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God’s Word for You

Song of Solomon 1:9 Flirting

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, September 23, 2023


The husband
9 I compare you, my darling,
  to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.

The husband flirts with his bride in three ways. He uses an unusual word as a nickname, he compares her with a horse, and in the comparison he doesn’t place her just anywhere, but among Pharaoh’s chariots.

First, the nickname. The word ra’yati is the husband’s most commonly used name for his wife in the Song (nine times in all). It can be a word a woman would use of her friends (Lamentations 1:2), but here in the man’s words it means “girlfriend, darling.”

Next: is it wise to call your wife a horse? It is clear from the context that this is meant to be a compliment. Horses were not native to Egypt; at least not the kind of horses favored by the Egyptians for transportation. The earliest appearance of horses in the Bible is in Egypt, during the regency of Joseph. “He gave them food,” Moses writes, “in exchange for their horses, their sheep and goats, their cattle and donkeys” (Genesis 47:17). Since that verse is talking about “both Egypt and Canaan” (47:13-15), it isn’t clear whether the Egyptians had horses or the Canaanites, but it certainly seems to indicate that horses were a fairly common animal of value, since the horse comes first in the list. We don’t know what sort of horses those animals were, but it is reported that the invading Hyksos (who appeared in Egypt after Joseph but before Moses) brought a new variety of horse. The Egyptian words for horse, mare, and even chariot are all Semitic words.

Therefore the comparison is first of all a dear compliment: His wife is not like the exotic Egyptian beauties, all painted and spoiled and conceited and full of themselves. She is rather a lovely mare among them; she stands out in the crowd. This brings us to the third part of the flirtation: she is not just a mare, but a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.

The poet does not say “a mare harnessed,” but “a mare in / among.” Translations must decide how to handle the preposition “in,” but many nations did not use mares to pull chariots. “The mare was not harnessed to the chariot, but was a distraction to the stallions who were drawing Pharaoh’s chariots. Egyptian historical records report an occasion when such a strategy was used to disrupt the chariotry of an opposing army” (Brug, Song of Songs p. 30). During the crusades, the same phenomenon happened when the Arabs rode their mares among the English and French knights who all rode stallions, with an occasionally disruptive result.

Husbands should remember that their wives will probably want flirting to be a part of their relationship. It should not be left behind after the marriage vows have been spoken, as if flirting is only for the young or for single people seeking a spouse. Good-natured teasing, pet names, and private games with words help husband and wife remember that they are special and dear to one another. In our culture, where a growing number of women see men as disposable objects who are not to be valued or respected, a little flirting can go a long way to reassuring one’s spouse that they are loved, respected, honored, and treasured. Flirting says those rare words, seldom heard in a marriage: “I like you.” Married couples should never assume that their partner knows this. It needs to be said as often as “I love you.” It would be extremely hard, almost unthinkable, to be able to lie while saying, “I like you.”

Spiritually, consider the joy we feel when God used more than one turn of phrase to tell us about his love for us, and about his forgiveness. He calls us his children (Isaiah 45:11), his sons and daughters (2 Corinthians 6:18), his people (Exodus 3:7), his church (Matthew 16:18), and his beloved (Deuteronomy 33:12). In love he calls us (Jeremiah 7:13), draws us (John 6:44), preaches to us (Mark 2:2), promises us (Joshua 23:14), speaks tenderly to us (Hosea 2:14), pursues us when we wander away (Luke 15:4), and he gave up his life to atone for our sins (Romans 3:25).

God has no need to flirt with his people; this is a playful gift he gives to wives and husbands. With his dear people, God speaks the truth, sometimes with great force, and sometimes with tender affection. Here, then, is an excellent place where the Song does not show us a perfect comparison of the union of husbands and wives and the mystical union of Christ and his church, but one of the delightful differences. For we are loved by God, and rescued by him, and we will praise him and thank him for all eternity.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim Smith
About Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please visit the St. Paul’s Lutheran Church website.


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