"Loving Leader, Honoured Husband"
Sept.14, 2008 Psalm 45
Leader-trashing a Dangerous Group Sport
The first of the Ten Commandments to deal with human relationships is Number 5, "Honour your father and mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you." (Ex 20:12) Good order in any organization requires heeding and honouring one's leaders, having the humility to obey orders and follow instructions. That's true in the family, in a school, in a company, in the military, and in a country as a whole. But over the last 50 years or so, society has suffered from an erosion of the honour and heed we pay to our leaders. The 1960s and 70s saw unrest on college campuses; Ravi Zacharias noted that those student rebels are now the professors teaching today's classes. Watergate and the Clinton affair undermined respect for leadership in the United States. The feminist movement sought to eliminate distinctions between the sexes. "Political correctness" became the new standard of conduct: it has become difficult for anyone to state publicly that some things are 'bad' for fear of lawsuits or the charge of hate-mongering. The rights of the individual have risen so far as to level society and undermine order. Parents, teachers, community leaders are no longer given the honour they once were simply by virtue of their position. While criticism of authority has corrected some abuses, as in the Civil Rights Movement, the lack of respect generally for those with office (even in the home) threatens social order and breeds chaos. Teachers in the classroom find it difficult to keep order when parents aren't willing to back them up in their discipline. White-collar crime hurts companies as executives take advantage of their power without heeding conscience or company policy. Nobody wants anybody telling them what to do. Our culture is bound by idols of disobedience and rebellion, which would eventually destroy social order and bring anarchy.
Examples could be found from the current electoral races in Canada and the States. Politicians are highly criticized for their gaffs. 'Low blows' are delivered at opponents (except for Sept.11 in the States, when the parties agreed not to attack each other for one day). This past week the Conservatives had to apologize and withdraw a tasteless ad on their website which showed a puffin flying by Liberal hopeful Stephan Dion and depositing a bird dropping on his shoulder. But in some ways that image sums up many people's attitude toward the political process and leadership in general.
Yet when self rejects leadership, throws off all restraint, and becomes supreme in the secular worldview, that raises other questions. What does my life matter if there is no accountability, no weighing of good and bad? Where do I fit in to the big picture - what contribution is there to make to society if there is no order? And who can help me, save me from my faults and limitations and failures my conscience knows about, if there's no one greater than me?
In our scripture today, the Biblical writer praises an earthly leader in a way that promotes order and security, giving honour due those who bear chief responsibility for a country. But the vision goes beyond that surprisingly to a far-off descendant, Jesus, whose righteous leadership and husbandly affection gives hope and meaning for this life and beyond.
A Breathtaking Royal Groom and his Bride - in History
Commentaries note that, in its earthly origin, Psalm 45 was composed and sung by a member of the Levitical temple choir ('the sons of Korah') in praise of an Israelite king of international significance on his wedding day - the inscription calls it 'a wedding song' or 'a love song'. It quite likely was used at more than one royal wedding. As a royal son of David, the king is a type or foreshadowing of Christ. After the exile, the psalm came to be viewed as applied to the Messiah, the coming son of David who would sit on his throne and rule the nations.
The song praises the king's many admirable qualities. His physical excellence: v2, "you are the most excellent of men" - handsome, beautiful. The king is recognized as a gracious speaker, intelligent in putting words together: "your lips have been anointed with grace" - unlike ad-creators in political party war-rooms who end up embarrassing their leader and having to be dismissed.
The king is viewed as powerful and conquering, a force to be reckoned with: v3, "Gird your sword upon your side, O mighty one". He is seen honourably: "clothe yourself with splendour and majesty." He has impressive key character qualities that he'll demonstrate and defend: v4, "In your majesty ride forth victoriously in behalf of truth, humility and righteousness..." - qualities representative of Biblical living. He'll protect the country against attacking enemies: "let your right hand display awesome deeds [dread/fearful deeds]; 5 Let your sharp arrows pierce the hearts of the king's enemies..." He's not afraid to take a stand against those who would destroy the realm!
Back in those times, the king also served as judge in difficult cases - dispensing the verdict as God's representative in capital cases. Vv6-7, "a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.You love righteousness and hate wickedness..." It's up to the king to set and reinforce high standards, to be discriminating with discernment.
A complementary passage here would be Psalm 72:12-14, which describes Israel's ideal king in relationship to upholding the law even for the weak and 'little people' in society. "For he will deliver the needy who cry out, the afflicted who have no one to help. He will take pity on the weak and the needy and save the needy from death. He will rescue them from oppression and violence, for precious is their blood in his sight." Quite a different model and scope of responsibility from many of the other dictators who have assumed power to themselves in history, and thrown their weight around both in getting to the throne and afterward. So you have here the ideal of the Jewish king as someone who, though they are at the top of the social order, nevertheless pay attention to and look out for the needs of those at the bottom of the ladder. "What's best for the people?" Not "How can I make the most of my position to maximize my pleasure and consolidate power around myself and my supporters?"
As this is a wedding song, v8 digresses to savour the occasion, and celebrate the appealing sounds and smells wafting around the royal couple as most desirable, a sensual treat: "All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia; from palaces adorned with ivory the music of the strings makes you glad." Smell the costly perfumes, see the costly and attractive carvings, hear the beautiful music.
Vv9 on lead into a description of the royal bride; v11 offers this phrase as a segué: "The king is enthralled by your beauty..." Marvelous as the king is, he's not wrapped up in himself, but his attention is on his bride. She's described as dressed "in gold of Ophir...in embroidered garments...her gown is interwoven with gold." (9ff) That would catch the light, glittering brightly, while making people gasp with the value of the material. V13 says, "All glorious is the princess within her chamber..." Practically glowing with beauty and gorgeous finery. She and her companions are "led in with joy and gladness." Obviously happy to be entering this new life of intimacy with the king!
Jesus an Amazing Husband and His Adorable Bride
We noted this came to be viewed as applying to the Messiah following the exile. Through the centuries the Jewish people yearned for another leader as godly and passionate as David, as wise as Solomon, as righteous as Hezekiah. Jesus was born in the kingly line, of the tribe of Judah and the line of David - hence the sudden trip to Bethlehem to be registered at Caesar's command. Jesus lived his brief life as a single man, he never married. Yet the apostles writing the New Testament perceived that Jesus met the qualifications of this special King; that at the end of time He would relate to those who believe in Him, the Church, in an intimate and honouring way as described here between the king and His royal bride. In this life we are male or female, but in eternity our soul will relate to Jesus more closely than the dearest husband shares with his wife. So this passage paints for us a picture of not only an ideal king/leader but also an ideal husband and the loving attachment and respect such a husband and his wife share. We can take a moment and go back through the list, showing where the New Testament refers to Jesus' fulfilment of the criteria.
V2, the breathtaking beauty, being 'the most excellent of men': at the transfiguration Peter, James and John saw Jesus "transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light." They caught a glimpse of what Jesus would really look like in his post-earthly existence. Similarly John describes his vision of Jesus in Rev 1:14, "His head and hair were white like wool, as white as snow, and his eyes were like blazing fire."
The Psalm says the king's 'lips have been anointed with grace'. In Luke 4(22) "All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips." They couldn't figure out how a local boy - a carpenter's son no less - could speak so well.
The king is described as having a fearsome sword, causing the nations to fall beneath his feet. The book of Revelation describes Jesus' unusual but dreadful sword: "...out of his mouth came a sharp double-edged sword. His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance...Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations...The rest of them [the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies rallied to make war against the rider on the horse and His army] were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse, and all the birds gorged themselves on their flesh." (Rev 1:16; 19:15,21)
V3 addresses the king, "clothe yourself with splendour and majesty." The author of the letter to the Hebrews (1:3) writes, "The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being..."
V4 says the king in his majesty rides out to victory "defending truth, humility, and justice" (NLT). In Revelation 19:11 John sees Jesus this way: "I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war." Not looking to the latest poll or adjusting policy in accord with what might buy votes or help him get re-elected. As for humility, Jesus was not proud: he rode a donkey into Jerusalem, a beast of burden, a sign of servanthood. He could preach to the crowds, "Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." (Mt 11:29)
Psalm 45:5 talks about the king's sharp arrows piercing the hearts of his enemies, and the nations falling beneath his feet. Paul predicts to the Thessalonians that Christ at His return "will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power" (2Th 1:8f). What a dreadful thought, to be SHUT OUT from God's presence - light, love, and all that is good - forever and ever!
V7, "You love righteousness and hate wickedness..." Revelation depicts Christ as judging with justice and making war on evil. He is not 'inclusive' in the broadest sense; He discriminates between right and wrong, the obedient and the rebels. This life is given ultimate meaning by the prospect of judgment at the last; it's not just OK to 'do your own thing', God has given us the important point of reference in His Word. Because Jesus judges, our actions have real significance.
Vv6-8 of Psalm 45 are quoted directly in Hebrews 1(8f) as applying to Jesus the Son of God. (So we do find Him in unexpected places, back in the Psalms, in a love poem for royalty!) The permanence of Jesus' rule is celebrated - "Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever, and righteousness will be the sceptre of Your Kingdom." (A sceptre is the ceremonial staff symbolic of personal sovereignty and authority.Kind of like the long wooden pointer in the hand of our teacher, Mr.MacDonald, back in Grade 3! But on a much higher scale.) Jesus' throne will last forever, it will ALWAYS be there throughout eternity.
But towards His people, this is no grim-faced despot, but a loving joyful leader. He's looking forward to a banquet with His bride! The Psalm says God has set Him apart "by anointing...with the oil of JOY", He's made GLAD (7f). Hebrews 12:2 says Jesus endured the cross "for the JOY set before Him..."
Christ's attention is not on His own self-importance; His attention is on you and me, those who love Him, His bride, His delight. The king is "enthralled" by the beauty of the bride (11). He "delights in your beauty" (NLT). Reminiscent of Zephaniah's prophecy (3:17), "The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."
The Bride's Response to Her Loving Lord
What ought to be our response to such loving leadership, that delights in the beauty Jesus sees in our lives, redeemed by His sacrifice at the cross? First we need to understand His attitude to us. Paul in the New Testament reaches back to this husband/bride imagery to describe how husbands ought to exercise the headship they're called to in the fundamental unit of societal order, the home. Ephesians 5:25 - "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy...and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless." He gave Himself up for His bride: our response is rooted in gratitude, thankfulness, appreciating His servanthood to us who are so dear to Him.
Psalm 45:10 counsels the royal bride to "Forget your people and your father's house." Jesus, using exaggeration, called us to leave or hate our family members and our own life for His sake (Mt 19:29; Lk 14:26). Is He more precious to us than anyone else?
V11 of the Psalm, "Honour Him, for He is your Lord." How true of Jesus Christ. As the elders sing in Revelation 5(9), "You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation." Jesus' Lordship came at a price. Paul observes, "For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living." (Rom 14:9) Do we honour His Lordship in our daily decisions? In our future plans? By the way we talk and interact with others?
V13 describes the royal bride as "all glorious". Are we allowing the Holy Spirit to nip and prune our character and stretch our personality to become the glorious creature the Father has in mind? Revelation 19(7f) describes the rejoicing at the wedding of the Lamb and His bride; "'His bride has made herself ready.Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.' (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.)" Is our datebook dotted with 'righteous acts' - or simply what Hollywood tries to pass off as 'entertainment'? The bride or Holy City comes 'prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.' How are we preparing ourselves for that moment? Or are we just kind of going from week to week?
God Embraces Us Despite the 'Shack' of our Lostness
Paul (William P.) Young's book The Shack has skyrocketed to hit #1 on the New York Times bestseller list - despite the fact that it was printed by 4 friends and promoted simply by website and word-of-mouth. Young grew up on the mission field where he became a victim of sexual abuse in a tribe and at the boarding school. He says, "Shame was so deep in my life that it was the motivation for everything I did." He became a religious 'performer', his identity was in being approved and always being right. Then, he says, "I was involved in adultery and it just about killed me." It took him and his wife 11 years to get through it. Looking back he says, "By the grace of God I came out of that process...with no more secrets and no reputation to protect.Joy has become my constant companion, my identity is in Christ." At his wife's urging, he created a story for his children that would describe his personal life journey.
What does the shack represent? Paul Young told Servant magazine it's a metaphor "for the decrepit house of the soul that we build over time.It's where we hide our pain, our lostness, our secrets and addictions.Our lies are the fabric that holds the house together and we decorate it with the façade that we want other people to see, changing the colours as people's expectations change. But the corruption inside the shack is never touched by all the performance on the outside."
But the Psalm says the King is enthralled by the beauty of the bride. God sees past our sin to the child we can become in Christ. Young says one of the key questions the book deals with is "who am I to God - the issue of our identity.Ephesians 1:5 says that His whole purpose is to adopt us as sons.And that adoption allows us to enter into the same relationship with the Father that Jesus has; I am now in the middle of the affection of the Father to the Son."
Who is the King? To His enemies, He is piercing; but to His bride, He is precious. Because He loves us, we needn't fear honouring Him as Lord. In closing, Paul Young notes: "...Just look at creation.How many shades of green are there? What a wastefulness of green! And in our relationship to God we cannot go deep enough to run out of the wastefulness of His grace. There's more than enough. He keeps on giving even when it's unexpected and undeserved. This flood of grace is all around us because that's just the way His love is." Let's pray.