Psalms 45 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
A nuptial ode, celebrating the marriage of a king with a king’s daughter. After a brief prelude (Psa 45:1) the Psalmist addresses the king, praising the personal beauty which marks him out as a ruler of men, and bidding him use his strength in the cause of truth and right. Noble qualities of heart and mind fit him for his lofty calling, on which the seal of divine approval has been newly set by the blessing of this supreme happiness, the crowning glory of his state and splendour (Psa 45:2-9). Then turning to the bride he bids her cheerfully accept her new position, and indicates its dignity by pointing to the gifts which allied nations bring in her honour. In magnificent bridal array she is conducted to the royal palace with jubilant rejoicings; and the Psalm concludes with the anticipation of a numerous posterity and undying and worldwide renown for so famous a monarch (Psa 45:10-17).
There is no clearly marked strophical arrangement. The poet passes from thought to thought as his enthusiasm kindles with the grandeur of his theme.
That the Psalm refers to some actual occasion cannot be doubted. Some commentators indeed deny that it has an historical basis, and regard it as wholly prophetic or ideal. The language, they say, far transcends any language that could be used of the best of earthly kings; and from the earliest times, alike in the Jewish and in the Christian Church, it has been understood to refer directly to the Messiah.
A careful study of the Psalm shews that this view is untenable. (1) There is no indication that the Psalmist intends to describe a future personage. (2) The language of the Ps. does not really go beyond what might have been said by a poet of an actual king, viewed in the light of the promises made to the house of David. (3) The Ps. contains realistic details of the circumstances of an Oriental court, which would hardly have been introduced, if it had been originally written as a sacred poem with a mystic meaning.
The view that the Ps. is exclusively Messianic rests in great measure upon an imperfect apprehension of the typical character of the Davidic kingship. The Davidic king was the representative of Jehovah, Who was the true King of Israel, and the poet-seer can boldly greet the reigning monarch in the light of the great prophecies to which he was the heir. Bidding him rise to the height of his calling by the exercise of a just rule which should be a true reflection of the divine government, he can claim for him the fulfilment of the promise of an eternal dominion. It is of the essence of poetry to idealise, and sacred poetry is no exception to the rule. It could disregard the limitations and imperfections of experience, and portray the king in the light of the true and perfect conception of his office, not simply as what he was, but as what he should be. See Introd. pp. lxxvi. ff.; introd. and notes to Psalms 2; and comp. Riehm’s Messianic Prophecy (Engl. Tr., ed. 2), pp. 102 ff.
Who then was the king, and what was the occasion referred to? If the lofty language of the Ps. is clearly based upon the Messianic promises and only explicable in connexion with them, some king of the house of David must be its theme. This consideration excludes kings of the Northern Kingdom, such as Ahab, who has been suggested because he possessed an ivory palace (cp. Psa 45:8 with 1Ki 22:39) and married a foreign princess (1Ki 16:31); or Jeroboam II, the luxury and splendour of whose reign might seem to correspond to the description in the poem. Still more decisively does it exclude foreign kings, such as some unknown Persian monarch, or Ptolemy Philadelphus, or the Syrian king Alexander ( 1Ma 10:57-58 ).
If then the Ps. must refer to some king of Judah, the choice appears to lie between Jehoram and Solomon. (1) Delitzsch finds a suitable occasion in the marriage of Jehoram with Athaliah. Jehoram was the son of the pious Jehoshaphat, whose reign revived the glories of the Solomonic age. Though not actually king when he married Athaliah, he had been raised to the position of co-regent with his father (2Ki 8:16). The exhortation to the bride to forget her home, and the mention of Tyre, are supposed to be allusions to the Sidonian origin of Athaliah’s mother, Jezebel.
It is however difficult to believe that an inspired poet could have regarded an alliance with the idolatrous house of Ahab with satisfaction, or that in view of the subsequent history such an ode would have been preserved in a collection of temple-hymns. Moreover this bride appears to be a foreign princess, not an Israelite. It remains to adopt the old view that the Psalm celebrates the marriage of Solomon with the daughter of the king of Egypt (1Ki 3:1). Such an alliance must have been an event of the highest importance. Solomon’s court was a scene of splendour and luxury like that which is described in the Ps. The kingdom was at the zenith of its glory. The promises to David were recent: the hopes which they held out had not yet been dimmed by failure and disappointment. Then as at no other later time it was easy for a poet to idealise the kingship and the kingdom, and to use the language of lofty hope and confident anticipation. Solomon’s close alliance with Hiram gives a natural explanation of the mention of Tyre ( Psa 45:12) as the representative of allied nations. A recent theory regards the Ps. as a ‘dramatic lyric,’ written after the Return from the exile at a time when the traditional glories of Solomon’s reign attracted the attention and exercised the imagination of poets. The theory is improbable, but it recognises the fact that the Ps. may most appropriately be referred to Solomon. The only objections which deserve consideration are that the king is described as a martial hero, whereas Solomon was a man of peace: and that Solomon had no line of royal ancestors such as is supposed to be implied in Psa 45:16. (1) To the first of these objections it may be answered that although this king is described as a conquering hero, more stress is laid upon the justice of his rule than upon his warlike exploits. Moreover Solomon was not deficient in military spirit, and though his reign was on the whole peaceful, it was by no means entirely so. He made great military preparations (1Ki 4:26; 1Ki 9:15 ff. 1Ki 11:27; 2Ch 8:5 ff.), and it is recorded that he conquered Hamath-zobah (2Ch 8:3). It was scarcely possible for a poet to dissociate the idea of a king from the idea of a victorious warrior. (2) As regards the second objection, Psa 45:16 does not necessarily imply a long line of royal ancestors. It may be understood as implying the reverse, and expressing the hope that a noble posterity might arise to compensate for the absence of the long ancestry upon which so many oriental monarchs prided themselves.
Whatever may have been the original occasion of the Ps., its Messianic significance has been almost universally recognised. “The marriage-song of the Jewish monarch laid open thoughts which could only be realised in the relation of the Divine King to His Church.” The Targum paraphrases Psa 45:2; “Thy beauty, O King Messiah, exceeds that of the children of men; a spirit of prophecy is bestowed upon thy lips:” and Psa 45:10, “Hear, O congregation of Israel, the law of his mouth, and consider his wondrous works.” The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews quotes Psa 45:6-7 as a description of the moral and eternal sovereignty of Christ (Heb 1:8-9). If the king was typical of Christ, the marriage of the king might symbolise the bridal of Christ and the Church; and this interpretation was facilitated by the common use of the figure of marriage in the O.T. to describe the relation of Jehovah to His people. The natural relationship is consecrated as the sacrament of the mystical relationship; and the mystical relationship is rendered more comprehensible to the human mind by the sanction of the analogy. Comp. Eph 5:23 ff.; Rev 19:7 ff; Rev 21:2; Rev 22:17.
It may seem strange that an ode thus secular in its origin should find a place in the Canon. But the inclusion of such poems as this and the Song of Songs, with which this Psalm has much in common, helps to place the ordinary relations of human life in a truer light as part of the divine order of the world. And further they are ennobled and consecrated by being thus made the vehicle for lofty thoughts and the type of spiritual mysteries (Eph 5:23 ff.).
The Psalm is a Proper Psalm for Christmas Day.
The title may be rendered as in R.V., For the chief Musician; set to Shoshannim; (a Psalm) of the sons of Korah. Maschil, a Song of loves. Shoshannim, that is, lilies, denotes not the theme of the Ps., in reference to the beauty and purity of the bride, nor a lily-shaped instrument by which it was to be accompanied, but the melody to which it was to be sung some well-known song beginning with the word Shoshannim. See Introd. p. xxvi. f., and cp. the titles of 69, 60, 80. The word for loves, or love, is from the same root as that which forms part of Solomon’s original name Jedidiah = Beloved of Jah (2Sa 12:25). It is always used of high and noble affection, especially of Jehovah’s love for His people (Psa 60:5; Deu 33:12; Isa 5:1).
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The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges is a biblical commentary set published in parts by Cambridge University Press from 1882 onwards. Anglican bishop John Perowne was the general editor. The first section published was written by theologian Thomas Kelly Cheyne and covered the Book of Micah.
Perowne exercised limited editorial control over the writers of individual commentaries: his aim was "to leave each contributor to the unfettered exercise of his own judgment".