Psalm 110 is the most widely quoted psalm within our New Testament.
The LORD says to my lord,verse 1
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.”
This royal psalm celebrates the king of Israel – an earthly lord who embodies the presence and will of the Sovereign LORD of heaven and earth. Not only did the king represent God’s presence on earth, but Jerusalem and the Temple represented God’s holy dwelling.
The “Anointed of God” ruling from Zion, the “city of God.”
The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!verse 2
More than likely, this psalm originated during the time of the Davidic monarchy and parts of it may have been sung at coronations (consequently categorized as an “enthronement” psalm).
But by the time Psalm 110 was gathered into the psalter, Israel was in Exile. The land, the Temple and the monarchy were now gone, thus the scholars of Israel were challenged to look back at their story and re-interpret its meaning for a tragic new time.
Consequently within the psalter itself, we see theological re-readings and readjustments of Israel’s understandings and expectations. If the Davidic kings were no more, then (Jewish teachers pondered because of the Exile) this hope of God’s reign throughout the earth must be assigned to another “anointed one.”
This is how hope for the Jewish messiah was born.
Psalm110 assumes and affirms what Psalm 2 proclaims:
The LORD said to me, “You are my son;Psalm 2:7
today I have begotten you.”
- The king of Israel was considered to be the begotten son of God.
- Before the kings, the tribal people of God thought of themselves as God’s chosen ones: God’s “son.”
- After the loss of the monarchy, it was the whole people of God who once again considered themselves to be the beloved sons of God.
- At the end of the Exile and during the post exilic time of the Second Temple, the concrete presence of God was believed to reside within the faithful community of the faithful of God.
You may also recognize this interesting interpretation from our psalmist:
The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”verse 4
The poet of Psalm 110 had already added a twist to the kingly tradition: the Lord’s Messiah was to be both king AND priest.
Melchizedek is an enigmatic biblical character. This psalmist would have been working out of the Abraham story found in Genesis 14 where the patriarch met the mysterious king-priest near Salem (years later: Jeru-Salem).
King Melchizedek of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed Abram saying …Genesis 14:18-19
So the psalmist sees the anointed one of Israel as both king and priest. One who – in God’s authority – rules AND serves. The king ruled God’s people according to God’s will while the priest served the people by offering up the their worship and prayers to God.
By the time we get to the gospels, we can see how these theologians extended traditional understandings of the psalmists and now added one more layer: it is Jesus who is the ultimate, unique and “only begotten” Son of God.
As heir to the throne of David, as the ideal Israelite, and as the completely faithful one, Jesus fulfilled and completed what it meant to be “Son of God.”
This was a theological reinterpretation crucial to the way the New Testament authors told the Jesus story.
Out of Egypt, I have called my son …Matthew 2:15
… the only begotten Son has made the Father known …John 1:18 KJV
In the letter to the Hebrews, this creative New Testament theologian also works from Psalm 110 as well as the ancient story of Melchizedek.
Hebrews chapter 7 is an brilliant argument that weaves both the Genesis / Melchizedek story and Psalm 110’s interpretation / re-interpretation into a seamless confession of faith.
The Hebrews writer confesses it is Jesus who has now embodied – in concrete, incarnational ways – the presence of God. It is Jesus, the Anointed One of God, the promised Messiah – who fills this heavenly, eternal role of priest and king.
It is Jesus the Christ – king and priest – who is Ruler within the already-and-not-yet Reign of God as well as Intercessor for all the people before the throne of the Sovereign LORD.
Psalms scholar Clinton McCann says this:
Psalm 110 is no mere artifact of ancient political propaganda. Rather, in relation to Jesus Messiah, it is a world-transforming challenge to every form of politics and power that does not begin with submission of the self to God’s claim. Jesus, messiah and priest, guarantees all people access to God.
Those who would deny such grace and its claims set themselves up as enemies of the reign of God.
The exalted will be humbled. Persons who accept such grace and submit to its claims open themselves to abundant life; the humble will be exalted.The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV. (Nashville: Abingdon Press) 1996.
On a side note, some years ago, when my family visited Westminster Abbey in London, I was fascinated to see fragments of this ancient understanding continue within the long tradition of the monarchical understandings of Great Britain. The old “divine right of kings” has evolved with newer Constitutional approaches but the theological significance of God’s anointed remains.
The coronation of the monarch of England is a worship service of the Church. Priests and prayers and praise to the Sovereign Ruler of the cosmos punctuate the crowning and anointing of this earthly ruler.
When the British sovereign sits in the Coronation Chair, that chair is placed at the center of the famed Cosmati Pavement, representing the center of the universe. The monarch is anointed as one responsible to rule and serve throughout the earth.
So even in this modern day, this earthly monarch is understood to represent the heavenly monarch.
“Psalm 110 is a world-transforming challenge to every form of politics and power that does not begin with submission…to God’s claim [upon our lives.]”