BIBLIOTHECA SACRA 157 (April–June 2000): 160–73

         Copyright © 2000 by Dallas Theological Seminary. Cited with permission.    

 

 

                           IS PSALM 110 A

                       MESSIANIC PSALM?

 

 

                                               Barry C. Davis

 

DID THE NEW TESTAMENT WRITERS violate the intent of

the author of Psalm 110 when they identified the undesig-

nated ynidoxE ("my Lord") of Psalm 110:1 (and hence the fo-

cus of the entire psalm) as the Messiah, that is, Jesus Christ?1

This article investigates the legitimacy of the messianic inter-

pretation of Psalm 110.

            Before addressing the issue at hand, brief mention of two de-

bated topics surrounding the understanding of Psalm 110 must be

made.2 The first issue is the time when this psalm was written,

and the second concerns the identification of the author of the

psalm. Most commentators hold one of three views about the date

of the writing: pre-Israelite Canaanite origins,3 postexilic Israel-

 

Barry C. Davis is Assistant Professor of Bible and Hebrew, Multnomah Biblical

Seminary, Portland, Oregon.

            1 Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted or referenced psalm in the New Testa-

ment. New Testament authors directly cite Psalm 110:1, regarding ynidoxE (my Lord)

sitting at the right hand of hvhy (the LORD) in Matthew 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42;

Acts 2:34; Hebrews 1:13; and they allude to it in Matthew 26:64; Mark 14:62; Luke

22:69; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; and Hebrews 8:1. Also the author of the Book

of Hebrews quoted Psalm 110:4 in affirming that is of the priestly order of

Melchizedek in Hebrews 5:6; 7:17; and he made general reference to the psalm in

Hebrews 5:10; 6:20; and 7:11, 15.

            2 Bateman presents a succinct but thorough overview of the major points of the

debate surrounding these two significant issues (Herbert W. Bateman IV, "Psalm

110:1 and the New Testament," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 [October–December 1992]:

438–53).

            3 See Umberto Cassuto, "Biblical Literature and Canaanite Literature," Tarbiz 13

(1942): 211–212; J. H. Patton, Canaanite Parallels in the Book of Psalms (Baltimore:

Johns Hopkins University Press, 1944); H. H. Rowley, "Melchizedek and Zadok

(Gen 14 and Ps 110)," in Festschrift: Alfred Bertholet (Tubingen: J. C. B. Mohr,

1950), 461–72; H. G. Jefferson, "Is Psalm 110 Canaanite?" Journal of Biblical Litera-

ture 73 (1954): 152–56. These and similar works typically argue either from a his-

torical-precedent position, that is, the presence of a royal priesthood existing in

Jerusalem before the Israelite conquest of the land, or from the presence of Hebrew

vocabulary forms in Psalm 110 that may have Canaanite parallels.



                        Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?                           161

 

ite origins,4 or preexilic Israelite origins.5 An analysis of the

arguments for these views favors the third position, that is, the

view that the psalm was written before the Exile.

            Commentators also say the author of the psalm was either

Zadok and David together,6 an unnamed poet-prophet,7 or David

himself. The present author, along with others,8 favors Davidic

authorship. This view is based on (a) the content of the psalm, (b)

several New Testament references to David as the speaker of the

psalm (Matt. 22:43-44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42-44; Acts 2:34-35),

and (c) the superscription that links David to the psalm.9

            Once Davidic authorship for Psalm 110 is accepted, a third

question arises: To whom did David refer when, in verse 1, he

used the term ynidoxE ("my Lord")? Bateman identifies five options,

the first four of which are earthly kings—King Saul, King Achish

of the Philistines, King David himself, and King Solomon—and

 

            4 Robert H. Pfeiffer, Introduction to the Old Testament (New York: Harper &

Brothers, 1941); and M. Treves, "Two Acrostic Psalms," Vetus Testamentum, 15

(1965): 81-90. This view typically advances Simon Maccabeus as the referent of the

term ynidoxE ("my Lord"), thus dating the psalm in the Hasmonean period.

            5 S. Mowinkel, "Psalm Criticism between 1900 and 1935: Ugarit and Psalm Exege-

sis," Vetus Testamentum 5 (1955): 13-33; and L. C. Allen, Psalm 101-150, Word Bib-

lical Commentary (Waco, TX: Word 1987). A preexilic Israelite origin is advocated

by most scholars today.

            6 Rowley, "Melchizedek and Zadok (Gen 14 and Ps 110)," 461-72.

            7 C. A. Briggs and E. G. Briggs, The Book of Psalms, International Critical Com-

mentary (Edinburgh: Clark, 1907); E. J. Kissane, "The Interpretation of Psalm

110:1," Irish Theological Quarterly 21 (1954): 103-14; G. Cooke, "The Israelite King

as Son of God," Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 73 (1961):

202--25; G. R. Driver, "Psalm CX: Its Form[,] Meaning and Purpose," in Studies in

the Bible, ed. J. M. Grintz and J. Liver (Jerusalem: Kiryat Sepher, 1964), 17-31; J. G.

Gammie, "A New Setting for Psalm 110," Anglican Theological Review 51 (1969):

4-17; V. K Homburg, "Psalm 110 1 im Rahmen des juda:ischen Kronungszeremo-

niells," Zeitschrift fur die alttestamentliche Wissenschaft 84 (1972): 243-46; and S.

Schreiner, "Psalm CX and die Investitur des Hohenpriester," Vetus Testamentum

27 (1977): 216-22.

            8 Arthur Weiser, The Psalms: A Commentary, trans. Herbert Hartwell (Phila-

delphia: Westminster, 1962), 692-93; J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms

(Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), 295-97; J. Boyd, "The Triumphant Priest-King,"

Biblical Viewpoint 6 (November 1972): 99-110; M. Naumann, "VIII. Psalm 110," in

"Messianic Mountaintops," Springfielder 39 (June 1975): 60-65; M. J. Paul, "The

Order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4 and Heb 7:3)," Westminster Theological Journal 49

(1987): 195-211; John Phillips, Exploring the Psalms: Psalms 89-150 (Neptune, NJ:

Loizeaux, 1988), 190; Bateman, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament," 444-45; and

Elliott E. Johnson, "Hermeneutical Principles and the Interpretation of Psalm

110," Bibliotheca Sacra 149 (October-December 1992): 428-37.

            9 The superscription dvidAl; may be translated "by David," "for David," "to David," or

"belonging to David." Therefore the superscription may not necessarily identify

David as the author of the psalm, but yet it does not rule out Davidic authorship.

 



162                 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 2000

 

the fifth is a heavenly King, that is, the Messiah.10 Bateman cor-

rectly dismisses Saul and Achish as being improbable candi-

dates for the attributions of Psalm 110 (Saul was dead at the time

of the inauguration of the Davidic Covenant in 2 Samuel 7, and

Achish was a non-Israelite king), despite the fact that both had

been referred to by David (on different occasions) as ynidoxE (1 Sam.

24:6, 10; 26:18; 29:8). Bateman also discounts Merrill's argument

that David directed the psalm to himself with a formulaic term

ancient kings used to refer to themselves.

            Bateman argues that the referent of is David's son Solo-

mon, stating that "after Solomon was coronated, he sat ‘on the

throne of the Lord’ (1 Chron. 29:23)" and that "the one whom David

called ‘my lord’ in Psalm 110:1 may well have been his son

Solomon."11

            Regarding the possibility that David used the term ynidoxE to re-

fer to the Messiah, Bateman concludes that the Masoretic pointing

of ynidoxE rather than ynadoxE indicates that "David was directing this

oracle from Yahweh to a human lord, not to the divine messianic

Lord,"12 since, Bateman says, "the form ‘to my lord’ (ynidoxla) is

never used elsewhere in the Old Testament as a divine refer-

ence."13 Bateman presents a strong case for his position, stating

that 94 percent of the 168 occurrences of the various forms of

refer to earthly lords, with the remaining occurrences being

"when Joshua, Gideon, Daniel, and Zechariah addressed an an-

gelic being as ‘my lord’ (Josh. 5:14; Judg. 6:13; Dan. 10:16, 17, 19;

12:8; Zech. 1:9; 4:4-5, 13; 6:4)."14 A case, however, can be made for

the view that the referent of ynidoxE in both Joshua 5:14 and Judges

6:13 is hvhy (the LORD) Himself.15 Thus there is nothing to preclude

 

            10 Bateman, "Psalm 110:1 and the New Testament," 445—52.

            11 Ibid., 448-49, n. 49. See Eugene H. Merrill, "Royal Priesthood: An Old Testament

Messianic Motif  (paper read at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological

Society, November 1991), 1-11; and idem, "Royal Priesthood: An Old Testament

Messianic Motif," Bibliotheca Sacra 150 [January-March 1993]: 54-56. The argu-

ments Merrill offers, however, do not outweigh the arguments that favor a messi-

anic attribution for ynidoxE.

            12 Ibid., 448.

            13 Ibid.

            14 Ibid.

            15 When Gideon met the angel of the Lord (Judg. 6:12) and Gideon referred to the

angel of the Lord as ynidoxE (6:13, 15), the author of the Book of Judges identified the

angel of the Lord as hvhy ("the LORD") in 6:14. It can be argued, however, that Gideon

was unaware that the one addressing him was Yahweh when he referred to Him as

ynidoxE ("my lord"), a term of respect.



                        Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?                           163

 

the possibility that the referent of David's use of ynidoxE is the Messiah

(and hence, Jesus, as the New Testament authors interpreted the

referent).

            This article presents three elements of an exegetical treat-

ment of Psalm 110: poetic and structural analysis, contextual

analysis, and theological analysis.16

                        POETIC AND STRUCTURAL ANALYSIS

VERSE 1

            This verse introduces the persons mentioned in the psalm—Yah-

weh, Adoni, and the enemy. Assonance is used to unite the first

two cola following the title (ynidoxla, "to my Lord," is parallel to yniymili,

"at My right side"). This device binds Yahweh and Adoni to-

gether, thereby showing that they are distinct from the enemy.

            A second example of assonance begins in verse lc and car-

ries through verse 3. This is the repetition of the final j~ ("Your")

which highlights Adoni's ownership of His opponents ("Your

enemies," who become "Your footstool," v. 1; "Your enemies," v .

2b), His ability to rule ("Your scepter," v. 2a; "Your power," v. 3a),

and His relationship to His friends ("Your people"; "Your youth,"

v. 3). A further instance of the j~ assonance occurs in verse 3 in

the prepositional phrase j`l; ("to You").17

 

            Similarly, perhaps Joshua did not know that "the captain of the host of the

LORD" was Yahweh when he addressed Him as ynidoxE, a title of respect (Josh. 5:14).

However in Joshua 6:2 the author of the Book of Joshua did identify ynidoxE as Yahweh

("the LORD"). C. F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, Biblical Commen-

tary on the Old Testament, trans. James Martin [1868; reprint, Grand Rapids:

Eerdmans, 1968], 63–64).

            16 A text critical analysis reveals that if Psalm 110 is messianic in its entirety,

then the Masoretic text proves to be highly reliable and may be used with confi-

dence to exegete Psalm 110. Others, however, assume or attempt to demonstrate that

the text of Psalm 110 is corrupt and in need of significant emendation. See H. F.

Peacock, A Translator's Guide to Selected Psalms (London: United Bible Societies,

1981), 121; Th. Booij, "Psalm CX: `Rule in the Midst of Your Foes,"' Vetus Testamen-

tum 41 (1991): 396 407; Cooke, "The Israelite King as Son of God," 218–24; and Kis-

sane, "The Interpretation of Psalm 110," 104.

            All areas of textual difficulty are cleared up by understanding the psalm not as

a coronation psalm, or a psalm to be read at an autumnal festival, or some other kind of

psalm (see the following paragraph), but as a messianic psalm from beginning to end.

            Along with the messianic view of Psalm 110, Johnson has identified the follow-

ing ten alternative proposals by different scholars for the occasion of the psalm: a

New Year enthronement festival, a covenant renewal festival, a royal Zion festival,

instructions for conquering Jerusalem, a celebration after conquering Jerusalem, a

celebration after moving the ark to Jerusalem, the granting of the Davidic Cove-

nant, instructions to the king as he went to war, a meditation on Psalms 2 and 21,

and the coronation of Solomon (Johnson, "Hermeneutical Principles and the Inter-

pretation of Psalm 110," 430, n. 5).

            17 All translations are those of the present writer.



164      BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-June 2000

 

            The Hebrew Scriptures link bwayA (when defined as "to sit," not

"to dwell") and NymiyA ("right side") on only four occasions (1 Kings

2:19; 22:19; 2 Chron. 18:18; Ps. 110:1). In two of the four (1 Kings

22:19 and 2 Chron. 18:18), hvhy ("the LORD") is the one pictured as

sitting. Those who are depicted as being at His right side are an-

gels, who are portrayed as standing. In the remaining two pas-

sages, in which someone other than hvhy is identified as sitting

(Bathsheba in 1 Kings 2:19 and ynidoxE here in Psalm 110:1), that per-

son is viewed as being highly important, royalty in fact.

            Both uses of the phrase j~yb,yOx ("your enemies") in Psalm 110

(vv. 1 and 2) refer to God's enemies, not to the enemies of a human

lord. Six, if not all seven, of the other uses of "your enemies" in

the Psalter also refer to God's enemies, not to the enemies of a

human ruler (8:2; 21:8; 66:3; 74:23; 89:10, 51; 92:9 [twice]).18

While not necessarily a strong argument, this observation does

lend support to the assertion that in Psalm 110:1—2 refers to

God, thus lending support to the messianic nature of the psalm.

            Still another support for a messianic understanding of the

psalm is the use of the word MdoHE ("footstool") in 110:1. Elsewhere

when the term MdoHE refers to a footstool (1 Chron. 28:2; Pss. 99:5;

132:7; Isa. 66:1; Lam. 2:1), it is God's. Thus the likelihood is

strong that the author of Psalm 110 also intended the word to be

understood in the same way.

 

VERSE 2

This verse places the direct object (j~z;.fu-hFe.ma, "Your strong scepter")

at the beginning of the verse before the verb (Hlaw;yi, "He will stretch

forth") that governs it. In this way David dramatically empha-

sized Adoni's right to rule. He did this to set the stage for the pow-

erful action Adoni must and will take, as stated in the remainder

of the psalm. If Adoni were weak (which He is not), there would be

no way for Him to defeat His enemies.

            Moreover, that scepter, according to David, is to be extended

(Hlaw;yi, "He will stretch forth") by none other than Yahweh Him-

self. Furthermore Yahweh will act from the center of the place of

His earthly rule, that is, Zion.

            David then abruptly shifted the form of the verb from an im-

 

            18 The referent of the word "your" in Psalm 21:8 is debated. Most commentators

argue that the enemies are enemies of the human king spoken of in that psalm (see

Peter C. Craigie, Psalms 1-50, Word Biblical Commentary [Waco, TX: Word, 1983],

192). Dahood, however, maintains that the words are directed to the divine Lord

rather than to the human king (Mitchell J. Dahood, Psalms: Introduction, Transla-

tion, and Notes [Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), 1:131).



            Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?                           165

 

perfect (hlaw;yi) to an imperative (hder;, "Rule!").19 As a result the

reader is once again made aware of the significance that Yahweh

places on Adoni's control over His foes. The abrupt change from

the imperfect to the imperative emphasizes forceful action: "Rule

in the midst of your enemies."

            In addition to this, David's use of the imperative here serves

another function as well. It forms the ending component of an

inclusio begun with another imperative in verse 1, an imperative

that also expresses strength ("Sit at My right side"). This inclusio

separates the actions of deity from those of humanity seen in

verse 3.

 

VERSE 320

The middle of this verse ("in holy ornaments, from the womb of

the morning") acts as a "double-duty modifier." Dahood defines

that operation as follows: "Also termed the ‘two-way middle,’ this

device creates an interpenetrating and, as it were, fluid entity, in

which phrases will go both with the sentence before and after with

no break in the movement of thought."21

            The people are said to be dressed "in holy ornaments," which

elsewhere are used in association with the worship or praise of

God (1 Chron. 16:29; 2 Chron. 20:21; Pss. 29:2; 96:9). These

clothes, moreover, may be similar to those "holy garments" worn

by Aaron when he entered the Holy Place. Although they might

not be the same garments, they are suggestive of priestly garb and

thus heighten the reader's awareness of priestly functions, which

are noted in verse 4.

 

            19 Outside of Psalm 110:2 the verb (hdArA, "to rule") is linked either directly or

indirectly to the Lord as ruler on two occasions: in Isaiah 41:2 (directly to God) and

Lamentations 1:13 (indirectly by a fire sent forth by God). Curiously in the immedi-

ate context of both of these God-referenced uses the noun lg,r, ("foot") appears. In

Isaiah 41:2 God called an individual "in righteousness to His feet," and in Lamenta-

tions 1:13 God spread a net as a snare for the feet of Jerusalem. Here in Psalm 110:1

the Lord made the enemies a footstool for the feet yndoxE ("my Lord").

            20 The phrase j~l,yHe ("your power"), in the first line of Psalm 110:3 occurs only eight

times in the Old Testament. In all six instances of the phrase outside of the Psalter,

the pronominal suffix (1 , "your") refers to part of the creation. By contrast, both of

the occurrences within the Psalter (59:12; 110:3) identify God as the exhibitor of the

power (lyiHa). This, of course, assumes that ynidoxE ("my Lord"), the referent to ("your")

in Psalm 110, does in fact signify deity. However, the term 57.7 ("power or army")

without the suffix is linked within the Psalter to both God and to what God has

created.

            21 Mitchell J. Dahood, "Poetry, Hebrew," in Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible,

Supplementary Volume (1976), 670.



166                 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 2000

 

VERSE 4

Kraus correctly identifies the major break in the psalm at this

verse. "Verse 4 first provides a new introduction to an oracle of

God. The speaker assures us that Yahweh's statement is guaran-

teed by a declaration that is irrevocable and sworn."22 The verse

stands not only as the central verse of the psalm but also as its

central focus. Adoni is declared to be an eternal priest, not of the

line of David, however, but of the "order" of Melchizedek.

            Why did David insert this verse about Adoni (Messiah) be-

coming a priest, especially in light of the fact that in verses 1-3

David demonstrated Adoni's power as a divine, powerful King

who in verses 5-7 will mightily exercise that power to the total de-

struction of His enemies? Perhaps David did this in order to show

that Adoni's enemies will be slaughtered as sacrifices, that they

will be devastated in the midst of a holy war, led by a holy King-

Priest, who will bring them as slaughtered sacrifices to God.

 

VERSE 5

David linked both halves of the Psalm to the theme of Adoni's

eternal and unique priesthood. In verse 3 David referred to j~l,yHe

MOyB; ("in the day of Your power"), and in verse 5 he repeated the

words “in the day of” in the phrase OPxa-MOyB; ("in the day of His an-

ger"). In each case the "power" and the "anger" are Adoni's,

which He will reveal in the midst of a battle against His enemies.

Because these phrases precede and follow verse 4, which speaks of

Messiah's eternal priesthood, they highlight the fact that a

Melchizedekian priest is more than one who performs worshipful

ritual. He is, in fact, One who does powerful and successful battle

for the glory of Yahweh.

            The expression "in the day of His anger" further supports a

messianic view of Psalm 110. In this passage the suffix O (His)

refers to ynidoxE ("the Lord"). Elsewhere in Scripture the construct re-

lationship between MOY ("day of') and Jxa ("anger") occurs in only

six verses (Job 20:28; Lam. 2:1, 21—22; Zeph. 2:2—3). In each of

those cases the anger is God's. There is a strong possibility that

the author of Psalm 110 also intended to indicate that the One who

is angry (ynidoxE, "the Lord") is none other than God.

 

VERSE 6

Three poetic devices are noted in this verse. First, David used

 

            22 Hans-Joachim Kraus, Psalms 60-150: A Commentary, trans. Hilton C. Oswald

(Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1989), 350.



                        Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?                           167

 

disambiguation23 ("He will fill them with corpses") to explain

graphically the meaning of the first part of the verse ("He will

judge the nations"). The essence of judgment is the death of all

who are judged. Second, David employed another example of

repetition. He used CHamA ("He will smite")24 in the second half of

verse 5 and in the second half of verse 6. Adoni, the Melchizede-

kian Priest, will destroy kings, judge nations, and make

corpses.

            A third noteworthy literary technique in verse 6 is that of

building to a climax. Verse 5 focuses on kings (individual rul-

ers), the first part of verse 6 focuses on nations (whole people

groups), and the second part of verse 6 refers to the "head,"25 ap-

parently one who rules over several peoples.

            All three of these poetic devices reveal the greatness of Adoni,

the Messiah. Adoni is qualified to judge, is capable of judging

people, and is more than able to judge and defeat His enemies.

 

VERSE 7

Here David returned to a "refreshment" metaphor that he used in

verse 3. In that earlier verse the willingness of the people to vol-

unteer for Messiah's army was pictured as dew, which refreshes

the ground. Here in verse 7, by contrast, the refreshment comes

after the battle when, victorious and "tired" from the battle, Mes-

siah stoops to drink water from a flowing stream. The last part of

verse 7 provides an additional contrast--between the enemy of

Messiah (v. 6) and Messiah Himself (v. 7). In verse 6 the enemy,

viewed as wxro ("the head"), is cut down and destroyed; in verse 7

the Messiah, in a totally opposite situation, lifts up His head (wxro),

thereby signifying that He has secured a complete victory.

            A review of David's use of poetic arid structural devices re-

 

            23 According to Berlin, disambiguation is the use of the second line of a parallel-

ism to clarify the topic of the first line when the first line does not contain suffi-

cient information to ensure that the reader understands the direction in which the

text is moving (Adele Berlin, The Dynamics of Biblical Parallelism [Bloomington,

IN: Indiana University Press, 1992], 96-99).

            24 The verb form ChamA ("to smite") appears in Scripture more frequently in the con-

text of God being the One who does the shattering than in the context of humans

being those who do the killing. Yet, because there are a number of passages in

which humans appear as the subject of the verb, this verb by itself cannot be used

with any confidence to support a messianic setting for Psalm 110. On the other

hand the use of this verb does not negate the possibility that the Messiah is the

primary focus of attention of this passage.

            25 The New American Standard Bible renders the singular wxro (head") by the plu-

ral "chief men," and the New International Version translates the word as "rulers."



168                 BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 2000

 

veals that this psalm is not as disjointed or as unwieldy as it may

at first appear. David's focus was on the Messiah, particularly in

relation to His special priesthood. David also showed by means of

emphasis, repetition, disambiguation, and climax (among other

methods) that Messiah is a kingly Priest who is more than able to

defeat His enemies in battle.

 

                                    CONTEXTUAL ANALYSIS

 

Psalm 110 is the linchpin psalm of the first seven psalms of Book

Five of the Psalter. Besides occuring in the middle of the seven

psalms (Pss. 107—113), Psalm 110 joins two different groups of

psalms together. Psalms 107—109 express anguished pleas for de-

liverance; Psalms 111—113 overflow with praise for Yahweh.

Psalm 110, the connecting psalm, reveals that the Messiah is both

a King and a Priest who gives victory to His people (see Fig. 1).

Thus because God more than meets the grief-stricken cries of His

people, He is to be praised.

 

107     108    109  ----------------------

Plea for Deliverance                          |

                                                            110

                                                The God of Deliverance

                                                              |

                                                                 -----------  111      112     113

                                                                                    Praise for Deliverance

 

Figure 1. Psalm 110 as a Thematic Unifier of Psalms 107—113

 

            As the center psalm between these two groups, Psalm 110 is

naturally related to Psalms 109 and 111.26 Psalms 109 and 110

exhibit similar words and concepts that link them together. Both

are psalms of David (rOmz;mi dvidAl;) and both direct much of their

thought toward Yahweh (109:14-15, 20, 21, 26-27, 30; 110:1-2, 4-5) .

The phrase Nymiyli ("at the right side") occurs in 109:6, 31 and in 110:

 

            26 For further information on the materials presented in this section, see Barry

C. Davis, "A Contextual Analysis of Psalms 107-118" (Ph.D. diss., Trinity Interna-

tional University, 1996), 110-13, 148-50.



            Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?                           169

 

1, 5, although in these two verses in Psalm 110 it refers to the right

side of deity whereas in Psalm 109 it signifies deity being at the

right hand of a needy person to rescue him from those about to de-

stroy his soul.

            Also several parallel ideas exist in both psalms. The concept

of judgment (but with different people involved) is noted in 109:7,

31 and 110:6. In addition the gathering of God's people in His

honor is expressed in 109:30 and 110:3. Moreover, what is requested

in Psalm 109 (i.e., the destruction of enemies) is fulfilled in 110:1, 5-6.

            Several similar terms are used in both psalms. The word hvhy

("LORD") is used in both psalms of the self-existent One who has

power over the adversary. A second term, Cr,x, ("earth, land"), ap-

pears in the context of the destruction of the enemy. From the

earth, according to 109:15, the memory of the adversary is to be

removed, and according to 110:6 the leader of the wicked is to be

scattered over the earth. The word ynidoxE ("my lord") is used in fo-

cusing either on the deliverance of the righteous out of the hand of

the adversary or on the humiliation of the wicked (Pss. 109:21;

110:5). Also in 109:25 the last thing the adversaries do is shake

their wxro ("head") side to side in reproach regarding God's ser-

vant. By contrast, in Psalm 110 the last thing God does after de-

feating the wxro ("head" or “chief”) of His enemies (v. 6) is to lift

His wxro ("head") up in victory (v. 7).

            Certain contrasting ideas in these two psalms may be noted.

Psalm 109:8 depicts an office or responsibility being taken away

from the wicked; but 110:1 and 4 show offices being given to Mes-

siah. Psalm 109:8 and 13 record the temporary nature of the

wicked, but 110:4 speaks of the eternality of God. A contrasting

use of water is seen in 109:18 (in terms of devastation—cursing

enters the body like water) and 110:7 (in terms of refreshment).

            In a similar fashion numerous ties exist between Psalm 110

and 111. Deliverance by the Messiah, seen in Psalm 110, is a ba-

sis for giving praise to God in Psalm 111. Three significant con-

cepts link these psalms together: a gathering of people (110:3;

111:1), God's special relationship to His people (110:3; 111:9), and

the defeat of nations (110:6; 111:6).

            First, in Psalm 110 the gathering of God's people occurs

within the setting of a battle. The people join together with the Lord

to fight against and be victorious over their mutual enemies

(110:3, 5-6). The gathering in Psalm 111 takes place after a vic-

tory has been won. The people gather together for what may be

called a testimony meeting—a time for the people to hear the

speaker in Psalm 111 praise God for who He is and for what He

has accomplished (particularly for the deliverance He has pro-



170     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April-,June 2000

 

vided for His people; 111:6, 9).

            Second, in both psalms God is pictured as manifesting a spe-

cial relationship with His people. Having a covenant relation-

ship with them (111:5, 9), He centers His base of operations in

their midst (in Zion) from which He exhibits His power against

the adversary (110:2; 111:6). His people, in turn, rally around

Him for war (110:3) and praise Him for the redemption He se-

cures for them (111:6, 9). In both psalms, moreover, God's people

are able to observe His power (lyiHa, 110:3; HaKo, 111:6) as He exer-

cises it over those who are opposed to Him, particularly as He ex-

ercises it against the nations (110:6; 111:6).

            Third, the authors of both psalms portray God as being more

than able to defeat His enemies.

            These terms and concepts point to the close relationship be-

tween Psalm 110 and Psalms 109 and 111. A study of Psalm 110 i n

connection with the remaining psalms of the Psalms 107-118 cor-

pus also reveals points of similarity.27 Thus Psalm 110, with its

messianic orientation, is an important psalm in a strategic posi-

tion within the Psalter.

 

                                    THEOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

 

As noted earlier, many critical scholars argue that Psalm 110

relates to the enthronement ceremony of an earthly ruling king

or the autumnal festival.28  Driver suggests that the enthronement

ceremony involves these steps:

 

            (i)        mounting the future king on the royal mule;

            (ii )      escorting him to Gihon . . . to drink of its water;

            (iii)     the anointing of a prophet or a priest, accompanied

                        by sacrifices;

            (iv)      the acclamation;

            (v)       naming him;

            (vi)      the presentation "by" (or "on") the pillar;

            (vii)     putting the crown and the "testimony" on his head;

            (viii)    drawing up a "covenant" between the king and

                        the people.29

 

            27 Ibid., pp. 29-336 (passim).

            28 A. A. Anderson, The Book of Psalms, New Century Bible (London: Oliphants,

1972), 2:767; and M. J. Paul, "The Order of Melchizedek (Ps 110:4 and Heb 7:3),"

Westminster Theological Journal 49 (1987): 195.

            29 Driver, "Psalm CX: Its Form Meaning and Purpose," 28-29.



                Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?               171

 

            Two primary difficulties with this view should be noted.

First, Psalm 110 contains only some of the above components of a

coronation ceremony (perhaps only ii, iii, iv, and vii—and some

of these are disputed). Second, and more devastating to the en-

thronement view, is the fact that "as far as the evidence goes, the

ritual of the coronation ceremony was a really summary affair;

and for the practice of commemorating the king's ascension by

an annual festival there is no Biblical evidence whatever."30

            The autumnal festival view of Psalm 110, which is held by

fewer critics than is the enthronement position, maintains, as

Gammie writes, that "the setting of the psalms in relation to natu-

ral phenomena, and especially the autumnal rainfall, is as im-

portant as their setting in the cult."31 Importance is attached to

natural phenomena, according to this view, because of the belief

of the ancients that when they "heard the thunder of the heavens

and saw the lightning, they believed that Yahweh, in the heavenly

realm, was sitting in judgment on the gods of the nations."32

Furthermore the autumnal festival, held in October or November,

was designed to ensure that God would respond kindly to the Isra-

elites and end the drought season. Gammie therefore argues that

the occasion of Psalm 110 "seems to have been a drought," and

since the king was promised that he would "drink from a torrent

along the way (vs. 7)," this implies that water was scarce.33

            The primary difficulty with the autumnal festival argument

(apart from the fact that there is no biblical evidence of such use of

this or any other psalm as a component part of the festival)34 is

that the argument is based solely on verse 7 and does not ade-

quately take into account the numerous other promises made in

the psalm itself.

            Does the meaning of any psalm come from its usage or from

its words when originally written? The fact that later interpreters

"adjust the meaning of" (reinterpret) a psalm does not mean that

the psalm originally contained that new thought.

            Furthermore is Psalm 110 a royal and/or a messianic

psalm? Although the psalm speaks of a king (vv. 1-2), it cannot

be called a "royal" psalm for the following reasons: (1) No

 

            30 E. J. Kissane, "The Interpretation of Psalm 110," Irish Theological Quarterly 21

(1954): 104.

            31 John G. Gammie, "A New Setting for Psalm 110," Anglican Theological Review

51 (1969): 4.

            32 Ibid., 7.

            33 Ibid., 11.

            34 Kissane, "The Interpretation of Psalm 110," 104.



172     BIBLIOTHECA SACRA / April—June 2000

 

earthly king is ever observed as seated at God's right hand (v. 1),

(2) no earthly king has ever filled the role of an eternal Priest (v .

2), and (3) no earthly king is able to "judge the nations," as this

King will do (v. 6).

            Psalm. 110, moreover, is the psalm most frequently quoted by

New Testament writers, with the clear intention of affirming that

Jesus Christ is the Messiah and the Melchizedekian King-

Priest.35 The theology that is derived merely from an assessment

of verses 1 and 4 is far-reaching. The following points briefly

highlight that theological development.

 

REGARDING PSALM 110:1

1.         Jesus cited this verse to prove that Messiah is more than a

            mere physical descendant of David (Matt. 22:41–45; Mark

            12:35–37; Luke 20:41–44).

2.         Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 on the Day of Pentecost to demon-

            strate that Jesus is the Messiah (Acts 2:34–36).

3.         The writer of Hebrews quoted the verse to argue that the Mes-

            siah (who is Jesus) is greater than the angels (Heb. 1:13).

4.         The writers of the New Testament cited the verse in order to

            show that after Jesus' crucifixion, resurrection, and ascen-

            sion (Acts 2:33–35; Heb. 6:20), He is now seated at the right

            hand of God the Father in heaven.

5.         In addition New Testament writers stated that God places His

            enemies under Jesus' feet (1 Cor. 15:25–28; Eph. 1:22; Heb.

            10:13).

 

REGARDING PSALM 110:4

1.         Jesus was given the title of High Priest, a title after which He

            did not grasp (Heb. 4:14–15; 5:10; 6:20; 7:26; 8:1; 10:21).

 

            35 Johnson argues that even the first-century Jewish leaders considered the ref-

erence to ynidoxE in Psalm 110:1 to be prophetic of Messiah and to be used only of the

Messiah and not of an earthly Davidic king ("Hermeneutical Principles and the

Interpretation of Psalm 110," 432-33). Johnson notes that when Jesus posed the

questions regarding how Christ can at the same time be David's son and David's

Lord (Mark 12:35—37), "Jewish leaders could have met the challenge and resolved

the dilemma in various ways. They could have denied that Psalm 110:1 referred to

Messiah, but they did not. Or they could have rejected Jesus' interpretation of the

verse that ‘my lord’ meant God, but did not. Had they held the historic reconstruc-

tion that ‘my lord’ meant someone positioned on David's throne, they could easily

have removed the dilemma. For Solomon was both David's son and lord in this

sense, but their silence conceded Jesus' point. Thus Jesus' interpretation of Psalm

110:1 confirms the view that David's words are a direct prophecy of the Messiah."



             Is Psalm 110 a Messianic Psalm?                           173

 

2.         By being the High Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Jesus

            is the Source of salvation for all who believe in Him (5:9-10).

3.         Jesus, having become a Melchizedekian priest, entered into

            heaven in order to show the way for believers to enter heaven

            (6:20).

4.         By becoming a Priest after the order of Melchizedek, Jesus

            initiated a new order (7:17).

5.         Jesus' priesthood, of the order of Melchizekek, is a greater

            priesthood than that of the Levitical order (7:15-21).

 

            Thus the messianic theology of Psalm 110 is not based on an

enthronement ritual or an autumnal festival. Furthermore the

content of the psalm shows that it is purely messianic, in contrast

to many other psalms. Also Psalm 110 contributes much to the un-

derstanding of messianic prophecy, having been recognized by

the authors of the New Testament as a messianic psalm.

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Dallas Theological Seminary

            3909 Swiss Ave.

            Dallas, TX   75204

            www.dts.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at:  thildebrandt@gordon.edu