Psalm 45, standing on its own, poses a unique problem for the reader of the Psalms. Namely, why is this wedding song stuck in the middle of the book? Psalm 45 describes a powerful and majestic groom, a king as it turns out, his righteousness, the longevity of his throne, and his love for his people and the woman who is to be his bride. The psalm also tells the bride to prepare herself for the groom’s coming and anticipate the happiness of the wedding’s eventual consummation and her future children. As such, Psalm 45 stands in stark contrast to the preceding psalms of pain and woe as a picture of joy and love, begging the question as to why it is placed here.
If we broaden our view a little, we will see Psalms 42-49, the first psalms in Book II of the Psalms, are written by the Sons of Korah, the same authors who wrote four of the final psalms of Book III (84, 85, 87, 88). The location and placement of these psalms indicate a deliberate choice laden with meaning, which given the present time and space, I am not able to fully develop. However, if we narrow our focus to these first four psalms we may be able to understand them better, thus gaining insight for a later encounter with the remaining Korahite psalms.
Recall, if you will, the unsatisfied longing for the presence of God found Psalm 42 and 43, (most likely two parts of the same song). In the psalmist’s despair and emptiness he asks a key question “When can I go and meet with God?” (42:2) This cry of separation, continuing in Psalm 44, is contrasted against the recollection of past times when God’s presence was fully realized. In those time he helped in battle and brought victories to his people and justice to his land. But now his people are left to their own strength and have suffered defeat, shame, and disgrace. It is with the echo of psalmist’s appeal to the Lord’s unfailing love and his request that God wakes up and returns to them still ringing in our ears that we read the wedding song between a king and his chosen maiden in Psalm 45.
At first, Psalm 45 might, as I’ve said before, seem out of place, but when I am reminded of the manner of Jewish marriages in biblical times, I think it’s placement makes perfect sense. The groom, after choosing a bride, returned to his father’s house to prepare a room for him and his future bride. During this time of preparation, which could last up to, and in some instances longer than a year, the bride and groom would rarely, if ever, see each other. As you can imagine, this could cause the bride and her family to wonder if and when the groom might return. But of course, the groom always returned and there would be a great wedding, a feast, and many days of celebration as the groom finally took his bride home.
It is this wedding practice to which Jesus’ refers when he said, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” (John 14:1-3) This image of Jesus as the groom and his followers as the bride pervades the entire New Testament. Jesus came to earth, chose his disciples, and commissioned them to go throughout the world making more disciples. As he was leaving, Jesus told his disciple he would someday return to take his followers with him so they could all be together with his father.
While this wedding motif may not be the complete interpretive framework for the entire book of Psalms, most of the psalms preceding Psalm 45 have come from a people longing for God’s presence. They remember his past presence, but now, dejected, empty, and alone, they wait for a reunion: God has been absent for far too long. It is in the vacuum of God’s absence that the Sons of Korah pen a song about the coming of a great king who will arrive with power, majesty, and righteousness to wed his bride. They tell the expectant bride of great joy and a lasting heritage awaiting her at the end of her long years of anxiety and separation, beckoning her to remain pure for the coming groom
The wedding song of Psalm 45 is not a misplaced song in the midst of laments, rather it offers the hope of future joy to a waiting nation in the midst of their felt separation from God. But it is not a song only for the Old Testament Israelites, it also foreshadows Jesus’s promises to his followers in the New Testament, and hints of God’s future glory as we, his followers, presently sit in this life bearing the weight of light and momentary afflictions.