Read Psalm 45.
It was one of those all-in-one wedding venues—a huge facility with multiple chapels and ballrooms to accommodate lots of weddings on any given weekend. Having the ceremony and the reception in one place made the whole affair much simpler, since no one had to drive from the church to the reception hall. But the chapel wasn’t actually a church. No congregation met there week after week. It was just a pretty building filled with pews and set in the woods.
As the best man, I stood at the front of the rented chapel, next to the groom. Everything went as planned, until about halfway through the ceremony. It was then that the pastor officiating the wedding announced a reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and invited a certain friend of the bride to come up and read the scripture. There was an awkward silence when no one rose from the pews. The pastor repeated his invitation, but still no one got up.
Then the awkwardness ascended to another level. The pastor said, “I would read the passage, but I don’t actually have a Bible with me—just my notes.” He held up a few sheets of paper. “Can someone hand me a Bible from one of the pews?” People began shaking their heads. This wasn’t a real church. There wasn’t anything in the pews. There wasn’t a Bible in the building. And this was before smartphones, so there wasn’t an app to save the day. Realizing he had to move on, the pastor smiled. “Well, it’s a great chapter. Do yourself a favor. When you get home tonight, pull out your Bible and read Ephesians 5.”
Reading Scripture at a wedding is a tradition as old as the Bible itself. Psalm 45 is a song written specifically for the occasion of a royal wedding. “My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skillful writer” (v. 1), the psalmist begins.
He praises the king’s valor and the new queen’s beauty. But in the middle of the psalm, something strange happens—the psalmist suddenly refers to the king as God: “Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever; a scepter of justice will be the scepter of your kingdom” (v. 6).
If you dig into a few commentaries, you’ll find some reasonable explanations. For instance, it has been suggested that since the king served at God’s pleasure, it was really God’s throne—and that throne, not one particular king who sat upon it, would last forever. Fair enough, but the sudden shift from addressing the king to addressing God is jarring to say the least if this is the case.
Another approach is to see the king as a “god” in the sense that God was thought to adopt Israel’s kings as sons. There is a bit of this flavor in Psalm 2: “He said to me, ‘You are my son; today I have become your father’” (v. 7). But in Psalm 45, the king is called “God,” rather than a son of God.
As the psalm continues, things get stranger still. “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions by anointing you with the oil of joy” (Psalm 45:7). Now the king is not being called “God” but is being favored by God. It’s enough to give a reader whiplash. But it’s these hard-to-understand passages of Scripture that often invite us to peel back the curtain and catch a glimpse of God’s eternal plan.
Though this psalm was likely written for a human king at some point in Israel’s history (exactly when is debated), it has a Messianic flavor. There are two kings in view: an earthly king and a heavenly one. The early church understood this psalm to be about Jesus. The author of Hebrews quoted verse seven in his letter, using it to prove the superiority of Jesus over all created beings (Hebrews 1:8). And since I don’t believe the Holy Spirit, who inspired both Testaments, contradicts Himself, the author of Hebrews must have seen something in the psalm that is actually there.
In the span of two verses, the King who is “God” is set above His companions by “God” and anointed with oil. Though the mystery of the Trinity and the miracle of the incarnation were not on the minds of the Israelites when this psalm was penned, it was clearly on the mind of the Holy Spirit who inspired these words.
A divine King who is both God and commissioned by God sounds a lot like Jesus. In fact, the word Messiah simply means “anointed one,” which is what we have here. Jesus’ throne will indeed last forever, and He does “love righteousness and hate wickedness” like no one before Him or since.
The Holy Spirit knows what He is doing. The Bible, though comprising sixty-six books with dozens of human authors, editors, and compilers, is still a single work breathed out by God. Jesus is there in the Old Testament, if we know where to look—and don’t let others explain Him away.