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In Solomon's Song of Songs, why does the Shulamaite's beloved "gather lilies"? The verse says the following (6:2, NKJV, emphasis added):

My beloved has gone to his garden, To the beds of spices, To feed his flock in the gardens, And to gather lilies.

What is the direct (non-symbolic) point of him gathering flowers? Is it the same reason a man does so today, to give them to his beloved? In case it matters, I am approaching the text from the non-allegorical view. However, one's general approach to the Song probably does not matter in this case since even under allegorical interpretations, we can still think about the cultural practices that allegorical imagery depicts.

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  • I'm not sure that "his flock" is there in the Hebrew. I suspect that here and in the original ch2 v16 he is still being the gazelle, feeding on lilies. Commented Feb 5 at 21:15
  • I don't think Song of Songs is meant to be taken non-allegorically. The book is filled with symbolism and metaphors.
    – Jason_
    Commented Feb 5 at 22:37
  • Jason, maybe, but it could be still just a love poem with a lot of metaphors
    – user62150
    Commented Feb 9 at 20:25

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I think this scripture should be taken allegorically. It isn't written in a way that makes it seem like it's recording an actual historical encounter.

Everett's Study Notes on the Holy Scriptures

Literal Interpretation - A garden is a place of rest and delight. The name “Eden” ( עֵדֶן ) (H5731) means, “pleasure” ( Strong). Thus, the Garden of Eden was made as a place of delight where God communed with man. In Song of Solomon 6:2 we interpret this verse to mean that the king can be found in his garden, tending each lily with care. The wife has learned where her love enjoys spending his time, which is in his garden, tending the plants.

This being said, in ancient Near Eastern culture, flowers held significant symbolic and aesthetic value, often associated with love, beauty, and romance. Thus, we may infer, the act of gathering lilies could be seen as a gesture of love and admiration towards the beloved. The purpose of the writing was all about love so we can easily rule out him gathering these for things like medicinal purposes or the like.

We could see this as comparable to modern-day gestures where people might pick flowers for their lovers as a show of affection, but again that is an inference.

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The Song of Solomon is an extended love poem and is full of mixed imagery that refers to shapes, colour and texture. The Shulamite woman is the beloved and her lover perceives her as the most beautiful, virtuous and desirable among women.

The preceding verse sets the scene. Female friends of the Shulamite woman ask her where her lover has gone. She replies that he has gone to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies. Verse 4 says:

I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies.

Culturally it is common for men to bestow gifts upon women they admire and desire. It’s a well-known fact that gifts can ease the way into the presence of someone whose affections you seek so they will look upon you more favourably.

Saint Valentine did not invent such things – customs may fluctuate (they didn’t have chocolates or champagne 3,000 years ago) but you don’t have to be a King to shower things of beauty (such as lilies) upon the object of your affections.

What is the direct point of him gathering flowers? Why, to present them to his beloved as a token of his admiration!

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Jesus himself refers to lilies and also to Solomon in Mtt 6:28-29 ( NASB).

And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these.

< In the ancient world, the colour of lily might have only been pure white. White lily symbolises purity and is associated with virgin saints like St Therese of Lisieux. Traditional stories speak of St Joseph having presented a dry stick to Blessed Virgin Mary, that would miraculously bloom with white lilies ! As per Greek mythology, Aphrodite, the goddess of lust cursed lily for failure to lure lovers to her fold.As such, lily was a symbol of pure love and continues to be so.

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The Parables of Jesus serve as vivid illustrations drawn from everyday life, resonating the experiences of the common people. These metaphorical teachings are intended to be comprehended by believers processing pure hearts, as Jesus emphasized in Matthew 11:25-26 and Luke 10:21

25 At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26 Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do. (NIV)

Moreover, in response to His disciples inquiry about the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus employed a poignant metaphor in Matthew 18:3; "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

While I acknowledge the importance of allegories in the Bible, it seems that exploring Bible from this entry may not be the most suitable starting point.

Let's return to our focus about the significance of lilies in Solomon's Song of Song. These blossoms hold a special place in the narrative, particularly where the two protagonists met. The recurring presence of lilies becomes a profound symbol, a mark of their love. Notably in 1 Kings, we notice the adornment of Solomon's Palace with lilies, affirming the symbolism of it with the grandeur of the king's dwelling.

The capitals on top of the pillars in the portico were in the shape of lilies, four cubits high. (1 Kings 7:19 NIV)

The capitals on top were in the shape of lilies. And so the work on the pillars was completed. (1 Kings 7:22 NIV)

It was a handbreadth in thickness, and its rim was like the rim of a cup, like a lily blossom. It held two thousand baths. (1 Kings 7:26 NIV)

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If there is no allegory involved, then the beloved is simply gathering flowers as any young lover would. But it is uncertain that these are lilies. Translators usually opt for that particular flower because it symbolizes purity. Jewish sources sometimes translate it shoshanna (שׁוּשַׁן) as "rose."

Translation of Rabbi Avraham Davis:

My beloved has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices; to graze in the gardens and to gather roses.

Even a non-allegorical interpretation needs to address what is symbolized by this particular flower. A lily is consistent with the theme of purity, in which case the lovers may not have consummated their relationship yet. If the flowers are roses, their love is more likely to be in full bloom.

A modern melody conjures the spirit of the poem in the Hebrew song Erev Shel Shoshanim. Youtube version here.

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