King and Queen in Psalm 45

King and Queen in Psalm 45 March 28, 2016

Psalm 45 begins as a song of praise by a court poet for a victorious king. Halfway through it turns into an epithalamion. As a complete poem, it a rollicking ol’ romance.

After the opening promise to compose a “made-thing” (Heb., ma’asah) for the king, the poet celebrates the king’s victory. He rides out with sword and bow, fighting for truth, justice, and, rather surprisingly, “meekness” (the Heb. word is connected to words for “poverty” and “affliction” – it appears that the king fights to do justice to those who are beaten down). His success is evident throughout – as he rides victoriously, doing Yahweh-like fearsome things, trampling down enemies beneath him (vv. 3-5). And it is evident in the sequel, when we see the king sitting not on a steed but on his throne, at rest, a scepter replacing the sword that had been in his hand. Anointed, perfumed, enthroned, he enjoys the victory songs of his court musicians (vv. 6-8).

The masculine opening abruptly shifts femininely. Or, perhaps not abrupt: The king’s battle and victory and enthronement are preparatory for his wedding day, as Yahweh’s victory over Egypt and His enthronement on Sinai formed the prelude to His covenant-making with Israel. The songs of victory modulate into songs of a wedding feast, and we see the “queen in gold from Ophir” standing at the king’s right hand (v. 9).

From there, the structure is chiastic:

A. Hear, daughter: Forget your father’s house, v. 10

B. The king desires your beauty, v. 11

C. Gift from the daughter of Tyre, v. 12

D. The king’s daughter is glorious, clothed in gold, v. 13

C’. Her attendants follow her, v. 14

B’. Enter the king’s palace, v 15

A’. Sons instead of fathers; memory to all generations, vv. 16-17

There is much worthy of notice here, but I confine myself to one: The A and A’ are linked by their references to the bride’s father, and by the contrast of “forget” and “remember.” Her movement from her father’s house to the king’s palace is temporal as well as a spatial movement. She is told not to look behind, but to look ahead; her reward is not in her father’s house but in the sons who will be princes. To leave and to cleave is to break with the past and to lean toward the future.

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