“. . .which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion”
I wasn’t the one who said, it was my friend.
We were high up on a rise in the northernmost reaches of the Loess Hills, that quirky set of miniature mountains that runs nearly all the way up the western border of Iowa, when, just as we knew it would, the sun emerged from its gaudy pavilion. He’s a fisherman, so he’s seen it before, thought about it, I guess.
“Reminds me of the passage in the psalms—the bridegroom, the morning after,” he said, chuckling.
Honestly, I’d never thought of this verse before, and I’d certainly never examined the reaches of the simile in exactly that way, the sun as a lusty newlywed husband who’s just had one great night. Right then, at that moment, the sun coming up before us, it seemed the only way to unpack the simile. I laughed, and not because the allusion was a joke; I laughed because I’d been a bridegroom, and so had he.
His is the male version of the simile. I suppose it’s important to add that there’s a female version as well. But it’s a distinction that I am creating, and no one else—this male/female thing—and it’s sure to make somebody mad. What the heck.
There are times—and there are plenty—when how we understand a metaphor or how we interpret a poem, a story, a Van Gogh, or a Beatles tune, says as much about us as it does about the work itself. A child’s reading of Psalm 23 is likely history once that child reaches adulthood and looks at that Psalm closely again. Things look different to different people. Our different views make criticism both a joy and a necessity.
No fight so far, right? Good. Now here’s the rub.
Let me repeat the assertion (I know, I’m using male language). There are two ways of understanding this Psalm 19’s sexiest simile, and one of them is male and the other female. You’ve already heard the male version: the sun steps forth from his honeymoon chamber, having, well, conquered. That’s the image the two of us were chuckling about in the Loess Hills.
But there’s another way of reading the simile, and that one doesn’t put the honeymoon behind, but ahead of him. The second interpretation—the one I’ll call female—is a picture of the bridegroom just about the enter the chapel, perfectly groomed and tuxedoed, spit-shined and ready to meet his bride. In what I’m calling the female version, what the Psalmist is referring to is the pre-nuptials; in what I’m calling the male version, what the Psalmist is referring to is the afterglow.
Who’s right? That’s a fray I’m not entering. But I’ll tell you this, I’ve been to enough weddings in my life to validate my impression, years ago, when my wife and I got married, which was (and I’m only somewhat embarrassed to say it): let’s get the hoopla over and the consummation under way.
I’m the one who chuckled when my friend looked up at the rising sun and thought of the morning after. Seemed perfect to me.
But ours is not the only interpretation, and you’ll have to choose for yourself, of course. And either way, it works.
Either way, dawn is a joy. And that, after all, is what he means.