The Love of the Divine Warrior

Aren Wilson-Wright examines the elements of “Northwest Semitic combat myth” in the theme verses of the Song of Songs (8:6b-7a). I have my doubts about the presence of the combat myth, but even within a strictly biblical frame, his observations illuminate the text.

He points out, for instance, that 8:6b aims “to equate love with jealousy . . . one of YHWH’s more ferocious attributes, through strict parallelism” (339). Referring to Isaiah 42:13, Zephaniah 1:18, and other texts, he shows the connection between Yahweh’s jealousy and holy war, concluding that “the reciprocal parallelism between love and jealousy in Song 8:6b identifies love with YHWH in his role as divine warrior and fierce defender of his commitments” (340).

Yahweh’s jealous love is fiery, and that too fits with the divine warrior motif: “This phrase likens the power of love to the divine warrior’s lightning bolts and the fiery force of his jealousy” (340). He disputes the common notion that “flashes” (risp-) refers to Reshep, “the West Semitic god of plague and war.” Rather, “this colon highlights love’s fiery qualifies leading up to the equation of love’s power with” the “flame of Yah” (340).

Wilson-Wright takes the controversial phrase “flame of Yah” as a reference to the divine name. He acknowledges that the phrase does not occur elsewhere in the Old Testament, but cites a number of passages where Yahweh tosses lightning bolts as He comes in a storm cloud (Psalm 29:7; Isaiah 30:30. Love battles “Death, one of YHWH’s enemies; it also wields YHWH’s signature weapon” (342).

That the flame of Yah is opposed by “many waters” adds to the divine warrior theme. In Psalm 18, “the poet praises YHWH for coming to his aid in the guise of the divine warrior and identifies his human enemies with the divine warrior’s aquatic foes” (342). He compares Yahweh to Baal, who with love as strong as Death, “confronts both many waters . . . and rivers” (343).

All this adds up to the conclusion that the divine Lover is also the divine Warrior. We cannot have His passion without His militant jealousy. Nor should we want to.

(Wilson-Wright, “Love Conquers All: Song of Songs 8:6b-7a as a Reflex of the Northwest Semitic Combat Myth,” JBL 134:2 [2015] 333-345.)

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