Theme: The Ideal King and Bridegroom
In these lessons we have a description of a royal wedding, but which goes beyond that to point to the Lord Jesus Christ as our Messiah and Bridegroom.
Scripture: Psalm 45:1-17
Psalm 45 is different from any psalm we have studied thus far. In fact, it is unique. There are no other psalms like it. It is a beautiful poem prepared on the occasion of a royal wedding, evoking all the sights, sounds, movement, splendor and emotion of such an important occasion. It is at the same time a messianic psalm, as the words “O God” in verse 6 and the use of verses 6 and 7 in the first chapter of Hebrews in reference to Jesus Christ, clearly show.
Of what earthly king and bride was it originally composed? We do not know the answer to that question, though it might fit the marriage of Solomon to the princess of Egypt, as many of the older commentators supposed. Other guesses have been Solomon and a princess of Tyre, Joram and Athaliah, a Persian king and his bride, or even Ahab and Jezebel.1 Yet, even as a hymn depicting the wedding glories of Solomon (the most likely choice), the psalm still seems to require much more for its interpretation, because the language is so exalted. As Alexander Maclaren wisely wrote, “Either we have here a piece of poetical exaggeration far beyond the limits of poetic license, or ‘a greater than Solomon is here.’”2 We are to assume, then, that the poet is writing of a specific Jewish king, whose identity is unknown, but that he is also looking ahead and upward to that ideal promised King whose perfect and eternal reign was foreshadowed by the Jewish monarchy.
Walter J. Chantry, author and pastor of Grace Baptist Church, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, has an excellent new study of three messianic psalms in which he argues that in order to understand Psalm 45 we need to know something about ancient betrothal and wedding customs.3 He rightly uses this background to trace the psalm’s description of a procession from the home of the husband to the home of the bride and back again, along the lines of traditional wedding day processions.
In ancient times the first step leading to a wedding was the betrothal. This was a very formal act, usually arranged by the parents of the future bride and groom, though quite often taking the wishes of their children into account. Betrothal meant more than engagement does to us. It was a legal procedure enacted before witnesses and confirmed by oaths taken by the couple. It was so weighty a matter that the couple could be called husband and wife, even though there had been no physical union. That was the case with Joseph and Mary at the time Jesus was conceived. It required something like a divorce to break this covenanted union.
One normal feature of the betrothal was a commitment on the part of the husband’s family to provide a dowry. This feature, as well as propriety and the possibly young age of the couple, meant that there was often a long delay between the betrothal and the time of the wedding itself.
When the day of the wedding finally came, the friends and attendants of the bride gathered at the bride’s home, where she prepared herself in her finest clothing and jewelry. At the same time, the attendants of the groom would gather at his house. Then there would be a grand procession through the streets of the city as the groom and his attendants went to fetch the bride, followed by a second procession of the entire party, both the bride and the groom’s entourage, from the bride’s home back to the groom’s. At the groom’s home there would be a joyful wedding feast which could last as long as one or two weeks, depending on the status and wealth of the groom’s family. Jesus’ parable about the five wise and the five foolish virgins has as its setting such a returning procession and feast.
We have to keep these movements in mind as we study Psalm 45. In verses 2-9 we see the king coming for his bride. In verse 10-12 we find advice being given to the bride as she waits anxiously for her bridegroom. In verses 13-15 the bride is led out to the king, the procession makes its way to his home, and the wedding party enters the palace. The final verses are the poet’s personal blessing upon the marriage and its union.
Why is this psalm different from the others we have studied thus far? What is it about?
How do we know it is a messianic psalm?
Explain how the movement of this psalm fits with what we know about ancient wedding customs.
1For a discussion of these suggestions and their proponents see J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 366, 367. Original edition 1878-1879.2Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), p. 307.3Walter J. Chantry, Praises for the King of Kings (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1991).