O King (Psalm 45)

O King (Psalm 45)

Lyrics

“O King” is a paraphrase of Psalm 45. Because I have matched the lyrics up with the verses they paraphrase, I have bolded the line of each verse in the song, so the stanza division is still visible. Though this song is a paraphrase, it follows remarkably closely to the meaning and sometimes even the wording of the Psalm.

Psalm 45

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
    I address my verses to the king;
    my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

You are the most handsome of the sons of men;
    grace is poured upon your lips;
    therefore God has blessed you forever.
Gird your sword on your thigh, O mighty one,
    in your splendor and majesty!

In your majesty ride out victoriously
    for the cause of truth and meekness and righteousness;
    let your right hand teach you awesome deeds!
Your arrows are sharp
    in the heart of the king’s enemies;
    the peoples fall under you.

Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.
    The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness;
    you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness.
Therefore God, your God, has anointed you
    with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;
    your robes are all fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia.
From ivory palaces stringed instruments make you glad;
    daughters of kings are among your ladies of honor;
    at your right hand stands the queen in gold of Ophir.

10 Hear, O daughter, and consider, and incline your ear:
    forget your people and your father’s house,
11     and the king will desire your beauty.
Since he is your lord, bow to him.
12     The people of Tyre will seek your favor with gifts,
    the richest of the people.

13 All glorious is the princess in her chamber, with robes interwoven with gold.
14     In many-colored robes she is led to the king,
    with her virgin companions following behind her.
15 With joy and gladness they are led along
    as they enter the palace of the king.

16 In place of your fathers shall be your sons;
    you will make them princes in all the earth.
17 I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
    therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.

O King




O King, you are most worthy, of men you are the best
Your words are true and gracious, you are forever blessed
Take up your sword in splendour, ride forth in majesty
For justice and mercy and true humility


Your arrows pierce your enemies, you march across the land
The peoples and the nations against you cannot stand
Your throne will last forever, with justice you shall reign


You love all that is righteous and hate all evil gain

So God has richly blessed you with joy abundantly
Your robes are all fragrant, your courts are ivory


There princesses attend you, sweet music from of old


Your future queen awaits you arrayed in finest gold
O bride forsake all others, don’t give your love abroad


The king desires your beauty; so honour him your Lord




The gown he gives is glorious, the threads are twined with gold
In shimmering colours the envy of the world
A joyful crowd is with her, with gladness now they sing
And finally she enters the palace of the king

This king will reign forever, his sons upon the earth
And ev’ry generation will tell of his great worth
All nations will soon praise him and fall down at his feet
His kingdom established, where truth and mercy meet
O Jesus we adore you, our lover and our king
Your church, your bride is waiting and so to you we sing

The theme of both the Psalm and the song is a royal wedding – but instead of focusing on the bride (as do most modern weddings) the groom is front and center, and he is the king. The first two verses are taken up wholly by describing this king. In the first verse alone we learn that he is the best of men, his words true and gracious, his rule majestic and characterized by mercy and humility, and hist victory over his enemies complete.

The second verse begins praising the king for his eternal throne and just rule, and, upon the basis of that, turns to God’s blessings which culminate in the queen.[1]

In the third verse, the audience of the song changes. Verses 1-2 were addressed to the king, verse 3 begins with an address to the bride and this is the only exhortation in the song – for the bride to forget all others, and commit herself wholly to the king as her husband and Lord. Having received the exhortation, verse 3 concludes with the bride being led from her chamber into the presence of the king.

Verse 4 concludes the song by pointing the singers back to the king, whose reign will be forever, whose offspring will be princes, and who will command the praise of all nations. The verse ends with a line that is not a paraphrase of anything in the psalm, but a theological interpretation of the psalm,

O Jesus we adore you, our lover and our king;
Your church, your bride is waiting and so to you we sing.

This line reminds us that the whole song is about Christ and the church. We are the bride of the king, we are the ones exhorted in verse 3, and we are the ones clothed by Christ in splendor.

Overall, this song does a remarkable job at following the main theme of the Psalm and leading us to its ultimate fulfillment in Jesus Christ.

Poetics

Meter

The meter of this hymn is not perfectly regular. For the most part, each line has 13 syllables which is divided into two halves, the first having seven syllables and the second only give. We can see that in the very first line:

a: O King, you are most worthy, (7)
b: of men you are the best (5)

This structure does a wonderful job of mirroring the most common Hebrew poetic device – parallelism. In Hebrew poetry, lines of poetry are composed of shorter segments called cola (plural, singular: colon). When a line of Hebrew poetry contains only one colon it is called a monocolon, when it contains two it is a bicolon, three a tricolon.

The opening verse of Psalm 45 is a tricolon and we can see that reflected in the way our English versions display the text:

My heart overflows with a pleasing theme;
    I address my verses to the king;
    my tongue is like the pen of a ready scribe.

Similarly, the closing verse is a bicolon:

I will cause your name to be remembered in all generations;
    therefore nations will praise you forever and ever.

The bicolon is perhaps the most common line construction in Hebrew poetry, and this hymn reflects that Hebraic form in its composition as well. We could lay out verse two of this hymn in the format used for the Psalms in our English Bible’s thusly:

Your throne will last forever,
with justice you shall reign;

You love all that is righteous
and hate all evil gain.

So God has richly blessed you
with joy abundantly;

Your robes are all fragrant,
your courts are ivory;

There princesses attend you,
sweet music from of old;

Your future queen awaits you,
arrayed in finest gold.

The rhythm of each line is not perfectly consistent, but there is a general iambic pattern (ba-bum) to the hymn. This general consistency lends to the hymn actually sounding like poetry to our ears and helps it to be memorized as well.

Rhyme

Unlike the syllable count and meter, the rhyme scheme of this hymn is totally consistent. Each verse is composed of three rhyming couplets (two lines together), with the rhyme scheme a-a, b-b, c-c.

This is significant because, almost more than any other element, a consistent rhyme scheme promotes the memorability of a song. To see this for yourself, I’ve slightly altered the word order of three lines in the first verse – read and compare it to the original:

Altered

O King, you are most worthy, you are the best of men
Your words are true and gracious, you are forever blessed
Take up your sword in splendour, in majesty ride forth
For justice and mercy and true humility
Your arrows pierce your enemies, across the land you march
The peoples and the nations against you cannot stand

Original

O King, you are most worthy, of men you are the best
Your words are true and gracious, you are forever blessed
Take up your sword in splendour, ride forth in majesty
For justice and mercy and true humility
Your arrows pierce your enemies, you march across the land
The peoples and the nations against you cannot stand.

Music

Finally, let’s consider the music. This hymn is set to a tune by the name of Thaxted. Some of you may be familiar with it because it’s not an original composition for this hymn. It’s been used before for the hymn “O God Beyond All Praising” by Michael Perry – but it wasn’t original to that hymn either.

The tune comes from the Jupiter theme of The Planets symphony by Gustav Holst, published 1918. In that symphony, Holst bases the movement for each planet after its supposed astrological meaning.[2] Thaxted is an excerpt of the Jupiter movement and, fittingly, that movement is entitled, “Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity.” The movement is intended to evoke majestic celebration and what could be more appropriate for a hymn reflecting on the marriage of Christ and the church?

The tune, then, is a fitting and helpful companion to this paraphrase of Psalm 45, whose major theme is the marriage of the king.

Conclusion

Overall, “O King” is a faithful paraphrase and interpretation of an inspired psalm, it’s constructed carefully in a way that recalls the Hebrew poetry itself, while not neglecting those aspects of English poetry necessary for memorability, and is pared with a fitting and well written tune that complements the meaning of the lyrics.


[1] It may be that the “queen” in v. 9 who stands at the right hand of the king is the “queen mother” and not the “future queen” as our song takes it, given that in v. 13 she is said to be in her chamber and then is led to the king in v. 14-15.

[2] This needn’t worry us since we can and should reject any validity to the superstitions of astrology and simultaneously recognize a piece of music as reflecting a genuine human emotion such as joy or jollity.

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