Psalm 110 (another look)

Psalm 110 sings confidence: Israel’s God upholds Israel’s king.

This royal psalm celebrates the king as the one anointed to rule and empowered to vanquish all of Israel’s enemies.

This famous psalm also seeds the tradition that understands God’s anointed one to be “prophet, priest and king.”

Living in The Story takes a second look at this important psalm and how it nurtures Christianity’s prophetic imagination.

King

The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Much of our Bible assumes a violent culture in the ancient world of its origins. Armies and battles, victories and defeats, walled cities and calls to arms defined daily life for many of these nations and their inhabitants.

For Israel, Yahweh God became the quintessential warrior god.

From the Lord’s overwhelming defeat of the army of Egypt to the conquering of the Promised Land to the the establishing of David’s monarchy, God was seen as One who went before them in battle to save and secure Israel.

The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter: Rule in the midst of your foes…

From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.

In the imagination of Israel, Zion was God the King’s ultimate dwelling place: the holy throne situated in the highest heavenlies.

Thus everything built in the Temple signified and symbolized these invisible heavenly realities.

Even though Israel often used the words “Zion” and “Jerusalem” interchangeably, the city and the Temple were always and only physical metaphors that pointed to the spiritual unseen-ness of God’s presence in Zion.

Psalm 110 sees Yahweh the King as the Source of an eternal divine authority that establishes Israel’s kings with a consequent divine authority.

(Jump to the New Testament and recall that Luke also used Psalm 110 as a basis for his Christology of kingship. In Acts 2, Peter’s Pentecost sermon sees the Risen Christ as heir to David’s throne: The LORD says to my lord: “Sit at my right handuntil I make your enemies your footstool.”)

Priest

But here is a twist: along with kingship, the psalmist of 110 claims Israel’s kingly leader also is a priest.

The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

The LORD is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath…

Not a priest within the Levitical priesthood, from the lineage of Aaron and the priestly tribe of Levi, but rather priest from a more ancient and enigmatic tradition.

In Abraham’s story as told in Genesis, (centuries before the Levitical priesthood) there is an odd little episode when Abraham meets “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of God Most High…” 

Abraham received a blessing from the priest/king and gave him a tithe as an offering. That’s just about all we know from the original story.

But in later years, the psalmist used this tradition to assign Israel’s monarch to this special category of priest/king.

The divine authority to oversee God’s people is magnified beyond the usual authority of a nation’s king. The psalmist expands it to include divine authority to speak for the people directly to the One seated on the Heavenly Throne.

Fast forward to the New Testament and we find Melchizedek again in Hebrews 5

Here in Hebrews, the Preacher’s creative understandings of the Hebrew Scriptures allowed him to re-interpret these Sacred Texts in light of the Christ Event. So, centuries later, the ancient “twist” introduced by our psalmist is taken to yet another level by his theological descendant.

Hebrews presents Jesus as the Priest who has divine authority to speak directly to God and to offer sacrifice (in this context, to offer his own life) on behalf of the people.

Prophet

During Week 39 of Living in The Story, we complete the massive work of Isaiah the prophet and begin (again) the powerful gospel of Mark.

The gospel writers all portray Jesus as prophet.

Even as they hint at Messiah’s claim to the throne of David; even as they allude to Jesus’ death as a fulfillment of the ultimate priestly sacrifice … the gospels’ overwhelming understanding of Jesus the Christ is as the perfect prophet of God.

  • Speaking truth to power
  • Slicing through layers of human tradition in order to restore the core meaning of the Law
  • Standing with the poor, oppressed and vulnerable

Recall Luke’s Jesus announced his ministry using the very words of the prophet Isaiah:

The spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
    because the Lord has anointed me;
he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,
    to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
    and release to the prisoners;
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor…

Walter Brueggemann, speaking of “prophetic imagination,” says: It seems clear that lying at the foundation of the church is the claim that Jesus is a full embodiment of the prophetic tradition of the Old Testament.

Prophet-Priest-King

For the earliest Christian theologians, Jesus the Christ most perfectly completes the picture of the promised Messiah: the Resurrected Lord is Prophet-Priest-King.

Within the Christian tradition, Psalm 110 anticipates the Christ as one anointed to rule over all the nations with compassion and justice, to speak God’s Word with divine authority and to abide in God’s presence in order to intercede for all God’s people.

Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Author: Charlotte Vaughan Coyle

Charlotte lives and blogs in Paris TX. She is ordained within the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and developed Living in The Story while doing doctoral work at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth. Charlotte also blogs about intersections of faith, politics and culture at CharlotteVaughanCoyle.com.

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