Terrible as an Army with Banners – Song of Songs 6:4

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.
Tutankhamun in the fight against Asians

Song of Songs 6:4c

  • KJV: Terrible as an army with banners
  • NIV: As majestic as troops with banners
  • NASB: As awesome as an army with banners

Don’t get me wrong; I’ve seen my wife be frightening when one of our children is threatened. She responds with the wrath of a mamma bear (see Lily on How I Met Your Mother). Pit bulls are sent off whimpering and great white sharks vacate the immediate vicinity, but only after vacating their bladders.

But I wouldn’t dare call her terrible. Especially not to praise or flatter. Especially not to mamma bear’s face.

Yet as Carr points out, “The adjective occurs only here and at Habakkuk 1:7 where it is used of the Babylonian armies. A related noun means ‘terror’, ‘dread’, or ‘awe’.”

The wonders of a great festival are all consolidated into the wonder of one woman.

And here is our way out. Yes, an army at your doorstep can be terrible, but it is without a doubt awe-inspiring. Whether they’re friendly forces or fiendish foes, an army will still leave you in awe. It’s a real predicament, an army at your door.

Thankfully, though, the original Hebrew doesn’t contain “army” here; the translators inject it (or “troops” per the NIV) in an attempt to offer some context for the banners. Really, the wording is more like “terrible [or whatever] as bannered” which is confusing but at least doesn’t elicit images of bloodshed.

Having just mentioned cities of beauty, “as bannered” is more than likely a reference to a city decorated, like for a massive city-wide festival. And the focus on physical beauty is reinforced by realizing the root word translated as banners means simply “to look on”, as banners in cities (or armies) can be looked on with awe.

With this in mind, we can see that he’s commenting on her capacity to leave someone in awe by being just so incredibly gorgeous, like city decorated to the brim, with confetti and banners, and colors, and smiles. The wonders of a great festival are all consolidated into the wonder of one woman.

So what this means in today’s terms, more or less, is “You’re so hot you make me drool.” I’d go with that. Though mamma bear probably doesn’t want to hear that any more than “terrible as an army with banners.” Just wait until she calms down, buddy. Or follow the pitbull’s lead.

Originally posted 2016-09-26 08:00:06.

By Ägyptischer Maler um 1355 v. Chr. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
About Phil (245 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.

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