Psalm 45, as noted in the heading, is a love song. However, it is not just any love song. It is a love song composed for the King of Israel, perhaps even Solomon.
This psalm was written by one of the Korahites, presumably a man. Therefore, I find verse two rather startling: “You are the most handsome of men.” However, what is going on here is probably similar to what went on with the original productions of Shakespeare’s plays where men had to play all the parts, including female ones. Here the psalmist has to imagine how a woman would view Solomon. Scripture remarks on David being handsome so it should come as no surprise that his son was handsome too.
Verse four has a funny story to go along with it. My mother told me this one when I was young. There was once an African American preacher who led a rather poor congregation in one of the inner cities of the United States many years ago. He was generally beloved by his congregation, but they did find fault with him for driving a very fine Cadillac. Finally, this preacher was fed up with all of the complaints, and so one Sunday morning he quoted Scripture in support of his right to drive a Cadillac. The Scripture quoted was Psalm 45:4 in the King James Version: “And in thy majesty ride prosperously…” I guess that goes to show that one can quote Scripture in support of just about anything, whether rightly or wrongly.
In verse, six the king is referred to as God. However, this is not all that unusual in Scripture since angels are referred to as gods or sons of god. The key thing to see here is that the king is God’s anointed, the Messiah. Thus, if this is a messianic psalm in some sense, we see its true fulfillment in Jesus who was fully God and fully human, the Messiah par excellence.
As I have already indicated, this may be a wedding psalm for King Solomon. In particular, in may be the wedding psalm composed for his marriage to the princess from Egypt. However, it seems to me like the queen mentioned in verse nine may be different from the princess mentioned a couple of verses later. Therefore, this psalm may be composed for any one of Solomon’s many marriages. The princess in question is not becoming Solomon’s only wife, but she is simply being added to his harem.
Psalm 46 may have been composed shortly after Jerusalem was threatened by foreign invaders, such as the time when Sennacherib threatened King Hezekiah of Judah. However, if the city of God referred to here is the old Jerusalem, she hardly had a river to speak of. All Jerusalem had were the Gihon springs. Hezekiah built an tunnel to bring these waters directly into the city. As a Christian, I see a picture here of the future city of God, the new Jerusalem. Thus, I have often used Psalm 46 as a funeral text.
Of course, the most memorable verse in this psalm is verse 10: “Be still, and know that I am God!” I think this is one of the hardest things for us to do, to simply be still. Buddhism often seems to know much more of stillness than Christianity, and among Christians, certain Protestants seem to be the worst at being still. I remember when I attended a memorial service once for a man who had converted from Protestantism to Catholicism. Thus, he had both Catholic and Protestant friends in attendance at his memorial service. The Catholics, upon entering the church, immediately went to their chosen pews, knelt and prayed in silence. The Protestants, upon entering the church, engaged in endless chitchat. Of course, there are some Protestants, like the Quakers, who have focused upon the pursuit of silence in their worship services.
Though Buddhists are especially good, I think, at being still, there is one way in which Buddhist meditation differs from Jewish and Christian meditation. Buddhist meditation focuses on emptying the mind in stillness. Jewish and Christian meditation focus on emptying the mind that it might be filled with God. “Be still and know that I am God.”
However, there is a time and place for everything, and I do not believe that God wants us to be permanently still in our worship of him. Psalm 47:1 provides the appropriate contrast and balance to Psalm 46:10. “Clap your hands, all you people; shout to God with loud songs of joy.” It is a shame that we do not often see both of these modes of worship in the same congregation. Certain Christian denominations, as I have already indicated, are good at silence, while others, like the Pentecostals, are good at clapping their hands and shouting to God with loud songs of joy. We need both silence and shouting, clapping and quiet in worship. Therefore, I think it is good for those who are accustomed to quiet to be stretched in their worship practices, and seek out opportunities to clap and shout. At the same time, it is important for those used to clapping and shouting to seek out opportunities for silence in worship of our holy and triune God.
It is good for us, as Christians, to consider the original setting and audience for each of the Psalms. Psalms 46-48 probably all were composed shortly after the time Jerusalem was threatened by Sennacherib. However, the walls of Jerusalem are still standing, so this psalm was obviously composed before Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians. At the time Psalm 48 was composed, the Jews could still walk around the walls of the city and consider how God had been faithful in defending and preserving his people.
As Christians, we can look back to many times and places and see how God has been faithful in defending and preserving his church. However, we should not become smug and complacent. Just as there came a time when Jerusalem was destroyed, so there may come a time when the church, at least as we know it now, may have her walls knocked down. We need, as a Church, to be ever vigilant in our pursuit of God, and also in our pursuit of building up the Church through appropriate evangelism, if we want to see the Church continue into the next generation.