Song of Songs 1:8-11 On Wearing Ornaments

If you do not know,
    O most beautiful among women,
follow in the tracks of the flock,
    and pasture your young goats
    beside the shepherds’ tents.
I compare you, my love,
    to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
10 Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments,
    your neck with strings of jewels.

11 We will make for you ornaments of gold,
    studded with silver.

On Wearing Ornaments

The man in the poem tells the woman how he may be found.  There is a quest for intimacy which the woman must follow.  Having given her the guidance to reach his destination he compliments his woman.  To be compared to a horse doesn’t sound like much in our language.  However, to compare a woman to an expensive car might hit closer to the mark.  A mare among Pharaoh’s chariots would be classy and expensive.  It expresses the both the woman’s worth and her beauty.  The beauty she has is enhanced with jewels and ornaments.

Some people might object to a woman using make-up or jewelry to enhance her natural beauty.  The New Testament has been read in ways that seem to contradict the praise in this passage.  1 Timothy 2 reads, ” likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, 10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.”  How do we harmonize the two?

The women that Paul addresses were not exhibiting control or restraint.  With the resources that were available to them, it seems that they were squandering finances on adornments that should not have been a priority.  The warning of Paul is not against adornment but against vanity.  The main focus for all women, as for men, should be a focus on God.  As we saw in Genesis, man and woman are caused to work together for the glory of God.  If the work of God is accomplished in tending for the work she has been given and she also has the resources to tend her own garden to the glory of God then so be it.  If, however, she focuses on her looks and is overcome with such a vanity that God is lost in the mix something terrible has happened.

The Song of Songs passage praises a woman for spending a little time tending the beauty that God has given her.  The man appreciates her beauty and her efforts and gives her an appropriate compliment.  We might do well to style our hair, tidy ourselves up, make ourselves presentable.  People who take a little care with what God has given them are good stewards.

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Prayer

May I take a little time to tend the body and the appearance that you have given me.  May I not take it too far and obsess on how I look or sink resources into keeping up with fashions and fads.  May I be appropriate in what I wear and how I wear it.  May it speak of beauty because you are beautiful.

Questions

  1. What direction does the man give the woman?
  2. What does he praise?
  3. What make-up and jewelry might an Israelite woman in Solomon’s harem have worn?
  4. How do you synthesize Song of Songs with 1 Timothy?
  5. How do you choose what is appropriate to wear?

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About Plymothian

I teach at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. My interests include education, biblical studies, and spiritual formation. I have been married to Kelli since 1998 and we have two children, Daryl and Amelia. For recreation I like to run, play soccer, play board games, read and travel.
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18 Responses to Song of Songs 1:8-11 On Wearing Ornaments

  1. Michael McCardle says:

    What direction does the man give the woman?
    To go on the trail of the flock, to pasture her young goats by the tents of the shepherds.
    What does he praise?
    Her cheeks.
    What make-up and jewelry might an Israelite woman in Solomon’s harem have worn?
    Necklaces, earrings, facial paint.
    How do you synthesize Song of Songs with 1 Timothy?
    I would say that Song of Songs is different because it is a lover who is complimenting his woman and is giving her gifts as a symbol of his attraction to her.
    How do you choose what is appropriate to wear?
    Well basically my parents taught me what was appropriate to wear. I also look at the reference groups around me and I try to follow the SLG haha. If I could, I would wear sports clothes all day everyday.

  2. Maria T. says:

    1. What direction does the man give the woman? He tells her to follow the tracks of the flocks and find the shepherd’s tents.
    2. What does he praise? He praises the woman by comparing her with a mare.
    3. What make-up and jewelry might an Israelite woman in Solomon’s harem have worn? I don’t know, but it probably would have been expensive and elaborate. I would assume that there would be great value placed on the women’s ornaments.
    4. How do you synthesize Song of Songs with 1 Timothy? The difference suggested in the post seems to be accurate. It is the difference between appreciation shown by stewarding a gift God has given by making it beautiful and vanity expressed by sinking finances.
    5. How do you choose what is appropriate to wear? I don’t put a whole lot of thought into this. Often I make choices based on how I grew up, and choose differently based on where I am going and what I am doing.

  3. Maelynn says:

    1. Following the paths of thr flocks.
    2. Her looks.
    3. Gold and Silver jewelery.
    4. I agree that the context of each passage must be taken into account. I do have many friends who choose not to wear jewelry or make-up because of 1 Timothy. While I do respect their decision, I think the context of the verses and the attitudes of the women in the passage are critical. We must look at our own motives and attitudes in how we choose to “adorn” ourselves.
    5. Well, growing up, my Mom guided me in what I chose to wear. Now, taking God’s word into account, I follow my own convictions to what is appropriate.

  4. Molly says:

    I grew up in an environment where adornment of hair or makeup or clothing was looked down upon. I remember as a young girl this being unsettling to me because I really wanted to wear a pink floral shirt but I was forbidden because it was not seen as modest and appropriate. It took me a very long time to become okay with allowing myself to wear makeup, experiment with different hair styles and even spend money on clothing that I felt helped express who I was. I am so thankful that through the guidance of God’s word and people around me I was able to still remain faithful to Jesus during those transition years, because I do have friends who walked away from the church because of the legalistic mentality.

  5. Jung Kim says:

    When I read this story, I immediately thought of girls in Korea. Believe it or not, more than 20% of the women have done plastic surgery in my country. This is when I come across the culture shock. I see girls with the same eyes, nose, and outfit. All they care about is beauty and fashion. It is hard to deny that I have been also immersed in this culture. For instance, when I go to a grocery, I make sure I am wearing well enough that no one would look down upon my style. I also care if my hair looks presentable. Sadly, I still do it here at Moody sometimes. I am thankful though how God reminds as well as warns me that real beautify is found in Christ. Praise God who is the most beautiful thing in the whole entire world. 🙂

  6. Kimberly W. says:

    In the last 5 years or so, I have gone to different ends of the pendulum in regards to appearance. I have an aunt and some cousins whom I love dearly, but they have very conservative views about dress and appearance. Growing up, it was hard for me to even visit them at times because I felt so judged because of what I was wearing. In high school, I allowed the opinions of one person to dramatically influence my appearance. In recent years, I think I have found more of a balance in dress and appearance. I find it encouraging to read a passage like this and know that yes, putting some time and thought into my appearance matters. The godly advice of my parents and friends, as well as reading good books, has helped me find more of a balance in this matter.

    • Plymothian says:

      It sounds like this is an ongoing area of growth for you. That resonates with me. I find that sometimes my own appearance slackens, then I become too concerned with how I look.

  7. Christa says:

    1. What direction does the man give the woman? Where to find him so that they might be together
    2. What does he praise? Her beauty
    3. What make-up and jewelry might an Israelite woman in Solomon’s harem have worn? I am sure that it would have a more elaborate and expensive look as compared with a common Israelite
    4. How do you synthesize Song of Songs with 1 Timothy? I think that from both of these passages we can see that physical beauty should not be the primary priority but should be something that is cared for and respected
    5. How do you choose what is appropriate to wear? In some ways I look to my trusted friends to help me decide what to wear in various situations and believe that they would not let me wear something that was “inappropriate” as far as modesty goes

  8. Megumi says:

    1. He tells her how to find him.
    2. He praises her beauty and her value.
    3. Heavy necklaces and earrings of gold silver and precious gems, kohl, henna, bangles, anklets…
    4. I synthesize Song of Songs with 1 Timothy by recognizing that the caution is against vanity, not against beauty.
    5. I choose what is appropriate to wear based on how much it costs (I can’t countenance extravagant purchases), whether it is comfortable and practical, what it draws attention to, and whether or not I feel like I am pretending to be someone I am not when I wear it (with the exception of theatrical costumes, obviously).

  9. 1. The man tells her how to find him and what path she should take.
    2. He praises her worth and her beauty.
    3. Probably extremely heavy or thick pieces of gold or silver with some other gems.
    4. I agree that Paul’s focus is vanity whereas the woman in Song of Songs is enhancing her natural beauty. She is emphasizing the beauty that God placed in her physical appearance and perhaps her personality too.
    5. I think I should choose what is appropriate to wear taking into consideration God’s image in both myself and others around me as well as how He has created me. I want to choose things that compliment how God designed me while maintaining a respect for my body which is not my own but the Lord’s.

  10. The man directs the woman so she knows where to go and what path to take. The man praises the woman’s worth and beauty. The woman might have been wearing heavy, thick gold jewelry including earrings, necklaces, or bracelets. The jewelry would probably be expensive and detailed. Synthesizing these two passages shows that outward beauty should not be the primary focus of a woman, rather a woman should embrace the beauty given to her by God. When it comes to my outward appearance, mainly with clothes, I honestly would wear workout clothes everyday if I could. I know that it’s important to take time and think about how I can best reflect God in the way I dress, but I usually don’t think about that on a daily basis.

  11. This is something that is important in a relationship. I know that sounds shallow, but it is! Wouldn’t you want your lover to take care of themselves? I’m not saying going crazy and being careless with money. But there is some element in a marriage relationship that requires some beauty upkeep. I can testify that I was not always putting effort into my outward appearance or the inward for that matter. And the relationship was flat. But now I know that my husband would love to look upon his wife and find her taken care of and putting an effort to look at least be presentable. It’s a way to serve your love. Guys generally tend to “see” with their eyes. Unlike women who tend to see with their ears, eyes, heart, etc. haha.
    So all this to say, take care of your inward beauty first then your outwardness.

  12. Emmy R says:

    When it comes to outward appearance, it is so easy to get caught up in the fashions rising up around you. We live in a culture where things are constantly changing and therefore it is an exhausting process to try to keep up. Although I have never been one to get caught up in fashion, there has been several times where I have definitely cared more about my outward appearance than what was in my heart. I wonder what our world would look like if everyone spent the time they spent looking in the mirror, and exchanged it with time looking in the Word of God? What a different place our world would be.

  13. Olyn says:

    It is so interesting to see people’s choice in clothing and how it is perceived/what messages it sends varies depending on culture. What may be completely normal and acceptable in one place sends a totally different message in another. I remember in high school often hearing from people who would dress radically that people “shouldn’t judge” them based upon their appearance. However, how we dress is a choice, and it sends a message to those around us. Every day we get to choose what we want to tell people about ourselves, even if we never speak to them.

  14. Andrew Moore says:

    I choose what to wear based on a few factors: I like to wear clothes that are comfortable for me to wear and clothes that will not make others uncomfortable as well. If I had it my way, I would probably just wear shorts and a t-shirt everyday to be honest.

  15. Christina W. says:

    1) He tells her to follow the way of the flock.
    2) Her looks
    3) Extravagant gold jewelry
    4) By considering that it is not the adornment that is wrong but vanity and making one’s appearance the most important thing.
    5) By deciding what is modest and appropriate as well as what is presentable.

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