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Shepherds and Flocks

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

This is a love poem, right? So what's with all the sheep?

Well, you might remember that shepherding was a big part of life in ancient Israel. Think back to King David, who was said to be a shepherd, or even Moses who discovered the burning bush while looking after a flock of—you guessed it—sheep. The fact that literature of the time is talking about it means people were doing it back in the day. If they ever write another Bible, maybe Moses will be a techy.

Shepherds are out in the wilderness all day, fending off wild animals, making sure the sheep don't get lost, and guiding them to water. It's a very private life—unless you like to share your secrets with sheep, that is. So when the Shulamite wants to get to know her groom better, she says, "Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon" (1:7). She wants to be a part of his intimate world, and later, it seems like this wish is fulfilled "My beloved is mine and I am his; he pastures his flock among the lilies" (2:16).

As always, we have to wonder: are we really talking about shepherding here? Or are there some sexy times happening?