This is clearly a messianic psalm in the sense that it points clearly to Christ. In a sense, they all do, but some are definitely more obviously messianic than others. This psalm points to Christ and His bride, the church.
But this poetry would have been understandable to its contemporary audience. The psalm was originally written in the context of a royal wedding. A king was marrying a princess, and this psalm was written to celebrate that. Various kings have been suggested as the subject of the psalm—some more plausible than others. Perhaps the least plausible suggestion is the marriage of Ahab to Jezebel. Others are more plausible: Jehoram, Jehoshaphat, Jehoiachin, Jehu, Solomon, etc. Ultimately, we simply don’t know who the king and his bride were, and it is futile to speculate.
Importantly, this was a Jewish royal wedding. A Jewish wedding began with the betrothal, which was somewhat like our modern idea of engagements, though more serious. Betrothal was legally binding, and to break it off required a legal divorce.
The groom and his attendants would spend time at his own home, and when the time came, they would go to the bride’s home to fetch her and bring her back to his home. The wedding ceremony would take place, followed by a feast lasting 1–2 weeks! Only after this was the marriage consummated.
Ultimately, the psalm is about the marriage of David’s greater Son (2 Samuel 7:8–17). As we study this psalm, therefore, we will see the glories of Christ in relation to His grace towards His bride.
A Good Word
The psalm opens with a good word: “My heart is overflowing with a good theme; I recite my composition concerning the King; my tongue is the pen of a ready writer” (v. 1). And it is a good word about a glorious wedding.
The psalm is titled in the NKJV as “a Song of Love.” We might translate this as “a song concerning the lovely,” or even, “It is something lovely.”
The writer begins, “My heart is overflowing with a good theme.” Gunkel translates this, “My heart overflows with inspired words.”1 The writer’s heart bubbled over as he thought about the theme of his psalm. “The nobility of his subject inspires him with an impulse which will not be restrained.”2
The thought of Christ, the thought of His glory and grace, should stir us to speak. This is a goal of a daily “quiet time”—Him! As you read Scripture and pray, consider his royalty and relationship with us. This puts life into proper perspective.
As the author thought about the glory of the groom, he recited what he saw to the wedding party. The glory of Christ ought to drive us to recite what we see of Him to others.
The Glorious Groom
In vv. 2–9, the author highlights the glory of the groom. These verses are a description of his character, which is the reason for his dignity. His dignity did not arise merely by virtue of his position, but also by virtue of his disposition.
This is what brides (our daughters) should desire in a husband. Teach them to look for such a man. And teach your sons to be this type of men. And, men, be such men yourselves.
The poet focuses, in the first place, on the writer’s speech: “You are fairer than the sons of men; grace is poured upon Your lips; therefore God has blessed You forever” (v. 2).
Whoever this king was, he was a man of gracious speech. But clearly this points ultimately to Christ. Time and again you find testimony to the power of Christ’s speech in the Gospel accounts. For example, some of the temple officers in John 7:46 declared, “No man ever spoke like this Man!” According to Matthew 7:28–29, “the people were astonished at His teaching, for He taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.” Because of the authoritative beauty of His speech, “the common people heard Him gladly” (Mark 12:37). John declared that Jesus was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). God Himself instructed people to pay attention to Jesus’ words when, on the Mount of Transfiguration, He declared, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” (Matthew 17:5).
May our “speech always be with grace” (Colossians 4:6).
Second, the psalmist focuses on the king’s sword:
Gird Your sword upon Your thigh, O Mighty One, with Your glory and Your majesty. And in Your majesty ride prosperously because of truth, humility, and righteousness; and Your right hand shall teach You awesome things. Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the King’s enemies; the peoples fall under You.
The idea of a warrior may seem out of place to the modern western mind when speaking of a wedding, but the fact is that grooms at royal weddings are often seen carrying swords. Various explanations are offered for this tradition, but the image is that the king or prince is a warrior, one who is willing to bear the sword of authority and fight for what is right.
A woman is blessed to marry a warrior; to marry one willing to fight for truth, righteousness—to fight for her, as a knight would for a princess. Fathers, raise your sons to be warriors; to fight, but for the right things—God’s things.
Further, we would do well to note that a good earthly warrior is blessed to have a good (godly!) wife. Charles Spurgeon was married to Susannah, who though normally kept out of church through ill health, was frequently in prayer for her husband’s ministry. Martin Luther’s wife, Kathryn, was a godly woman whom God used to challenge Luther on several occasion. Once, Kathryn came into the room attired entirely in black. Luther, noticing that his wife looked dressed for a funeral, asked who died. She shocked him by stating that God had died. Angry, he rose and rebuked here, assuring her that God had not died. “Then stop acting like it!” she replied, respectfully.
I love reading biographies of great leaders, and once again it is interesting to note that some of the greatest leaders had strong wives who stood by them. Winston Churchill had his Clementine, and Ronald Raegan had his Nancy, both strong women who supported their husbands in time of turmoil.
The main point of the text is simply this: Jesus woos by His words and by His warfare. Be impressed with Jesus the Just, who will defeat all His enemies (see Hebrews 10:12–13 with 1:9). Why would you not want a relationship with Him? Why would you spurn Him for a failure? He is willing to fight for His bride and for His Father’s glory. As VanGemeren says, “He does not rest until His enemies recognize His authority.”3
Next, the writer focuses on the groom’s sceptre and seat, symbols of his royal authority: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever; a sceptre of righteousness is the sceptre of Your kingdom. You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness more than Your companions” (vv. 6–7). If there has been any doubt thus far that this psalm is messianic in nature, these verses remove all doubt, for the author of Hebrews quotes these verses in reference to Jesus Christ (Hebrews 1:9).
This king stands unique among all others and opposes all forms of wickedness. He rules righteously, and does so forever. Again, these words were originally composed with reference to an earthly king, but clearly they transcend that temporal setting.
Earthly kings need this reminder. Kings are meant to oppose wickedness and rule righteously. Perhaps if we raise our sons with this mindset, we may in the future have rulers who will rule righteously!
But even husbands who are not kings need to rule with righteousness. Happy is the home where the fear of God reigns supreme. We must raise our sons to be this type of man so that their homes will one day be like this. We must likewise raise our daughters to be attracted to this. In fact, Christian parents should never allow their daughters to marry men who are not like this, men who do not gladly bow to the one of whom this psalm ultimately speaks.
The psalmist was clearly impressed with the king—and ultimately with the King. Are you? Pray that God would fill your vision with the glory of King Jesus.
The author then focuses on the king’s status: “All Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, by which they have made You glad. Kings’ daughters are among Your honourable women; at Your right hand stands the queen in gold from Ophir” (vv. 8–9).
This king had hygienic habits and used costly perfumes. This may seem common enough in our day, but it was very rare in the days of the Old Testament. This was obviously a very wealthy and privileged king. “Myrrh” was an Arabian aromatic resin. “Aloes” were sweet-smelling wood from India. “Cassia” was a cinnamon blossom. These were all costly items, which clearly made an impression.
Further, the king was surrounded by royalty at the wedding. This was a truly royal wedding. “Kings’ daughters [were] among Your honourable women.” The “queen in gold” may be a reference to the bride, and it is significant that she was decorated with “gold from Ophir.” Gold from Ophir was very fine gold, the best available in that part of the world.
And yet notice that the scented garments, the princesses and the queen in gold are all spoken of in reference to the groom. In our day, particularly in the west, we are accustomed to focusing on the bride at weddings. The groom is almost forgotten as he stands at the front of the church hall while his bride makes her way down the aisle. But here, as was customary in ancient Jewish weddings, “everything is made to center about the bridegroom.”4
Once again, this is significant in the light of the fact that this ultimately points us to Christ. Jesus is to be treasured. He might be described in the words Solomon’s bride used of him in Song of Songs 5:10: “chief among ten thousand.” Draw nigh to Him!
If you are married to Christ, then you have all the status you could ever need! Listen to how the New Testament describes the bride of Christ:
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved.
From Christ, we can “buy … gold refined in the fire, that [we] may be rich; and white garments, that [we] may be clothed, that the shame of [our] nakedness may not be revealed” (Revelation 3:18).
As we focus on the glory of our Groom, we would do well to consider the incarnation. This king received his scented garments “out of the ivory palaces.” Henry Barraclough picked up on this phrase when he wrote “Ivory Palaces,” which describes how Jesus laid aside His splendour to come to earth as a man:
My Lord has garments so wondrous fine,
And myrrh their texture fills;
Its fragrance reached to this heart of mine
With joy my being thrills.
His life had also its sorrows sore,
For aloes had a part;
And when I think of the cross He bore,
My eyes with teardrops start.
His garments, too, were in cassia dipped,
With healing in a touch;
In paths of sin had my feet e’er slipped—
He’s saved me from its clutch.
In garments glorious He will come,
To open wide the door;
And I shall enter my heav’nly home,
To dwell forevermore.
Out of the ivory palaces,
Into a world of woe,
Only His great eternal love
Made my Saviour go.
What amazing love that Christ would take on the appearance of sinful flesh to save those whom His Father had chosen in Him. Paul describes it this way:
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.
And because He humbled Himself in this way, He received glory untold (vv. 9–11).
As believers, we are called to live with the scent of our King. Husbands, is this your aroma? Does your wife detect the glorious scent of Christ in your life as you lead her?
Fathers, what of the man that your daughter will one day marry? Will her husband properly attire her? Are you praying, even while they are young, that God will provide the right man for her?
A Graced Bride
In vv. 10–15 the poet now turns his attention to the bride, and counsels her as she awaits the wedding day. What he says to her, he says under inspiration to Christ’s bride, the church, today.
Leave All for Him
First, he admonishes the bride to leave all for her groom:
Listen, O daughter, consider and incline your ear; forget your own people also, and your father’s house; so the King will greatly desire your beauty; because He is your Lord, worship Him. And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; the rich among the people will seek your favour.
There appears to be an element of hesitancy here, as if the bride had wedding jitters. Some suggest that she was a foreign bride, which may be the case. Regardless, she appears to be hesitant to start this new life. But the psalmist counsels her to leave and cleave.
In vv. 10–11a, he basically urges her, “Leave all for him and his love will more than suffice.” It is “an exhortation to definitely break with her inferior past.”5 Life with her groom will be infinitely better than what she knew in the past, and any hesitation must give way to faith-filled embracing of the marriage.
“If we would be Christ’s bride, we must leave all other loyalties behind.”6 I recently read an article on CNN describing how many Christians have fled Iraq in the face of the ISIS threat. A group of about a hundred Iraqi Christians have found refuge in a Jordanian church. The article quotes Amar Zaki, who, cradling his nine-month-old daughter, movingly told the reporters, “Jesus Christ told people, ‘leave everything and follow me.’ So we did.” That is faith! That is evidence of a Christian who understands that having Christ is far greater than anything in this life. And such faith looks beautiful in every sense of the word.
The more committed we are to leave, the more beautiful we will be. Are you committed to following Christ, even if it means leaving behind all that you find comfortable?
In vv. 11b–17, the psalmist urges the bride to, leaving all, be devoted to her groom. He urges devoted submission. We should not necessarily be put off of the historical context because of the poet’s admonition for the bride to “worship” the groom. In old Anglican wedding ceremonies, the bride would say as part of her vows, “I do hereby worship you.” She was not pledging to worship her husband as a god. The word “worship” means “to bow,” and indicates submission. The call here is for the bride to reverently submit to her groom, though clearly in the case of Christ and His church, worship is quite appropriate.
Leupold notes, “Such devotion and submission have their rich rewards.” The rewards in this instance are seen in v. 12: “And the daughter of Tyre will come with a gift; the rich among the people will seek your favour.”
Let’s note a few points of application at this point. First, husbands ought to love their wives in such a way that they will be worthy of such respectful submission. The Bible clearly commands wives to submit to their husbands, but Christian husbands ought to be those to whom it is easy to submit. Christ certainly is, and we are to emulate Christ in our marriages.
Second, as parents, let us teach our children both sides of this. Teach your sons to be men worthy of respect. Teach your daughters to be attracted to men worthy of respect, and teach them their responsibility to respect the man that they will one day marry.
Third, as this bride was urged to follow her groom with full abandon, so let us follow Christ with full abandon. Peter once asked Jesus, “See, we have left all and followed You. Therefore what shall we have?” Far from being angry and rebuking Peter for selfish motives, Jesus replied,
Assuredly I say to you, that in the regeneration, when the Son of Man sits on the throne of His glory, you who have followed Me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or lands, for My name’s sake, shall receive a hundredfold, and inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.
Worshipful submission will be rewarded. Significantly, according to v. 12, the bride’s reward came not only from her husband, but also from “the daughter of Tyre” and from “the rich among the people.” Onlookers were sufficiently impressed with the marriage that they rewarded the happy couple. The principle for us is simply this: The obedient church is the truly relevant church. They may hate Christ, but the world respects and takes seriously a church that displays obedience to Christ.
Cleave With Your All to Him
Verses 13–15 bring us to the threshold of the bridal chamber. The marriage is about to be consummated.
The royal daughter is all glorious within the palace; her clothing is woven with gold. She shall be brought to the King in robes of many colours; the virgins, her companions who follow her, shall be brought to You. With gladness and rejoicing they shall be brought; they shall enter the King’s palace.
The idea of “virgins” as a bride’s companion is rooted in Jewish culture (cf. Matthew 25:1–13). The bride, having left all for her groom, now cleaves to him.
This is precisely the relationship we ought to have toward the Lord. As Leupold notes, “It is the most blessed thing for the church to enjoy the privilege of becoming the Lord’s own.” Acts 11:23 describes Barnabas encouraging believers in Antioch to “continue with the Lord.” The KJV translates “continue with” as “cleave unto.” Believers are those who have abandoned the things of the world to cleave to the Lord.
Is it not a marvellous thing that Jesus Christ desires this close relationship with us (see 2 Corinthians 11:1–3; Ephesians 5:25–27, 33)? Nothing compares to this relationship. I fully understand the desire of singles to be married. Marriage is a good gift from God. But to have Christ is to have all. Those who have Christ ultimately lack nothing.
There is debate over this, but it seems to me that the writer turns his attention in vv. 16–17 back to the groom. The wedding is over, but not the wonder. This relationship will be a fruitful one: “Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons, whom You shall make princes in all the earth. I will make Your name to be remembered in all generations; therefore the people shall praise You forever and ever” (Psalm 45:16–17).
Some argue that these verses support the idea that the human king in question was Solomon. “Instead of Your fathers shall be Your sons” seems to suggest that this king did not have a long ancestry of royals, but the prayer was that he would have a long progeny. Solomon, of course, was only the second king in his family, and only the third in Israel. Kirkpatrick therefore concludes that the poet is saying, “If he cannot boast of a long ancestry, may he at least be famous for a numerous and distinguished posterity.” And though Solomon, as far as we know, had only one son, the royal line of David continued for many generations.
As noted above, we cannot say for sure that this psalm was originally written with reference to Solomon, but this language clearly fits the Lord Jesus. Jesus was unique. There was no king of His sort in His line prior to Him, yet he was “the firstborn among many brethren” (Romans 8:29).
The relationship between Christ and His bride is to be a fruitful one. Jesus described this fruitfulness in a parable in John 15:
I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples.
As the Father loved Me, I also have loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full. This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you. You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you.
We need to daily leave and daily cleave if we will be perpetually fruitful.
In terms of earthly marriages, the principle here should drive us to a commitment to raising a godly seed. And we should soberly teach this duty to our children so that they too will one day raise a godly seed. A multigenerational family of faith is our goal.
Importantly, the barren can still be fruitful (see Isaiah 54:1–3). Particularly in a church setting, we have opportunity to disciple others into faithful fruitfulness. Even those who have no children can teach new converts how to biblically live like children of the King.
Finally, in v. 17, we see that the poet is determined that the glorious groom will be honoured at all times (“generations”) in all places (“people”) for all time and eternity (“forever and ever”).
Let us dwell on this lovely theme. Let us be devoted to this glorious Lord. Let us emulate Him in our marriages so that they, like the marriage we read of in this psalm, will be lovely as well.
- James Montgomery Boice, Psalms: An Expositional Commentary, 3 vols. (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1996), 2:382. ↩
- A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Psalms (Cambridge: The University Press, n.d.), 245. ↩
- Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, 5 vols. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 5:345. ↩
- H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1969), 357. ↩
- Leupold, Exposition of Psalms, 358. ↩
- Boice, Psalms, 2:385. ↩