Psalm 45 is an epithalamium, a wedding song.
Long before scholars began classifying the Psalms according to form, scholars had already concluded that Psalm 45 was a wedding song composed to celebrate a royal wedding. Psalm 45 is a love song (v. 1) composed for a special event, which, according to the text, was an event that occurred in the days of the writer. This love song was probably sung during the marriage ceremony of one of the kings of Judah or Israel.
Psalm 45 is divided into four sections:
a. The introduction: In the introduction, the poet describes the purpose of his song (v. 1).
b. An address to the groom: This section praises the king and describes the noble character of the king as a ruler whose kingship has been approved by God (vv. 2-9).
c. An address to the bride: This section exhorts the bride to accept the king, describes her wardrobe, the wedding procession, and introduces the queen’s companions (vv. 10-15).
d. An address to the groom: This section speaks of the king’s heirs and their glorious future (vv. 16-17).
The purpose of this study is to identify the groom and the bride and apply the words of the Psalm to the wedding ceremony. The study begins with an identification of the main characters mentioned in the Psalm.
The composer of this psalm describes himself as a sopher mahir, a skilled scribe. In antiquity, kings employed scribes because of their ability to write. Scribes were employed to prepare legal documents and keep records of business transactions. In Israel, kings also had scribes at their service (2 Samuel 8:17). However, since the writer says that his tongue is like the pen of a scribe, it is possible that the writer is a poet who presented his composition orally.
The author of Psalm 45 was employed to compose a song to celebrate the wedding of the king and his bride. The poet used exalted language to describe the king: “My heart is moved by a noble theme as I compose my song for the king.” The singer addresses the king as God (v. 6), as one who possesses all the qualities of the ideal king, as a conqueror who sits on a throne of righteousness, and a groom dressed in splendor.
The identity of the king is not revealed in the text. Several kings of Judah and Israel have been identified as the king to whom this wedding song was dedicated.
1. Some commentators identified the king with the Messiah. Those who advocate the Messianic interpretation of Psalm 45 apply the language of the Psalm to describe Christ’s relationship with his church. The quotation of Psalm 45:6-7 by the writer of the book of Hebrews (Hebrews 1:8-9) reinforces the Messianic interpretation of the text. The Messianic interpretation is weakened by the fact that the language of the Psalm does not describe the future glory of the Messiah.
2. Some commentators believe that the groom was Solomon. If the king was Solomon, then the bride was either Pharaoh’s daughter (1 Kings 11:1), the daughter of Hiram, king of Tyre (1 Kings 5:1), or the Sidonian woman mentioned in 1 Kings 11:1. However, the description of the king as a warrior does not fit Solomon, who was known as a man of peace.
3. Franz Delitzsch believed that the king was Joram, the son of Jehoshaphat, and the bride was Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and granddaughter of Omri. The reason for this identification is because Delitzsch believed that the exalted language used to describe the king could only refer to a descendant of David and be related to God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7. The problem with Delitzsch’s interpretation is the fact that Athaliah was born in Israel and not in Tyre, although the mention of Tyre could be a reference to the Tyrian origin of Jezebel, Athaliah’s mother.
4. H. Ewald believed the king mentioned in the Psalm was Jeroboam II because the language of the Psalm refers to a king of the Northern Kingdom, since the Northern Kingdom had a closer relationship with Tyre. The queen was not Jezebel because homage to the queen is to come to her from Tyre.
3. A few commentators believe that the king mentioned in the Psalm was David. However, this interpretation has little merit because of the many wives of David mentioned in 2 Samuel 3:2-5 and 5:13, none of them was from Tyre.
4. H. Schmidt, believed that the mention of the “people of Tyre” in verse 13 points to Jezebel, Ahab’s wife. In addition, the mention of ivory palaces and stringed instruments in verse 8 points to Ahab and not Solomon (see 1 Kings 22:39; Amos 3:15).
Most commentators reject the view that the king mentioned in Psalm 45 was Ahab, the son of Omri, king of Israel. The reason for this rejection is based primarily on the use of the exalted language used to describe the king. Since the king is addressed as God in v. 6 and since the language of the psalm is assumed to be Messianic, commentators say that only a descendant of David could fit the language used by the scribe to describe the king. Thus, scholars lean toward the Messiah (Christ), David, Solomon, and even Joram.
Ahab fits the description of the king mentioned in the Psalm. There are at least three reasons to believe that Ahab was the king whose wedding is being celebrated in Psalm 45:
a. Ahab married Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal , king of the Sidonians (1 Kings 16:31).
b. Ahab built an ivory palace (or a place inlaid with ivory, cf. 1 Kings 22:39; Amos 3:15), while Solomon only had a throne of ivory (1 Kings 10:18).
c. Ahab was a warrior whose soldiers and chariots confronted Shalmaneser III and the Assyrian army in the battle of Qarqar on the Orontes.
Next: My next post will present the splendor of the king and queen and will relate the words of Psalm 45 to the king and his bride. Read Part 2 by clicking here.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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Delitzsch, Franz. Biblical Commentary on the Psalms. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1871.
Ewald, H. Commentary on the Psalms. Edinburgh: Williams and Norgate, 1880.
Schmidt, H. Die Psalmen. Tubingen: Mohr, 1934.