by David McAllister, Ireland
Psalm 110 is undoubtedly Messianic. Several considerations put the matter beyond all question. First, there is the extent to which it is used in the New Testament in relation to our Lord Jesus Christ. It is the most quoted or alluded-to Old Testament ‘chapter’ (if we can call a Psalm a ‘chapter’), and its first verse is the most quoted or alluded-to Old Testament verse, in the New Testament.
Second, in addition to the high frequency of quotation, is the extent to which those quotations are developed doctrinally. Some quotations from other Messianic Psalms are referred to the Lord Jesus Christ in the New Testament by way of brief mention, but verses 1 and 4 of Psalm 110 are dealt with at length to establish vital truths: respectively, the Lord’s present session at God’s right hand, and His priesthood after the order of Melchisedec.
Third, the Lord Jesus quoted from this Psalm to His opponents, Matt.22.44; Mk.12.36; Lk.20.42.43, and His words prove that He regarded it as Messianic. Moreover, those whom He was addressing did not dispute His point, showing that the Messianic nature of the Psalm was held even by His enemies.
Fourth, it is manifestly Messianic in its entirety. There are other Messianic Psalms that refer in part to the experience of the writer, and in part to the Lord Jesus. Nowhere in this Psalm could David be speaking about Himself, or anyone other than Divine Persons. Some writers have tried to relate it to David’s personal experience, but without success.
Fausset puts it well: “The explicit application of this Psalm to our Saviour, by Him, Matt.22.42-45, and by the apostles, Acts 2.34; 1Cor.15.25; Heb.1.13, and their frequent reference to its language and purport, Eph.1.20-22; Phil.2.9-11; Heb.10.12,13, leave no doubt of its purely prophetic character. Not only was there nothing in the position or character, personal or official, of David or any other descendant, to justify a reference to either, but utter severance from the royal office of all priestly functions (so clearly assigned the subject of this Psalm) positively forbids such a reference.”1
1. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A.R., and Brown, D. “Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible”. 1871.
The superscript reads, “A Psalm of David”. In addition to confirming its Messianic character, the Lord’s quotation of Psalm 110 to the Pharisees corroborates the fact that David is the writer. His adversaries did not disagree, as surely they would have done if they had been in any doubt as to Davidic authorship, for had there been any opening available to them to evade the implications of His quotation, they would have grasped it.
Concerning Whom and to Whom is David writing? Space precludes a detailed discussion, but there must be a consideration of the occurrences of the word “Lord”, which is found five times in the Psalm (vv.1,1,2,4,5), and translates three different Hebrew words:
- Jehovah occurs three times (vv.1,2,4), and is easily identified in the Authorised Version, which distinguishes it from other words translated “Lord” by the use of capitals: “LORD”. “He that always was, that always is, and ever is to come”2;
- Adon, occurs once (v.1). “Sovereign Lord, Master, Possessor, or Proprietor.”2 A singular word;
- Adonahy, also occurs once (v.5). “Sovereign Lord, Master. In this form used only as a Divine title”.2 A plural word.
- 2. From the Introduction to the “Newberry Bible”.
To Whom then do these titles refer in this Psalm? There can be little doubt as to the first two: “Jehovah said unto my Adon, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand’” v.1. The many New Testament references show that it is the Father speaking to the Son, and thus, here Jehovah is God the Father, and Adon is the Son, the Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ. Hence, in vv.1-4, David is addressing the Messiah, and twice in his address he quotes to Him words of the Father to Him.
Identification of Adonahy (“Adonahy at Thy right hand”) in v.5 is not so ‘clear cut’. Many take it that David is continuing to address the Messiah, and is using Adonahy of Jehovah, being at the right hand of the Messiah. That is probably the position of most commentators, but not all. In his commentary on the Psalms, J.M. Flanigan addresses the issue: “Who is ‘The Lord’ here? Is this Jehovah at the right hand of the coming Warrior-King? Or is it Messiah, who has been seated at the right hand of Jehovah? The truth of the first is, of course, quite acceptable, that Jehovah should be at the right hand of the coming One, enabling Him and assuring the victory. It is hardly likely though, that in so short a Psalm Messiah should be at God’s right hand in v.1, and Jehovah at Messiah’s right hand in v.5. It seems easier to understand that, in these closing verses of the Psalm, Jehovah is being addressed, so that ‘The Lord at Thy right hand’ is the Messiah, now leaving His seat to appear in power and glory and to execute judgment.” 5
- 5. Flanigan, J.M. “What the Bible Teaches – Psalms”. John Ritchie Ltd., Kilmarnock, 2001.
The Moody Bible Commentary agrees, and gives a further cogent argument for it: “… this is not Yahweh at the King’s right hand but the King at the right hand of Yahweh. This is evident in that all the third-person singular pronouns that follow refer back to the word ‘Lord’. But, plainly it is the King who will shatter kings, judge … the nations and shatter the chief men. If the King is the subject of all these verbs, He must be the one called Lord. This correlates with v.1. There He was said to be at the right hand of Yahweh even as He is once again depicted at God’s right hand here in v.5. The logical conclusion is the warrior King is being called the Lord (Adonay), a title reserved for God alone.”6
6. Rydelnik, M.A. and Vanlaningham, M.G. (Eds.) “e Moody Bible Commentary” Moody Publishers, 2014.
Taking this view, there is a change at v.5, where David turns from addressing the Messiah, to addressing Jehovah, which he continues to do to the end of the Psalm. Thus, in vv.2,3 the word “Thy” is addressed to the Son, whereas in v.5 “Thy” is to the Father. In v.1 David is stating to the Son that He is at the Father’s “right hand”; in v.5. David is stating to the Father that the Son is at His “right hand”.
We should note the ‘Trinitarian’ character of this Psalm. It is about the Father and the Son, but it was in the Holy Spirit that David wrote it: “For David himself said by the Holy Ghost, ‘The LORD said to my Lord …’” Mk.12.36. Here we have all three Persons of the Trinity, in one phrase.
Remembering this fact will help us as we proceed: some readers may object to us speaking of “the Father” and “the Son” in connection with this Psalm, on the ground that David did not have the more full revelation of the Godhead that came later (in the New Testament), and hence he could not have known he was writing concerning “the Son” and “the Father”. It is true that we cannot be sure as to the extent to which David knew and understood the precise identities of, and interactions between, Divine Persons; however, he spoke “by the Holy Ghost”, Who certainly has full knowledge of these things! So, in considering this Psalm, we are not limited to viewing it from David’s perspective; we can make use of the truth and the terminology given to us in the New Testament.
In light of the discussion above, we will base our consideration of the Psalm on the following structure:
- Vv.1-4: David speaks to the Son about the Father’s Actions: The Divine Chronology
- v.1: The LORD Saying: Present Position
- “The LORD said unto my Lord, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand’”
- vv.2,3: The LORD Sending: Prospective Power
- “The LORD shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion”
- v.4: The LORD Swearing: Perpetual Priesthood
- “The LORD hath sworn, and will not repent …”
- v.1: The LORD Saying: Present Position
- Vv.5-7: David speaks to the Father about the Son’s Actions: The Divine Conquest
- Six Things He “Shall” Do
We now come to look at the details of the Psalm. Verses1-4 take us from the Lord’s exaltation to His second coming, then through His Millennial reign, and on to the eternal state. Verses 5-7 show us how the Lord Jesus will, by conquest, bring about the change from being presently at the right hand of God to bringing in His future Kingdom, which will usher in His unending position of power and priesthood.
The LORD Saying: Present Position – v.1
“The LORD said unto my Lord, ‘Sit Thou at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.’” There are three prominent New Testament quotations of this delightful opening verse:
- In the Gospels, in conversation, Matt.22.44; Mk.12.36; Lk.20.42,43;
- In the Acts, in preaching, Acts 2.34,35;
- In the Epistles, in writing, Heb.1.13.
In addition, there are many New Testament allusions to the verse, too numerous to list here. All these references provide a fruitful field for much beneficial study; presently we must limit ourselves to some brief references.
Who: “The LORD said.”
The One speaking is “the LORD”, Jehovah. We know, with the whole Bible in our hands, that a Divine name or title sometimes refers to the triune God, whereas on other occasions it is used of one of the individual Persons of the Godhead. The context must determine any particular case. Here, it is obvious that one individual is addressing another, and the many references in the New Testament to this verse demonstrate that here it is God the Father Who is speaking. For example, in Hebrews chapter 1, where Ps.110.1 is quoted (v.13), the language of “Father” and “Son” permeates the whole chapter, and it is evident that the Father is addressing the Son.
The word “said” is not the usual word for speaking. It is, rather, the term used of a solemn oracle. Jehovah here is not only saying something: He is making a solemn declaration of supreme importance, which is shown in the use of this prophetic formula. It is “literally, ‘a saying of the LORD’”.7
- 7. Jamieson, R., Fausset, A.R., and Brown, D., ibid.
Whom: “unto my Lord.”
It is equally clear from New Testament revelation that David’s Master, David’s Sovereign, Who is being addressed here, is the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ. For example, Peter quotes Ps.110.1 in Acts 2.34,35, and then says in the very next breath that it is speaking of “that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified” v.36.
The conversation between the Lord Jesus and the Pharisees in the Temple, Matt.22.41-46; Mk.12.35-37; Lk.20.41-44, shows that the Jewish people knew that the One being addressed by David was the Messiah: “What think ye concerning the Christ? whose son is He?” Matt.22.42, J.N.D. The Lord is not asking them what their opinion of Him personally is; rather, it is a theological question: ‘The Messiah – whose son is He?’ They knew the answer: “of David”. But David had called Him “my Lord”: “The LORD said unto my Lord, ‘Sit Thou on My right hand, till I make Thine enemies Thy footstool’”. So the Lord faces His hearers with a double question: “How then doth David in spirit call Him Lord …? If David then call Him Lord, how is He his son?” Matt.22.43-45.
From a purely human perspective, the logical difficulty is plain to see: if He is David’s son, how can He be David’s Lord? If David calls Him Lord, how can He be his son? It is impossible, if the Messiah is a mere man. “No man was able to answer Him a word” Matt.22.46, because they knew only too well the implication: the Messiah is no mere man; He is David’s Son, by natural descent, but He is also David’s Lord, because He is God, eternal, the Creator and Maker of all. The humanity and the Deity of the Lord Jesus Christ are thus unequivocally stated. He was “made of the seed of David according to the flesh; and declared to be the Son of God with power” Rom.1.3,4. He is “the root and the offspring of David” Rev.22.16.
- Hail Him, ye heirs of David’s line,
- Whom David Lord did call,
- The God incarnate, Man Divine,
- And crown Him Lord of all.
- (Edward Peronnet)
What: “Sit Thou.”
This solemn oracle indicates the right of the Son to sit, and the delight of the Father in Him doing so. The New Testament quotations and allusions, and especially those in Hebrews, establish beyond doubt that it is consequent upon His finished work, and in virtue of it: “… when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down on the right hand of the Majesty on high” Heb.1.3; “But this man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God” Heb.10.12; “Jesus the author and finisher of our faith; who for the joy that was set before Him, endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down at the right hand of the throne of God” Heb.12.2.
We joy in this imperative, for it shows that the work is finished. He has made purification for sins, by offering one complete and final sacrifice, which will never have to be repeated. Thus, Jehovah said to Him, “Sit Thou”, and so He did.
Where: “at My right hand.”
It is not just the fact that He has sat down that is so tremendous, but where He is seated: at “the right hand of God”; the position of highest honour; the pre-eminent place. This is also brought out in the New Testament. It shows Him to be greater than David: Peter taught that “David is not ascended into the heavens: but he saith himself, ‘The LORD said unto my Lord, Sit Thou on My right hand’” Acts 2.34; He is greater than every other power: “He raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality, and power, and might, and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this world, but also in that which is to come” Eph.1.20,21; He is greater than the angels: “But to which of the angels said He at any time, ‘Sit on My right hand, until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool’?” Heb.1.13; He is greater than every high priest: “We have such a high priest, who is set on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” Heb.8.1.
When: “until I make Thine enemies Thy footstool.”
He sat down upon His return to heaven at His ascension: “He was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God” Mk.16.19. He is still there, some two thousand years later, but that is not the end of the story. There is that vital word: “until”. God’s programme has not run its full course. He is “on the right hand of God; from henceforth expecting till His enemies be made his footstool” Heb.10.12,13. It is not a matter of ‘whether’, but ‘when’.
The picture of enemies being made His footstool denotes complete subjugation of His foes. It reminds us of Josh.10.15-27, where Joshua instructed his captains, “‘Come near, put your feet upon the necks of these kings.’ And they came near, and put their feet upon the necks of them” v.24.
There is a sense in which all things are already “under His feet”: God “hath put all things under His feet” Eph.1.22. However, that cannot be what is spoken of in Ps.110.1. It is undeniable that the closing part of Ephesians chapter 1 is presently true, whereas the phrase under consideration refers to a future fulfilment: He is “expecting till …” Ephesians chapter 1 tells of His present exalted position, but does not at all satisfy the necessity for the future routing of His foes.
Nor is the reference to the events of 1Cor.15.24-28, where twice we read the phrase “under His feet” vv.25,27. It can be seen from the details there that Paul is speaking of the consummation of all things, when He has already reigned, and when the last enemy, death, will be destroyed. The context of Psalm 110 is very different: far from being abolished, death will take place in the events described and His rule will be set up. The phrase “Thine enemies Thy footstool” does not just mean that they will be made subject to Him, but denotes the outcome of a mighty military conquest, in which He will vanquish them.
The reference is to when He shall next return to earth, at His Manifestation, an event described not only in the Old Testament, but also in the New, for example, “… the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power; when He shall come to be glorified in His saints, and to be admired in all them that believe” 2Thess.1.7-10. Features of that conquest are given at the end of Psalm 110 (in vv.5-7).
The LORD Sending: Prospective Power – vv.2,3
The chronology now moves on to the next stage. The age in which we are living has ended. The Lord Jesus has made His foes His footstool and He will now reign. The imperative in v.1, “Sit Thou”, has (we now know) been in force for about two thousand years; the imperative in v.2, “Rule Thou”, now takes effect and initiates a reign of one thousand years, Rev.20.1-6.
There are several angles from which these two verses could be considered, but we will simply look at four phrases, each of which draws attention to something that belongs to the Lord, and thus includes the possessive adjective “Thy”/“Thine”: “Thy strength” v.2; “Thine enemies” v.2; “Thy people” v.3; “Thy youth” v.3.
“Thy strength”: “The LORD shall send the rod of Thy strength out of Zion.” v.2
Although the Lord Jesus Christ is the One Who will reign, His Father will take the initiative in inaugurating His worldwide rule. Jehovah is the subject of the phrase, “The LORD shall send …” He will establish the Messiah as King on the throne in Jerusalem (“Zion”), which will be the capital of His Kingdom, and from where (“out of Zion”) He will rule, with the full authority and active endorsement of Jehovah.
The “rod”, or “staff”, which is the symbol of His royal authority, will be the “rod of [His] strength”, the demonstration of the power and might with which He reigns. No-one will be in any doubt as to His authority or ability to rule.
“Thine enemies”: “Rule Thou in the midst of Thine enemies.” v.2
For the great majority of its history Israel, and Jerusalem in particular, has been surrounded by hostile nations, or in subjugation to them, or scattered among them (often a combination of all three). It will be totally different then. Nations that are currently hostile to God and to His people will be under His authority and will submit to His rule. Those who were enemies will be enemies no more. One prophecy stating this is Isa.19.18-25, culminating in these words: “In that day shall Israel be the third with Egypt and with Assyria, even a blessing in the midst of the land: whom the LORD of hosts shall bless, saying, Blessed be Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel Mine inheritance” vv.24,25.
“Thy people”: “Thy people shall be willing in the day of Thy power, in the beauties of holiness.” v.3
We have considered how it will be for His “enemies”, but what about His “people”, the nation of Israel? Two phrases are used of them, which echo the language of priestly service and sacrifice:
Their Attitude: “willing.”
In His Kingdom, His people will be “willing”. In the original language (Hebrew) this word is actually a noun, and not an adjective (as in the English rendering). Its most frequent translation in the Scriptures is “freewill offering”, and in the overwhelming majority of its occurrences it refers to offerings made to the Lord by the people of Israel. Here the noun is plural, and Newberry’s margin renders it “voluntary offerings”. So the imagery is that of the sacrificial system, but what we see here is much more precious: the “freewill offerings” were voluntary on the part of the offerer, but this was not so for the sacrifice, as the animals, for example, were likely far from willing to be offered! In contrast, in that day the offerers will not only offer their substance, but they themselves will be offerings, in devoted, willing service to Him.
Things will also be different from His first coming, when “He came unto His own, and His own received Him not” Jn.1.11. Then, for the most part, they were most unwilling. Then it was a day of rejection, when He “was despised, and [they] esteemed Him not” Isa.53.3. It was a day of voluntary ‘weakness’ 2Cor.13.4, when He submitted Himself to be tried by the Roman authorities and crucified by them. This will be “the day of [His] power”, when His will be a military might far greater than Rome ever had, and the nation will not say, “Away with Him” and “We have no king but Caesar” Jn.19.15, but willingly, gladly, shall honour and serve Him.
Their Adornment: “in the beauties of holiness.”
If the previous phrase evokes thoughts of priestly sacrifice, this one carries that of priestly adornment. The priestly garments were suitable for the work that the priests did, and depicted their consecration and character. In that coming day, all His people will be clothed “in the beauties of holiness”. This term denotes the fact that they will be seen to be a holy people, in glorious splendour, set apart, wholly devoted unto the Lord, and in moral conformity to Him.
While, in the context, His “people” refers to the redeemed remnant of Israel, the terms would be equally applicable to all the redeemed, of all nations, during that glorious Millennial Kingdom. While there will be distinctions in status and roles, every one of those who are His will be willingly consecrated to Him, and will be seen in glorious, holy array.
“Thy youth”: “From the womb of the morning: Thou hast the dew of Thy youth.” v.3
Everyone agrees that this is a sublimely beautiful phrase, but also that it is not easy to interpret. Nor is there any doubt that (just as the freewill offerings and the priestly garments in the earlier part of v.3 go with each other) so do the two clauses in this latter part of the verse: dew appears as the day dawns, and hence “the morning” or ‘dawn’ is depicted as ‘giving birth’ to the dew out of its “womb”.
Does “Thy youth” refer to the Lord Jesus or to His people? There is no doubt that the subject of v.3a is His “people” and that of v.4 is the Lord Jesus, but where does the subject change? Is it at the end of v.3, in which case the whole of v.3 refers to His people, or in the middle of v.3, in which case the last phrase is about Him? Putting it another way, does “Thy youth” refer to His ‘young people’, or to His own personal ‘youth’?
The verse numbering and the punctuation in English show that translators have taken the position that the whole of v.3 refers to His “people”, seen here as a vast army, composed of those who, if not actually young in years, then at least are in the good of youth-like vigour. Most commentators agree. Scroggie is representative of this majority view when he writes, “… as dew is born of its mother the morning, so Thy army shall come to Thee numerous, fresh, bright, and powerful.”8 Certainly this is a possible interpretation, as evidenced by the weight of support it has received.
- 8. Scroggie, W. Graham. “A Guide to the Psalms”. Kregel, 1995.
The alternative view is that David uses “youth” with its usual meaning: that early period of an individual’s life, characterised by vigour and vitality. That is certainly its meaning in the only other place where it occurs in the Old Testament, Ecclesiastes chapter 11: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth …” v.9. If so, then the morning dew, picturing that which is refreshing and strengthening, depicts the unchanging, ever-fresh, vigour of the Lord Jesus and His untiring activity. He is “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever” Heb.13.8. When He appears from the right hand of God, v.1, the world will not have seen Him for at least two thousand years, but He will not have aged, or be diminished in His zeal or His ability. Earthly kings who begin their reign in the strength of youth find that their energy decreases as the years go on. In contrast, He will rule, vv.2,3, for a thousand years, and at the end of it He will be as strong as at the start. Furthermore, (to anticipate v.4) His priesthood will never end: He will not be like those who “were not suffered to continue by reason of death” Heb.7.23. There will never be any decline in Him, Who has ever had, now has, and ever will have, “the dew of [His] youth”.
The marginal alternative reading is interesting: ‘More than [emphasis mine] the womb of the morning Thou shalt have the dew of Thy youth’. Thus, the Psalm may not only be saying that the Lord’s youthful vitality is like the dew, but that He will retain it in a much fuller way than the morning possesses its dew. The ‘mother’ (the dawn) and her ‘offspring’ (the dew) do not have a long time together: the sun soon rises, and they are parted. Dew is lovely, but it does not last. It will not be so for Him; He will never cease to have “the dew of [His] youth”. Throughout the Millennial day and for all eternity, His will be ongoing, tireless energy and activity: ‘more than the womb of the morning’.
The LORD Swearing: Perpetual Priesthood – v.4
The chronology moves on, for now David states a great truth, which is already true in the period covered in vv.1-3, but the emphasis here is that it goes on into eternity; it is “for ever”: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek.”
We read the name of Melchizedek in only three books of the Bible: Genesis (chapter 14), Psalms (110) and Hebrews (chapters 5-7), and in them Melchizedek is presented (respectively) historically, prophetically and doctrinally. Like Ps.110.1, v.4 is used in the New Testament to teach rich doctrine, but, unlike v.1, which appears in many New Testament books, v.4 is quoted only in Hebrews, albeit multiple times.
This is a vast field of wonderful truth, and, as we read later in Hebrews, “The time would fail …” Heb.11.32. We will confine ourselves to discussing five ways in which the writer to the Hebrews uses the Old Testament references to show that the Lord Jesus Christ, being “a priest after the order of Melchizedek”, has a priesthood altogether greater than that to which the Old Testament priests belonged:
The priestly order is that “of Melchizedek”. The opening verses of Hebrews chapter 7 deal with vital details concerning his person; both what Scripture records and what it omits:
What is Recorded
He appeared on the scene briefly, Gen.14.18-20, but the few things recorded of him are highly significant. Firstly, he was both a king and a priest: “king of Salem … priest of the most high God” Gen.14.18; Heb.7.1. This is highly pertinent to Psalm 110, for the Lord Jesus Christ is there seen as King (“Rule Thou …”) and Priest (“Thou art a priest …”).
Secondly, he blessed Abraham, Gen.14.19; Heb.7.1, showing him to be greater even than Abraham. “And without all contradiction the less is blessed of the better” Heb.7.7.
Thirdly, Abraham paid tithes to him, Gen.14.20; Heb.7.2, not only on his own account, but, in a sense, on behalf of his offspring also, including Levi, Heb.7.9,10, from whom the Aaronic priests came. The priests, who are descended from Levi, received tithes from their fellow-Israelites, Heb.7.5, but Melchizedek, who was not of the nation, received them from their father, Abraham. This all shows “how great this man was” Heb.7.4.
What is Omitted
The Scripture does not give any information as to his ancestry or progeny, or his birth and death. As far as the record is concerned, he is “without father, without mother, without descent, having neither beginning of days, nor end of life”, and thus he is “made like unto the Son of God” that is, he is a figure of the Lord Jesus Christ, particularly, in that He “abideth a priest continually” Heb.7.3.
In Heb.7.11-14, the writer makes another allusion to Ps.110.4: the very fact that it was there prophesied that “another priest should rise after the order of Melchisedec” proves that perfection did not come by the Levitical priesthood, but by the Melchisedec priesthood. If it had been perfect, then there would be no need to bring another priest from a different tribe, with the changes that this necessitated.
The “law” Heb.7.12,16, under which priests were appointed was “a carnal commandment” v.16, not in the sense of being evil, but in that it depended on earthly ancestry (the tribe the persons belonged to, the family in that tribe, and their positions in that family). In contrast, the priesthood of the Lord Jesus is according to “the power of an endless life”. The evidence the writer uses is Ps.110.4: “For He testifieth, ‘Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec’” vv.16,17. The former priests were there on the principle of how they entered life; He is there on the principle of a life that shall never end: “for ever”!
The writer to the Hebrews develops the matter further: there was no oath on the appointment of Old Testament priests. Ps.110.4 is once again brought in as testimony to the fact that it is different for the Lord Jesus Christ: “The Lord sware and will not repent, ‘Thou art a priest …’” Heb.7.21. Jehovah has solemnly sworn, and there is no possibility whatsoever of Him changing His mind and rescinding that oath. We note the “inasmuch … by so much …” vv.20,22. That contrast (between no oath and Jehovah’s oath) is a measure of the superiority of the New Covenant over the Old: “By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament” v.22.
In Heb.7.23,24 a further allusion is made to Ps.110.4: “And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood.” In the former days, a priest could not carry on his work indefinitely, because death prevented him from continuing. The responsibility had to be transferred to the next generation. In contrast, the priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ is not transferable, for He is “a priest for ever” Ps.110.4.
He is presently (in the period covered by Ps.110.1) “a priest after the order of Melchizedek”. The Hebrew Epistle states so9, and indeed some of the practical benefits for us today are detailed in the chapter we have just been considering (Hebrews chapter 7), for example, His salvation (“He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” v.25); His suitability (“For such a high priest became us …” v.26); His sacrifice (“Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people’s: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself” v.27); and His status (“For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore” v.28).
9. For example, Heb.6.19,20, “Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made a high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.”
He will also be a priest after the order of Melchizedek in the period covered in Ps.110.2,3: “Behold the man whose name is The Branch … He shall bear the glory, and shall sit and rule upon His throne; and He shall be a priest upon His throne: and the counsel of peace shall be between them both” Zech.6.12,13. Here is the One Who will, in that Millennial day, combine the offices of king and priest, as is described in Psalm 110.
However, He will never cease to be a priest, and that is the emphasis of Ps.110.4: “Thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.
Six Things He “Shall” Do
So in v.1 the Lord Jesus is at God’s right hand, and in v.4 we are given a view into the never-ending eternal day. That raises an unspoken question: how will He move from the one to the other? His enemies will be made His footstool, He will reign over a worldwide kingdom, and be a priest for ever. What will He do to bring this about? David now gives the answer: it will be by military conquest, and he states six things that He “shall” do when He returns in power and great glory:
“The Lord at Thy right hand shall strike through kings in the day of His wrath.” v.5
As discussed in the earlier section “Divine Persons Involved”, we are taking the standpoint that here David turns from addressing the Son, to Whom he has been speaking in vv.1-4, and now addresses his comments to God the Father, speaking to Him about the Son. On this view, “at Thy right hand” does not mean David is telling the Messiah that the Lord is at His right hand to help and uphold Him, (though there are Psalms that do use the term in this way, for example, Ps.16.8; 109.31). Rather, he is speaking to the Father about the Lord Jesus, the One Who is now at His right hand. This takes us back to the reference to His “right hand” in v.1. To paraphrase and expand: ‘The Lord Jesus Christ is currently at Thy right hand, but here is what comes next; this is how He will make His enemies His footstool …”
“The day of His wrath” will be when He will return to earth and execute His righteous judgment on His foes. In that day He shall “strike through kings”. “Strike through” is usually translated “wound” (as in the very next verse). It is used of the literal wounding of a person (for example, in the killing of Sisera by Jael, Judg.5.26) and of conquest of people (for example, “a Sceptre shall rise out of Israel, and shall smite the corners of Moab, and destroy all the children of Sheth” Num.24.17). Likely both are in view here, for the Lord Jesus will conquer kingdoms, but this will include actual physical wounding of kings. John writes of “ten kings … These shall make war with the Lamb, and the Lamb shall overcome them: for He is Lord of lords, and King of kings” Rev.17.12,14. If the kings are defeated, then it follows that so are the nations over whom they rule.
“He shall judge among the heathen.” v.6
The word “judge” can mean ‘govern’, ‘plead a cause’, ‘contend’ or ‘carry out judgment’. All these different senses are used in Scripture, but the last meaning appears to best fit the context of wrath and conquest here. Jude, quoting Enoch, writes, “Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment upon all” Jude vv.14,15. “Heathen” is the word usually translated “nations”, referring to the Gentiles, and here it is plural. The Lord Jesus Himself speaks of “all nations” being gathered before Him at that very time, and Him passing judgment upon each individual, Matt.25.31-46.
“He shall fill the places with the dead bodies.” v.6
In that great confrontation, described in Rev.19.11-21, there will be an immense slaughter of the Lord’s enemies. The consequences are described in Ezekiel chapter 39, in which it is stated that “seven months shall the house of Israel be burying of them, that they may cleanse the land” Ezek.39.12. That chapter speaks of carrion birds gorging themselves on dead bodies, vv.4,17-19, a fact taken up in Revelation chapter 19, where there is a call to the fowls to “come and gather yourselves together unto the supper of the great God; that ye may eat the flesh of kings, and the flesh of captains, and the flesh of mighty men, and the flesh of horses, and of them that sit on them, and the flesh of all men, both free and bond, both small and great … and all the fowls were filled with their flesh” vv.17,18,21.
“He shall wound the heads over many countries.” v.6
The word “wound” is the same as that translated “strike through” in the previous verse, so this must link to it, and yet be distinct from it. “Heads” and “many countries” are plural in the Authorised Version, but Newberry indicates the former as being singular (“head”) and that the latter can be rendered ‘a great land’, which may refer to the whole earth. David could be speaking of a human head, very possibly “the beast”, to whom the kings already alluded to are affiliated and subservient, Rev.17.12,13, and with whom they join in battle against the Lamb: “And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against Him” Rev.19.19. Or David could be referring to “the dragon which gave power unto the beast … the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan” Rev.13.4; 20.2. However the phrase is taken, certainly it is a defeat for Satan, and reminds us of Paul’s words, “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” Rom.16.20.
“He shall drink of the brook in the way.” v.7
This lovely phrase has been understood in a number of ways. Some take it that the Lord is faint with the battle and is refreshing Himself for the final onslaught; others that He is moving with such rapidity and determination to complete the conquest that He only stops momentarily to take a drink; while others spiritualise it to mean He is refreshed by the ministry of the Holy Spirit. I find none of these explanations satisfactory. The five other “shall” statements speak of actual events, and it would be strange if one was inserted here that was only to be taken spiritually. It is better to take it as it reads: that He will drink from an actual brook. However, the idea that He will be weary and need physical refreshment is contrary to the depiction in this Psalm of His almighty power. He will not grow weary, and, in any case, the engagement with His foes, though bloody, will be brief. Additionally, this phrase comes after (not during) the descriptions of conquest and carnage. Thus it could refer to the point just after the destruction of His enemies, rather than to Him pausing during it.
Why does the Psalmist insert what initially might appear to be a relatively minor detail, along with events of such momentous import? That apparent incongruity may be the key to its meaning: the writer is David, the description is of the Lord Jesus, and the culmination of the events described is in Jerusalem (“Zion” v.2). There is a “brook” associated with Jerusalem, David and the Lord Jesus: “the brook Kidron”. David crossed it as he left the city, rejected by his own people and hounded by his foes, but with a band of faithful devotees, 2Sam.15.23. Later he returned in triumph, having vanquished his enemies, to reign from the city he had left. (Since we do not know the point in his life when he wrote this Psalm, these events may still have been future for David, but, even if so, the Holy Spirit, under Whose inspiration he wrote, knew they would happen, so it is still valid to connect this phrase to this event in David’s life.)
Many years later, the One of Whom David wrote left the same city, where He was rejected, and crossed that same brook with His devoted followers, knowing that those who were after His life were closing in: “He went forth with His disciples over the brook Cedron [Kidron], where was a garden” Jn.18.1. As described in this Psalm, He will, like David, but in a so much more glorious way, return in triumph, and reign “out of Zion”. Could it be, as He will emerge triumphant from the battlefields and make His way into the city, that He will pause at the brook Kidron, take a moment to drink of its water, and call to mind that dark night, before He takes the last few steps into the city to inaugurate the bright Millennial day? In that moment of unspeakable joy, His depths of sorrow and suffering will not be forgotten.
Admittedly, there is a large measure of conjecture in the above discussion. It is offered as a suggestion, and not as ‘dogma’. When we are with Him, we may be told that it is not the true interpretation of the phrase, but, if so, hopefully it is allowable by way of application, and has thoughts concerning Him that we can enjoy.
“Therefore shall He lift up the head.” v.7
“Therefore”: this is not just as the consequence of the previous action, but as the culmination and conclusion of each “shall” that has preceded it in vv.5-7. The word may also have the thought of contrast: He will have stooped down and lowered His head to drink of the brook; now He lifts His head and sees the city from which He will reign. He is not lifting someone else’s head: it is His own head that He is raising. However, it is not merely a physical lifting up of His head. It is a highly significant and symbolic action: the raising of the head of the mighty Victor in exaltation. He Who wounded ‘‘the heads over many countries” v.6, is now the exalted Head over the whole world. His victory is complete.
We live in a world that is ever-increasingly hostile to the Lord Jesus Christ. However, this Psalm reminds us that it will not be so for ever. He is currently at the right hand of God, and before long He will arise, return to earth and begin the series of events that will ensure the fulfilment of all that is prophesied in this Psalm. Even sooner than that, He will come to the air, to take us to be forever with Himself, 1Thess.4.13-18. Therefore, in the words of the hymn by Charles Wesley, let us “rejoice!”
- He sits at God’s right hand
- Till all His foes submit,
- And bow to His command,
- And fall beneath His feet:
- Lift up your heart, lift up your voice;
- Rejoice, again I say, rejoice.
- Rejoice in glorious hope!
- Jesus, our Lord, shall come
- And take His servants up
- To their eternal home;
- We soon shall hear the archangel’s voice;
- The trump of God shall sound, rejoice!