, in the clefts of the rock, In the secret place of the steep pathway, Let me see your form, Let me hear your voice; For your voice is sweet, And your form is lovely. Catch the foxes for us, The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards, While our vineyards are in blossom. My beloved is mine, and I am his; He pastures his flock among the lilies. Until the cool of the day when the shadows flee away, Turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle Or a young stag on the mountains of Bether."
This section of the text begins with the beloved girl, his dove, hiding away in a high place where he feels he cannot reach her, see her, or hear her voice. We briefly introduced some of these points in the last episode. He tells her as if to coax her to come down from the cleft, that her voice is sweet and she has a beautiful body to behold. How many lovers have experienced this situation with their beloved? They are present but out of reach. They are near but you cannot be together. Something has kept you from being able to truly enjoy the fullness of the one that you have come to love deeply. It could be the lack of marital rights here. She could be playing hard to get. He could be trying to rush the relationship while there are obstacles in the way. The next few verses of our Song are more difficult to understand. Some have said these are the words of a chorus, while some have said that this is a continuation of the male lover’s speech. I understand this to be the response of the girl to the request of her man, even though it may be difficult to understand what she means. Some have said these were the lyrics of a song in the folklore of this time period in which our young couple lives. This means, that what is said would have made perfect sense to them about foxes in the vineyard that need to be caught before they ruin the fresh blossoms. We on the other hand must speculate and compare other Scriptures with this text. Since the foxes are “little” yet they seem to be ruining the vineyards while they are in blossom, this may have reference to the way that he may be taking her for granted and wanting to move the relationship along too quickly. This means, that he represents the foxes that want to destroy nature’s beauty. For example in Judges 15:4-5, we find some foxes being used to cause similar chaos to standing grain, vineyards, and olive groves. The story is told, “So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches, and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.” Perhaps she is telling him to make sure that he is not acting hastily in his love for her so that she would reveal herself prematurely to him. Notice that the text states plainly the “vineyards are in bloom”. Is she waiting until they are complete to allow him to take her to his private place? It may be that she wants him to cultivate and make sure that it is time for their trip to the vineyard. The beloved could have blatantly said “No” or she could have given in and said, “Yes”. But instead, she does what I want to say is healthy in every relationship. She teases him with what seems to be a desire to remain pure until the vineyard is fully ripe and its blossoms have opened. Similarly in Song of Songs 7:12, we read, “Let us rise early and go to the vineyards; Let us see whether the vine has budded And its blossoms have opened, And whether the pomegranates have bloomed. There I will give you my love.” The tender grapes should not be ruined. The little foxes must be removed before the beauty of the vineyard or garden is destroyed. In the meantime, she has to find a way to make him feel confident that the distance that she is keeping is not a sign of a lack of her love for him. Generally, after a denial of intimacy, there are questions about the true feelings of the one who will not accept the call to love. But verses 16 and 17 are an affirmation and another invitation. The girl continues, “My beloved is mine and I am his”. This appears to be their frequent reminder to one another of their love. In Song of Songs 6:3, we find, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine, He who pastures his flock among the lilies.” Then in Song of Songs 7:10, again we see, “I am my beloved’s And his desire is for me.” No doubt they are in love with one another but the time for making love, must remain in check. You don’t want to pick the grapes before they are ripe, and you want to keep the critters away from the garden while it is growing so that the harvest of what has been planted will be sweet and plentiful. She says of her lover that he pastures his flock among the lilies and it must be noted that goats or sheep do not necessarily feed on lilies. There must be some other meaning. We have already seen lilies used in one of the romantic connotations in Song of Songs 2:2, where the girl is described as a lily among the thorns. Later we will see that the beloved girl describes the lips of her man as lilies which drip with flowing myrrh (5:13). What happens here is that the girl does not want to fail in telling him how much he means to her, but just as she had once taken an oath by the gazelles and the hinds of the field (female deer) not to allow love to be aroused until it pleases, here she tells her lover to wait for the right time for their love. Just as he had arrived a young stag (male deer) leaping on the hills for love, she desires for him to have full rights to her but he must wait until the correct time for fulfillment.
She then tells him to turn and run through the mountain of Bether. The meaning here is either spices or cleavage. Before you think I am being presumptuous let us revisit Song of Songs 1:13 again, “My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh Which lies all night between my breasts.” Then in Song of Songs 4:5-6, we hear, “Your two breasts are like two fawns, Twins of a gazelle Which feed among the lilies.” Since the word for Bether literally means divided hills and no place can be located by this name on a map we are left to translate and not transliterate. The “divide” meaning of “Bether” also lends the idea that the feelings of this young couple are divided (I want to be with him, but I have to wait) and for a time they need to be divided to squelch the passionate feelings before they cross lines of what is right for the unmarried. Even though he has bounded over the initial hills and mountains to come and see her, yet another mountain stands as a divider to avoid immorality and premarital lovemaking. In my view, she tells him to return from where he came (mountains and hills) to wait for the right time, while also in poetic language telling him that her desire is to give herself to him. But the fact that they are not married stands in the way of them fulfilling all of their desires. In modern language, “Go away for now, but soon we will be married and all that we want in our love will be our to enjoy fully.” While some have suggested that she gave her lover full right to join her in lovemaking, in making reference to him being the stag and the mountains representing her body contours, we have seen only that which these two young people desire in their love, not what has already been completed. These lyrics do not express approval for any form of inappropriate passion being entered into outside of the covenant of marriage. SPIRITUAL APPLICATION: The little foxes are very real in the development of our relationship with the Lord. There are obstacles that must be cleared from our lives before we can enter into a pure love relationship with the Lord. The relationship begins with us committing ourselves to the Lord, through which we gain access to prayer and we can make requests of Him. We are not speaking here of physical intimacy, but a deep spiritual intimacy. The Lord comes to us and expresses His love for us, and often we are hidden or withdrawn for some reason. The Lord tells us of His desire to be with us and reminds us of how desirable we are to Him. He desires that we would come out of the cleft to which we have flown, and to rest in Him. Often the barriers that keep us from drawing near to the Lord are the "little foxes" that roam about trying to destroy the makings of a pure relationship. The Lord can catch the foxes for us if we will identify how they are destroying our intimacy with Him. For some, it could be an addiction that is destroying the blossoms of the vineyard. It could be that we have allowed some form of foul speech, anger, or even sexual sins to cause destruction to the beauty of our spiritual garden. If you are struggling with a particular fox, confess your love for the Lord and reaffirm your commitment to Him while praying for His help in wrestling the obstacles in your life. When the time is right, you will get to walk with the Lord into the paradise that He has prepared for you for all eternity. QUESTIONS:
1. What do you think the girl is doing by going to the cleft and remaining out of reach?
2. Do you think there is value during these short periods of separation in reaffirmations of love and commitment?
3. When you consider the idea of catching the little foxes, how do you think this applied to your physical relationship with a lover?
4. In your view, what does it mean to send a lover away until the time is right after they have pursued us so strongly?
5. Is there any benefit in promising our love and intimate fulfillment to a lover while at the same time putting love on hold, due to a timing issue, or the foxes that need to be removed first?