Sunday Psalm Studies: Psalm 45 (Part 2)

Psalm 45, continued

As noted in the previous study, this Psalm is a love song (td)yd!y+ ryv!, lit. “song of loves”), identified by most commentators as an epithalamium, or wedding song—for the royal wedding between the king and his bride. The first part of the song (vv. 2-10 [1-9]) is addressed to the king, the second part (vv. 11-18 [10-17]) is addressed to the queen.

The meter in this second part tends to follow, quite consistently, a 2-beat couplet (2+2) and/or quatrain (2+2+2+2) format.

Verses 11-18 [10-17]

Verse 11 [10]

“Hear, daughter, and see,
and bend your ear,
and forget your people,
and (the) house of your father.”

This verse is best divided as 2-beat quatrain, containing a pair of 2+2 couplets, much as we find a 2-beat meter in sections of vv. 2-10 [1-9] (cf. the previous study). The “daughter”, i.e., the young bride intended for the king, is called to be obedient (“hear…bend the ear”) to the arranged marriage, willing to leave her family and relatives (“your people…house of your father”). On the traditional principle involved, cf. Gen 2:24 (cited in Mk 10:7 par, etc).

Verse 12-13a [11-12a]

“And he shall desire your beauty,
for [the king] he is your lord,
and you must bow down before him,
with a tB* of Tyre as a gift.”

The 2-beat meter requires that the first line of v. 13 [12] be recognized as part of the unit (a quatrain). Consistency would also require that the word in square brackets (“the king”, El#M#h^) be omitted as a secondary addition (cf. Kraus, p. 452); it may have been added to make clear who “he” (aWh) is.

Dahood (p. 274f) points to 2 Kings 23:7 and Isa 3:20 and would read tb as a noun meaning something like “robe” (i.e., a luxurious woven garment). Tyrian garments had a well-established reputation as luxury items, and would have been appropriate as a wedding gift. The bride is apparently presenting this garment as a gift for the king. The standard translation of rx tb is “daughter of Tyre” (rx)-tB^), in which case the bride would presumably be identified as a Tyrian princess; however, I tentatively follow Dahood’s line of interpretation above.

Verse 13b [12b]

“They shall entreat your face,
the rich ones of the people(s)”

This couplet marks a minor transition in the section. Even as the bride must make homage before the king, so also the nobles and distinguished guests will pay homage to her. The verb hl*j* (II) means something like “seek favor (from), appeal to”. It would seem that gifts are also involved in this process.

Verse 14-15a [13-14a]

“All her splendid (raimant is), inside,
(made with) settings of gold;
(in) her clothing, brightly embroidered,
she is brought along to the king.”

These lines are difficult, and may well be corrupt (cf. Kraus, p. 452, and Dahood, p. 275, for different ways of explaining them). I have chosen to keep to the Masoretic text, with the only emendation being the elimination of “daughter of the king” (ilm-tb), in the first line, as a secondary (explanatory) addition, similar to “the king” in the second line of v. 12 [11] (cf. above). The removal of it yields a consistent 2-beat quatrain.

Even if it is not possible to explain these lines in precise detail, the overriding idea seems clear enough. The bride is honored with gifts of rich and luxurious clothing, which she herself wears as she approaches the king during the wedding ceremony. Her clothing is brocaded with gold on the inside (hm*yn]P=) and with richly colored embroidery on the outside.

Verse 15b-16 [14b-15]

“(The) virgins (following) behind her,
her companions coming before her,
they shall be brought with gladness and joy,
they shall come in(to the) palace of (the) king.”

There would seem to be rhythmic shift in these lines, with a 2-beat couplet (v. 15b) followed by a 3-beat (3+3) colon (v. 16). The bride is surrounded by young maidens in the wedding train. It is not necessary to require that two separate groups (“virgins behind her…companions before her”) are involved; the parallelism in the lines is such that it may represent two ways of referring to the same thing.

In any case, the entire procession is brought along (vb lb^y` in the causative stem, as also in v. 15a) into the royal palace-room where the main wedding ceremony will take place. It is a time of great happiness and joy (lyg], literally denoting a twirling or spinning [with joy]).

Verse 17 [16]

“Under your fathers
shall be your sons,
you shall set them to (be) princes
o(ver) all the earth.”

This verse could be read as a 4-beat (4+4) couplet, though it seems better to keep to the 2-beat format that has dominated this part of the Psalm (cf. above). The lines would seem to express a wish for children to be born to the royal couple—sons to continue the dynasty and to serve as princes (<yr!c*) throughout the kingdom.

The preposition tj^T^ literally means “under”, but often denotes “in place of”, which is certainly the sense here. The royal offspring will take the place of their fathers before them, as kings and princes in the dynasty.

Verse 18 [17]

“I will cause your name to be remembered
in every circle and circle (to come);
upon this (the) peoples will throw you (praise)
into (the) distant (future) and until (the end)!”

These closing lines echo the opening lines in v. 2 [1] (on which, cf. the previous study). The poet returns to declare how his art will serve to praise and honor the king on this occasion of the royal wedding. The song that he composes will (a) cause the king’s name to be remembered by future generations (rd)w+ rD), “circle and circle”, from one cycle to the next, i.e. generation to generation, age to age), and (b) cause those future generations to praise him.

Indeed, although we do not know the name of the king for whom the song was composed (assuming it was written for a specific king), the preservation of the Psalm within the Old Testament Scriptures has given the song an enduring legacy. It has continued to be sung or recited (as well as being read) by generations of Israelites, Jews and Christians, for more than 2500 years. And, even though we may no longer have the same appreciation for royalty and kingship today, the symbolism, as it is expressed in the inspired poetry of the Psalms, remains vital for us. This is so, if for no other reason than that the ancient royal imagery (and theology) in the Old Testament exerted a tremendous influence on Messianic thought. This Messianic tradition, in turn, was applied to the person of Jesus, giving us (as believers) a rich trove of images and motifs with which we, like the Psalmist, may give praise and honor to the King.

References marked “Dahood” above are to Mitchell Dahood, S.J., Psalms I: 1-50, Anchor Bible [AB] vol 16 (1965).
References marked “Kraus” are to Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalmen, 1. Teilband, Psalmen 1-59, 5th ed., Biblischer Kommentar series (Neukirchener Verlag: 1978); English translation in Psalms 1-59, A Continental Commentary (Fortress Press: 1993).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *