Until the day awakes
and the shadows flee away,
turn, my beloved, and be like a gazelle
or a young stag on the cleft mountains. Bible other translations

“day awakes.” This is an idiom; the literal Hebrew is “until the day breathes.” This idiom has been interpreted by scholars in two opposing ways: one is that it refers to the coming of night when the evening breezes arise and the shadows of day flee (ASV; NAB; NASB); the other is that it refers to the dawning of the day when the day “wakes up” and starts to breathe, and the shadows and darkness of night disappear (HCSB; KJV; NET; NIV; NLT). Some versions avoid the controversy by keeping more literal and saying something such as, “until the day breathes” (ESV), but that is not helpful to the reader even though it preserves the idiom. We contend that in Solomon’s day the reader knew what the idiom meant in this context: the dawn, at which point the lover would leave his beloved and attend to his daily business.

We ordinarily associate breathing, as the ancients did, with coming to life, and it seems most natural that the beloved wanted her lover to spend the night with her, not the daytime, and as the dawn broke the earth would come to life and the day began to breathe. Also, although some commentators associate the lengthening of the shadows in the evening as them “fleeing away,” that seems most unnatural because they don’t really flee, they become more and more intense and dark until the world is consumed in darkness; and why would the lover leave then? It seems he would stay longer, into the night, not leave just as it was getting dark. It is well expressed in Scripture that when the dawn breaks and the sun rises higher and higher in the sky, the shadows flee and the world becomes light, while in the dark of night people stumble and get into trouble.

“cleft mountains.” The sexual imagery in Song of Solomon makes the interpretation of this verse quite clear. “The phrase הָרֵי בָתֶר [har bether] fairly conspicuously refers to the split between a woman’s two breasts” (Duane Garrett, Paul House, Word Biblical Commentary).

Commentary for: Song of Songs 2:17