Overwhelming Eyes – Song of Songs 6:5

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon’s, is one of the most debated, profound, and poetic books of the Bible. Its meaning isn't always obvious, even to students like me who believe it to be a frank and straightforward look at healthy marital love. Gleaning from commentators like G. Lloyd Carr, Marvin H. Pope, Dennis F. Kinlaw, and others, I have learned that the Song contains more eroticism, suggestion, and romance than even my substantial assumptions. This is an example.
woman's eyes

Song of Songs 6:5a

  • KJV: Turn away thine eyes from me, for they have overcome me:
  • NIV: Turn your eyes from me; / they overwhelm me.
  • NASB: Turn your eyes away from me, / For they have confused me;

The husband has made it clear previously how attractive her eyes are — he calls them doves twice (4:1 and 1:15) and he notes their ability to sway him (4:9)— and here, he takes it a step further. He depicts another effect they have — they rāhab him. But what exactly does this mean?

We see the word in three other verses in the Old Testament. So like a translator would, let’s see how it’s used in those contexts.

Psalm 138:8 says, “On the day I called, You answered me; / You made me bold with strength in my soul.” Here, rāhab reflects an empowering, enabling action. Something that makes one bold.

In Proverbs 6:3, Solomon advises his son to pressure his neighbor to pay their debts if he’s cosigned for them. The word is translated “importune”— to urge or bug with troublesome persistence according to Merriam-Webster’s — in the NASB, or give the neighbor no rest in the NIV. It’s a proactive, almost aggressive way out of an unwise situation. This seems to fit what’s seen in Psalm 138:3— it intimates a certain boldness. A rise to action.

Isaiah 3:5 depicts some unpleasant consequences facing the Hebrew nations, among them that “the youth will storm against the elder / And the inferior against the honorable” (NASB). This storming, again, indicates an intense boldness, even a rebellion against societal norms (or even manners). One might say the same about badgering a friend until they pay their debts if you’re on the hook.

Carr indicates “her glance ‘turns him on’ and makes him bold in his intentions.” Pope offers “drive me wild” as an option.

Here in Song of Songs, perhaps inspired by the “terrible army” in the previous verse, many commentators expect some measure of fear in rāhab, though as we’ve seen, the preceding verse offers no such fright. So there’s no need to make a wildly divergent definition here.

Also notable is what’s seen in the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament made by Jews in the second and third century BC and often quoted in the New Testament. In the Septuagint’s rendition of the Song, the Hebrew word rāhab is translated into Greek using the word anapteroō— which means to raise the feathers of a bird or to excite with expectation.

Following on the boldness seen in the other three verses, along with this Greek interpretation made by pre-Christ Jews, Carr indicates “her glance ‘turns him on’ and makes him bold in his intentions.” Pope offers “drive me wild” as an option.

While “overwhelm” or “overcome” may be fitting in a sense, they fail to offer the right imagery. They seem to communicate her eyes floor him, as they knock him out of his senses. This is far too passive an effect based on the other uses of rāhab; it might just be the very opposite, stirring him to action rather than inaction. If any flooring is going on, it’s him clearing a space on the floor to make love right then and there.

Given the context of this comment occurring at the wedding celebration, this statement and the meaning of rāhab take on a whole new import. “Turn your eyes from me; they overwhelm me” might instead be rendered in today’s vernacular:

“If you don’t stop looking at me like that, I swear I’m going to take you right here in front of God and everyone.”

She clearly knew how to get a rise out of him (to raise his feathers, or excite him with expectation) with a suggestive look in her eyes.

And she apparently had fun leveraging this power at inopportune moments. What a tease.

Originally posted 2016-10-07 08:00:55.

Photo credit: Alejandro Martinez. / Foter / CC BY
About Phil (251 Articles)
Philip Osgood is a Christian husband, father, and writer who considers himself a passable video game player, fiction reader, camping and hiking enthusiast, welder, computer guy, and fitness aficionado, though real experts in each field might just die of laughter to hear him claim it. He has been called snarky, cynical, intelligent, eccentric, creative, logical, and Steve for some reason. Phil and his beautiful wife Clara live in Texas with their children in a house with a dog but no white picket fence. He does own a titanium spork from ThinkGeek, though, so he must be alright.