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First of all, I'm a layperson.

Psalm 45:14 (KJV) says "She shall be brought unto the King in raiment of needlework; the virgins, her companions that follow her, shall be brought unto Thee."

Hebrew text:

לִרְקָמוֹת תּוּבַל לַמֶּלֶךְ בְּתוּלוֹת אַחֲרֶיהָ רֵעוֹתֶיהָ מוּבָאוֹת לָךְ

Is this suggesting that the king sleep with his wife's friends?

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3 Answers 3

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Exegesis

Gesenius1 and Adam Clarke2 interpreted the phrase שִׁיר יְדִידֹת (shir yediot) in Psa. 45:1 as signifying an epithalamium.3 In this epithalamium, the psalmist writes about a bride and a bridegroom; therefore, the object of the psalmist's epithalamium changes a few times throughout the chapter.

First, the psalmist writes concerning the king, i.e. the bridegroom.

רָחַשׁ לִבִּי דָּבָר טֹוב

אֹמֵר אָנִי מַעֲשַׂי לְמֶלֶךְ

לְשֹׁונִי עֵט סֹופֵר מָהִיר


My heart overflowed [with] a good word.

I recite my works for the king.

My tongue is a pen of a ready scribe.

The psalmist ceases his laudation of the king after Psa. 45:9, while noting,

בְּנוֹת מְלָכִים בְּיִקְּרוֹתֶיךָ

נִצְּבָה שֵׁגַל לִימִינְךָ בְּכֶתֶם אוֹפִיר


Kings' daughters were among your dignitaries.

The queen stood at your right hand, with the fine gold of Ofir.

These "kings' daughters" are the daughters of royalty invited to the royal marriage described in this epithalamium. The queen is the bride herself.

From Psa. 45:10-12, the psalmist begins his laudation of the queen (bride).4

In Psa. 45:13, the psalmist is still describing the bride, but he is no longer talking to her in the 2nd person, but the 3rd person. She is referred to as the "king's daughter" (בַת־מֶלֶךְ), yet not the daughter of the king mentioned in vv. 1, 5, or 11. Rather, she, like the king whom she is marrying, is also of royalty.

In Psa. 45:14, the psalmist writes,

לִרְקָמוֹת תּוּבַל לַמֶּלֶךְ

בְּתוּלוֹת אַחֲרֶיהָ רֵעוֹתֶיהָ מוּבָאוֹת לָךְ


She shall be brought to the king in embroidered garments.

The virgins following her, her companions, are introduced to you.

The pronoun "she" in the first clause refers to the bride; she is brought to the king accompanied by her virgins, i.e. her companions. The psalmist then states that the virgins "are introduced to you."

The phrase "to you" is translated from the Hebrew preposition לָךְ (lakh). This is the normal declension referring to a feminine object of the preposition; meaning, the "you" in "to you" should be a female. This would seem to indicate that the virgins are being introduced to the queen/ bride, although they are her companions. Evidently, this interpretation is nonsensical.

Since לָךְ occurs with a sof pasuk underneath it, it can be understood to be the pausal spelling5 of the preposition לְךָ (lekha), which refers to a masculine object of the preposition, i.e. the king/ bridegroom. Thus, the virgins, the companions of the bride, are introduced to the king. This introduction is not for the purpose of marriage, but simply acquaintance, as there is no reason to assume that the king would have been acquainted with the bride's companions at any time prior to the wedding. Likewise, we may assume that the king would have introduced his female dignitaries (Psa. 45:9) to his bride at some point.


Footnotes

1 Wilhelm Gesenius: A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, including the Biblical Chaldee, p. 379, entry on יָדִיד | pdf |

2 Adam Clarke: Commentary on the Bible, Psa. 45 | html |

3 from the Greek word ἐπιθαλάμιον

4 The change of the object of the psalmist's laudation from bridegroom to bride is indicated by 1) the conjugation of verbs in the feminine-gender, 2) the presence of feminine-gendered pronominal suffixes, and 3) context: e.g., v. 10: "O' daughter, listen, and consider, and incline your ear!" v. 11: "And the king shall desire your beauty."

5 Wilhelm Gesenius: A Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament, including the Biblical Chaldee, p. 499, entry on ל | pdf |. Also, Basics of Biblical Hebrew, 2nd edition, Chapter 36.3, pp. 406-407.

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It could be his kingdom, the city of the king, Jerusalem, the bride (ekklesia?). In any understanding they should all become one in the wedding of the king's joy. –  hannes Aug 6 '13 at 5:39
1  
@Stephen: I don't think my answer necessarily answered your question yet. Don't worry, I'll actually answer the question you asked shortly. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Aug 6 '13 at 17:24
    
It makes more sense to say that the virgins are introduced to the king, rather than brought to him. It bothers me to think that a verse apparently referring to Messiah would imply immoral conduct on his part. –  Stephen Mar 6 at 15:04

It seems not, but then again in some ways your impression is quite valid. The following verse shows the scene is not a group of women entering his bedroom, but "With gladness and rejoicing shall they be brought: they shall enter into the king's palace."

The idea is typical of ancient Jewish weddings that commonly had attendants carrying on festive roles within the marriage ceremonies. However, I admit the wording is clearly abnormal here. The literal rendering does indicate that the attending virgins are also being brought to 'thee' that is to the King, along with the Bride, almost creating the allusion that He is ready to be married to them all. This allusion that you noticed is noticed by other theologians. In fact, this Psalm has had a famous history of being understood as Messianic in ancient Rabbinic literature (according to Edersheim) as well as by Christians of course as it is quoted in the New Testament. Along this line of thought the more robust Christian commentaries have seen these 'virgin attendants' as Gentiles coming to Christ with the proper Jewish church, the Bride.

I carefully reviewed over nine commentaries, among several that I have on the Psalms, and found this particular explanation towering above the rest in terms of clarity and good sense:

The lively picture of an oriental wedding is now completed by a view of the procession to the bridegroom’s house. The customary train of female friends is not forgotten, but with this peculiar feature added, that the bridesmaids are themselves described as brides, being brought (or made to come) to the king, precisely as the queen was. This departure from the usages of real life, which would have been revolting in a mere epithalamium, is peculiarly appropriate to the design of the allegory, as it enables the writer to include in his description a striking figurative representation of the eventful accession of the Gentiles to the spiritual privileges and prerogatives which for ages were confined to Israel. The ancient church or peculiar people is the chief bride or queen of the Messiah, chosen from among the nations; but these very nations are the virgins, her companions, not her servants or attendants merely, who are brought to the king afterwards as she was brought before, to be united with him in an honourable marriage, not as the inferiors but the equals of his first and chosen consort. (THE PSALMS TRANSLATED AND EXPLAINED by JOSEPH ADDISON ALEXANDER, D.D., professor of theology, Princeton.)

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That's quite an interesting take –  Stephen Mar 6 at 15:07

It does not seem to be suggesting that, but I can see how you would come to that conclusion.

The psalmist here addresses the "king" to whom he refers ("...unto thee"); when the psalms address a king they almost always refer to the heavenly king. (I would say "always", but I haven't made an exhaustive search.) The two parts of this verse go together; the king is "thee", i.e. God. Therefore, interpretations involving a king sleeping with actual virgins are contra-indicated.

So if it's not an earthly king with virgins, what is it? According to Rashi, a medieval compiler of earlier commentary, this is about idolatrous nations who will be brought to God (the King). On 45:15 (14 in your numbering) he writes:

With embroidered garments, she will be brought to the King: In embroidered garments, they will bring her as a gift to the King of all the earth. This is what is stated (Isa. 66:20): “And they shall bring all your brethren from all the nations as a tribute, etc.”

virgins in her train who are her companions: Some of the idolatrous nations will follow them, as the matter that is stated (Zech. 8:23): “shall take hold of the skirt of a Jewish man, saying, ‘Let us go with you, for we have heard that God is with you.’”

Zechariah wrote that gentile nations will take hold of Jews' skirts to follow them, and Isaiah wrote that Israel will bring all nations to God. The psalm here appears to refer to those events.


Please note: This answer was written for a neutral, academic audience and is not intended to be interpreted in the context of a religious belief or doctrine.

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Psa. 2:8, 18:50, 21:1, 72:1... –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Aug 3 '13 at 3:30
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81, I've clarified that when the psalmist addresses a king (as in this verse), it's that King. Thanks for pointing out some other references to other kings. (I don't see one in 2:8, by the way.) –  Gone Quiet Aug 4 '13 at 2:50
    
Sorry about that, @MonicaCellio. It should be Psa. 2.6. Actually, I believe the Psalmist refers to two kings: one is YHVH (Psa. 44:4), and one is "that king," as you say. That would be the orthodox Jewish understanding, amIright? –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Aug 4 '13 at 4:50
    
@H3br3wHamm3r81 that link is dead, is this the right link now? –  Jack Douglas Nov 13 '13 at 8:36
    
@JackDouglas: Here you go: blbclassic.org/search/… or blueletterbible.org/search/… –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Nov 13 '13 at 9:12

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