It is somewhat ironic, perhaps, that while the tongue of one particular son of Korah was a ready writer in writing Psalm 45 as a royal wedding psalm (with clear Messianic implications), my own tongue was not a ready writer in writing about it, mainly because the subject matter of this psalm has been a spot of some considerable concern in my own life. At any rate, since I am feeling better than I have in quite a while concerning the subject matter of Psalm 45, I have decided that now is a better time for me to write about this psalm, since it is not good that such a beautiful song should be marred by my own personal experiences or concerns.
Like so many other romantic odes in the Bible (the Song of Solomon springs readily to mind ), Psalm 45 serves two different functions in the Bible. One of these functions is on the political level, as Psalm 45 is a royal wedding psalm, a song that encouraged the sometimes foreign-born wives of the Jewish kings to forget their ancestry and to take their religious and political identity with the people of Israel. In that sense, Psalm 45 is like Psalm 87  in that it encourages a godly form of accepting as Israelites those of other nations who accept Israelite ways, including biblical religion. In fact, Psalm 45 along with Ruth might be two of the most beautiful biblical writings about “interracial” marriage that show the deciding factor to be culture and faith and not blood and ethnicity.
On another level, though, Psalm 45 has implications that go far beyond physical marriage to serving as a marriage hymn for the Messiah and His bride. As is so often the case with marriage passages , our perspective on the psalms can vary based on the physical or spiritual meaning. As men we might think of ourselves as the kings, but when we examine the spiritual meaning we are a part of the bride of Christ, and that complicates our perspective greatly, depending on the covenant we are dealing with. This ought to make us men more understanding of the obligations on both sides to the marriage covenant, whether it is a physical marriage with a wife or our spiritual covenant with God as part of the bride, but that is not always the case in practice.
Therefore, when we examine Psalm 45 we have to do so with the understanding that the psalm exists on both levels simultaneously. The author of this psalm among the sons of Korah, whomever he was, wrote in such a way that the hymn has a dual application to the physical weddings of Jewish kings with godly foreign brides, as well as referring to the bride of Christ as forsaking the cultures and family identities of earth to glory in citizenship in the New Jerusalem and membership in the family of God. In order not to do any violence to the psalm on either the physical plane or its spiritual implications, this essay will seek to examine both levels one at a time as we progress through the psalm.
My Heart Is Overflowing With A Good Theme
Psalm 45 has five different sections, and so let us view each section one by one from the point of view of a royal marriage as well as the marriage of the Messiah with the Church of God (see Revelation 19). Psalm 45:1-2 opens the psalm with a short introduction: “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.” Here we see that this psalm is a song of the heart, and that the psalmist presents himself ready to write for the king, both literally as a member of the priestly establishment writing for a physical king and symbolically for the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ. And marriage is certainly a good theme to write about, as it reflects the fact that God’s relationships with mankind are based on covenants. Making covenants is a sign of good faith, and permanence, both aspects of life that seem to be in short supply these days.
Next, the psalmist says in Psalm 45:3-5: “You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever. Gird your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; the peoples fall under You.” Here we see the way a king should behave: humble, honest, and righteous (see Deuteronomy 17:14-20), and a mighty defender of His people against the evil. Kings are supposed to cultivate grace and virtue even as they must fight against evildoers. Obviously, though this applies to kings in general (regardless of how rarely kings meet this standard of mercy and justice, of righteousness and grace), this applies most of all to Jesus Christ, who is promised to return with a mighty sword to defeat the armies of the heathen even as he demonstrates grace and righteousness to perfection (see Revelation 19:11-21, not coincidentally taking place just after the wedding of Christ and the Church in the Bible).
After this, the psalmist explicitly refers to the throne of God in Psalm 45:6-9: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your Kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions. All your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces by which they have made You glad. Kings’ daughters are among Your honorable women; at Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir.” Here we again see applicable comments to both earthly and spiritual kingdoms. God ultimately removes power from those dynasties and rulers that are not righteous and gives them to more worthy officeholders. Any enduring throne must be founded on the righteousness of obedience to God’s ways. And no one has been more perfect in obedience than the Son of God Himself. And, both earthly and heavenly kings are clothed in good things and are anointed (see Psalm 133) as a sign of the religious and moral origins of their legitimacy. A godly king is perceived as an emperor, a king of kings, as is Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, with righteous minor kings under their rule whose daughters are ladies in waiting, either symbolically or literally, for the bride. At this point the subject of the poem shifts from the King to the Queen.
In Psalm 45:10-12, the psalmist shifts to talking about the obligations of the bride: “Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him. And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; the rich among the people will seek your favor.” When a queen left her people to marry a godly king, she was to forget her previous ways of behavior and adopt biblical religion as her own, and to show proper respect to her husband. As a result of her confession of faith, and her entrance into royalty as a queen, she receives favor from Israelites and Gentiles alike, who bring her wedding gifts and seek her favor with the king. Likewise, we as Christians are commanded to forget our national rivalries (see Galatians 3:26-29) and to adopt a godly biblical culture, to worship God and Jesus Christ, and promised that we will receive honor and respect ourselves from the people of the world as kings and priests in the family of God once Jesus Christ has established His rule.
Finally, the psalmist closes His psalm with another look at the bride, saying in Psalm 45:13-17: “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace. Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons, whom You shall make princes in all the earth. I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever.” In contrast to most people, I suppose, including the translators of the New King James version, I view the last two verses of this psalm as referring still to the wife. Because she has forsaken her people to be a part of Israel (like Ruth), she is blessed through her descendants, rather than taking pride in her ancestors. Because of that obedience to God, the praise for godly women who come from Gentile backgrounds (see Ruth, Rehab, and Tamar) remains long after they are dead. And the same is true with the Church of God. It is our children, who are to be raised in godly ways, who are to be the source of our praise and glory, not our ancestors whose ways and beliefs we have had to reject in order to follow God. For choosing God and joining His family and leaving aside all other concerns to do so, the people of God who make up the bride of Christ are given honor and praise forever and ever in eternal life. That is a blessing that will never be forgotten either.
Understanding Psalm 45
One thing that must be clearly understood about Psalm 45 is that it is written as a love song. And like other love songs in the Bible (Song of Solomon comes to mind), the love is true whether we are dealing with the physical or spiritual varieties. We must remember that what makes the physical love sacred and special is the fact that physical intimacy (within marriage, as this is a marriage song, like Song of Solomon) is a physical analogue to the spiritual intimacy we are to have for God. The oneness we celebrate when two become one flesh in marriage is the same sort of oneness shared by God the Father and Jesus Christ, that we all hope to share in ourselves. Let us treat love, therefore, with both the joy and the seriousness that deserves.
In addition, let us remember that Jews and Christians see Psalm 45 very differently. Most Jews (and the Tanakh seems to follow this tradition) view the psalm as a celebration of a physical royal marriage, but without the clear connection with Messianic prophecies. Therefore they see the song on the physical plane, without the spiritual application. On the other hand, most Christians seem to understand the Messianic implications of the psalm when it comes to Christ, but most Christian biblical translations seem not to give a great deal of focus to the physical meaning of the psalm as well. It is a difficult thing to keep both the physical and spiritual applications of Psalm 45 in mind at the same time, but each level of meaning enriches the importance of the other.
It is very clear that there is are some major political and cultural points that Psalm 45 makes that are not often by readers of the Bible understood concerning the role of leadership, particularly the position of king. All too often we assume that people are righteous and good because they are rulers (or, if we are cynical, we assume that people are unrighteous simply because they hold office). However, biblically the situation is reversed. One does not gain righteousness (or lose it) through holding offices, but all authorities being God’s servants have the responsibility to rule with righteousness and justice, and mercy, in light of their own accountability to God and to His prophets.
So why is it that the psalmist among the Sons of Korah was so much more ready to write this psalm than I was ready to write about it? The blunt reason is that it is hard for me to write passionately about romance without having some of it in my life, and for a long time that has been a block to the physical appreciation of this particular psalm for me. I suppose that I took this particular psalm too personally, and felt as if it mocked my frustrated hopes for such happiness in my own life, so it is only that I feel a bit happier about my state that I was able to write about this psalm joyfully.
Revelation 19: A Parallel Chapter
In examining Psalm 45, it is worthwhile to comment at least a little bit on the parallels that exist between Psalm 45 and Revelation 19 (as well as other passages within Revelation that also refer clearly to Jesus Christ). After all, it is these parallels that make this psalm a clearly Messianic psalm and not simply a royal wedding psalm for human princesses and kings. As this duality is an important aspect of the psalm, it is useful to show how this understanding about the duality came to be at least briefly. Let us compare the relevant passages of Revelation with Psalm 45 to show how Jesus Christ ultimately fulfills the imagery of this particular psalm.
Psalm 45:3-5: “Gird your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; the peoples fall under You.”
Revelation 19:11-16: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”
Psalm 45:6-7: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than all Your companions.”
Revelation 11:15-18: “Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” And the twenty-four elders who sat before God on their thrones fell on their faces and worshiped God, saying: “We give You thanks, O Lord God Almighty, the One who is and who was and who is to come, because You have taken Your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and Your wrath has come. And the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth.”
Psalm 45:13-15: “The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colors; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoice they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace.”
Revelation 19:7-9: “Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready.” And to her it was granted to be arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write: ‘Blessed are those who are called to the marriage supper of the Lamb!'” And he said to me, “These are the true sayings of God.””
There are two images that a reader can see from the context of Psalm 45. One is the image of a foreign princess who has abandoned her heathen identity and chosen to join herself in marriage to a godly king and to take the identity of being an Israelite despite her foreign heritage. There is a brave young woman facing the unknown as she strives to obey God in a loving covenantal relationship with a (hopefully) righteous king of the line of David. The other image is that of a godly believer abandoning the corrupt ways of this world and seeing to follow God faithfully, looking forward to eternal life and the wedding supper of the Lamb of God, who came to take the sins of the world away with His first coming and comes to conquer the unrighteous with His second coming. Ultimately, these two visions are not that different. The masterful psalmist of Psalm 45 manages to write a song that is applicable both to a foreign-born princess facing a new life as a believer in Israel as well as that of all believers who are called to overcome their background and to seek to be a citizen of the Jerusalem that is above. May we all be counted worthy to be numbered among the guests of the wedding supper of Jesus Christ, with this psalm on our lips.