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I find chapter 8 harder to understand than the rest of the book.

In chapter 7 the lovers seem settled in their romance. It is bizarre to follow that with

O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised. 2 I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate. (8:1)

This raises questions, is there something illicit about their love? Or is there some reason they can't be together, and thus she would wish that he was her brother?

The book then after this confusing start the chapter seems to reach a nice conclusion when the woman sings her final song.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.

We have some interesting interlocution about a little sister, but then a narrative that seems to clash with the woman's final speech:

Solomon had a vineyard at Baalhamon; he let out the vineyard unto keepers; every one for the fruit thereof was to bring a thousand pieces of silver. My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred.

That is, in this book wine and vineyards appear to be a symbol of love and we seem to be seeing Solomon seemingly buying and selling love for much less than the cost of his household.

What is the book doing with all these jarring images? Why do we have the shift from the romance of Chapter 7 to the "my brother" speech? and what is going on with the narrative about Solomon and the vineyard?

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  • For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and shall be joined unto his wife, and they two shall be one flesh. This is a great mystery: but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31,32 [KJV].
    – Nigel J
    Nov 4 '21 at 22:34
  • Hi Abijah, people on this site prefer one question at a time, so if you could narrow down to one question and use the Biblical Hermeneutics page, I think you’ll have more luck 😁🏆 Keep your question elaboration section intact, but narrow the so-called “scope”. Nice analytical thinking! Nov 5 '21 at 5:55
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Song of Solomon 8:

1 O that thou wert as my brother, that sucked the breasts of my mother! when I should find thee without, I would kiss thee; yea, I should not be despised. 2 I would lead thee, and bring thee into my mother's house, who would instruct me: I would cause thee to drink of spiced wine of the juice of my pomegranate.

This raises questions, is there something illicit about their love?

No. The bride reminisced a time before they were married.

Or is there some reason they can't be together, and thus she would wish that he was her brother?

Not at this point. She was just remembering her previous wishful thinking.

Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame. 7 Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it: if a man would give all the substance of his house for love, it would utterly be condemned.

Now she was back to reality.

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The central theme of your question seems to hinge on the reference to "brother" in this chapter. When I read your question, one of my first thoughts was that the Hebrew usage of this word might incline toward other meanings that are less intuitive to English. So I looked it up.

Strong's Definition: אָח ʼâch, awkh; a primitive word; a brother (used in the widest sense of literal relationship and metaphorical affinity or resemblance [like H1]):—another, brother(-ly); kindred, like, other. Compare also the proper names beginning with 'Ah-' or 'Ahi-'.

Indeed, this might have been a difficult translation for the translators because the Hebrew word can apply to multiple senses of meaning. Naturally, it most often means "brother" or "brethren," but it can mean "brother" in a sense of kinship, neighbor, or friend.

The bolded words in the following textual examples are from the same Hebrew word.

Reference KJV
Gen 13:11 Then Lot chose him all the plain of Jordan; and Lot journeyed east: and they separated themselves the one from the other.
Gen 26:31 And they rose up betimes in the morning, and sware one to another: and Isaac sent them away, and they departed from him in peace.
Exd 25:20 And the cherubim shall stretch forth their wings on high, covering the mercy seat with their wings, and their faces shall look one to another; toward the mercy seat shall the faces of the cherubim be.
Exd 37:9 And the cherubim spread out their wings on high, and covered with their wings over the mercy seat, with their faces one to another; even to the mercy seatward were the faces of the cherubim.
Lev 7:10 And every meat offering, mingled with oil, and dry, shall all the sons of Aaron have, one as much as another.
Lev 25:14 And if thou sell ought unto thy neighbor, or buyest ought of thy neighbor's hand, ye shall not oppress one another:
Lev 25:39 And if thy brother that dwelleth by thee be waxen poor, and be sold unto thee; thou shalt not compel him to serve as a bondservant:

These examples show that the word "brother" is not limited to "sibling" in its meaning. It appears to be closely tied to the concept of kinship or of close relationship.

Many of the terms used in this poetic passage are euphemistic symbols. If we look at the Levitical laws we may see a clue as to what something like "vineyard" might represent. The Hebrews were allowed to glean fruit from a neighbor's field. And multiple passages in the Bible speak of the "fruit of the womb."

Lo, children are an heritage of the LORD: and the fruit of the womb is his reward. (Psalm 127:3, KJV)

When I read Song of Solomon 8:12, I see a picture of Solomon with his 1000 women, the children of which are in the keeping of 200 caretakers.

My vineyard, which is mine, is before me: thou, O Solomon, must have a thousand, and those that keep the fruit thereof two hundred. (Song of Solomon 8:12, KJV)

This passage, then, highlights the romance of Solomon toward just one woman among his 700 wives and 300 concubines.

My dove, my undefiled is but one; she is the only one of her mother, she is the choice one of her that bare her. The daughters saw her, and blessed her; yea, the queens and the concubines, and they praised her. (Song of Solomon 6:9, KJV)

And he had seven hundred wives, princesses, and three hundred concubines: and his wives turned away his heart. (1 Kings 11:3, KJV)

I believe the passage is intended to provoke some thought and to have layers of meaning. The meanings which I see in it may be but one among several possibilities.

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