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Conceptions of Davidic Hope in Psalms 89, 110, and 132

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The present article is the fifth in a series concerning Davidic hope in the Old Testament and intertestamental period. The previous four articles can be found on this web site and are titled: (1) An Early Text for Later Messianic Conceptions: A Look at Genesis 49:8-12/Sept. 10, 1998; (2) “A Star Will Come Out of Jacob”: Early Regal Images in Numbers 24:15-19/Sept. 28, 1998; (3) Regal/Messianic Hope in Deuteronomy, 1, 2 Samuel and 1, 2 Kings/Oct. 5, 1998; (4) Conceptions of Davidic Hope in Psalm 2, 45, and 72/Oct. 19, 1998. This material can be cross-referenced when one wishes to examine Davidic traditions in the New Testament in order to see connections and concepts operating in the first century. In this paper we will briefly study Psalms 89, 110, and 132. Eventually we will discuss how Davidic promise gets handled in certain texts in the New Testament and how it formed the theological substructure of much of the early church’s christological reflection.

Psalm 89

This is an important psalm as regards the Davidic covenant and is closely related to the Nathan oracle of 2 Samuel 7:8-16. The Babylonian exile or perhaps various military defeats form the background to the psalm.1 It is important to note here that during a period of national distress (cf. vv. 38-51), either real or enacted in a ceremony, the Davidic covenant was not forgotten nor annulled. The psalm strongly affirms the faithfulness (ds#j# <l*wu) and <h#b* ;t=n`Wma$ /k!T* <y]m^v*) of God to keep his covenant with David (vv. 1-5 MT) and ensures that the Davidic kings will rule forever (wl) tnm#a$n yt!yr!b=W yD!s=j^ wl)-rm*v=a# <l*wu)l=, vv. 29-30 MT).2 The language employed here is similar to the expression in Isa 55:3 where the prophet says that <yn]m*a$Nh^ dw]d* yd@s=j^ <l*wu) tyr!B= <k#l* ht*r=k=a#w+. Further, the Davidic king is pictured as possessing the appointment to an extremely exalted role in the earth as he exercises the prerogatives of God.3 We note also that it is God’s holiness that underlies the surety of the covenant since he has sworn to carry out certain promises and cannot therefore renege or lie (vv. 35-38 MT). In this connection the perplexed situation of the psalmist is obvious as he cannot fathom how a faithful God, whom he has just extolled in the first section of the psalm (vv. 1-38 MT), can apparently be so unconcerned about the promises he has made (cf. vv. 39-52 MT). This enters into the traditions about the fulfillment of Davidic promise a note of ambiguity and uncertainty as to exactly how and when God might fulfill his oath. This inevitably involves the element of surprise.

The psalm, then, affords us with images of the permanency of the Davidic covenant and dynasty. Justice will be its foundation and holiness underlies the covenant God made with David. All of this is quite similar to 2 Samuel 7 and Ps 2 as noted above. The fulfillment of the promise, though, may not be exactly as was expected, in terms of the “how” and “when.” This theme of uncertainty in the psalm—a psalm which contributes greatly to conceptions of Davidic messianic hope—creates a certain openendedness to the specifics of fulfillment.

Psalm 110

Psalm 110, it is agreed by virtually all scholars, is a royal psalm, having to do with the Davidic king and his right to rule. While the psalm has been subjected to intense study and criticism, there nonetheless remains many problems in its interpretation including textual,4 historical, exegetical, and theological problems. In any case, it is generally agreed that this psalm is one of the most ancient in Scripture5 and many argue that its Sitz im Leben is the enthronement and coronation of Israel’s king.6 The most important point for our consideration is that the psalm has much to offer in terms of regal hopes and was indeed understood as messianic in first century Judaism though to what particular extent is unclear.7

The psalm asserts that the new Davidic king will rule from God’s right hand and is assured of God’s help in achieving victories over his enemies, the rulers of other nations (vv. 2b, 5-6). The new king’s rule, symbolized with the use of the “scepter” (fb#v#)8 language, will extend from Zion to the nations round about and he will have a willing and able army (vv. 1-3). His rule is associated with the day of Adonai’s (yn`d)a&) wrath (wP)a^ -<wy{B= [v. 5]). There is also the sworn testimony of the Lord (<j@N`y] al)w+ hw`hy+ uB^v=n]) that the new Davidic king will be a priest forever (<l*wu)l= /h@k)-hT*a^) according to the order (yt!r*b=D!-lu^) of Melchizedek (v. 4).9 As a chief representative of the rule of God it is not out of line that the king should function in certain ways as a priest. Indeed, there is strong evidence that the Hasmoneans later on used the psalm in this way (cf. 1 Macc 14:41; TMos 6:1; TLevi 8:3).10 This, coupled with the fact that there was no bifurcation between the sacred and the secular makes it quite natural that the king being so close to God should function in both capacities. But, he is not a priest according to the line of Aaron, but according to the line of Melchizedek.

David took the initiative to bring the ark to Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6) and performed the sacrifices while en route (6:13). He also wore the garb of a priest (6:14). As Merrill says:

The strongest suggestion of Davidic royal priesthood occurs in 2 Samuel 6 (cf. 1 Chron 15), which recounts the procession of the ark into Jerusalem from Kiriath-jearim, where it had been housed for a century or more. The entire enterprise was at the initiative of David and though the regular Aaronic order of priests and Levites was involved, David himself was in charge, leading the entourage and, clothed in priestly attire, offering sacrifices and issuing priestly benedictions.11

The priestly functions of Solomon appear in texts like 1 Kings 3:1-9 (i.e., offering sacrifices), and 1 Kings 8:5 which narrates the dedication of the temple and the blessing of the people (v. 55, 56-61).12 Thus in Psalm 110 we have the picture of the Davidic king sitting at God’s right hand, extremely close to God, operating on his behalf, victorious in battle, and functioning as a priest as well, though the specifics of his priesthood are not spelled out in much detail.

Psalm 132

Though there are many problems in the exegesis of this psalm,13 it is nonetheless important for Davidic traditions for it affirms the eternal nature and thus the ultimate fulfillment of the Davidic covenant (cf. v. 11, hN`M#m! bWvy`-al) tm#a$ dw]d*l= hw`hy+-uB^v=n]). It also discusses, regarding the obedience of the Davidic king in question, conditional aspects of the covenant (vv. 11-12).14 There is also an elaboration of the nature of the period of time of Messiah’s rule: it will be a time of abundant provisions (v. 15a), the satisfaction of the poor (v. 15b), the salvation and holiness of the priests (v. 16a), continuous singing for joy among the saints (16b), and defeat of Israel's enemies (see esp. vv. 15-18). The messiah is referred to as jyv!m in v.10 and v. 17b and in v. 17a as dw]d*l= /r#q# j^ym!x=a^ (“I will cause to spring up a horn for David”) and a rn} (“lamp”). The idea of the “horn” seems to symbolize strength, power, and dignity15 while the lamp connotes ideas of the perpetuity of the Davidic dynasty and its function in the world.16 The language of “springing up” is similar to Isa 4:2 and Jer 33:15.

1 For a discussion of the literary integrity and tradition history of the psalm as it relates to 2 Samuel 7, as well as its date and possible Sitz im Leben, see Tate, Psalms, 413-16; R. J. Clifford, “Psalm 89: A Lament over the Davidic Ruler’s Continued Failure,” HTR 73 (1980): 35-47 and E. Lipinski, Le Pome Royal du Psaume LXXXIX 1-5, 20-38 (Paris: Bagalla, 1967); Otto Eissfeldt, “The Promises of Grace to David in Isaiah 55:1-5,” in Israel’s Prophetic Heritage: Essays in Honor of James Muilenburg, ed. B. W. Anderson and W. Harrelson (London: S C M Press, 1962), 197-98; Kraus, Psalmen, 2: 612; Anderson, Psalms, 2: 630-31; J. M. Ward, “The Literary Form and Liturgical Background of Psalm LXXXIX,” VT 11 (1961): 321-39.

2 Even though any particular Davidic king’s success is based on his obedience (cf. vv. 30-32) this in no way jeopardizes the realization of the covenant God made with David (vv. 33-37). See Craig C. Broyles, The Conflict of Faith and Experience in the Psalms: A Form-Critical and Theological Study, JSOTSS 52, ed. David J. Clines and Philip R. Davies (Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1989), 169.

3 The text refers to him as /wy{l=u# in terms of his relationship to the kings of the earth (v. 28 MT). While I agree with Anderson, Psalms, 643, that the title does not mean he is divine, it surely implies that he acts on earth as God acts in heaven.

4 See Leslie C. Allen, Psalms 101-150, Word Biblical Commentary, ed. John D. W. Watts, vol. 21 (Waco, TX: Word Books, Publishers, 1983), 79-82 for a detailed analysis of the various textual problems in Psalm 110. See also C. Schedl, “‘Aus dem Bache am Wege’: Textkritische Bemerkungen zu Ps 110 (109): 7,” ZAW 73 (1961): 290-97. For a discussion of the enigmatic verse 3 see R. Tournay, “Le Psaume 110,” RB 67 (1960): 11 as well as critical commentaries cited.

5 Dates for the psalm have ranged from the Davidic period right on down to the Maccabean period. M. Treves, “Two Acrostic Psalms,” VT 15 (1965): 86 argues that the psalm is related to Simon Maccabeus on the basis of the acrostic <ya /umv have been severely criticized by Hermann Gunkel, Die Psalmen, übers. und erklrt von Hermann Gunkel, Handkommentar zum Alten Testament (Gttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1926), 485, and Bower, “Psalm 110,” 31-34. See Allen, Psalms, 83-85 who discusses the problems with the date and setting but concludes that most scholars date the poem in the early period of the monarchy. See, e.g., R. H. DeVaux, Ancient Israel: Its Life and Institutions, trans. John McHugh (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1961), 402, and E. R. Hardy, “The Date of Psalm 110,” JBL 64 (1945):385-90.

6 See, e.g., Anderson, Psalms 73-150, 767; Weiser, Psalms, 693, who argues strongly for an enthronement setting; Willem A. Vangemeren, “Psalms,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 5 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 696, who is more tentative about the setting, and Carroll Stuhlmueller, Psalms 2, Old Testament Message, vol. 22 (Wilmington, Delaware: Michael Glazier, 1983), 129.

7 See David M. Hay, Glory at Thy Right Hand: Psalm 110 in Earliest Christianity (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1973), 30, who after evaluating the use of the psalm in the Old Greek version and in Jewish materials says, “on balance, then, it seems fair to suppose that in the NT era a messianic interpretation of Ps 110 was current in Judaism, although we cannot know how widely it was accepted.”

8 In Eaton’s view the mention of the “sceptre” (fb#v#) connotes world dominion. See Kingship and the Psalms, 124.

9 See Dahood, Psalms 101-150, 117.

10 See Hay, Glory at Thy Right Hand, 24-25.

11 Eugene H. Merrill, “Royal Priesthood: An Old Testament Messianic Motif,” BibSac 150 (1993): 60. See also Kraus, Theology, 111, who says, “Following the ancient Jebusite order, the Davidic kings were priest kings, ‘after the order of Melchizedek.’ They were responsible for performing mediatorial functions, such as offering prayer for all cultic institutions in the royal sanctuary in Jerusalem (1 Kings 8:22-26), blessing the assembled people of the nation (1 Kings 8:14), and, on special occasions, offering sacrifices (1 Kings 8:62-63). In Jer 30:21 the technical term that describes the access of the king into the Holy of Holies is brq, ‘draw near.’ Thus, it is to be taken as established that the king exercised cultic functions of the type described.” See also Carl E. Armerding, “Were David’s Sons Really Priests?” in Current Issues in Biblical and Patristic Interpretation, ed. Gerald F. Hawthorne (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1975), 75-86. J. W. Bowker, “Psalm 110,” VT 17 (1967): 35-36, also concludes that the Davidic kings served as priests though in a different sort of way than did the Levites.

12 Merrill, “Royal Priesthood,” 60-61.

13 Though most regard the composition as pre-exilic (see Anderson, Psalms 73-150, 880, there are difficulties with the text and structure of the psalm, its setting and its relation to 2 Samuel 7. On the text of the psalm see Allen, Psalms 101-150, 201-04. Regarding its structure, one should consult H. Gese, “Der Davidsbund und die Zionserwhlung,” ZTK 61 (1964): 10-26, who argues that the psalm breaks down into 2 parts marked out by the inclusive references to David in vv. 1 and 10 (so also Allen, Psalms 101-150, 204; Anderson, Psalms 73-150, 880, 883). T. E. Fretheim, “Psalm 132: A Form-critical Study,” JBL 86 (1967): 289-300, who breaks it down into vv. 1-9, 10-16, 17-18. W. H. Schmidt, “/K*v=m! als Ausdruck Jerusalmer Kultsprache,” ZAW 75 (1963): 91-92 argues for the division 1-7 and 8-18. Both of these, because of the marker dw]d* in verses 1 and 10 and the obvious shift from plea of remembrance to a petition are highly unlikely. See also Johnson, Sacral Kingship, 19, who says that the psalm “clearly falls into two parts.”

There have been many suggestions as to the setting and use of the psalm, including—(1) a ceremony re-enacting David’s bringing of the ark into Zion and the establishment of YHWH’s sanctuary there; (2) because vv. 8-9 and 10b appear in 2 Chron 6:41-42, the psalm as a whole was used in the dedication of the Temple; (3) at a royal Zion festival on the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles. Allen, Psalms 101-150, 207, is probably closer the mark when he argues that the psalm does not demand any particular date in Israel’s cultic calendar nor any particular threat to the monarchy, but does require a temple setting.

14 See Bruce K. Waltke, “The Phenomenon of Conditionality Within Unconditional Covenants,” in Israel’s Apostacy and Restoration: Essays in Honor of Roland K. Harrison, ed. Avraham Gileadi (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1988), 131-32. Whether t!yr!B= in verse 12 refers to the Mosaic covenant (and since the king was part of the covenant community such an interpretation is possible) or whether it refers to the stipulations of the Davidic covenant given the king (e.g., in 2 Samuel 7), the point is similar: the king must be faithful to YHWH.

15 See BDB 901d and 902a s.v. /r#q#. Cf. Deut 33:17; 1 Sam 2:1, 10; 2 Sam 22:3.

16 Cf. 2 Sam 21:17; 1 Kings 11:36; 15:4; 2 Kings 8:19; Prov 13:9. See Dahood, Psalms 101-150, 248, who states: “The burning lamp is a natural metaphor for the preservation of the dynasty.

Related Topics: Christology, Prophecy/Revelation