The atmosphere was tense. Jesus had just entered Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey. This was a bold, Messianic claim on the part of our Lord which was not missed by the crowds who greeted Him with outspread garments and branches and the words, “Hosanna to the Son of David; Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest!” (Matt. 21:9).
Jesus’ triumphal entry caused the crowds to ponder His identity (Matt. 21:10-11), but this act, followed by His cleansing of the temple (vv. 12-15) served only to intensify the jealousy and anger of the chief priests and scribes (v. 15). Defensively, they challenged our Lord, “By what authority are You doing these things, and who gave You this authority?” (v. 23). This commenced a heated debate between the Lord Jesus and the religious leaders of the nation Israel. Jesus put them on the spot regarding the origin of John the Baptist’s ministry, which they declined to answer (vv. 24-27). He then taught in pointed parables which were intended to reveal the fact that His rejection by the scribes and Pharisees was a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy (21:33–22:14).
Now this was going too far! The scribes and Pharisees became intent upon trapping Jesus in His teaching, thereby discrediting Him before the crowds (22:15). They asked him about paying taxes to Caesar, a most sensitive issue (vv. 16-22). The Sadducees asked a question about the resurrection (vv. 23-33). A lawyer asked a question about the most important commandment (vv. 34-40). In each of these efforts the opposition was embarrassed and our Lord’s teaching was shown to surpass that of His opponents (cf. 22:29-33).
This “great debate” was concluded by a question which our Lord posed to His critics:
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, “What do you think about the Christ, whose son is He?” They said to Him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “Then how does David in the Sprit call Him ‘Lord,’ saying, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at My right hand, Until I put thine enemies beneath Thy feet?”’ If David then calls Him ‘Lord’, how is He his son?” (Matt. 22:41-45).
The debate was over. Jesus had decisively won (cf. 22:46). But, of course, this only solidified the opposition and brought the crisis to a head. The crucifixion was, in the minds of the religious leaders, to be their final response.
Our study has to do with Psalm 110, from which our Lord quoted in order to demonstrate that His claim to be Israel’s Messiah was consistent with Old Testament prophecy. Jesus’ commentary on Psalm 110:1 sets the stage for our study of this psalm, for He has made three statements which we dare not overlook in our study:
(1) David is the author of the psalm.
(2) What David wrote was divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit.
(3) David was not writing about just any king, but about Messiah, who was to be his son and his Lord.202
Jesus was not claiming to teach anything new when He taught the three things mentioned above. What He taught was a matter of record, in the psalm itself. The superscription named David as the author. Unfortunately, what was readily evident to the Jews of Jesus’ day is not so apparent to us due to the translation of the word “says” in Psalm 110:1, which obscures a much more emphatic claim.
The Hebrew word ne’um, is a reference to a divine oracle. Perowne informs us that, “The word is used in almost every instance of the immediate utterance of God Himself, more rarely of that of the prophet or inspired organ of the Divine revelations, as of Balaam, Num. xxiv. 3, 15; of David, 2 Sam. xxiii. 1.”203
Kidner plays out the implications of this significant term: “The first line, after the title, runs literally, ‘The oracle of Yahweh to my lord’. It is an opening which stamps the next words as God’s direct message to His king, …”204
What Jesus said about this psalm would have come as no surprise to His audience. They, too, believed David was the psalm’s author, that he wrote by inspiration, and that he spoke of Messiah. What the religious leaders were unwilling to admit was that David’s Lord was both divine and human, that Messiah was both David’s Sovereign and his son.
Our Lord’s frequent use of Psalm 110 should therefore serve as a signal to us of the significance of this psalm. It is unique in that it is quoted more often than another Old Testament passage.205 It is also distinct as a directly Messianic psalm. Basically, Messianic psalms are of two types: (1) those which are indirectly (or typically) Messianic, and (2) those which are directly Messianic. In a typically Messianic psalm, the psalmist writes of his own experiences, but in words that go beyond his own circumstances and describe the experience of Messiah as well. Psalm 22 is an example of a typically Messianic psalm. A directly Messianic psalm does not refer to the psalmist’s experience at all, but speaks only of the Messiah to come. Such is the case in Psalm 110.206
When David writes here, it is as a prophet and as a poet. As a prophet, he speaks beyond his own understanding and experience. He writes as the other human authors of Scripture, under the control of the Holy Spirit, yet maintaining his own unique style (cf. 2 Pet. 1:20-21). As a poet-prophet, David spoke of future things by the use of poetic imagery. These were deliberately employed “… brief but powerful figures, each of which is strikingly brief but extremely suggestive.”207 In the light of this mixture of poetry and prophecy, we must be prepared to consider future things in terms that are more poetic than precise, and thus we must also take care not to press this poetry too far. This psalm, like God’s guidance, is to be viewed more in terms of a compass than of a map. Let us therefore be careful about the minutia and concentrate on the message of this great psalm.
The structure of the psalm has been understood in a variety of ways, but the simplest is to see a two-fold division. Verses 1-3 are David’s poetic expression of a divine oracle; verses 4-7 are his report of a divine oath.
1 A Psalm of David. The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at My right hand, Until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.” 2 The LORD will stretch forth Thy strong scepter from Zion, saying, “Rule in the midst of Thine enemies.” 3 Thy people will volunteer freely in the day of Thy power; In holy array, from the womb of the dawn, Thy youth are to Thee as the dew. (NASB)
Verse 1 is a summary statement, which is subsequently amplified in verses 2 and 3. As already noted, “says” in verse 1 is a technical term, designating an oracle. David is reporting a solemn prophetic statement of God. Yahweh (the “Lord” of v. 1) is described as speaking, not to David, but rather to David’s Lord (“my Lord,” Hebrew, ‘Adhoni, v. 1), the Messiah. Messiah is given the position of co-regent. To “sit at God’s right hand” meant to share His power and His position. This expression was common in the ancient Near East, the closest parallel probably being found in the New Testament:
And James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Him, saying to Him, “Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.” And He said to them, “What do you want Me to do for you?” And they said to Him, “Grant that we may sit in Your glory, one on Your right, and one on Your left” (Mark 10:35-37).
While the Messiah was to share in the power and prestige of Yahweh’s reign, there was a gap of time indicated between the time of His exaltation (“Sit …”) and His triumph (“until”).208 There is both a present and a future dimension to the prophetic oracle of Yahweh. The enemies of the Messiah will, at a later time, be subjected to Him, but not immediately. To make someone “the footstool for their feet” (v. 1c) was to completely subject him (cf. Ps. 8:6; 18:39), an expression probably based upon the practice of military conquerors who placed their feet on the necks of their defeated foes (cf. Josh. 10:24-25). Messiah was elevated to a position of equality with Yahweh, yet the outworking of His power was yet viewed as future.
Verses 2 and 3 focus on that yet future victory of Messiah over His foes, first in view of the enemies who resist Him (v. 2), and next in view of those who are His faithful followers (v. 3). A time will come when Yahweh will hand the scepter to Messiah, an indication that He now is to utterly subdue His foes. The “scepter” is the symbol of the king’s right to rule. At this appointed time, Messiah will establish His rule209 over His enemies. It is at this time that Yahweh will “make His enemies a footstool for His feet” (v. 1c). Messiah’s kingdom is viewed as extending from Zion. David’s capital was, of course, in Jerusalem. Some have suggested as well that Jewish tradition had it that Salem, Melchizedek’s capital, was also Jerusalem.210
While verse 2 describes Messiah’s victory in more negative terms, verse 3 speaks of the host of volunteers who gladly join in following Messiah as their king. Messiah powerfully suppresses His foes, but His friends and followers are those who gladly join Him. The expression “volunteer freely” literally means “free-will offerings,” a term “… applied to any sacrifices or offerings that were entirely voluntary.”211 Most interesting is the fact that these volunteers were pictured as priests. They were said to be clothed in “holy array.” This seems to be parallel to what is said in the Book of Revelation: “And the armies which are in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, were following Him on white horses” (Rev. 19:14).
The garments of Aaron and the priests were also linen (cf. Exod. 28:39, 42; Lev. 6:10; 16:4) and were called ‘holy garments’ (Exod. 28:4; Lev. 16:4).212 The army of our Lord, then, was an army of priests. What could be more appropriate in the light of what Yahweh will say in verse 4? The figure of the dew falling in the early hours of the morning may speak of the freshness and enthusiasm of a multitude of followers.213
The oracle of Yahweh is addressed not to David, nor to any human king, but to Messiah, who while divine, was also David’s son. This mystery was to trouble many an Israelite, including those who made up the audience of our Lord at the “great debate.” Yahweh’s word to Messiah was that He would be seated beside Him, co-equal in power and in prestige. At an undesignated future date the rule of Messiah would be established. Yahweh’s enemies would be subdued and many would volunteer to serve Him freely.
4 The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, “Thou art a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek.” 5 The Lord is at Thy 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. (NASB)
In verse 4 Messiah’s dominion is further described as that of a great High Priest who will crush kings and judge nations. Verse 1 began with the announcement of a divine oracle. Verse 4 carries on with the pronouncement of a solemn oath. This verse is the heart of the psalm, a fact which is indicated not only by Yahweh’s oath,214 but also by the significance attached to it by the writer to the Hebrews, who bases chapters 5-7 of his epistle upon the truth revealed here. The oath is doubly solemn, for Yahweh vows that He will not change His mind (v. 1c). (The significance of the oath does not pass by the writer to the Hebrews without notice, cf. Heb. 7:20-22.) Yahweh is not only a king, but a priest-king, after the order of Melchizedek.
Israel was said by God to be a “kingdom of priests” (Ex. 19:6). To a limited extent the king had some functions which might resemble those of the priests (cf. 2 Sam. 6:14, 17, 18; 1 Ki. 8:22ff.), but the Aaronic priesthood was distinct, as can be seen by the consequences for Saul’s presumptuous act of offering the burnt offering in Samuel’s place (1 Sam. 13:8-14). Perhaps the division of kings and priests was an ancient version of “separation of church and state.” The depravity of man is such that too much power cannot be vested in one man. Only in the Messiah would the offices of king and priest be united:
“Then say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, “Behold, a man whose name is Branch, for He will branch out from where He is; and He will build the temple of the Lord. Yes, it is He who will build the temple of the Lord, and He who will bear the honor and sit and rule on His throne. Thus, He will be a priest on His throne, and the counsel of peace will be between the two offices”’” (Zech. 6:12-13; cf. Jer. 30:21).
Messiah was to be a priest, but a priest of a new order, a priest “after the order of Melchizedek.” Melchizedek is an obscure figure who appears and then passes from the scene in Genesis chapter 14. He is a Gentile, for he certainly did not descend from Abraham. He was the “king of Salem” (14:18), which some feel was the city of Jerusalem. The word “Salem” also meant “peace,” so he was the king of peace. He is also identified as a “priest of God Most High” (v. 18). This king-priest pronounced a blessing on Abram and received his tithe, a tenth of the spoils of war (v. 20; cf. Heb. 7:4). Melchizedek appeared after Abram and his men had defeated Chedorlaomer and his allies (v. 17), reminding Abram that the battle was the Lord’s victory (v. 20). This may have been a bit humbling to Abram after all the flattery must have been directed to him by the king of Sodom. Abram rightly gave God the glory for his victory and refused to take any of the spoils of war for himself (vv. 22-24).
Messiah would be a priest like Melchizedek. He would be a priest for all nations, not just Israel. He would be a king-priest, combining two offices. His reign would be without beginning and without end, just as Melchizedek, in that his origin and destiny was not known either (not, of course, that he was eternal, but that his appearance was mysterious, just as his exit). As Abram saw Melchizedek to be associated with the victory God had given him, so Messiah will be victorious in battle against His foes, a matter to be discussed in verses 5-7.
Just as verse 1 above was present action followed by a future victory in verses 2-3, so verse 4 is a present proclamation worked out in a future victory in verses 5-7. Some are greatly puzzled by the bloody scene described in verses 5-7. How can this priest-king, who is likened to Melchizedek, the king of peace, be involved in such a blood bath as we find in these verses?215
Several observations should help us reconcile this apparent problem:
(1) This psalm is one which promises Messiah victory over His foes.
(2) The army of Messiah is made up of priests who willingly volunteer for His service. If they are warrior-priests, how can their leader be other than a king-priest who wars against His foes?
(3) The Old Testament priesthood was militant, rather than pacifistic.216 When the Israelites became immoral and unrestrained in their idolatrous worship of the golden calf, Moses called the faithful to himself and the sons of Levi put on their swords and slew three thousand people for their sin (Ex. 32:25-28). Likewise, it was Phinehas, one of the priests, who slew the Israelite and his Midianite mistress with his spear (Num. 25:1-8). The priests were called to conduct holy war on sin. Messiah, the king-priest, and His priestly followers will shed the blood of the enemies of the Lord.
(4) The “imprecatory” (“Go, Get ’um, God”) psalms are based upon the fact that God will come and will destroy the wicked. This is what Messiah is described as doing here.
(5) Other Old Testament passages speak of God’s dealings with the wicked in similar terms (cf. Zeph. 1:8, 15; 2:2-3; Joel 2:31; Isa 34:8).
(6) In the Book of Revelation, Messiah is said to do battle with His enemies, something described in very bloody terms (cf. Rev. 6:15-16; 19:11-21).
(7) While Messiah is a priest in the sense of an advocate for those who fear Him, He is an adversary for those who reject His sacrifice. If a person rejects the shed blood of the Savior, he remains God’s enemy and his blood will be on his own hands.
While Messiah is seated at the right hand of Yahweh in verse 1, it is Yahweh who is at Messiah’s right hand in verses 5-6.217 In the first instance Messiah is seated, at rest. In the second, Messiah is standing in battle against His foes. The description is one of complete and total victory for Messiah and utter defeat for His foes (“shatter,” “fill with corpses”). Those who are defeated are the most powerful opponents, “kings” (v. 5) and “chief men” (v. 6). The victory is overwhelming.
Verse 7 is somewhat enigmatic, but it appears to be a poetic description of Messiah, weary from the battle, stooping to drink water from a torrential stream, and then, strengthened by this, with uplifted head, going forth in renewed strength to finish His task.
In one sense we may correctly say that this Psalm had little relationship to David since it is a divine oracle, a direct revelation from God, and since it does not speak of him, but only of his descendant, the Messiah. But while this is true, the message of this psalm had great relevance to David, particularly in the light of two events in David’s life. The first is recorded in 2 Samuel chapter 7, which is introduced by these words: “Now it came about when the king lived in his house, and the Lord had given him rest on every side from all his enemies, that the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells within tent curtains’” (2 Sam. 7:1-2).
David was enjoying a temporary state of political and military rest. All of his enemies were subdued. During this lull, David was able to build himself a lovely palace, which troubled him when he realized that while his house was luxurious, the ark of God (which had been returned to Jerusalem in 2 Samuel 6) was kept in a tent.
David desired to build a temple, and Nathan quickly consented. God, however, did not agree. Speaking through Nathan, God informed David that He had not needed a temple since He brought Israel out of Egypt, and that He had never asked for one either. Instead, God had provided His people with a dwelling place where they would not be disturbed (vv. 5-10). It was not David who would build a house for God, but God who would build a house for David:
“The Lord also declares to you that the Lord will make a house for you. When your days are complete and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your descendant after you, who will come forth from you, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to Me; when he commits iniquity, I will correct him with the rod of men and the strokes of the sons of men, but My lovingkindness shall not depart from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:11b-16).
I believe that David may very well have received the divine oracle contained in Psalm 110 shortly after receiving this revelation from God through Nathan in 2 Samuel chapter 7. On the one hand, David may have become overly confident on account of his military victories and the apparent strength of his kingdom. Whenever a man ceases to become utterly dependent upon God and begins to think in terms of doing something for God (such as building a temple), trouble may be near. Psalm 110 would have served to remind David that the “rest” which God had promised Israel was not realized in the kingdom which David had established. That was not the millennium, as David may have been tempted to suppose. Psalm 110 may then have reinforced the promise of God in 2 Samuel 7 in such a way as to humble David, reminding him that the kingdom was still future, not to be established by him, nor even by his son Solomon, but by Messiah.
If Psalm 110 humbled David, it also gave him hope. The promise of God to build David a house in 2 Samuel 7 was reiterated in Psalm 110, but it clearly stated that God’s kingdom would be established by a son of David who was Divine, David’s Lord. A perfect kingdom needed a perfect king, and this would be neither David nor Solomon (cf. II Sam. 7:14). How much more hope Psalm 110 offered David after his devastating sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11-12). When David was overcome with guilt and shame, how could he ever conceive of God building an eternal kingdom through him? It could not be, except for the certainty of the promises of God and the assurance that God would provide a perfect king to establish the promised kingdom. Psalm 110 would have served both to humble David as well as to give him hope. His was not the kingdom, but from him the kingdom would come—through his son and his Lord, Messiah.
What was true for David would also have held true for the nation Israel.218 Perhaps they, too, felt that they had arrived once David was king and they had subdued their enemies. If this were the case, Psalm 110 would remind the nation that God’s kingdom was still future. In those dark days when Israel sinned and was cast from the land, Psalm 110 would continue to hold out the promise of the kingdom which was yet to be established, not by David or Solomon, but by David’s descendant, Messiah.
Psalm 110 was especially pertinent to our Lord. Remember that this psalm was addressed, not to David, but to Messiah, David’s Lord (110:1, 4). What comfort and reassurance this psalm must have given our Lord Jesus, knowing that He was the Messiah. It promised Him not only resurrection, but also the ascension and exaltation with the Father. It promised as well that He would someday subdue His enemies and establish God’s reign upon the earth.
This psalm not only offered personal assurance and comfort to the Lord Jesus, it also gave Him proof for those who would challenge His identity and His message. In John chapter 5 our Lord reminded His critics that He did not merely bear witness of Himself, but that God the Father bore witness of Him, both through His Word (the Old Testament scriptures) and His miraculous works (cf. John 5:34-40). Thus, when challenged at the “great debate” (Matt. 21:23-22:46), our Lord could turn to Psalm 110:1 in His defense. The Messiah to which David referred in Psalm 110 was understood by those of Jesus’ day (on the basis of passages such as 2 Sam. 7:11-16) to be David’s son (Matt. 22:42). Our Lord pointed out in addition that David referred to his “son” as his “Lord.” If David’s son was also his Lord, then Messiah must be both divine and human. The very thing which they objected to, namely Jesus’ claim to be equal with God (cf. John 8), is the conclusion to which Psalm 110 leads us. Jesus was the God-man, just as God had indicated through His “prophet” David.
How should you and I respond to the prophecy of Psalm 110? In two words, very seriously. The message of the psalm is even more powerful today than it was in David’s time. In the first place, the final fulfillment of the psalm is still future. We look forward to its fulfillment just as men in that day did. Secondly, the message, to use Peters expression, is a “prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention” (2 Pet. 1:18). The message of the Book of Acts and the epistles is that the first part of the prophecy of the psalm has been fulfilled in the resurrection and ascension of our Lord to the right hand of the Father (cf. Acts 2:34-35; Rom. 8:34; 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:20). If God has faithfully fulfilled the first part of His promise, how much more sure is the completion of God’s purpose as spelled out in this psalm? As Peter said, we do well to pay attention to it.
The revelation of the Lord Jesus Christ as the person of whom David spoke should cause us to seriously consider our relationship to this One who will soon establish His rule over the earth. We can relate to Him in only one of two ways, both of which are suggested in the psalm itself. We can relate to the Messiah as an enemy. We can reject the claim of Jesus to be the Messiah who died as God’s sacrifice for sinners. If such is the case, the great priest-king will relate to us as God’s avenger, who will come to rule with a rod of iron, “shattering” (that is the word we find in the psalm, cf. vv. 5, 6) His foes. In the New Testament Book of Revelation chapter 19 we find the same destruction described:
And I saw heaven opened; and behold, a white horse, and He who sat upon it is called Faithful and True; and in righteousness He judges and wages war. … And I saw an angel standing in the sun; and he cried out with a loud voice, saying to all the birds which fly in mid-heaven, “Come, assemble for the great supper of God; in order that you may eat the flesh of kings and the flesh of commanders and the flesh of mighty men and the flesh of horses and of those who sit on them and the flesh of all men, both free men and slaves, and small and great.” And I saw the beast and the kings of the earth and their armies, assembled to make war against Him who sat upon the horse, and against His army. And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat upon the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh (Rev. 19:11, 17-21).
The reason for the delay in Messiah’s return is not apathy or disinterest, but mercy. God is giving men time to repent and turn in faith to Messiah as their Savior, rather than to face Him as soldier-king who must destroy the enemies of God (cf. 2 Pet. 3:3-12).
For those who have come to trust in Jesus as their Messiah and who willingly follow Him, they find Him no longer an awesome adversary, but an advocate and friend. In the Book of Hebrews the writer spells out the implications of Christ’s priesthood, now that He has died, risen, and ascended to the right hand of the Father. Christ’s humanity, when added to His deity, makes Him a compassionate advocate, intercessor, and friend:
Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4:14-16).
Not only is our Great High Priest our helper, He is our hope:
This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, a hope both sure and steadfast and one which enters within the veil, where Jesus has entered as a forerunner for us, having become a high priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:19-20).
With such an advocate, let us press on to the goal, “fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God” (Heb. 12:2). Just as our Lord endured the suffering of the cross, assured of the promise of God contained in Psalm 110, let us likewise persevere in our faith, knowing that our hope is secure in the Messiah, David’s son and David’s sovereign.
Finally, let us learn from our Lord and His apostles how we ought to use this psalm, and, in fact, all prophecy. First, we should always apply prophesy personally. We should respond to prophetic promises as the certain purposes of God and we should live our present lives in the light of these certainties. Second, we should use prophecy to encourage other saints and to evangelize the lost. What is a word of comfort to a Christian is also a word of warning to the unbeliever. Just as Peter warned those of his day to repent before the coming day of divine wrath (Acts 2), so we should use the prophecies of scripture to warn men of God’s impending wrath. (I think Hal Lindsey’s book, The Late Great Planet Earth, is but one illustration of the evangelistic application of prophecy.) We should employ the fulfilled prophecies of God’s word apologetically, to show the reliability of the Bible.
We should be very careful to distinguish the major point of prophecy—its message—from its particulars. It is noteworthy that the best commentaries are those given in scripture after its (total or partial) fulfillment. Neither David nor any other Old Testament saint was able to outline the course of events which would bring about the fulfillment of the prophecy which he recorded. Only after its fulfillment was such an outline possible.
I find too many Christians misusing prophecy. They seem to be more interested in outlines of projected programs and timetables than they do in the message of the prophet to their lives and others in their own time. Prophecy to some has become a kind of puzzle to ponder over and to argue with others about. Most of the prophecies of the Old Testament were not fulfilled in the lifetime of the prophet or of his readers. What, then, did the prophecy have to say to those who would not see its fulfillment? The very same message it contains for those of all ages—that God is sovereign in history. God’s promises are true and they will surely come to pass. In the light of this certainty—whether fulfillment comes in my lifetime or 1,000 years later—I must live in the light of the truth that God is coming to judge the wicked and to reward the righteous. What I do in the limited time I now have will have eternal consequences. This is the one message which prophecy has for all men in every age. Let us not become so fascinated with the particulars of prophecy (while they may well be important) that we obscure the point—God is in control! Let us then live in the light of this certainty.
202 There are many who attempt to dilute the force of Jesus’ argument in this passage and its parallels, all of which boil down to the assumption that Jesus was ignorant of matters pertaining to higher criticism (i.e., He didn’t know David didn’t write this psalm), or that He merely accomodated His audience in their ignorance (i.e., He did know that David didn’t write Psalm 110, but He didn’t wish to “trouble the waters” by getting into this matter, when they mistakenly thought he did write it). For an example of mediating and vascillating positions on this matter, cf. A. F. Kirkpatrick, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House [reprint], 1982), pp. 660-665, and J. J. Steward Perowne, The Book of Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan [reprint], 1976), pp. 294-304, 313-315.
Kidner, with his usual precision, writes, “Nowhere in the Psalter does so much hang on the familiar title A Psalm of David as it does here; nor is the authorship of any other psalm quite so emphatically endorsed in other parts of Scripture. To amputate this opening phrase, or to allow it no reference to the authorship of the psalm, is to be at odds with the New Testament, which finds King David’s acknowledgment of his ‘Lord’ highly significant. For while other psalms share with this one the exalted language which points beyond the reigning king to the Messiah, here alone the king himself does homage to this personage—thereby settling two important questions: whether the perfect king was someone to come, or simply the present ruler idealized; and whether the one to come would be merely man at his best, or more than this.
“Our Lord gave full weight to David’s authorship and David’s words, stressing the former twice by the expression ‘David himself,’ and the latter by the comment that he was speaking ‘in the Holy Spirit’ (Mk. 12:36f.) and by insisting that his terms presented a challenge to accepted ideas of the Messiah, which must be taken seriously. Peter, too, on the Day of Pentecost, stressed the contrast in the psalm between David ‘himself’ and his ‘Lord’, who ‘ascended into the heavens’ to be ‘exalted at the right hand of God’ (Acts 2:33-35).” Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1975), pp. 391-392.
J. I. Packer does an excellent job of pursuing the implications of the kind of theology which supposes Jesus to be either ignorant of the authorship of Psalm 110 or to be accommodating Himself to the ignorance of His audience. Cf. Knowing God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1973), pp. 51-55.
204 Kidner, p. 393. Perowne agrees when he writes, “This Psalm claims emphatically to be the fruit and record of a Divine revelation. The words of the Poet, though shaped in the Poet’s heart, come to him from the very sanctuary of the Most High.” Perowne, II, p. 294.
205 “The Psalm is not only quoted by our Lord as Messianic in the passages already referred to; it is more frequently cited by the New Testament writers than any other single portion of the ancient Scriptures.” Ibid, p. 300.
206 “It seems to me, then, that we are shut up to the conclusion, that in this lofty and mysterious Psalm, David, speaking by the Holy Ghost …, was carried beyond himself, and did see in prophetic vision that his son would also be his Lord.” Ibid, p. 298.
209 Kidner observes, “The word used for rule has a certain sternness, which suits the contrast between the enforced obedience of enemies in this verse and the glad response of volunteers in the next. There is something of the same contrast in, e.g., Revelation 17:14.” Kidner, p. 394.
214 “He condescends for the sake of man to confirm His infallible word with an oath (e.g., Gen. 22:16, Ex. 32:13, Jer. 22:5, 49:13, 51:14, Amos 6:8, Heb. 6:13, where YHWH is said to swear by Himself; Psa. 89:35, Amos 4:2, where He is said to swear by His holiness; Isa. 62:8, where He is said to swear by His right hand; Jer. 44:26, where He is said to swear by His great Name; and Amos 8:7, where He is said to swear by the excellency of Jacob).” Jesse Boyd, “The Triumphant Priest-King,” Biblical Viewpoint, November, 1972, p. 106.
215 Perowne senses this problem when he writes, “The Psalm thus sinks down towards its close into—must we not say?—a lower key. The image which it presents to us is an image partly of fine gold, but partly of clay.” Perowne, II, p. 299.
216 “It has been said, that it is of importance for the right understanding of the Psalm, and especially of the fourth verse of the Psalm, to bear in mind the military character of the Hebrew priesthood. It is perhaps of more importance to bear in mind, that the whole nation was at once a nation of soldiers and a nation of priests. They were the soldiers of God pledged to a crusade, a holy war; pledged to the extermination of all idolatry and all wickedness, wherever existing. The character of the war marked the character of the soldiers. They were God’s ‘sanctified ones.’ They were set apart as priests for His service. That zeal for God should have manifested itself chiefly in the priesthood, and that they should not have hesitated to draw the sword, is readily accounted for by the fact that in them the ideal of the nation culminated: they were in every sense its representatives.” Perowne, II, p. 300.
217 There is considerable discussion as to who the “he” of verses 5 and 6 refers. Few seem to be dogmatic about their conclusions. It seems to me that it is not really very important, for Yahweh and Messiah are so closely associated in the work of judging the nations that it matters little which of the two is referred to. Both work hand-in-hand in this task of overcoming God’s foes.
218 “It has been said and repeated that the basic reality in human life was for the Israelite not the individual but the community. Within the nation the king was the representative of the whole. Mowinckel can even assert: ‘The covenant between Yahweh and Israel and between Yahweh and David is one and the same thing.’” Leopold Sabourin, The Psalms (New York: Alba House, 1974), p. 335.