Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
From Calvin downwards this psalm has been recognised as an ode celebrating the nuptials of some king. Indeed, the retention, as part of its title, of “song of loves,” when the poem was incorporated into the Temple hymn-book, seems to show that this secular character was admitted even then. There is just enough of historical allusion in the psalm to invite conjecture as to the monarch who is its theme, and too little to permit of his identification. (See Notes to Psalm 45:8-9; Psalm 45:12.) But, as in the case of the longer and more pronounced epithalamium, the Song of Solomon, religious scruples soon rejected this secular interpretation, and sought by allegorical and mystical explanations to bring the poem more within the circle of recognised sacred literature. With the glowing prophetic visions of a conquering Messiah floating before the imagination, it was most natural for the Jews to give the psalm a distinctive Messianic character. Equally natural was it for Christians to adopt the psalm as allegorical of the marriage of the Church with the Divine Head—a mode of interpretation which, once started, found in every turn and expression of the psalm some fruitful type or symbol. The rhythm is flowing and varied.
Title.—Upon Shoshannim, i.e., upon lilies. The same inscription occurs again in Psalms 69 and in an altered form in Psalms 60, 80, where see Notes. The most probable explanation makes it refer to the tune to which the hymn was to be sung. (Comp. the title of Psalms 22 &c) As to the actual flower intended by shoshannim, see Note, Song of Solomon 2:1. The expression, a song of loves, means either a love song (so Aquila), or a song of the beloved. Symm., LXX., and Vulg., for the beloved, or a song of charms, i.e., a pleasant song. The first is more in keeping with the evident origin and intention of the poem. (See besides titles Psalms 4, 42, 32)
To the chief Musician upon Shoshannim, for the sons of Korah, Maschil, A Song of loves. My heart is inditing a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made touching the king: my tongue is the pen of a ready writer.(1) Inditing.—A most unhappy rendering of a word, which, though only used here, must, from the meaning of its derivative (a “pot,” or “cauldron”), have something to do with a liquid, and means either to “boil over” or to “bubble up.” The LXX. and Vulg. have apparently thought of the bursting out of a fountain: eructavit. Symmachus has, “been set in motion.” The “spring,” or “fountain,” is a common emblem of inspired fancy:—
“Ancient founts of inspiration well through all my fancy yet.”
TENNYSON: Locksley Hall.
A good matter.—That is, a theme worthy a poet’s song. Luther: “A fine song.”
I speak of the things which I have made touching the king.—This rendering follows the LXX., Vulg., and most of the older translations. Perhaps, however, we are to understand Aquila and Symmachus as rendering “my poems;” and undoubtedly the true rendering is, I am speaking: my poem is of a king (not the king, as in Authorised Version).
My tongue . . .—So lofty a theme, so august a subject, inspires him with thoughts that flow freely. The ready or expeditious scribe (LXX. and Vulg., “A scribe writing quickly”) was, as we learn from Ezra 7:6, a recognised form of praise for a distinguished member of that body, one of whose functions was to make copies of the Law.
Thou art fairer than the children of men: grace is poured into thy lips: therefore God hath blessed thee for ever.(2) Thou art fairer.—Better, Fair art thou; aye, fairer than, &c. We may thus reproduce the Hebrew expression, which, however, grammatically explained, must convey this emphasis. The old versions render: “Thou art fair with beauty;” or, “Thou hast been made beautiful with beauty.”
Grace is poured into thy lips.—Better, A flowing grace is on thy lips, which may refer either to the beauty of the mouth, or to the charm of its speech. Cicero, himself the grandest example of his own expression, says of another that “Persuasion had her seat upon his lips;” while Christian commentators have all naturally thought of Him at whose “words of grace” all men wondered.
Therefore.—This word is apparently out of place. But there is nothing harsh in rendering: Therefore, we say, God hath blessed thee for ever. And we are struck by the emphasis of its occurrence in Psalm 45:7; Psalm 45:17, as well as here. Ewald seems to be right in printing the clause so begun as a kind of refrain. The poet enumerates in detail the beauties of the monarch and his bride, and is interrupted by the acclaim of his hearers, who cannot withhold their approving voices.
Gird thy sword upon thy thigh, O most mighty, with thy glory and thy majesty.(3) Gird thy sword . . . O most mighty.—Or, perhaps, Gird on thy sword in hero guise; or, Gird on thy hero’s sword. The object of the poet’s praise is as heroic in war as he is beautiful in person.
With thy glory and thy majesty.—This adverbial use of the accusatives may be right, but it seems better to take them in apposition with sword. His weapon was the monarch’s glory and pride. Some commentators see here a reference to the custom of girding on the sword said to be still observed at the elevation to the throne of a Persian or Ottoman prince. But the next verse shows that we have rather an ideal picture of the royal bridegroom’s prowess in war.
And in thy majesty ride prosperously because of truth and meekness and righteousness; and thy right hand shall teach thee terrible things.(4) And in thy majesty.—The repetition of this word from the last verse (conjunction included) is suspicious, especially as the LXX., followed by the Vulg., render, “Direct (thine arrows or thine aim”).
Ride prosperously . . .—Literally, proceed, ride; expressing, according to a common Hebrew usage, by two verbs what we express by adverb and verb.
Because of . . .—Better, In behalf of. So LXX. and Vulg. There is a difficulty from the absence of the conjunction in the Hebrew before the last of the triad of virtues. The LXX. have it, but may have supplied it, as the Authorised Version does. Some render, “meek righteousness,” or, slightly changing the pointing, “the afflicted righteous.”
And thy right hand shall teach . . .—If we keep this rendering, we must picture the warrior with his right hand extended, pointing to the foe whom he is about to strike with his deadly arrows. But even this seems somewhat tame; and as the verb rendered “teach” is in 1Samuel 20:20 used for “shooting arrows,” and “arrows” are mentioned immediately in the next verse, it seems obvious to render: And thy right hand shall shoot terrors, or, terribly. (Comp. Psalm 65:5.)
Thine arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; whereby the people fall under thee.(5) Thine arrows.—Our version has transposed the clauses of this verse. The original is more vivid.
“Thine arrows are sharpened—
The people under Thee fall—
Against the heart of the king’s enemies.”
The poet actually sees the battle raging before him.
Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever: the sceptre of thy kingdom is a right sceptre.(6) Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.—This is the rendering of the LXX., Vulg., and of the versions generally. But whether they supposed the words to be addressed to the Divine Being, or that the theocratic king is thus styled, is uncertain. The Christian use of the verse as applied to the Messiah (Hebrews 1:8, Note, New Testament Commentary) does not help us to explain how the monarch, who is the poet’s theme here, could be addressed as God. The use of Elohîm in Psalm 82:6; Psalm 97:7, Exodus 22:28, hardly offers a satisfactory parallel, and even 1Samuel 28:13 (where we should render, “I saw a god, &c) hardly prepares us to find such an emphatic ascription to an earthly king, especially in an Elohistic psalm. Two alternative renderings present themselves—(1) Thy throne of God is for ever . . . i.e., thy divine throne. (Comp. Psalm 31:2, “thy refuge of strength.”) (2) Thy throne is of God for ever, which is grammatically preferable, and with which may be compared 1Chronicles 29:23, “the throne of the Lord.”
Thou lovest righteousness, and hatest wickedness: therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows.(7) The oil of gladness.—Comp. “oil of joy,” Isaiah 61:3. Here too it may be merely employed as a figure of happiness, but the bath and, no doubt, subsequent anointing, formed part of the Oriental marriage proceedings. (See Arabian Nights, passim.)
Fellows—i.e., the paranymphs, or attendants on the bridegroom.
All thy garments smell of myrrh, and aloes, and cassia, out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.(8) All thy garments smell of . . .—Or, perhaps, from the last verse (and comparing Psalm 133:2, and the customs there referred to), are anointed with. The spices mentioned may have been ingredients of the “oil of gladness.”
For myrrh see Genesis 37:25.
Aloes.—Heb. ahālôth (sometimes ahālîm), a word formed from the native name aghil (Cochin China and Siam are its homes), which also appears in eagle-wood (Aquilaria agallochum). The lign aloes of Numbers 24:6, was most probably a different tree from that whose resin forms the precious perfume here mentioned. (See Bib. Ed. i. 243.)
Cassia.—See Note Exodus 30:24.
The Oriental’s love for these mixtures of many fragrant spices has been finely caught in some modern lines.
“Heap cassia, sandal-buds, and stripes
Of labdanum, and aloe-balls,
Smeared with dull nard an Indian wipes
From out her hair, such balsam falls
From seaside mountain pedestals,
From tree-tops where tired winds are fain—
Spent with the vast and howling main—
To treasure half their island gain.”
R. BROWNING: Paracelsus.
Out of the ivory palaces, whereby they have made thee glad.—Rather, out of the ivory palaces music (literally, strings) has made thee glad.
Of the many conjectured explanations this, though somewhat grammatically doubtful, is in all other respects preferable. Indeed, it would have been strange if a nuptial ode, giving a picture of the splendour and pomp accompanying the marriage, had missed the mention of music, and at this verse we may imagine the doors of the palace thrown open for the issue of the bridal train (comp. the procession immediately after the bath in the weddings in the Arabian Nights), not only allowing the strains of music to float out, but also giving a glimpse into the interior, where, surrounded by her train of ladies, the queen-bride stands.
The word rendered “palace” (generally “temple,”) may from its derivation be only a spacious place, and so a receptacle. On the other hand, Amos 3:15 shows that ivory was frequently used as an ornament of the houses of the rich, and Ahab’s “ivory house” (1Kings 22:39) is familiar.
Kings' daughters were among thy honourable women: upon thy right hand did stand the queen in gold of Ophir.(9) Honourable women.—Literally, precious ones, i.e., possibly the favourites of the harem. See Proverbs 6:26, where this word precious is used (comp. Jeremiah 31:20), or there may be an allusion to the costliness and magnificence of the harem rather than to affection for its inmates. Perhaps both senses are combined in the word, and we may compare Shakespeare’s
“The jewels of our father, with washed eyes
Cordelia leaves you.”
Upon thy right hand.—Comp. 1Kings 2:19.
Did stand.—Better, was stationed, referring to the position assigned to the bride when the marriage procession was formed.
In gold of Ophir.—Or, possibly, as (i.e., precious as) gold of Ophir, a common use of this particle. For Ophir and its gold see 1Kings 9:28. The LXX. and Vulg. miss the proper name, and read, “clothed in golden vesture and many-coloured.”
Hearken, O daughter, and consider, and incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and thy father's house;(10) Hearken.—The address now turns to the bride.
So shall the king greatly desire thy beauty: for he is thy Lord; and worship thou him.(11) Worship thou him.—Literally, Bow down or prostrate thyself.
And the daughter of Tyre shall be there with a gift; even the rich among the people shall intreat thy favour.(12) And the daughter of Tyre—i.e., Tyre itself and the Tyrians. (See Note Psalm 9:14.) Render,
The Tyrians with a gift entreat thy favour,
The rich ones of the people.
The objection that Tyre was never subject to Israel is not conclusive, since the gifts may be complimentary presents, such as Hiram sent to Solomon, not tribute. (See next Note.)
Entreat thy favour.—Literally, stroke thy face (comp. Job 11:19, Proverbs 19:6); or since the root-idea is one of polishing or making bright, we may render “makes thy face bright or joyful,” i.e., with pleasure at the splendid gifts.
The king's daughter is all glorious within: her clothing is of wrought gold.(13) The king’s daughter is all glorious within—i.e., in the interior, in the inner room of the palace. The next clause would alone dismiss the reference to moral qualities from which has sprung such a wealth of mystic interpretation. But what palace is intended? Certainly not that of the royal bridegroom, since the procession (see Psalm 45:14) has not yet reached its destination. We must therefore think of her waiting, in all the splendour of her bridal array, in her own apartments, or in some temporary abode.
Wrought gold—i.e., textures woven with gold. The Hebrew word is used also of gems set in gold. The Eastern tales just referred to speak of the custom of repeatedly changing the bride’s dress during the marriage ceremonies, every time presenting her in greater magnificence than before.
She shall be brought unto the king in raiment of needlework: the virgins her companions that follow her shall be brought unto thee.(14) In raiment of needlework.—This is now more generally understood of rich tapestry carpets spread for the procession. (Comp. Æsch. Agam. 908-910.)
Instead of thy fathers shall be thy children, whom thou mayest make princes in all the earth.(16) Whom thou mayest make princes.—Historical illustrations have been found in 1Kings 22:26, where Joash, David’s son, appears as a governor or a prince of a city (comp. Zephaniah 1:8), and in the division of his realm into principalities by Solomon. (1Kings 4:7.)