The Bride of the Song is blackened by the sun, and she is in the sun because she has been forced to care for the vineyards by her angry brothers and has neglected her own vineyard. This is often taken as an allegory of Israel’s neglect of her calling. Instead of cultivating the vineyard of the temple, or the vineyard of the land, she has cultivated other vineyards. Ellen Davis and Robert Jenson, for instance, connects this with the idolatry of Israel, and I have endorsed Jenson’s interpretation in the past.

But the bride does not take blame for her failure to care for her own vineyard. She may regret the outcome, but the fault is with her “mother’s sons.” I think the key to untangling this knot is to recognize that brothers in Scripture have the responsibility to protect and care for their sisters. Brothers stand to sisters as, say, kings and priests to the temple, tenants to a vineyard. The brothers have not given proper attention to their sister, preparing her for her future marriage to the king; they have instead forced her to work in various other vineyards, where she has been blackened. The bride’s protest is similar, in short, to Jeremiah’s protest against the shepherds who ruin the vineyard of Israel (Jeremiah 12:10) or Jesus’ parable of the vineyard, where the guilt is with the tenants not the vineyard (unlike Isaiah 5).

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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