Lecture 21 - Psalm 110

Course: Psalms by Dr. Bruce Waltke

Lecture 21: Psalm 110

I. Psalm 110 – A Coronation Psalm

A. Review

We have been looking at the liturgical approach to the Psalms and where we examined the word ‘cultus’ instead of liturgical looking at the external expressions of religion. We considered different aspects of the cultus in how it functioned. We saw how Moses had given us different aspects such as the people, laws and institutions, along with scared seasons and sites. Now David transformed all of this into an opera where the Psalms were supported by musical instruments and thus these songs were to be sung by the people in the temple. We see that the temple was so much grander than the tent. David was like a Mozart by transforming the ritual into an operatic presentation, grand and glorious under the inspiration of God. We have taken a few Psalms to illustrate this liturgical approach. I chose the coronation liturgy in which the king is installed as God’s king on Mount Zion. We saw that he installed his king on Mount Zion in Psalm 2, a symbol of heaven. Now, Psalm 110 we have the king being seated at God’s right hand. This has been a very important Psalm throughout church history as you will see. So we will take up Psalm 110.

B. References to Jesus being tested

This is perhaps the most important psalm in the New Testament. There are three complete citations of one verse from the psalm. The first citations come from the time Jesus is tested by the Pharisees and by the Sadducees. It was in Matthew 22 with the Pharisees who disliked Rome, also had brought with them the Herodians who submitted to Rome. This was planned out in order to trap Jesus. They had asked if Jesus was it right to give the imperial tax or not? If he replies ‘no’ then Rome will get him but if he says ‘yes’, then he loses faith from his supporters and was disloyal to the nation. But Jesus’ answer was simply to give to Caesar what belonged to Caesar having a coin with Caesar image on it. Then he said that they should render to God what belongs to God. He was then tested by the Sadducees who didn’t believe in the Resurrection. Their story was about a woman who was married to her brothers as each one died. But Jesus said to them that they weren’t given in marriage in heaven. Jesus furthermore said that God was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob who were alive in heaven. Then the lawyer came to test Jesus in asking what the greatest commandment was. Jesus gives the two commands of loving God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself. But the Jesus turns the table on them asking whose Son is the Messiah. They were willing to grant a human Messiah but not a divine Messiah, a God-man. They acknowledged that he would be the Son of David. But Jesus then ask, how did David say, the Lord is to my Lord and David was speaking. David is the greatest of Israel and yet there is one greater than David. Jesus is arguing that the one greater than David was the Son of God. This is very basic Christology to the identification to Christ as the Son of God. He was more than a man, he was God incarnate. That story is repeated in Matthew, Mark and Luke. It is quoted in Peter’s great sermon that he had ascended into heaven and sat down on the right hand side of God. From that position, he poured and is pouring out his Spirit on his church which enables the church to expand universally. In Hebrews, he was compared to the angels and declared greater than any of them. So the writer in Hebrews puts these two psalms together in reference to Jesus.

C. References to Jesus and Melchizedek

The Book of Hebrews actually develops the whole idea of Psalm 110:4 where it says that Jesus was a priest after the order to Melchizedek. So you have a whole argument in Hebrews chapter 7 to show how Jesus was like Melchizedek. This statement that Jesus sits on the right hand of God and he is like Melchizedek, this theology is minted in Psalm 110 and circulated in the New Testament. So whole verses are cited three to five times in the New Testament and furthermore there are twenty-five allusions to the Psalm in the New Testament, more than any other Psalm. So it is very important to the Christology of the New Testament. I also call attention to Mark 14:61-64 when Jesus is on trial before the high priest. ‘Are you the Messiah, the son of the Blessed One’, to which Jesus replied: ‘I am’, adding ‘you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the power’ and coming with the clouds of heaven.’ To this confession, the High Priest responded: ‘You have heard his blasphemy’.

D. References in the Epistles

There are also references in Hebrews, Romans, Colossians, Ephesians and 1st Peter. In Paul, we read it as part of the early confessions of the church. Romans chapter 8 was probably an early hymn to celebrate the continually present intercession of Christ at God’s right hand. Paul said that he is at the right hand of God interceding for us. Colossians 3:1 was probably a baptismal formula, reflecting on the heavenly identity those who share in Christ’s death: Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. In Ephesian 1:20 was also a worship hymn acclaiming the universal kingdom of the risen Christ who sits at God’s right hand when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rules and authority. In 1st Peter 3:22, a baptismal context, for those trusting in the risen Christ: who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand – with angels, authorities and powers in submission to him. In the early church, in the devotion of the church it was celebrated on Ascension Thursday, it has always played a critical role in Christology. So its importance has always been profound. Luther concluded: this beautiful psalm is the very core and quintessence of the whole scripture. No other psalm prophesies as abundantly and completely about Christ. It portrays the Lord and his entire Kingdom, and is full of comfort for Christians.

II. Translation and Background to its Form

A Psalm of David.

1 The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."
2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power; in holy garments, from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever like Melchizedek."
5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

So, we are dealing with poetry which is full of imagery. It is a psalm that is sung to accompaniment of instruments and it is again another coronation liturgy. It is also full of parallelism. It is also a prophecy where David, a prophet, prophesied about his greater Son. The context seems to be coronation liturgy when it says to sit at my right hand. It has striking similarities to Assyrian royal prophecies from the 7th century BC. Psalm 110 is compared to these prophetic poems for the coronation of the Assyrian king. Parallels include an introduction formula in 110:1 where it says that the Lord says to my Lord. That is how Assyrian coronation liturgy begins. They also have a subdivision of an oracle with a second introduction formula from Psalm 110:4. In this psalm, you have the Lord speaking twice where it says that ‘you are a priest forever like Melchizedek.’ One of the difficulties in this psalm is the changing of speakers: the Lord speaks in verse 1 but then in verses 2 and 3 David speaks. In verse 4, God speaks again and then the prophet addresses the king in verse 5 where it says that the Lord is at your right hand. This continues through to verse 7. You also have a change of addressees. For example, when he the prophet responds, ‘you are a priest forever like Melchizedek.’ In verses 5 – 7, we have the prophet addressing the king as he did in verses 2 and 3. In verse 6, he is talking about the king who will execute judgement among the nations. So, you have a shift from addressing the king to addressing the congregation and according to Hibers you have the same in the Assyrian coronation.

There would have been different speakers presented when reading the psalm in the temple. It is likely that Psalm 110 was a prophetic oracle originating and subsequently used in conjunction with cultus celebration of the King’s enthronement. Perhaps the priest would have represented God in reading part of the psalm. Then you would have had the prophet who would have spoken to the congregation. So, there must have been a change of voices to show the change of speakers. There are other points that are similar to the Assyrian material, like the promise of universal dominion from Psalm 110:1 and 6. There is the presence of loyal support from verse 3 and a divine promise accompanied by denial of lying in verse 4. There includes an affirmation of priestly responsibility from Psalm 110:4 and an eternality of royal prerogatives from verse 4 also.

III. Rhetoric: Logic, Alternating Structure, Catchwords and Symmetry

There are two stanzas. The first includes Introduction to Divine Citation of a prophecy for David’s Lord and then another divine citation to the Lord and finally a prophetic reflection of a divine citation addressed to the Lord. The prophetic reflection says that he is to rule in the midst of his enemies and his people will be willing to serve on the day of his power. Then you see that the Lord will not change his mind in the second stanza and then you have the information about Melchizedek. This is alternating parallelism with an A, B, and C and then another A, B. and C prime. In both halves, we have an introduction to the divine citation, prophecy for David’s Lord. And another divine citation to the Lord sitting on the throne making his enemies his footstool; the Messiah will start the holy war and will extend the Holy Scepter from his throne. The two stanzas are held together by structure of the introduction divine citations and prophetic reflection. The king hears what is being said to the congregation. The Messiah judges the whole earth and will execute judgement among the nations. There are seventy four words in each stanza in the Hebrew text. This is not unusual to get this king of symmetry in Psalms. Just like Psalm 2 which had three verses four times. This shows us that God is a God of order and that he is ruling and in control.

IV. The Exposition

A. The First Stanza: Verses 1 - 3

1The LORD says to my Lord: "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool."
2 The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your enemies!
3 Your people will offer themselves freely on the day of your power; in holy garments, from the womb of the morning, the dew of your youth will be yours.

The superscript and introduction to the citation by David is crucial to Jesus’ argument that the Messiah is Lord, the Son of God. David here is a prophet and interestingly critics who deny Davidic authorship reach no consensus about its date. David is talking about the king, someone who is going to rule the entire earth. He is a prophet anticipating what will be fulfilled in Christ. This will be consummated in his second coming where he will indeed judge the world. In the introduction, we have the name of Yahweh, the eternal one and unchanging. In regards to God’s incommunicable attributes which is Omni competent and includes those of grace, mercy, patience, love, fidelity and justice. There is none like him, especially being such a forgiving God, full of grace and mercy, as well as justice. There are different words in Hebrew for speaking; if it is the act of speaking the word dibber is used. If they refer to the content, the word amar is used. Another word, ne’um means prophetic speech. It is used normally of God and the only way we know what God says is through a prophet, someone speaking in the Spirit. Jesus referred to the question of how David in the Spirit spoke when the Pharisees tried to trap him. This word is used for David in Psalm 18 and 2nd Samuel 22:1-3 where it says, ‘the spirit of the LORD spoke through me; his word was on my tongue. The God of Israel spoke, the Rock of Israel said to me. The writer of Hebrews says that David was a prophet. In Acts 2:30 it says, ‘but he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne.’

1. The Citation

The citation empowered him to rule. He is given the authority and power to rule. When he says, ‘sit at my right hand,’ sitting is the posture of authority. When Moses taught, he sat and the same with Christ as we see in Matthew 5:1, ‘now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountain side and sate down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.’ The Latin word is ex cathedra or the bishop’s see or chair; the seat of authority. In 1 Kings 2:19 we see where Bathsheba went to King Solomon to speak to him for Adonijah, the king stood up to meet her, bowed down to her and sat down on his throne. He had a throne brought for the King’s mother, and she sat down at his right hand. In Matthew 20:20-24, the mother of the Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him: grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom. But Jesus replied, you don’t know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup I am going to drink? In the temple, you have the Ten Commandments and the Ark that represented God’s rule and then at his right hand, you had the king who implemented the rule. This helps us to understand that God is the one who gives the law and Jesus is the one who upholds and ministers the law and justice. So, this is how I understand the phrase ‘sitting at the right hand.’

He is the judge of all and he is under God. This is a parallel to the Egyptian coronation liturgy. In the ceremony you had two parts or two coronations, on at the temple and one at the palace. In the palace he ascended his throne where in a more or less threatening way he announced the start of his rule over city and state. This is a type fulfilled in ascension of Jesus into heaven where today the Son of Man sits at God’s right hand and is given a kingdom. You can read both, Daniel 7:13 and Acts 2:34-36. So, today his kingdom is universal; under every language there are those worshiping Jesus as king. The Spirit of God will move where he will; it started in Jerusalem and still continues after two thousand years. Today, the major spiritual movement is in Southeast Asia where sixty percent of all evangelicals live. There are more there than in Europe and the English speaking world. In Hebrew the word ‘until’ means a continuing state of affairs; even after it reaches fulfilment. It says, ‘until I make your enemies a footstool for my feet.’ The enemies here are those opposed to the Ten Commandments and God’s rule; and the footstool becomes part of the God’s throne. We see from Psalm 92 where it says that ‘the Lord is on High.’ The footstool of Tutankhamen depicted foreign captives, prostrate with their hands behind their back symbolically depicting his enemies as already bound and under his feet. So, this seems to be the imagery being used here. From 1st Corinthians 15:25-27, Paul says that he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death. He has put everything under his feet’ when it says that everything, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. Then in Ephesians 1:22-23, God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

2. Reflections on the Citation

Prophetic Address to the Lord by the prophet in sending forth the scepter, a badge and symbol of authority. Christ’s badge and symbol is his resurrection from the dead. In Psalm 2:9 it was called a scepter of iron that couldn’t be broken. The sending forth was an extending in ever widening circles. Zion is conceptualized as the center of the world from which the kingdom expands. He is told to rule, to initiate his holy war to bring people into submission to the Gospel of freedom from sin and death. Today, he rules through the suffering church, filling up his sufferings. The church relies on prayer. In verse 3, it says that your people will offer themselves freedom. People can refer to troops as in Psalm 44; it is the army, the young men and warriors who go into battle. This army is a volunteer army; this word is used as in free will offerings. They are dedicated, fearless warriors to support their leader on the battlefield. They love and trust their king and know their cause is just. For today, we don’t fight with a sword but with the sword of God’s word with a goal of establishing a spiritual kingdom. We see back in Deuteronomy 20:8 that only volunteers could fight. It says that if anyone is afraid or fainthearted, let them go home so that his fellow soldiers will not become disheartened. We become a free will offering as we participate in this spiritual war. In 1st Corinthians 15:29, Paul talks about resurrection of the dead. If there is no resurrection, why would anyone replace the martyrs and accept baptism into martyrdom if there is no resurrection from the dead. The resurrection of Jesus is everything for the Christian believer, otherwise there is no faith. Paul talks about himself as a drink offering in Philippians 2:17, ‘but even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith.’

The day of his power is the day Jesus poured out his Spirit. The mighty army set apart to God as a pure kingdom of priests. The army is clothed in righteousness and holiness. The phrase, ‘from the womb of the dawn’ is a metaphor of the dawn of the final king’s rule. This new age with Christ is like the dew of the morning, refreshment to the earth. Each generation of the church is like the dew of the morning. When I think of the dew after the night, I think of the heavenly origin. This is used in Micah where it says that the dew doesn’t wait for man but it waits upon God. It is God who sends the dew and it is God who raises up his army. You can see this dew on the cobwebs and smell it on the clover. It has a mysterious, heavenly origin. Micah 5:7 says that the remnant of Jacob will be in the midst of many peoples like dew from the Lord, like showers on the grass, which do not wait for anyone or depend on man. Dew reflects the beauty of the Lord, a refreshing sparkle to the morning mist.

B. The Second Stanza: Verses 4-7

4 The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest forever like Melchizedek."
5 The Lord is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath.
6 He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.
7 He will drink from the brook by the way; therefore he will lift up his head.

1. Eternal Priesthood

This stanza begins with his eternal priesthood and ends with his eternal victory. The introduction begins with an oath: he swears and will not change his mind. God changes prophecies according to human response but never changes an oath. There is a difference between prophecy and promise and an oath. It is often said that if God promises something, it is sure to come to past; but this really isn’t so. God never transgresses his moral rule, so prophesy is always contingent upon the behavior of people. There is always an opportunity to repent or do the opposite. So prophecy is always conditional on the human response to the prophecy. The intention of a prophecy is to bring repentance. For example, when Micah prophesied that Zion would be plowed as a field, totally destroyed; Hezekiah repented and averted the judgement. Micah never called for repentance; it was assumed, a presupposition of prophetic literature. This happened with Jonah and Nineveh. But when God swears upon an oath, then it is irrevocable. This is dealt with in Richard Pratt’s book, The Way of Wisdom.

He will be forever a priest, this is an oath. The high priest is divinely appointed to protect the sanctity of the temple and perform what properly goes on there: offering sacrifices for the people, singing psalms, dealing gently with those who go astray, dispensing oracles; teaching the Torah; and judging. The priests represent Israel’s relationship with God; they are mediators of the covenant. They bear the names of the twelve tribes on his breastplate, represents the entire nation. The holiness that worshiping demands is symbolized in the priesthood, which makes a visible statement that God, is the Lord and master of the nation.

2. Reflections

We have now the Prophet’s Reflections in verse 5 where it says the Lord is at your right hand. This is an address to the Messiah, and it assumes divine protection and power where true strength smashes kings, who are empowered by demonic forces. Their defeat is certain because their king has been dethroned from heaven and been bound in the sense that today Jesus Christ takes captives from nations formerly under his rule and frees them from sin and death to join him in his battle for truth and justice. Note that in verse 1, The Lord is Yahweh says to Adoni, my master. But now in verse 4 it says that the Lord has sworn, again Yahweh but in Verse 5, ‘The Lord is at your right hand’ should also be in capitals as it is Adonay referring to the Lord of all. The king will execute judgement among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth. The emphasis here is on the second coming where he will execute judgement among the nations. These chiefs refer to the rulers of the earth. Brook comes from the Hebrew word ‘wadi’. This image denotes that God will supply the Messiah with water to quench and refresh his thirst so he can complete his task. This wadi will be full of gushing water. It also shows that even in desert areas of the broad earth God will supply the Messiah with abundant water. His march will be to establish God’s kingdom to the ends of the earth. In lifting up his head, this is a sign of victory.

Transcribed by BT Ambassador Phil Smith.