Psalm 45:6 does not say the Messiah is God
Try this simple test: Write out this verse in Hebrew by itself, give it to anyone who is fluent in biblical Hebrew, and ask him or her to translate the verse. They will say that the meaning of the Hebrew is “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” The Hebrew is quite clear. The problem is that the verse refers in context to Israel’s king, who was human. So, the real question is, How can an earthly king be called ’elohim? The answer is simple: This passage ultimately points to the Messiah, the divine King!
We addressed this issue at some length in vol. 2 (3.3; see also above, 4.4), and the interested reader will find much relevant information there. It will be sufficient here to summarize what we learned in our previous discussions: Psalm 45 is a royal psalm, hailing the Davidic king in highly exalted terms, even referring to him as “God” (or “divine one”).
While it is stretching the limits of the Hebrew language to refer to any human king in such lofty terms, it is altogether fitting to speak of Yeshua in such terms, since he is the Word made flesh, the Son of God clothed in earthly, human garments. Thus, this psalm can only be rightly understood when it is interpreted in terms of the Messiah.
As we have explained elsewhere (vol. 2, 3.3; principle 2 in the appendix), Psalm 45 is a royal psalm, written in honor of Israel’s king, which means that we should not be surprised to see it filled with Messianic imagery.257 In keeping with this, Risto Santala, a Finnish Christian scholar of Hebrew and Rabbinic literature, points out that the rabbis commonly interpret royal psalms with reference to the Messiah, noting, “The Jews see the Messiah in the Psalms in more or less the same contexts as do the Christians.
But since they communicate in the Psalms’ own language they find there secret references which they can then apply to their own conception of the Messiah.”258 As a typical example he points to Psalm 21, observing, “In Christian circles Psalm 21 is not usually considered Messianic. The Midrash, on the other hand, see the Messiah-King in its first and fourth verses.
Rashi attaches the same interpretation to verse 7, and the Targum to verse 8.”259 All this is justified by the fact that the Davidic king is the subject of the psalm (see also the related comments of Rashi and Ibn Ezra to Psalm 2, 4.22). With reference to Psalm 45, Santala writes, “The most celebrated Jewish exegetes agree that this psalm speaks of the ‘Messiah-King.’”260
How then is verse 6 interpreted in the classic Rabbinic commentaries? Commenting on the opening clause, Rashi’s explanation is translated by A. J. Rosenberg as follows: “Your throne O judge Your throne O prince and judge shall exist forever and ever as the matter that is stated (Exod. 7:1): ‘I have made you a judge… over Pharaoh.’ And why? Because ‘a scepter of equity is the scepter of your kingdom’ that your judgments are true and you are fit to govern.”
This is highly significant, since Rashi understands ʾelohim to be the description of the king, following the most natural sense of the Hebrew. According to this understanding, the phrase would be rendered, “Your throne, O ʾelohim, is forever and ever.” The question, then, is the meaning of ʾelohim, which Rashi interprets in light of Exodus 7:1, where Moses is appointed by the Lord to be ʾelohim to Pharaoh.
This leads to two important observations: (1) Even though we can assume Rashi knew that Christians used this text to point to the divine nature of the Messiah, he still interpreted it along the same grammatical lines as did the Christians; (2) Rashi’s interpretation, although highly unlikely and generally not widely followed by later Jewish interpreters and translators, reminds us that ʾelohim can have varied nuances of meaning.261
This is in keeping with Christian scholars who have rendered the clause as “Your throne, O divine one,” so as to emphasize the Messiah’s divinity without suggesting that his divinity caused God in heaven to cease to be God.262
The Targum renders this passage as, “Your throne of honor, Yahweh [abbreviated in the Targum], is forever and ever,” reminding us that the meaning of the original text is clear and straightforward. Other classical Rabbinic commentaries, such as Ibn Ezra and Metsudat David, argue that the text means, “Your throne is the throne of God,” or, “Your throne is given by God” (cf. also the rendering in the Stone edition; see further vol. 2, 3.3).
In their recent Psalms commentary, Rozenberg and Zlotowitz translate this clause as “Your throne from God is everlasting,” explaining, “The sense is that the king’s throne has God’s approval because he renders justice from it in accordance with God’s will. Ibn Ezra translates ‘your throne is the throne of God,’ adding another ‘throne.’ ”263 More interesting, however, is their next comment: “The Hebrew could also be rendered ‘Your throne, O God, is everlasting.’
This would not fit the context, which requires the king to be the subject.”264 So, if not for the contextual difficulty, the translation would be fairly straightforward. And what is the primary difficulty? It is impossible for these commentators to conceive that the human king could be called ʾelohim. But if that human king is the Messiah, and if the Messiah is divine, then there is no valid reason to reject the obvious, clear rendering.
We can therefore repeat without hesitation what we stated at the outset: Psalm 45 proclaims the divine nature of the Messianic King, and we do best to take the Scriptures in their most obvious, basic sense, allowing the Bible to dictate our theology, rather than imposing our theology on the Word of God.
257 See 4.28; note also principle 2 in the appendix, along with vol. 2, 3.2.
258 Santala, The Messiah in Light of the Rabbinical Writings, 111, his emphasis.
260 Ibid., 113. According to Edersheim, “Ps. 45. is throughout regarded as Messianic. To begin with; the Targum renders verse 2 (3 in the Hebrew): ‘Thy beauty, O King Messiah, is greater than that of the sons of men.’ ” See Alfred Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah (repr., Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1993), 918 (2.788 in other editions).
261 Actually, in Exodus 7:1, ʾelohim does not mean “judge” contrary to Rashi’s explanation; rather, as indicated by the related passage in Exodus 4:16, and as rendered in the NJPSV, ʾelohim in these passages means “in the role of God.” The Stone edition renders ʾelohim in Exodus 4:16 as “leader” and in 7:1 as “master,” both of which fall short of the mark.
262 Cf. further vol. 2, 3.3, with special reference to the rendering of H. J. Kraus.
263 Rozenberg and Zlotowitz, The Book of Psalms, 274, 277.
264 Ibid., 277.
Brown, M. L. (2003). Answering Jewish objections to Jesus, Volume 3: Messianic prophecy objections (131). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Books.