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Yesterday, I began to read again the Song of Solomon. After reading a bit, it seems to me that vineyard has several figurative meanings.

* All references from NASB version.

Song of Solomon 1:6
"Do not stare at me because I am swarthy,
 For the sun has burned me.
 My mother's sons were angry with me;
 They made me caretaker of the vineyards,
 But I have not taken care of my own vineyard.

Song of Solomon 1:14
"My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms
 In the vineyards of Engedi."

Song of Solomon 2:15
"Catch the foxes for us,
 The little foxes that are ruining the vineyards,
 While our vineyards are in blossom."

Song of Solomon 7:12
"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.

Song of Solomon 8:11-12
"Solomon had a vineyard at Baal-hamon;
 He entrusted the vineyard to caretakers.
 Each one was to bring a thousand shekels of silver for its fruit.
"My very own vineyard is at my disposal;
 The thousand shekels are for you, Solomon,
 And two hundred are for those who take care of its fruit."

If I read each verse out of context, it seems to make sense literally. But in its context, how should I interpret vineyard in each case?

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The only thing that I have understood vineyard identified with is Israel, but I can not say that is the case this time. –  Joshua Wilson May 2 at 23:13

1 Answer 1

1st of all, one has to see that this "love letter", between the "Beloved"-a type or figure of Solomon, but not Solomon himself, and the Shulamite, as a 'type' of the nation of Israel, of whom she is a 'daughter'. There are numerous textures and layers regarding the Song of Solomon; at it's basic level it's a "song" describing the intimacy between a soul and her 'beloved', or the Lord.

It's most common interpretation is that it describes Israel's relationship with God; this is how the Mishneh rabbi's interpreted it from Rabbi Akiba:

R.Akiba said: I will speak of the beauty and praise of God before all the nations. They ask Israel and say, 'What is your beloved more than another beloved that "thou dost so charge us' (Cant. V, 9), 'that you die for Him, and that you are slain for Him' as it says, 'Therefore till death do they love Thee' (a pun on Cant. I, 3), and 'For thy sake are we slain all the day' (Ps. XLIV, 22). 'Behold,' they say, 'You are beautiful, you are mighty, come and mingle with us.' But the Israelites reply, 'Do you know Him: We will tell you a portion of His renown; my beloved is white and ruddy; the chiefest among ten thousand' (Cant. V, 10). When they hear Israel praise Him thus, they say to the Israelites, 'We will go with you,' as it is said, 'Whither has your beloved turned him that we may seek him with you?' (Cant. VI, 1). But the Israelites say, 'You have no part or lot in Him,' as it is said, 'My beloved is mine, and I am His' (Cant. II, 16)

The Song of Solomon is read during the Passover, so not only is it representative of Israel's relationship with God, but also an individual's relationship to God. "My mother's sons"(vs. 1:6) would only make sense if the father were different then her father. Both "mother's sons and the Shulamite" have vineyards, so it is apparent that "fields where grapes grow" isn't the context here, but Israel's search for an identity. Rashi is quoted:

my mother’s sons were incensed against me: These are the Egyptians among whom I grew up, and they went up with me in the mixed multitude; they were incensed against me with their enticement and their seduction until they made mea keeper of the vineyards: and there the sun tanned me and I became blackened; i.e., they made me a worshipper of alien gods, but my own vineyard, which I had from my forefathers, I did not keep. We find that in the Scripture, leaders are called by an expression of vineyards, as it is said (Hos. 2:17): “And I will give to her her vineyards from there,” which the Targum renders: “And I will appoint her leaders for her.” And similarly (Job 24:18): “he will not turn by the way of the vineyards.”

We can infer that Israel was 'a vineyard' which the Lord chose out of all the nations, and redeemed from Egypt; to draw her to himself and give her an identity.

In a Christian context, vineyard is synonymous with 'life', or the human heart. C.H. Spurgeon said, in a message entitled, " The Unkempt Vineyard, Or Personal Work Neglected",

I invite all my fellow-servants to take a retrospect, and just to see whether they have kept their own vineyards. I suppose that they have worked hard. I only put the question Have they kept their own vineyards? Have they served the Lord in all things?

Again, Rashi applies the same comparison in vs. 1:14,

in the vineyards of Ein-Gedi: The name of a place, and there it is common. I saw in an aggadah (Song Zuta) that those vineyards produce fruits four or five times a year, and this is symbolic of the many atonements and forgivenesses that the Holy One, blessed be He, forgave them for the many trials that they tried Him in the desert."

The next usage of vineyard(vs. 2:15) is interesting because in the Hebrew version that the Rashi commentary is in, it says,"

Seize for us the foxes, the little foxes, who destroy the vineyards, for our vineyards are with tiny grapes

His commentary on this passage is,"

Seize for us the foxes: The Holy One, blessed be He, heard their voice, commanded the sea, and it inundated them. That is the meaning of “Seize for us” these “foxes,” the little ones with the big ones, for even the little ones were destroying the vineyards, when our vineyards were still with סְמָדַר, when the grapes were tiny. When a Jewish woman gave birth to a male and hid him, the Egyptians entered their houses and searched for the males, but the baby was concealed, and he was a year or two old. So they would bring a baby from an Egyptian home; the Egyptian baby would speak, and the Jewish baby would answer him from his hiding place; and they would seize him and cast him into the Nile. Now why does he call them foxes? Just as the fox looks to turn around to flee, so did the Egyptians look behind them, as it is written (Exod. 14:25): “I shall flee from before Israel.”

In this case, the NASB version seems to 'separate' vineyard and 'vineyards'.

Perhaps the only instance where one could make the case for a 'literal' vineyard is vss. 8:11-12. Rashi stays definitively with his interpretation,

Solomon had a vineyard: This is the congregation of Israel, as it is said (Isa. 5: 7): “For the vineyard of the Lord of Hosts is the House of Israel.” In Baal-Hamon: in Jerusalem, which is populous and has a multitude of people. Baal: an expression denoting a plain, like (Jos. 12:7): “from Baal-Gad in the valley of Lebanon.” he gave the vineyard to the keepers: He delivered it into the hands of harsh masters: Babylon, Media, Greece, and Edom. In Midrash Shir Hashirim, I found some support to [the theory that] these keepers are the kingdoms. each one brought for the fruit thereof: whatever they could collect from them: head taxes, tithes, and illegal foreclosures; they collected everything from them to bring into their homes.

So, to answer the question, "Israel, in her relationship with God" is the best way to understand "vineyard". Isa. 5:7 says,

"For the vineyard of the LORD of hosts is the house of Israel."

However, it is my contention, along with many in Christianity, that Solomon went 'beyond' the metaphor of a love relationship between Israel and God, and described an intimacy paralleling sexual union between a 'spouse'(soul) and her beloved-the Lord.

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