There is disagreement about who is speaking in Song 1:8, with some assuming that it is the king. I think this is unlikely because he is no longer in her presence. So I would suggest that it is the daughters of Jerusalem who are speaking, and in the analogy they are her companions, her fellow believers. Further evidence is that the lady is called the ‘most beautiful among women’ twice more in the Song, and the ones who call her by this description are the daughters of Jerusalem (5:9; 6:1). So what we have here is fellow believers giving advice to a believer who has lost contact with the king.
Here we are told that the lady is a shepherdess. There was nothing unbecoming about a person of rank looking after animals. Indeed, at that time, having them would be a sign that the owner was wealthy. When Job’s riches are listed, among them are his flocks and herds. So when we are told that she has kids, we are being informed that she is a woman of substance.
We should first note the opinion of the daughters of Jerusalem of her. They regard her as very beautiful. This statement is in line with what she had assumed about herself when she said that she was dark but beautiful. She had been afraid that her time in the vineyards of other people had affected her beauty, but the daughters of Jerusalem assure her that in a way her beauty has been enhanced. And in this we have an example of how we are to regard one another as we walk together in the Christian life. When we look at one another, do we see the beauty of grace in one another, because if we do not, there is something wrong with our vision?
The daughters proceed to give advice in response to the prayer that was made by the lady to get to the presence of the king. We might assume that it would be presumption to try and do such a thing. Yet it is often the case that the Lord uses his people to answer the prayers of a believer, and the way that they usually do so is to speak out of their own experience.
The daughters describe how she can find where to go. She is to walk in the tracks of the flock. Tracks in the desert are usually easy to follow, and the implication in their advice is that spiritual tracks will be visible for her. The tracks will lead to the tents of the shepherds, to those who are looking after the flock. I suppose we can deduce that the tracks are steps taken to the means of grace, which is what I would say is meant by the tents of the shepherds.
Shepherds would usually place their tents near supplies of fresh water because there would be plenty pasture and refreshment there. Here we have a picture of church life, where the sheep of Jesus are led to spiritual refreshment by his shepherds. Of course, the illustration is not referring to mere physical gathering in a building – it is possible for sheep to gather in a church building and not be anywhere near the water of life. It is obvious from the illustration that there is ample refreshment, so if believers come away thirsty they have not been to the right place.
One assumes that the lady did this because the poem ends with this verse. The next poem in the book takes place in a house, so the composer has moved on to describe another kind of spiritual experience. So the challenge for us is to ask if we are encouraging one another to go to the shepherds’ tents.