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Song of Solomon (227): Fish Eyes? Fishy Eyes?

Song of Solomon 7:4 “Thine eyes like the fishpools in Heshbon, by the gate of Bath-rabbim…” Although we have probably all been privileged at some point in our lives to enjoy an oriental fish pool and catch the glimmer of goldfish darting about in the clear, green waters, there is much in the imagery of this praise which the western mind would miss without studying the ancient city of Heshbon and the culture of the times.   Heshbon was located about fifty miles east of Jerusalem. It is mentioned thirty-seven times in Scripture and was a powerful city in ancient Palestine. In Numbers 21:25-30 we learn that Heshbon was originally a Moabite city but was conquered by Sihon, the king of the Amorites, who made it his capital. Later (Numbers 32:37) it became part of the inheritance of the tribe of Rueben, and although it eventually reverted back to Moabite rule (and both Isaiah and Jeremiah prophesied of coming judgment because of its evil), during the reign of King Solomon it was part of the inheritance given to the Levites as a city of peaceful refuge for the families of the priests. It was a beautiful city, a powerful city, and a city of peace.   The name Heshbon means “he that hastens to understand or build.”1  Already we find rich ore for the mining! For the bride to have her eyes compared to the fishpools in Heshbon would have brought to the ancient eastern mind thoughts of beauty, power, peace, and a heart to understand and build. Oh, that in our eyes our Lord might see beautiful spirits…peaceful spirits, but spirits with a passion to eagerly pursue wisdom and growth!   Recent excavations of Heshbon (now in Jordan) have uncovered the remains of large reservoirs near the city. The word for “fishpools” is the Hebrew berekot, which does not refer to springs or fountains, “but the deep reservoirs which the springs supply. The sense here is one of still, deep calmness rather than the sparkle and shimmer of flowing springs”(2).   The translation “fish pools” followed the Latin Vulgate rendering piscinae, referring to pools for fish, but there is no actual intimation from the Hebrew text that the pools were so used (3). Fish pools were typically shallow, and the deep reservoirs near the gate of Bath-rabbim were more likely used for the city’s water supply, particularly in light of the name Bath-rabbim, which means literally “the daughter of multitudes.” Ah, and here is another resting spot for meditation!  How often the names in Scripture tell a story in themselves. The deep reservoirs supplied life-giving water for multitudes. The task of carrying water from the city well to the family dwelling place was one of the housekeeping responsibilities of the women and was normally assigned to daughters (if there were any) who were old enough and strong enough for such work. (For examples, Rachel, Rebekah, and the woman at the well in Sychar.)   So, the reservoirs supplied water for the “daughter(s) of multitudes…” and through them, the entire city. Anyone who came to the wells could drink. Everyone who came could drink. It didn’t matter if the person was a beautiful and virtuous young virgin like Rebekah or a five-time has been with no real family of her own like the woman Jesus redeemed by the well of Sychar… everyone who came was allowed to drink. Oh, to be a woman whose eyes are deep, peaceful, reservoirs of life-giving spirit, open in compassion to the poor and prepared to minister to the needs of all the daughters of this earth!

(1) Lockyer, Dr. Herbert. Love Is Better Than Wine. Harrison: New Leaf Press, 1981, p. 113.
(2) Carr, G. Lloyd. The Song of Solomon: An Introduction and Commentary. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1984, p. 158.
(3) Patterson, Paige.  Song of Solomon. Chicago:  Moody, 1986, p. 105.