- Kabbalat Panim
- Other Definitions of Kabbalat Panim
- Similar Traditions in Christianity
- Other Interpretations
- The Literal Interpretation
- The Prophetic Interpretation
- Finding The Lover
- References and Footnotes
- Other Pages to View
To understand Song of Solomon 3—well Song of Solomon in general, to be honest—it's nice to understand the customs of a Jewish marriage ceremony. The first half of chapter 3 shows us someone who is distraught that their lover is not with them and goes off to find them. I'm fairly certain that the speaker in these verses is the woman, but don't take my word on that.
The portion of the ceremony relevant to this chapter is called Kabbalat Panim, and refers to the bride and groom not seeing each other for a week before the actual wedding. The song seems to only cover one night, but that does not mean the couple in the song only spent one night apart in total. I'm not positive the night of separation in this chapter is in reference to the tradition, mainly because there are many ways it could be interpreted. However, it is something to consider.
Other Definitions of Kabbalat Panim
The first source I checked about Jewish Wedding ceremonies defined Kabbalat Panim as a period of separation between the bride and groom. However, when I googled this phrase to get a better understanding, I found many sites that suggest this phase of the wedding is something a bit different. The couple appears to be separated but instead it takes place on the wedding day just before the ceremony. By this definition it is an individual ceremony for the bride and one for the groom used to prepare for the wedding.
Similar Traditions in Christianity
In the Christian faith, we typically think of a wedding as a one day affair: the official ceremony followed by a reception. Yet, we can find similarities in customs. Although Christian couples are not separated for a week before the ceremony, most assert it to be "bad luck" to see the bride on the day of the wedding. As such, couples typically spend the night before their wedding night apart and do not see each other until they meet at the altar to give their vows.
Although much of this alternative interpretation I’m about to prove is pure speculation, I could easily see this referencing a normal night for the couple. It has only been in recent years that an unmarried man and woman could be alone together; it's still not acceptable in some countries. For the couple of the song to see each other in private, they would have had to be very crafty.
I can envision the young man stealing away at night, when the rest of the city would be asleep, to meet the young woman and gain her company. Perhaps she lay in her bed pretending to be asleep until she received a signal from him, or until an appointed hour, when she would join him. On this particular night, the young man may have had trouble getting to her, causing her to panic when he did not arrive.
As I said, this is merely speculation. Personally, I like the neatness the interpretation that it is following the Jewish wedding ceremony tradition because it seems more purposeful, however, I definitely see flaws in this interpretation (but that could be because of my limited understanding of the Jewish wedding ceremony). My study Bible and Bible commentary lean more toward this alternative interpretation. I feel like this imagining is heavily influenced by Shakespearean plays and movies set in the Victorian era, but at it's core it speaks to a tradition that very well may be as old as the mankind. After all, people have been falling in love and trying to woo each other since the beginning of time.
The speaker in Song of Solomon 3:1-5—I believe it is the woman, but I am not positive—is searching for the missing lover. Without knowledge of the Jewish wedding traditions, it seems as though the lover disappeared without telling anyone. I was definitely confused the first time I read through this passage. The combination of my 21st century mind and lack of cultural understanding told me he was out at the club getting his groove on without her (or her in the club without him, depending on who's speaking).
The Literal Interpretation
However, once I learned about the tradition, it seemed less sinister and appeared that the person is merely missing the other during this part of the process. While I've never been married, I can imagine that not seeing someone you love (and are set to marry) for any period of time would be difficult. In today's society, people probably placate the act of not seeing each other by texting each other, but in Solomon's day, if they weren't together physically, there was no communication!
When we become accustomed to having someone in our life, it's difficult to experience things with out them. This isn't just about spouses, either! Some people feel this way about their children or best friend. We expect to be able to share our all of our emotions, reactions, and ideas with that person as soon as we have them, but when we can't it is burdensome to carry it alone. It is easy to see how this is a statement about our relationships in life, and possibly just as easy to take it as a statement about how we should feel toward God. If we are separated from Him (by sin, of course), we should hop out of our beds (i.e. make a change) and seek Him.
The Prophetic Interpretation
Interestingly, this separation is kind of what happened with Jesus and the church. We know Jesus was separated from God when He took on the sins of the world. After His resurrection, He spent 40 days on Earth before ascending to Heaven. While we still have a connection to Him through the Holy Spirit, He is no longer physically here and the church is separated from her groom. Before Jesus left, He told the church to keep watch for His return. Similarly, in Song of Solomon, the person is eagerly waiting for their lover to return.
Finding The Lover
At the end of the night, the person finds their betrothed and they are happily reunited. What's most interesting about this part of the song is the person's conversation with the watchman. The watchman is asked if he has seen the missing lover and is of little help. When the person asks, however, no name is mentioned. It is assumed that the watchman already knows who the lover is.
If Solomon was the person being searched for, it would definitely explain why the woman didn't need to give a name, and if Solomon was the seeker, it would still make sense that everyone knew whom he was searching for. The same should be true for when we seek Christ, however. Our behavior and demeanor should tell the world that we belong to God. When we go out searching for Him, people should just know that it is Christ we are seeking. The converse is true, as well. Our demeanor should be such that people know Christ is searching for us.
References and Footnotes
- Chaplain Shlomo Shulman. "Guide to the Jewish Wedding". Aish. June 30, 2001
- Maurice Lamm. "The Jewish Marriage Ceremony". Chabad.org; visited December 7, 2017
- Matthew Henry. "Song of Solomon 3 Bible Commentary". Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary, via Christianity.com; visited December 8, 2017
- John Wesley. "Song of Solomon 3 Bible Commentary". John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes, via Christianity.com; visited December 8, 2017
- "Kabbalat Panim -- Pre-Chupah Reception". Chabad.org; visited December 9, 2017
- Aliyah. "Jewish Wedding 101: The Kabbalat Panim, Hachnasat Kallah, and The Chosen’s Tish". Jewish Wedding Blog. August 21, 2013
- Holoman Bible Publishers. Holman KJV Study Bible, pg. 1114-1115. 2014
- William MacDonald. Believer's Bible Commentary, pg. 924. 1995
Other Pages to View