INTRODUCTION. A detailed interpretation of Psalm 110 which acknowledges the mysteries of the psalm from an Old Testament perspective and reveals the true meaning of the psalm in light of the Incarnation and the soon-coming return of the Lord Jesus Christ.
So opaque were the mysteries of Psalm 110 that Hebrew scholars wrote virtually no commentaries on this psalm. Not only was the imagery within the psalm very difficult to understand, but the events that are taking place and even the characters involved were beyond the grasp of a scholar from the Old Testament era. Not long before His crucifixion, Jesus the Messiah questions the Pharisees about the meaning of Psalm 110:1 and receives only confused silence in reply. For, indeed, if our teaching is restricted to the Old Testament texts and our thinking is limited to an old covenant frame of reference, the psalm is virtually impossible to interpret. Here is the text of the psalm (from NASB):
1 The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand
Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
2 The LORD will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
“Rule in the midst of Your enemies.”
3 Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power;
In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Your youth are to You as the dew.
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind,
“You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.”
5 The Lord is at Your right hand; He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
6 He will judge among the nations, He will fill them with corpses,
He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.
7 He will drink from the brook by the wayside; Therefore He will lift up His head.
Yes, with an Old Testament mindset, the psalm’s mysteries are unsolvable. But Christ has now removed our old covenant veil. Now Christ has come in His humble first advent, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, to accomplish His work of redemption by dying on the cross for His people and He has been raised from the dead to prove that His atonement was accepted by the Father. So, we now preach Christ crucified and proclaim Christ raised from the dead, but we also declare that Christ will return in power and glory to reward the righteous and judge the unrighteous.
So, as we read Psalm 110 through the lens of the New Testament, we see that this psalm gives us a picture of what must soon take place when Christ returns at the end of the age. When we understand the context of this psalm, the beauty and the power of these prophecies come through like thunder.
The rest of this post, then, will be a meditation on Psalm 110.
BASIC FACTS. Psalm 110 was written by David under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit about a thousand years before Jesus Christ appeared in the flesh.
110:1. The English translation can inadvertently hide the text of the original Hebrew. “The LORD says to my Lord” translates the Hebrew, “YHWH says to my Adonai.” YHWH (the LORD) is the name of the covenant-keeping God. This name is the most holy word that can be spoken by a Hebrew. Adonai (the Lord) is also a name for the God of the Hebrews, but this name could be spoken without great fear of judgment. But what this verse presents to the Old Testament Hebrew reader is a total mystery, since God is speaking to God. But how can God speak to God? For Deuteronomy 6:4 says, “The LORD (YHWH) is our God, the LORD is one!” But if God is one, how does He appear here in Psalm 110:1 as two?
Now, however, after Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, it has been revealed that our God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Knowing this, we can understand that, in this verse, God the Father (YHWH) is speaking to God the Son (Adonai), and He tells Him to “sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
This phrase may still not make sense until we consider when this conversation between YHWH and Adonai takes place. For this exchange between God the Father and Jesus Christ, God the Son, occurs after Jesus has accomplished His work of redemption on the cross and has ascended back to heaven (John 19:30; Acts 1:9; Rev. 5:6-14). So, here in this verse, God the Father (YHWH) is welcoming God the Son (Adonai) back into heaven and back to His seat at the Father’s right hand. The Father tells Jesus the Son to wait “until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet.”
This last phrase looks forward to the end of the age when the glorified Lord Jesus will come from heaven on the last day (Rev. 19:11-16) to judge the unrighteous (Rev. 19:21).
The first verse of the psalm, then, sets the stage of the psalm by showing us the victorious Jesus Christ awaiting the Father’s command for Him to return to judge the earth.
110:2. Now the Father’s command is issued. In 110:1, the Son was at the Father’s right hand awaiting the Father’s command for Him to return, and this is that command. To paraphrase, the Father tells the Son, “Go, My Son! You are the King. Stretch forth Your scepter (symbol of the King’s power and authority) from Zion (the place of the King’s rule; see Psalm 2:6) and vanquish Your enemies!” With the Father’s command, the Son prepares for His glorious return.
110:3. In this context, “Your people” must refer to the saints of the Lord Jesus. To put this in theological terms, “Your people” includes all the elect of all time. So, Jesus is returning with all of His people, but notice His people are “in holy array.” This speaks of the fact that His return occurs after the resurrection. The saints have been glorified in the resurrection (1 Thess. 4:14-17; 1 Cor. 15:50-55) and are now “in holy array” as they “volunteer freely” (joyfully join with the Lord Jesus as He returns to earth in judgment) “in the day of Your power.” (See also 1 Thess. 2:19; 3:13; 4:14; Rev. 14:1-5; 19:14). Thus all the glorified saints accompany King Jesus as He returns to judge the earth.
110:4. This verse serves as a parenthesis, taking us from the last day all the way back to eternity past when we hear the Father’s oath to the Son, saying, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.” Here is another passage that exceeds old covenant theology, for according to the Law, the priesthood began with the anointing of Aaron and continued through Aaron’s descendants until no later than AD 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed. But Psalm 110:4 teaches that the priesthood of Melchizedek has always existed and the Lord Jesus has always been a priest forever according to that order. So, this verse establishes that the warrior King is also a priest forever.
This means that Jesus’ priesthood existed in eternity past long before the Aaronic priesthood began. Indeed, Jesus’ priesthood was established even long before Melchizedek appeared as a priest of God Most High (Genesis 14:18-20). Thus the Aaronic priesthood functioned as a temporary “type,” pointing forward to the permanent and eternal priesthood of the Son of God (Hebrews 7-10).
110:5-6. Having turned aside for a verse to declare the eternal priesthood of the Son, the psalmist now returns to the last day and to the terrifying judgment of the unrighteous by the warrior King. Jesus is returning with His glorified saints to judge the earth (Rev. 6:12-17; 19:11-21), and there will be no place to hide. These two verses are clear and need no comment.
110:7. After the dramatic action of the rest of the psalm, this last verse presents a curious conclusion. What is the significance of the warrior King “drinking from the brook by the wayside” and “lifting up His head?” But when we consider this for a moment, the message of this verse is revealed to be simple and yet very profound.
Up until this point in the psalm it would be possible to see the Lord (Adonai) as only divine. The Hebrew scholar who lived under the old covenant would have understood Adonai to be God, even if he could not understand what this psalm was teaching about how the LORD (YHWH) and the Lord (Adonai) related to one another. And so, the Old Testament Hebrew would have seen Adonai as being God but would never have conceived of Adonai as also being human, and, up until 110:7, that would have been a valid understanding of the psalm. So the scholar might conclude something like, “Somehow the Lord (Adonai) is going to come at the end and is going to pour out God’s wrath on the unrighteous.”
But the simple words of 110:7 throw that interpretation out the window, for “He will drink from the brook by the wayside.” Observe that this “He” of 110:7 is the same “He” of 110:5 and 110:6, which we have decided must be the Lord (Adonai). But how does Adonai “drink from the brook” and “lift up His head”? These are things that humans do, but the Lord, as God, does not drink from brooks and He does not have a physical head to lift up. Or does He?
The solution to this conundrum is stunning. If the Lord (Adonai) drinks from the brook by the wayside and lifts up His head, it must mean that somehow the Lord has become a Man. Somehow the Lord, who is God and who is a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek and who is seated at the LORD’s right hand and who will come on the last day to judge the nations; the Lord is somehow both God and Man. Yes, the Lord is both God and Man and His name is the Lord Jesus Christ.
From an Old Testament mindset, Psalm 110 was a murky collection of mysteries. It was not possible for the Old Testament Hebrew to understand David’s inspired writing because God had not revealed enough in His word to untangle the knots.
But now that Christ has been revealed and has died, has been raised and has ascended, and now that God has given us His full revelation in a completed Bible, we can see that, almost a millennium before Christ appeared and at least three millennia before He returned, the Holy Spirit inspired David to give us a veiled preview of that final awesome day.
SDG rmb 6/24/2022 #547