תְּשׁוּקָה (tešûqāh): desire

by monax

If I were to give the Song of Songs of Solomon a one word title it would be Teshuqah.

I would name it Desire.

As we have it, teshuqah is a divine word—the LORD spoke it to Eve and to Cain.

This week as I gave myself to a study of the word I found myself swallowed by a deep mystery. I’m inside it now—and it burns with both darkness and light.

So for what it’s worth, here below is a repost of my teshuqah thoughts from a Spiritual Sounding Board conversation on Complementarianism, Egalitarianism, or Mystery. It follows up on a question concerning Wayne Grudem’s analysis of teshuqah as quoted in my previous SpAu post.

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You know, since Aug 2, I’ve spent much of my free time studying the Song of Solomon.

Last Friday, in my efforts to understand the meaning of teshuqah (and to check Grudem’s work), I consulted a few lexicons, then decided to dive straight into a reading of the Song of Solomon—where our only other occurrence of teshuqah is found outside the Genesis 3-4 context.

It’s been some years since I’ve read it, since I’ve swam in these Solomonic waters. However, this time around I found myself awe-struck at what in my eyes appears to be one of the most beautiful works of dramatic poetry ever written. From Solomon’s word imagery to the arrangement of the story elements—this song is one spectacular work of art!

We read in Ecclesiastes 12:10 how “the Preacher sought to find words of delight.” We know from 1 Kings 4:32 that “he spoke 3,000 proverbs, and his songs were 1,005.” So apparently this was his masterpiece—wherein a most teshuqah of proverbs (toward the end of the song) is embedded: “Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it” (SS 8:7).

Now the reason I find this proverb speaking to the reality of teshuqah is for a certain etymology of the word. With the noun teshuqah being so rare, I found it good to look to the verb (from whence it came) for its potential meaning.

The Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon directed me to the verb shuq as the root of teshuqah. And the Dictionary of Biblical Languages With Semantic Domains: Hebrew gives shuq two shades of meaning: “—1 (polel) water sufficiently, i.e., place or give water on plants in amounts adequate and proper to keep plants growing and healthy (Ps 65:10). . . —2 (hif) overflow, i.e., to attempt to have more of a mass or quantity in a container than the container will allow, and the excess spills over the edge or lip (Joel 2:24; 4:13).”

Shuq essentially means to be abundant; to be satiated. And so we have this negated sense played out in the proverb—Many waters cannot quench love, neither can floods drown it (SS 8:7).

[[ I should note how this proverb is preceded in wording by a deadly, jealous love that is the “very flame of the LORD” (in SS 8:6).

This is key, I believe, toward appreciating how the same sort of desire that Eve will have for Adam (Gen 3:16; the verse that follows our protoeuangelium, the first proclamation of a Savior), is the same sort of possessive desire that Sin has for Cain (Gen 4:7), is the same sort of irresistible desire King Solomon has for his Shulammite Queen (SS 7:10), is the same sort of intensity of desire the LORD has for His Bride—a fervent, passionate, clinging, overwhelming to death, unquenchable longing. Ultimately, teshuqah expresses a thirst that only the fountain of life can satisfy.

Also, I should note that if the name Shulammite is etymologically related to shalem, meaning “to be complete,” then Shulammite would mean “the completed one” or “the peaceful one.” ]]

Here’s what I know about King Solomon—the man’s love for the most beautiful of women could not be satiated! It was also the ruin of him, for we read in 1 Kings 11 how his many forbidden wives turned his heart after other gods and goddesses.

The young Solomon was a wise scholar, and would certainly have been on intimate terms with the word teshuqah.

He was also the beloved son of King David—the bloody warrior-poet.

Solomon’s kingdom, however, was at peace. So where his father went out to war for the blood of men to expand his kingdom, his beloved son went out and hunted down beautiful women to add to his collection of queens and concubines and virgins without number.

I truly suspect there might not have been any greater pursuit for King Solomon than the ongoing apprehension of the mystery and meaning of teshuqah.

In fact, I commend his Song of Songs to you as the best commentary I know to be written on the mystery and meaning of teshuqah.

Without going into all my many thoughts on this I want to draw our attention to a few things within the Song of Songs that serve to support Grudem’s portrayal of teshuqah as an “aggressive desire,” perhaps even “a desire to conquer.”

So while Solomon can be characterized as a king who hunts down women to make them his brides, so can our Shulammite be characterized as a huntress who pursues and seduces and captures her prey.

There’s a lot of violent imagery and animalistic energy in the text, and the Song of Songs is erotic to the core. Take note of the garden references and to the eating of each others fruit. Can we not see this as a potential connection to the Gen 3 context?

(2:3) SHE: “With great delight I sat in his shadow [She likened Solomon to an apple tree], and his fruit was sweet to my taste.”

(7:7-10) HE: “Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.”

SHE: “It goes down smoothly for my beloved, gliding over lips and teeth. I am my beloved’s, and his teshuqah is for me.”

The Song ends with this: (8:14) SHE: “Make haste, my beloved, and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spice.”

Man alive! As a single man, after reading this, I nearly needed a cold shower. Had running through my head dark images of a Lebanese Queen calling upon her beloved to climb her spice-laden mountains! Goodness, if it wasn’t for the Yah reference this book probably wouldn’t have been recognized as inspired Holy Writ.

(6:4-5) HE: “You are beautiful, my love. . . awesome as an army of banners. Turn away your eyes from me, for they overwhelm me—”

(6:10) HE: “Who is this who looks down like the dawn, beautiful as the moon, bright as the sun, awesome as an army with banners?”

After SHE and OTHERS answer him, (6:13) HE says, “Why should you look upon the Shulammite, as upon a dance before two armies?”

There it is! It appears that Solomon is visualizing this “courtship” as a dance between two war machines set to conquer and be conquered.

I’ll stop short of saying more, but as I see it, Grudem’s assessment of teshuqah (as qualified by ‘el) in Gen 3:16 is kosher.

While we’re here, let me drop something that is echoing around in my head from the poet-philosophers, the philologist Friedrich Nietzsche. If you’re familiar with the Song of Solomon the connections will be apparent.

Thus Spake Nietzsche, “A real man wants two things: danger and play. Therefore he wants woman as the most dangerous plaything. Man should be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly. The warrior does not like all-too-sweet fruit; therefore he likes woman: even the sweetest woman is bitter. Woman understands children better than man does, but man is more childlike than woman.

“In a real man a child is hidden—and wants to play. Go to it, women, discover the child in man! Let woman be a plaything, pure and fine, like a gem, irradiated by the virtues of a world that has not yet arrived. Let the radiance of a star shine through your love!”