Song of Solomon 7:9 “…that goeth down sweetly, causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” What in the world (or in heaven!) does this mean? The verb translated “goeth down” is the Hebrew halak, also rendered “flowing, going, or walking” in other passages (Carr, 163). The Hebrew word translated “sweetly” is meshar, more literally translated as “evenness; equity; smoothness; uprightness; righteously.”* It is the same Hebrew word used in 1:4, “We will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee.” I believe there is a key in this repetition from an earlier theme, but let’s come back to it in a few moments. What the KJV renders “cause…to speak” is the Hebrew dabab, and is unknown in Hebrew apart from this use, although the Akkadian dababu “plot; plan” and the Arabic dabub, “talebearer” may be cognates according to Carr (163).** Other translations use such alternate terms as “gliding” or “flowing gently” (although why…I don’t know!). The last two Hebrew words in the passage are sipte (literally rendered “lips”) and yesenim (“sleeping ones”). Perhaps one of the more accurate alternate translation for this portion of the phrase is: “stirring the lips of sleepers”.*** (Gordis, 97). This seems consistent with both the literal meaning of the Hebrew words and the KJV but does not shed much additional light on what the text means. So, put it all together, and what do we have? First, the subject is “the roof of thy mouth,” i.e. the wife’s palate. Everyone knows what the literal roof of the mouth is, so physically there’s no mystery. It seems most likely that King Solomon was indeed commenting on how much he loved french-kissing his wife (although the pleasure didn’t yet have such a name, since there were no “French” in those days!) The rest of the verse is still somewhat of a puzzle in the physical realm, although the best explanation I found was this: “…one thing emerges as certain: Shulamith’s kisses have an intoxicating effect on Solomon. However, there were no ill side effects, and Solomon could enjoy this ‘wine’ continually.”* (Patterson, 109).
Spiritually, I would hazard a guess that the palate refers to the highest subject of the wife’s speech…and I can think of no loftier subject than the praises of her Lord and God, which “flow sweetly…uprightly.” Expanding a little on the thoughts of Henry van Dyke, what is a more noble delight than taking the colors and forms of our life’s experience and weaving them into a beautiful garment to clothe our thoughts of God? So, the taste of his wife’s praises are like the “best wine,” i.e. his greatest joy. Perhaps it is the husband’s use of this imagery that reminds the bride of her earlier exclamation: “We will remember thy love more than wine: the upright love thee” (1:4). His love is even more wonderful than her greatest earthly joy, and all those who are “upright” (true believers?) love him too.
Gary Smalley, in his wonderful series, Hidden Keys to Loving Relationships, points out that men need to feel “adequate.” Let’s add that to our list of “A” words: assure him that he’s more than adequate! Adulate him, even as our Lord loves adulation and praise! Could it have been such a thought that caused her to join him at this point and add, “for my beloved!” Her praises are all for him! There is no one else—there is nothing else—that causes her lips to overflow with such joyous speech. Her praises flow “sweetly” and “smoothly,” in righteousness and uprightness. There is nothing rough or sullied or impure about the praises or the one being praised; all is holy and beautiful…as is our Lord! “Causing the lips of those that are asleep to speak.” After a month of asking everyone wise friend I knew, even “men in high places”…although no one spontaneously interpreted the passage the same way I did, no one refuted my interpretation either. Could it be that the “sleeping ones” are those who are “sleeping” in sin, i.e. the unbelievers, or at the least those who because of sin have become insensible to spiritual things? It is the bride who is speaking. She is speaking in praise of her bridegroom husband, the Lord Jesus Christ. She is extolling his wonders. Doesn’t it seem reasonable that the highest thoughts of her heart—her adulation of her wonderful savior and king—will be so irresistibly sweet that it will arouse those who have been stupefied into lethargy by their sinful lives to speak…to “plot,” to “plan” to “tell tales”…to ask questions…to be aroused into dissatisfaction with their existential lives and search for this marvelous love and lover? Oh, Lord, may our speech be as sweet to you! May our praises cause even the lips of those who are sleeping yet in their sins to speak of you and search for you!
(All photos taken a few days ago at the John Ball Zoo in Grand Rapids.)
*Paige Patterson, Song of Solomon (Chicago: Moody, 1986), 108-109.
** G. Lloyd Carr, The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary (Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984), 163.
*** R. Gordis, The Song of Songs and Lamentations, (KTAV, 1974), 97.