A Verse-by-verse Study of Psalm 45

The Bride and Bridegroom

The marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready. —Revelation 19:7

Carl Hagensick

Weddings are joyous occasions. This is especially true when the bride and bridegroom are of royalty. Psalm 45 was composed for just such an occasion and becomes an ode to love in commemoration of the king’s nuptial day.

While the festive occasion that caused the composition of this song is debatable, it most likely was for one of the weddings of King Solomon, perhaps to the daughter of Pharaoh (1 Kings 3:1). This is supported by the reference to the daughter of Tyre (verse 12).

The Title

To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, for the sons of Korah, Maschil, A Song of loves.

E. W. Bullinger in Appendix 64 of the Companion Bible, correctly says the term “To the chief musician” is misplaced in the authorized version; it belongs to Psalm 44. It is less clear whether he is correct in assuming the words “Upon Shoshannim” also belong to that psalm. We believe they are correctly placed as the first of four titles for Psalm 45.

“Upon Shoshannim”—or “for the lilies” —is a term that is difficult to identify. Some feel it refers to a lyre of six strings which was either in the form of a lily or is a derivative of the Hebrew word shesh, the number six. Others ascribe it to a popular tune of the time entitled “The Lily.” Still others take it as a spring song when the lilies were in bloom, composed to be sung during the Passover season. It is most likely, in line with the wedding theme of the psalm, that it was sung during the procession when lily petals were strewn before the bride.

“For the sons of Korah”—a reference to the ones appointed to sing the song. David organized the temple with three main leaders: Heman, the grandson of Samuel and a descendant of Kohath; Asaph, who traces his ancestry back to Gershom; and Ehan (or Jeduthun), a Merarite. Since Korah was a descendant of Kohath, it seems likely that those who were under the direction of Heman sang this song.

“Maschil”—or, “for instruction.” The word is derived from the Hebrew sakal, to scrutinize, and implies that the author intended a deeper meaning than what appears on the surface. In this psalm the deeper meaning is that the marriage here celebrated is allegorical of the far greater marriage of Christ and his bride, the church.

“A Song of loves”—more accurately, a song of the beloved virgins, one expressing the sentiments of the bride’s companions.

The Author’s Enthusiasm—verse 1

My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.

The enthusiasm of the writer is apparent. The word translated “inditing” would be better rendered “to gush out,” or, as some translations phrase it, “overflowing.” The word “ready” in the Hebrew also is suggestive of the rapidity with which words came to his mind as he composed the psalm for this festive occasion. He literally bubbles over and the words come rushing to his mind as he seeks to describe the majesty of the king, the loveliness of the bride and her apparel, and the sheer beauty of the marriage splendors.

The King’s Beauty—verse 2

Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.

These words represent the feelings of the beloved virgins, the bride’s companions. They are reminiscent spiritually of the thoughts of the great company, the five foolish virgins of our Lord’s parable in Matthew 25, and correspond well to the sentiments expressed by the great multitude in Revelation 19:7 and the beautiful description of Christ voiced by the lazy lover in Song of Solomon 5:10-16.

The King’s Power—verses 3-5

Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty. And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things. Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.

The prosperity of the king is attributed to his conquests and these, in turn, are a result, not so much of unhindered power, but an outgrowth of truth, meekness, and righteousness. These are not usually thought of as the springboards of power.

Truth does not alone refer to accuracy of belief and teachings, but also to that consistency which comes from faithful stability. Righteousness refers to the fact that his judgments are rendered objectively and strictly according to the merits of each individual case. Meekness, referring to the gentle application of the principles of justice, grants the wielder great power for it shows compassion even while administering strict discipline.

The word translated “teach” in verse four would be better rendered “shoot out,” as an archer shoots arrows (see Strong’s #3384). Although there is a secondary meaning of “to point out, to teach” this does not fit as well with the allusion to archers in the succeeding verse.

The arrows that the Lord shoots forth are the words of his mouth convicting his enemies of their wrong-doings and converting them to the ways of righteousness. This will occur under the New Covenant when the words of Psalm 19:7 find their grand fulfillment: “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul, the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”

This falling of the Lord’s enemies under him is the same conversion work to which Jesus refers in the parables of the pounds: “But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay [by turning the enemies into friends] before me” (Luke 19:27).

The King’s Justice—verses 6-8

Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre. Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows. All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.

Since these words refer to the reigning Christ, it is often used by Trinitarians to support their belief. Two thoughts may be helpful. First, the Leeser translation reads, “Thy throne, given of God, endureth forever and ever” (see Reprints, p. 774). This is supported in the quotation of the psalm in Hebrews 1:8, “God is thy throne for ever and ever” (Twentieth Century Translation). Adam Clarke, a Trinitarian, admits that this translation cannot be faulted, noting that the word “God” is in the nominative case. Clarke also notes that this translation is supported by Wakefield in his History of Opinions.

The Hebrew word translated “God” in this psalm is elohim, a term meaning “mighty one” and is applied widely including mighty men of earth. The context determines to whom it is to be applied; since this is a Messianic psalm, it applies to Christ and not Jehovah.

The psalmist continues by expressing the righteousness of the judgments of the king’s reign. This agrees with the assessment of that reign by Paul: “He hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead” (Acts 17:31). Isaiah says, “When thy judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness” (Isaiah 26:9).

The foundation for these judgments are the love of righteousness and the hatred of wickedness. This is true both of these principles and of those who adhere to them. In harmony with this, the prophet writes of that kingdom, “Then shall ye return, and discern between the righteous and the wicked, between him that serveth God and him that serveth him not”  (Malachi 3:18). The followers of Christ, likewise, must learn not only to love righteousness but to consider everything wicked as abominable.

As it was the custom for honored guests to be anointed with oil, and especially the bride and groom, so the adherence to the principles of righteousness will cause the host, God himself, to endorse this happy marriage with the “oil of gladness.” The expression in Song of Solomon 3:11 uses a slightly different metaphor: “Go forth, O ye daughters of Zion, and behold king Solomon with the crown wherewith his mother crowned him in the day of his espousals, and in the day of the gladness of his heart.”

The effect of this anointing was to leave a lingering perfume of myrrh, aloes, and cassia upon the bridegroom’s garments. All three of these spices are aromatic. Myrrh and cassia were ingredients of the holy anointing oil of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:23,24). Aloes had medicinal properties. All three are bitter to the taste. While all come from plants, they come from different parts of the plant: myrrh from the sap or gum, aloes from the leaves, and cassia from pulverized bark. Together they represent the perfection of character that comes from the endurance of suffering and bitter experiences (Hebrews 5:8,9).

In The Treasury of David, Spurgeon notes that the word translated “whereby” is not the usual word for that meaning. It is the Hebrew mane, or, as a place name, Minnaea in Arabia Felix (“Happy Arabia” because of its abundant resources, today’s Yemen). A possible translation of this verse is: “Myrrh, aloes, and cassias, are all thy garments. From ivory palaces of Minnaea they have made thee glad.” The geographer Strabo informs us that Minnaea abounded in myrrh and frankincense; the historian Diodorus of Siculus writes that “the inhabitants of Arabia Felix had sumptuous houses, adorned with ivory and precious stones.”

If such a conclusion is correct, it lends weight to the occasion of this psalm being one of the marriages of Solomon, for it was he who developed trade with these southern kingdoms and who had a special relationship with Hiram, king of Tyre (see verse 12).

The Bride’s Invitation—verses 10, 11

Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father’s house; So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.

The use of the combined verbs “hearken” and “consider” urge not only the listening to the bridegroom’s invitation, but a careful contemplation of what it involves and the seriousness of the marriage vows. Acceptance of the connubial relationship means leaving behind all former associations. This is what God demanded of Abram (Genesis 12:1) and in the God-given formula for marriage: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). What an encouragement to leave behind the trifling pleasures of this earth which once seemed to mean so much.

Great is the contrast between what the world offers compared with the love and companionship of Christ. Well has one written, “Although the whole family in heaven and earth will be blessed through him [Christ], only his wife, cooperating with him in his work, will alone be his companion, his confidante, his treasure.” Even now the church is attractive to the Lord as his peculiar treasure. The same author continues: “Clad in the glorious robe of our Bridegroom’s furnishing, we can stand all complete, even now, in the eyes of Jehovah. And possessing the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, the faith that trusts under every condition, the love that delights to do the Father’s will, we are lovely in the eyes of our Beloved, our Bridegroom and our King.” (Reprints, p. 5862)

The Wedding Guests—verse 12

And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall intreat thy favor.

Solomon and Hiram, king of Tyre, were not only partners in trade but friends as well. Josephus (Apion. I, 17, 18), quotes the historians Dius and Melander as saying that extensive correspondence between the two kings was preserved in the records of Tyre and that the two friends enjoyed challenging each other with riddles. Phoenician historians relate that Hiram gave his daughter in marriage to Solomon. Therefore it is not surprising that women of Tyre would be in attendance at a wedding of the Jewish monarch.

Tyre was a wealthy kingdom and had joint maritime expeditions with Israel in trading spices and precious metals as far away as India, probably the location of the fabled Ophir. Although Tyre is used as a symbol of evil and the empire of Satan in Isaiah 23 and Joel 3:4, these prophecies are of a later date than this psalm and it does not appear that negative implications are implied here. Rather, Tyre seems to be a neutral symbol of all Gentiles, especially of the wealthier classes.

The presentation of a wedding present and the entreatment of the rich is reminiscent of scenes from the closing chapter of Job where the three comforters entreat him for forgiveness, and his family and friends present him with a piece of money and a gold earring. The latter shows the heeding of Job’s words while the piece of money, literally a “lamb” of money, i.e., a coin worth the value of a lamb, may aptly picture the recognition of the cost of redemption—the sacrifice of “the Lamb of God.”

The wedding guests at the wedding feast of Christ and the church will be all the Gentiles who will give the gift of their lives during the Millennial age (Acts 15:14-17).

The Bridal Garments—verses 13, 14a

The king’s daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold. She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework.

While the church, the daughter of the great king Jehovah, is to be beautiful with all the fruits and graces of the spirit, this is not the meaning here. The American Standard Version correctly supplies an ellipsis, rendering the text “The king’s daughter within the palace is all glorious.” Perhaps a better thought would be “within her pre-nuptial chambers.” It is even while in the state of preparation, on this side of the veil of death and preceding the marriage, that the bride is to be all glorious in her character.

She is as the beautiful young maiden Esther who, in preparation for her appearance before the king, “required nothing but what Hegai, the king’s chamberlain, the keeper of the women, appointed” (Esther 2:15). So the church has been under a spiritual Hegai, the holy spirit, and needs nothing more than she is furnished by it.

Any imperfections or blemishes are covered by the seamless robe of Christ’s righteousness with its carefully interwoven golden promises that the wearers might “be partakers of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4).

The needlework suggests that the bride embroiders her robe with the graces of the spirit so that, at the end of her course, the white robe of Christ’s imputed merit is exchanged for new white garments which are “the righteousness of saints” (Revelation 19:8). The apostle Peter states that we must “add to your faith” the attributes of a Christian character (2 Peter 1:5).

The Bridal Party—verses 14b, 15

The virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee. With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king’s palace.

As maidens accompanied Rebekah when she went to meet her bridegroom Isaac (Genesis 24:61), so there is a class of virgins who will accompany the church to be with her royal Lord. These are styled virgins because they have maintained their purity, but they do not have the same standing as the bride. In Jesus’ parable they are called “foolish” virgins because of their unpreparedness (Matthew 25).

Nonetheless they do overcome at the end and are identified as a “great multitude” in Revelation 19:6 who gladly call out, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready” (Revelation 19:7).

The fact that they follow the bride implies that they go where the bride goes, into the king’s palace. That means they receive a spiritual resurrection. Their stature, however, will never be the same as that of the bride, nor will they share in the resurrection to the divine nature with its attribute of immortality (Revelation 20:6).

Offspring of a Royal Marriage—verse 16

Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.

Israelites looked at their national and spiritual forebears as “fathers.” Hence we read of numerous references to Abraham as “father” (Matthew 3:9; Luke 1:73; John 8:53). These “fathers” will be the firstborn children of the royal couple, the first to be resurrected from the dead. Then David’s son (Christ Jesus) will become David’s Lord and Father (Luke 20:41-43). It is called “a better resurrection” (Hebrews 11:35) because it is pre-eminent in both time and position.

Their role in that kingdom is also prophetically spelled out in this marriage psalm: they shall be made “princes in all the earth.” This implies that they will not only play a governmental role, but that they will be ambassadors “in all the earth.” Theirs will be the joy of making known the rules and regulations of that kingdom to all mankind, thus helping the human race back to perfection as they travel the “way of holiness” (Isaiah 35:8).