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Verses of Psalms 110

Psalms 110 Summary - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

[66] Compare Driver, Lit. of O.T. p. 384; Orelli, O.T. Prophecy, pp. 153 ff.; Gore, Bampton Lectures, pp. 196 ff., 270; Gifford, The Authorship of the CXth Psalm; Sharpe, Psalm CX; Baudissin, A. T. Priesterthum, p. 259 f.

This brief but weighty Psalm brevis numero verborum, magnus pondere scntentiarum, as it is called by St Augustine is addressed to one whom the Psalmist styles my lord. He speaks in the language ( Psa 110:1) and with the authority ( Psa 110:4) of a prophet. He has received a Divine revelation concerning his lord, which he communicates to him for his encouragement in the work that lies before him. Jehovah has chosen him to share His throne. He purposes by His own power to subdue all his enemies. Zion is the seat of his kingdom. Zion is the centre from which goes forth his victorious might. There he is to rule, unmoved by the menaces of surrounding enemies. When he musters his people for battle, countless hosts of youthful warriors flock eagerly to his standard, animated by a spirit of loyal devotion and willing self-sacrifice (Psa 110:1-3).

The king, for though he is not expressly so called, it is implied that he is a king, is also a priest: not a hereditary priest of the line of Aaron, but a priest by a special Divine appointment, whose priesthood resembles that of Melchizedek. In him the primeval unity of royalty and priesthood, seen in the ancient priest-king of Salem, reappears (Psa 110:4).

The scene changes to the battle-field. When this king goes forth to war, Jehovah goes with him. He stands at his right hand as his champion, executing judgement upon the nations, destroying his adversaries far and wide. The Psalm closes with a picture of the king halting for a moment to refresh himself as he pursues his foes, and then pressing on with fresh vigour to complete his triumph (Psa 110:5-7).

To whom does the Psalm refer? To some historical king, or to the future Messiah? If it could be considered by itself, apart from the New Testament use of it, we should have little hesitation in regarding it as addressed by some prophet to the reigning king, like Psalms 20, 21, 45. Lofty as is its language, it does not go beyond that of Psalms 2, 72, which we have seen reason to think have a primary historical reference. It introduces a new idea, the priesthood of the king, but all its language can be explained from the peculiar position and significance of the theocratic king, as the earthly representative of Jehovah. He was the embodiment. for the time, of God’s purpose to establish His kingdom on earth, and therefore prophets and psalmists were taught to speak of him in terms far exceeding the personal significance of any particular king, in words which were to be fulfilled after the lapse of ages with a larger, spiritual meaning.

It has however been very commonly maintained that the reference which our Lord made to this Psalm must, for the Christian student, determine its authorship and interpretation. Many who in every other case regard Messianic Psalms as having a primary historical meaning, feel that here our Lord’s authority compels them to hold that this Psalm was written by David, and was addressed by him to the future Messiah, who, he believed, would spring from his family. It is therefore necessary carefully to examine the precise nature of our Lord’s reference to the Psalm.

Pharisees, Herodians, Sadducees, Scribes, had been questioning Jesus, with the object of ensnaring Him in His talk. When they had been silenced by the wisdom of His answers, so that “no man durst ask him any question,” He proceeded to question His questioners. “How say the scribes that the Christ is the son of David? David himself said in the Holy Spirit,

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou on my right hand,

Till I make thine enemies the footstool of thy feet.

David himself calleth him Lord; and whence is he his son?” (Mar 12:35 ff.). St Luke’s account (Luk 20:41 ff.) is substantially the same. St Matthew’s account (Mat 22:41 ff.) differs somewhat in detail, and brings out more clearly the point, that the words are rather a question and a challenge than an assertion and an argument.

“While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them a question, saying, What think ye of the Christ? whose son is he? They say unto him, The son of David. He saith unto them, How then doth David in the Spirit call him Lord, saying,

The Lord said unto my Lord,

Sit thou on my right hand,

Till I put thine enemies underneath thy feet?

If David then calleth him Lord, how is he his son? And no one was able to answer him a word, neither durst any man from that day forth ask him any more questions.”

The question assumes (1) that the Psalm was written by David, (2) that it was inspired, and (3) that it directly refers to the Messiah. The inability of the Pharisees to answer shews that these premisses were unhesitatingly admitted. If they could have replied that the Psalm was not written by David, or that it was not inspired, or that it did not refer to the Messiah, they would have had an answer ready to hand. But evidently it did not occur to them that any one of these points could be disputed. David was unquestioningly regarded as the author, if not of the whole Psalter, at least of the Psalms which bore his name; the Hagiographa, if not placed on the same level of inspiration as the Law and the Prophets, were yet held to have been written by inspiration ( ברוח הקדש = ἐν πνεύματι ἁγίῳ ); the Psalm, it must be inferred, was commonly understood to refer to the Messiah.

But in assuming these premisses for the purpose of His question, does our Lord stamp them with the sanction of His authority? It has been very truly pointed out that one of His methods of teaching was “to ask men questions such as would lead them to cross-examine themselves closely in the light of their own principles [67] .” It seems neither unreasonable nor irreverent to suppose that He was doing so in this instance. Taking His opponents upon their own ground, He desired to arouse their consciences to confess that if only they followed out their own beliefs to their legitimate conclusions, they must look for a Messiah who was more than a mere human descendant of David, and therefore they ought not to be scandalised at His claims. But it does not follow that He meant to endorse the correctness of those beliefs in their entirety. He accepts, for example, their reference of the Psalm to the Messiah. But could He have accepted the Messianic idea which they derived from it? We have no precise information as to the contemporary interpretation of it, but it could hardly fail to have been regarded as supporting the popular conception of the Messiah as a conquering king, who was to expel the Romans, and reign triumphantly in Zion. To such an interpretation He could not have meant to lend the sanction of His authority. But it was not necessary for him to correct it at the moment. So too with the question of authorship. He was not pronouncing a judgement in criticism. The very notion of criticism at that time was unknown. Tradition held absolute sway. Criticism would have been an anachronism and an impossibility. For His present purpose of stimulating reflection He could accept without correction or inquiry the tradition which was universally current. The Psalm was Messianic; the language of it, viewed in the light of history, pointed to the Messiah as One greater than David. The conclusion which the Pharisees ought to have drawn from their own premisses, had they been honest with themselves, was a true one, even if those premisses were not, from a literary and historical point of view, exact.

[67] Gore, Bampton Lectures, p. 198.

It would be out of place here to enter upon any discussion of the mysterious question of the limitations of our Lord’s knowledge in His life on earth. But it is undoubtedly “easier to conceive of our Lord using this sort of argument, if we accept the position that He, the very God, habitually spoke in His incarnate life on earth, under the limitations of a properly human consciousness [68] .”

[68] Gore, p. 198. Cp. the important notes on p. 270. See also Sanday, Bampton Lectures, p. 419 f., on the “neutral zone among our Lord’s sayings,” i.e. “sayings in which He takes up ideas and expressions current at the time and uses without really endorsing them.”

If then it may be maintained that, in the words of Bishop Thirlwall as given by Bishop Perowne, “we are left very much in the same position with regard to the Psalm as if our Lord had not asked these questions about it,” it will not be necessary to isolate it from the other royal Messianic Psalms, which refer in the first instance to the circumstances of the time. The most natural and obvious view will be that it was not addressed by David himself to the Messiah, but by some prophet to David, or to some later king or prince.

Its date and occasion have been much disputed. (1) By some it has been supposed to refer to one of the Maccabees, who were at once priests and princes. Most plausible are the suggestions that it was addressed to Jonathan or Simon. Jonathan was chosen “prince and leader” after the death of Judas, and “took the governance upon him, and rose up in the stead of his brother Judas” ( 1Ma 9:30-31 ). Subsequently he was appointed high priest by Alexander Balas (c. b.c. 153), who also “sent him a purple robe, and a crown of gold” ( 1Ma 10:20 ). Of Simon, who succeeded Jonathan, expelled the Syrians from the Acra, and secured the independence of the Jews (b.c. 142), it is recorded that “the people made him their leader and high priest” … and “king Demetrius [2, Nicator] confirmed to him the high priesthood” … and “the Jews and priests were well pleased that Simon should be their leader and high priest for ever, until there should arise a faithful prophet” ( 1Ma 14:35 ; 1Ma 14:38 ; 1Ma 14:41 ) [69] .

[69] A confirmation of the view that the Psalm was addressed to Simon has been found in the fact observed by the Rev. G. Margoliouth, Academy, 1892, p. 182, and independently by Prof. Bickell, that the initial letters of the clause Sit thou &c. and the three following verses spell the name Simon ( שׁמען ). But this appears to be a mere accidental coincidence. Acrostics giving the name of the poet or of the person celebrated in the poem appear to have been a comparatively late invention. No tradition of their occurrence in the O.T. has survived.

There are however at least two considerations which are fatal to the hypothesis of a Maccabaean origin for this Psalm. ( a) The Maccabees were first priests and then princes. But the Psalm refers to a prince upon whom is conferred the dignity of a peculiar priesthood, distinct apparently from the hereditary priesthood of the descendants of Aaron. ( b) The very terms in which Simon’s election is recorded, “until there should arise a faithful prophet,” testify to the fact that the Maccabaean age was sadly conscious that the voice of prophecy was silent (cp. 1Ma 4:46 ; 1Ma 9:27 ). How then could a Maccabaean poet presume to speak, as the author of this Psalm does, in the language ( Psa 110:1) and with the authority ( Psa 110:4) of prophecy? To these considerations it may be added that it is difficult to suppose that the action of heathen princes in the appointment of Jonathan and the confirmation of Simon could be spoken of in the lofty language of this Psalm.

(2) The coronation of Joshua, as a type of the union of the royal and priestly offices in the person of the Messiah (Zec 6:9-15), has been pointed to by others as the occasion of the Psalm. But here again it is the priest who is crowned, not the prince who is declared to be also priest. The triumphant tone of the Psalm moreover, presaging victory for this great ruler, is by no means what might be expected from ‘the circumstances of the struggling community of the returned exiles.

(3) It remains to refer the Psalm to the period of the monarchy. It is true that the king of Israel did not bear the title of priest; but as the head and representative of a priestly nation (Exo 19:6) he had a priestly character; and the priesthood spoken of in the Psalm is clearly something special, something distinct from the regular hereditary priesthood. If the Psalm belongs to the period of the monarchy, there seems to be no convincing ground for refusing to refer it to the time of David. The objection that an early poem must have found a place in one of the earlier books rests upon the unproved assumption that no early poetry was preserved independently of the collections contained in these books. At any rate there is no incident recorded in the historical books so likely to have suggested the Psalm as the translation of the Ark to Zion by David. The presence of the Ark on Zion was the outward sign that Jehovah had fixed His throne there. Beside it dwelt David, sitting as it were in the place of honour at Jehovah’s right hand as His viceroy. The new king of Jerusalem must reproduce the twofold office of the ancient priest-king of Salem, and become a type of the Messianic king, in whom these offices were to be united (Jer 30:21; Zec 6:11-13). Many of those who regard the Psalm as directly Messianic find in this and other incidents of David’s life the motive of the Psalm, for “prophecy never seems wholly to forsake the ground of history,” and “we must look to some occurrence in David’s life for the secret impulse of his song.” But if we are free to choose, it seems best to regard the Psalm as addressed to David, and possessing a primary historical meaning rich in promise and encouragement for him in the founding of his new kingdom. This view however does not diminish the profound Messianic significance of the Psalm. “God through His Spirit so speaks in the Psalmist that words not directly addressed to Christ find their fulfilment in Him” (Bp Westcott). As the ages rolled on it was seen that its words were not fulfilled in David, but pointed forward to One Who was at once David’s son and David’s Lord. And in the event it was seen that the session at God’s right hand was the exaltation of Him who had passed victoriously through humiliation and passion to His former glory; that the eternal priesthood of which it speaks was His eternal priesthood of atonement and intercession and benediction; that the victories which it predicts are His assured triumph over the spiritual enemies of sin and death. Comp. generally Introd. pp. lxxvi ff.; and the Introductions to Psalms 2, 45, 72.

No Psalm is more frequently quoted and alluded to in the N.T. It was, as we have seen, quoted by our Lord (Mat 22:44; Mar 12:36; Luk 20:42-43); and His use of its language as recorded in Mat 26:64 (= Mar 14:62; Luk 22:69) clearly involved (since its Messianic significance was acknowledged) an assertion of His Messiahship in answer to the High-priest’s adjuration. Psa 110:1 is applied by St Peter to the exaltation of Christ in His Resurrection and Ascension (Act 2:34-35), and is quoted in Heb 1:13 to illustrate the superiority of the Son to Angels. Cp. also Mar 16:19; Act 5:31; Act 7:55-56; Rom 8:34; 1Co 15:24 ff.; Eph 1:20; Col 3:1; Heb 1:3; Heb 8:1; Heb 10:12-13; Heb 12:1; 1Pe 3:22; Rev 3:21. Psa 110:4 serves as the basis of the argument in Heb 5:5 ff; Heb 6:20; Heb 7:17 ff. concerning the superiority of Christ’s priesthood to the Levitical priesthood.

The selection of the Psalm as a Proper Psalm for Christmas Day needs no comment.

Verses of Psalms 110

Consult other comments:

Psalms 110:0 - Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

Psalms 110:0 - The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges

Psalms 110:0 - Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers (Old and New Testaments)

Psalms 110:0 - John Gill's Exposition of the Entire Bible

Psalms 110:0 - Matthew Henry's Whole Bible Commentary

Psalms 110:0 - Jamieson, Fausset and Brown's Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible

Psalms 110:0 - Keil & Delitzsch Commentary on the Old Testament

Psalms 110:0 - English Annotations on the Holy Bible by Matthew Poole

Psalms 110:0 - Whedon's Commentary on the Old and New Testaments

The Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges