Ever had an “identity crisis”? One definition of this is, “a period of uncertainty and confusion in which a person’s sense of identity becomes insecure, typically due to a change in their expected aims or role in society.” In psychology, “identity is the qualities, beliefs, personality, looks and/or expressions that make a person” who they are.
When we initially consider this subject, our first thought is usually concerning adolescence, but developmental psychologist Erik Erikson suggests it can happen at anytime! He does though mention that a key time is the “crisis that individuals experience as they navigate the potentially stormy years of adolescence
teenagers experience[ing] rapid changes in body build, hormones, emotions, and cognitive abilities. Perhaps for the first time in life, they contemplate their roles in society including their careers, values, and gender role.” The healthy place to aim for, says Erikson, is “identity achievement” – sometimes though, easier said than done! (https://www.psychologytoday.com/au/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201203/are-you-having-identity-crisis)
Another time this may occur is when you move to a foreign country for any length of time. My experience was of arriving in Pakistan having been a Registered Nurse in a hospital, living in my own country with my wife and children, being able to negotiate life in my mother tongue, living in a culture I understood and could respond to appropriately. In other words, life was predictable, and I felt in control (although both of these are debatable!). Then everything changed! My roles in life, the language, the culture. Nothing was predictable! I had very little control. I was having an identity crisis!
Well, it seems that in Psalm 45 we actually seem to also have an “identity crisis”, although one quite different than the above descriptions.
Having described the king in verse 1-5 on his royal day, we continue to read the following:
6 Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever;
a sceptre of justice will be the sceptre of your kingdom.
7 You love righteousness and hate wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.
8 All your robes are fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia;
from palaces adorned with ivory
the music of the strings makes you glad.
9 Daughters of kings are among your honoured women;
at your right hand is the royal bride in gold of Ophir. (NIV)
So, wait on, you might say, is the psalmist calling the king, “God”? These verses do appear to be a natural follow on from the earlier verses, but, if so, as some might say, “Houston, we have a problem” (Apollo 13).
So, to the experts we must go!
The Jewish Study Bible gets around this by translating verse 6 as “Your divine throne is everlasting…” and verse 7 as “You love righteousness and hate wickedness; [and so] rightly has God, your God, chosen to anoint you…” The commentator suggests that if we translate it as the NIV has, where it seems to refer “to the king as God” then “this psalm would be unique in the entire Bible in explicitly depicting the king as divine…a notion that existed at times in other ancient Near Eastern cultures but is otherwise absent in Biblical thought.” He also says that “medieval
read this psalm [as being] about David or about the Messiah…[and] in the Christian community this was typically read Christologically…” Hold that thought! (# 7)
Longman calls verse 6 “surely the most difficult verse of the poem”, reminding us that “the theology of Israel has no room for the concept of a divine king”. He then suggests that the king of Israel was seen as “God’s representative on earth” allowing a possible translation, “your throne is a throne of God.” (# 30)
Wilcock, while agreeing with all of the above, comments on this by suggesting that “there is more to this than meets the eye, as we shall find”. He goes on to say that “to speak thus of God’s viceroy, who occupies God’s throne in God’s city and represents God’s rule, is not quite so startling as it may seem at first.” (# 5)
So we shall leave it to Broyles to reveal the solution to the problem who explains, “Finally, we should realize that once this verse is applied to Jesus Christ, the Son of David (as in Hebrews 1:8-9), the problem of a human and divine identity disappears.” (# 4)
And so, as we come to the New Testament we arrive at a kind of “identity achievement” in the words of the author of the letter to the Hebrews as he describes the identity of Jesus using the words of this psalm.
So, to summarize: The king of Israel was not considered as divine. His role though was to be by divine appointment and his just rule was to reflect the fact that he was God’s representative on earth. But that was not all, and these verses, as Kidner puts it, are “an example of Old Testament language bursting its banks, to demand more than human fulfilment” (# 29)
And what this all means we shall consider next time.
But if you are a follower of Jesus and having an identity crisis, then the answer is again Jesus! We need to find our identity in Him, allowing that relationship with Him alone to define us. John 15 will help.
Father, thank you for your Word, the Bible, and Jesus the Living Word in whom we have our identity. Teach us what it means to rest in you and all you are and all you have done for us. Amen.