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Psalm 110

STROPHE DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATIONS

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB
The Lord Gives Domination to the King
MT Intro
A Psalm of David
Announcement of the Messiah's Reign The Lord Promises Victory to His King
(A Royal Psalm)
The Lord and His Chosen King The Priest Messiah
110:1-3 110:1-2 110:1 110:1-3 110:1
    110:2-4   110:2
  110:3-4     110:3
110:4-7     110:4 110:4
  110:5-7 110:5-7 110:5-7 110:5-7

READING CYCLE THREE (see "Guide to Good Bible Reading")

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects (reading cycle #3). Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. It is difficult to interpret this Psalm because we do not know the exact historical setting. There is some evidence from the non-original, non-inspired title of this Psalm, "A Psalm of David." Jesus' affirmation of this in Matt. 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44; and many other places in the NT, shows not only the significance of this Psalm, but also the historical setting sometime in David's life. This Psalm is quoted in the NT more than any other Psalm (i.e., it is viewed as Messianic and directly referring to Jesus in an eschatological setting). Some have assumed that the best historical setting in David's life is his response to God's wonderful, marvelous promise in 2 Sam. 17:12-16. Others have assumed these are David's words in his old age after Solomon was coronated king. The reason for this is that David calls him, "my lord," which would be highly unusual.

 

B. Another key in interpreting the Psalms, besides historical setting, is to find the logical progress/process of the author's thoughts—for us as westerners, this is done by outlining paragraph divisions. These literary units are not inspired, but they help us to try to find the logical and literary link between verses. The New American Standard Bible (NASB) and the New International Version (NIV) divide this Psalm into verses 1-3 and 4-7. However, the Revised Standard Version (RSV) divides it into verses 1-4 and 5-7. The new translation by the Jewish Publication Society of America (JPSOA) divides this Psalm into verse 1 by itself, then parallel couplets: verses 2 and 3, 4 and 5; 6 and 7. It seems to be that Dr. Kidner, OT Tyndale Commentary Series, has the best possible structure of this Psalm. He asserts there are two quotes by God: verses 1 and 4. Then the conflict caused by God's statements are described in verses 2 and 3 and 5-7. Ps. 110:5-7 does not really relate to 110:9, but rather relates to 110:2 and 3.

 

C. Places in the NT that quote or allude to Psalm 110.

1. Ps. 110:1a - Matt. 22:44; Mark 12:36; Luke 20:42,43; Acts 2:34,35; Heb. 1:13

2. Ps. 110:1b - Matt. 26:64; Acts 7:55,56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1;     10:12; 12:2

3. Ps. 110:1c - 1 Cor. 15:25; Eph. 1:22; Heb. 10:13

4. Ps. 110:4 - Heb. 5:6; 6:20; 7:17,21

5. Ps. 110:5c - Rom. 2:5; Rev. 6:17

 

D. Two of the most difficult verses in Hebrew are Ps. 110:3 and 7. Thank goodness they do not have a significant place in the overall interpretation of this Psalm. Please check the translations available to you to note the wide differences that have been employed by translators to catch the essence of these difficult Hebrew verses.

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 110:1-3
 1The Lord says to my Lord:
 "Sit at My right hand
 Until I make Your enemies a footstool for Your feet."
 2The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion, saying,
 "Rule in the midst of Your enemies."
 3Your 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.

110:1 "The Lord says" Notice the word "Lord" is in all caps, therefore, it refers to the covenant name for God, YHWH, which is a form of the Hebrew verb, "to be" (cf. Exod. 3:14, see Special Topic: Names For Deity). It is the Covenant God who speaks.

▣ "to my Lord" The second term for Lord has only a capital "L" and, therefore, reflects the Hebrew Adonai ("my Lord"). The Hebrew noun (BDB 101) means "owner," "husband," "lord," "master." It is obvious that this is a reference to the Messiah (see SPECIAL TOPIC: MESSIAH).

▣ "Sit" This term "sit" (BDB 442, KB 444, Qal imperative) has been seen in different ways. It looks as if, in context, it refers to the place of honor beside YHWH's throne. If that is the context, we are speaking of a co-ruler with YHWH, and if that is true, this is a strong implication of deity. See SPECIAL TOPIC: THE TRINITY and Special Topic: The Deity of Christ from the OT.

If "sit" refers to the finished work of the priest/king, which seems to be an allusion drawn in Heb. 1:2-3; 10:12-13, then the "sit" is a reference to a finished sacrificial work and the reign of the Messiah/High Priest (cf. Zechariah 3-4).

▣ "at My right hand" This is an anthropomorphic phrase speaking of the strongest arm of the human body. Most human beings are right-handed, therefore, that arm is used as a symbol of honor, power, authority, or preeminence. See SPECIAL TOPIC: GOD DESCRIBED AS HUMAN (ANTHROPOMORPHISM).

▣ "until" This preposition (BDB 723 III) is a rather problematic word for me because it seems to imply that this place of honor and power at God's right hand is limited in time until some events happen, but it has a wide semantic usage. The Messiah's reign will turn into the Father's reign (cf. 1 Cor. 25:24-25).

However, this same Hebrew consonantal term can be revocalized as the word, "seat." In this sense, the verb "make" would have two accusatives or objects, "seat" and "footstool." We learn from Assyrian wall paintings and carvings that the throne and table of the king rest on the backs of slaves and that may be the allusion to this phrase in Ps. 110:1.

▣ "a footstool for Your feet" Again, this is an obvious ancient Oriental metaphor for victory over enemies (cf. Jos. 10:24).

110:2 "The Lord will stretch forth Your strong scepter from Zion" There have been several ways to translate this verse, but it is obvious that we are speaking of the universal reign of YHWH, moving from Jerusalem in concentric circles, to encompass all the world. There are numerous OT allusions to this event. This seems to be speaking of a reign of the Messiah as YHWH's representative.

The term "scepter" (BDB 641) originally referred to something made from wood.

1. a club for war

2. a staff for shepherding

It came to symbolize rule and authority. In a context of YHWH's reign, it may still refer to YHWH's authority and power through a representative leader (i.e., Moses' staff, cf. Exodus 4; 7).

▣ "Rule in the midst of Your enemies" The verb "rule" (BDB 921 I, KB 1190, Qal imperative) is an extremely strong term (i.e., "have dominion," cf. Dan. 7:13-14). This is similar to Psalm 2 (especially Ps. 2:9). Psalm 2 has much in common with Psalm 110.

1. both involve YHWH and His Messiah

2. both involve conflict with the empires of the world

 

110:3 "Your people will volunteer freely in the day of Your power" Notice the contrast in how the Messiah will deal with His enemies and how the Messiah's people will rally to His cause. This is similar to the volunteer army of Jdgs. 5:2. This phrase, "will volunteer freely," is primarily used for the freewill gift

1. for building the tabernacle or later temple

2. of sacrifices at the temple

This may be an allusion to Rom. 12:1, where believers give their bodies as a living sacrifice to God. This is a beautiful picture of the dedication of God's people to the Messiah.

The UBS Text Project (p. 393) suggests a change in the vowels to form

1. "you were endowed with princely gifts" - NEB

2. "You gain the homage of your people" - REB

However, UBS gives this option only a "C" rating (considerable doubt). The JPSOA translates the phrase as "Your people come forward willingly on your day of battle," which follows the MT.

▣ "in holy array" There have been two different ways to look at this verse. "Holy array" is the translation followed by the Masoretic Text (MT) and the Septuagint (LXX). However, some translations change a Hebrew "d" to an "r" and translate it "the mountains of holiness," and this is followed by the Symmachus translation of the Hebrew, Jerome's translation, and the RSV. The UBS Text Project (p. 394) gives this option a "C" rating (considerable doubt).

▣ "the womb of the dawn" It is uncertain if this is a description of

1. the Messiah Himself

2. His army

3. a metaphor of abundance and eternality

As the dew comes with the dawn every morning in such abundance in parts of Palestine, many commentators have asserted that this is a metaphor for abundance.

This is a difficult verse.

NASB"Your youth"
NKJV, NJB,
REB"of Your youth"
NRSV"your youth will come to you"
JPSOA"of youth"
LXX"I brought you forth"

The UBS Text Project (p. 396) suggests a change of vowels that results in "I have begotten you" (cf. LXX, Peshitta, Vulgate; see NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 124, #11), but gives the suggestion a "C" rating (considerable doubt), yet chooses it over the MT. The LXX takes ילדתיך as a form of the verb ילד (BDB 408) "to bear" or "bring forth." "Youth" is a derivative of this verb, ילדות (cf. NIDOTTE, vol. 2, p. 455).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 110:4-7
 4The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind,
 "You are a priest forever
 According to the order of Melchizedek."
 5The Lord is at Your right hand;
 He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath.
 6He will judge among the nations,
 He will fill them with corpses,
 He will shatter the chief men over a broad country.
 7He will drink from the brook by the wayside;
 Therefore He will lift up His head.

110:4 "The Lord has sworn" The verb (BDB 989, KB 1396) is a Niphal perfect. This is a very strong way of asserting that what God is saying is true and will be always be true! Please read Heb. 6:16-18, where God says the two unchangeable things are His promises and His oath. Our basic trust is in the trustworthiness of God; when He speaks and promises, what He says is trustworthy.

"Sworn" in Ps. 110:4 parallels "says" in 110:1.

▣ "and will not change His mind" This is another anthropomorphic phrase (lit. "be sorry," BDB 636, KB 688, Niphal imperfect) using the analogy of human repenting or relenting to describe what God will not do (cf. Heb. 7:21).

The subject is obviously YHWH. One wonders if the other pronouns of Ps. 110:5-7 refer to victorious, powerful YHWH or His earthly representative (i.e., the king of His covenant people).

▣ "You are a priest forever

 According to the order of Melchizedek" The Jewish Publication Society of America (JPSOA) has translated this, "you are a priest forever, a righteous king by my decree." The "order of Melchizedek" has been understood in several ways.

1. his name means, "king of righteousness"

2. his city was seen, i.e., Jerusalem

3. he is the only person in the OT who is both king and priest

The NT discussion about Melchizedek is found in Hebrews (cf. Heb. 5:6,10; 6:20; 7:1,10,11,15,17). The OT account is found in Gen. 14:18-20. Melchizedek is used because Abraham paid tithes to him (i.e., Gen. 14:20), therefore, in Jewish reckoning, he is a superior priesthood to the Jewish priesthood (see Special Topic: Melchizedek).

1. he is from the key city

2. he has the right name

3. he holds the right position: priest/king

 

Notice the use of the word "forever" (see Special Topic: Forever ([‘olam]). This implies an eschatological setting, person, and victory! If the NT is inspired (and it is!), this Psalm refers specifically to Jesus of Nazareth!

110:5 "The Lord is at Your right hand" This is different imagery from Ps. 110:1b. I think there is no real theological significance in the variation. It simply means that the Messiah will be empowered, supported, and encouraged by YHWH Himself (cf. Ps. 110:4).

110:5,6c "He will shatter kings in the day of His wrath" The kings are used here as a way of referring to God's victory over the armies of the Gentiles (note, "kings, 110:5; "the nations," 110:6; "the chief men," 110:7 imply universal imagery; NRSV has "wide earth" in 110:6c). This same eschatological confrontation can be seen in Psalm 2 and Revelation 19:11-21.

110:6 "He will judge among the nations" This alludes to an eschatological setting. Again, it is God dealing with the whole world, both in judgment and, though it is implied and not stated, in mercy.

110:7 This verse is difficult in Hebrew, so difficult that some scholars have asserted that we have lost a part of the text. Whatever the exact meaning, it is obviously a symbol of victory (i.e., God's defeat of all those who oppose Him). The metaphor seems to be drawn from the idea of a fleeing, defeated foe and a pursuing victor having time to refresh himself at the water crossings, therefore, renewing his strength. The other possible interpretation of, "to lift the head," is found in Ps. 3:3 and 27:6, where it is God's Messiah as righteous Judge who lifts the head of His people, so as to acknowledge them. Whichever allusion is meant, (1) the strength and virility of the Messiah or (2) His act of mercy toward His own people at the defeat of all opposition, is textually uncertain.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought provoking, not definitive.

1. Why did both Jesus and His Apostles quote this Psalm more often than any other?

2. What is the significance of a direct quote by God in Ps. 110:1 and 4?

3. Where in this Psalm do we find the allusion to the Messiah as prophet, priest, and king?

4. Why have there been so many different translations of Ps. 110:3 and 7?