The Bible’s Song of Solomon is a book of poetry about the love of a newly married couple. In it, the husband and wife sometimes compliment each other using colorful animal analogies. Although many of the analogies still make sense to modern readers, some of them may seem humorous or even shocking to us.
King Solomon, the husband, gets the animal-related compliments started by saying something very memorable to his wife: “I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots” (Song of Solomon 1:9 ESV). Imagine if a man said that to his wife today: “You are beautiful, my love, like a king’s royal horse.”
Most women would probably not be particularly pleased with the compliment. In our culture, a horse is not an animal that people are often compared to, except in jest. Yet Solomon’s wife apparently found the analogy to be charming.
It’s actually not too difficult to see why. A well-bred horse is attractive, strong, and elegant, so Solomon’s wife understood that he was saying she was attractive, strong, and elegant. Since she lacked our modern hesitancy to use horse traits for compliments, she had no reason to be confused by the analogy.
To return the compliment, she said, “My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag” (2:9). She was implying something similar to Solomon’s horse analogy: “My beloved is handsome, strong, and with a noble bearing.”
Throughout the book, the two lovers exchange other animal-related compliments. Some of the analogies are perhaps almost as strange to us as the horse reference: “Your hair is like a flock of goats, leaping down the slopes of Gilead” (4:1) and, “Your teeth are like a flock of ewes that have come up from the washing” (6:6).
Others are easy for us to relate to: Solomon compares his wife to a dove (6:9), and they both compare the other’s eyes to doves (4:1, 5:12). Solomon’s wife also says his hair is as dark as the black feathers of a raven (5:11).
Ultimately, King Solomon’s comparison of his wife’s appearance to that of a horse is probably never surpassed as the most memorable animal analogy in the whole book. Yet his desire to make his wife feel loved is timeless and well worth emulating by modern husbands. Though they will, of course, want to pick a more culturally-appropriate compliment.