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"Save With Your Right Hand" January 5-6

Psalm 110 is a royal psalm of David that affirms the divinity of the Messiah. Note that the psalm begins in verse 1 with "the LORD"-i.e., YHWH (He Is Who He Is, the Eternal God)-giving subordinate regal rule at His right hand to another whom David refers to as "my Lord" (Adoni, meaning "Master"). David was the king of Israel. Who, if not God, was over him as his Lord?

Prior to Jesus' day, the Jews viewed this psalm as messianic. They saw David here looking to the future Messiah or Christ, the anointed King who would establish the Kingdom of God over all nations. Yet other passages showed that the Messiah would be a descendant of David, which was seemingly problematic for Psalm 110. Jesus used these points in confounding the Pharisees. Note this exchange from Matthew 22 (which gives evidence of the Jewish messianic interpretation of Psalm 110 and confirms David as the psalm's author):

"While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, saying, 'What do you think about the Christ? Whose Son is He?'

"They said to Him, 'The Son of David.'

"He said to them, 'How then does David call Him 'Lord,' saying [in Psalm 110:1]: 'The LORD said to my Lord, sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool'? If David then calls Him 'Lord,' how is He his Son?' And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare to question Him anymore" (verses 41-46; compare Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44).

It was unheard of that a forefather would call a descendant "Lord" (i.e., Master). Moreover, how could David, as the founding father of his dynasty, refer to a king to follow in his stead as his Lord? Some have proposed that David was referring to Solomon when he became king in David's place while David was still alive. Yet this seems rather unlikely-for why then would the religious teachers of Christ's day have been confounded? Indeed, David shortly before his death still issued commands to Solomon. So Solomon was not David's Lord.

Following Jesus and the emergence of Christianity, a new Jewish explanation came about-that le David ("of David") in the psalm's title meant not by David but regarding David and that the psalm was written by one of David's subjects. Yet this was obviously not the traditional understanding in Jesus' day, as His exchange with the Pharisees makes clear. They considered David the author, as Jesus affirmed. It is interesting that le David in the titles of the preceding psalms (108 and 109) was and still is understood in Jewish interpretation to mean that David wrote these. 

The apparent dilemma of having David as the author is resolved if we understand that the messianic descendant of David is also Himself divine. Yet the wording of Psalm 110:1 does not seem to merely say that a future messianic King would one day be David's Lord. David, rather, appears to say that this One was already his personal Lord-that is, One he already served. This truly makes sense only if David recognized two divine beings existing at that time-one subordinate to the other. So here we have an Old Testament revelation of the existence of God and the Word-later known as God the Father and God the Son (Jesus Christ). While this was not generally understood by the Israelites, it should not surprise us to see that God's specially inspired prophets glimpsed this important truth.

The apostle Peter quoted Psalm 110:1 as applying to Jesus as the subordinate "Lord" at the right hand of God (Acts 2:34-36). The verse is also quoted in Hebrews 1:13, which shows that this position was given to Jesus and not to the angels.

Whereas Psalm 110:1 describes both Lords from a third-person perspective, verses 2-3 are written in second person-with David using the words "You" and "Your" in addressing the messianic King directly. Depending on the context, the name YHWH (represented here as "LORD") could refer to God the Father or to the One who became the Messiah, Jesus Christ-or to both. In keeping with verse 1, the use of  "LORD" in verse 2 still clearly refers to the Father. The "You" and "Your" with the "rod of...strength" or "mighty scepter" (NIV) in verses 2-3 must refer to the Messiah. Note God making "Your [the Messiah's] enemies" a footstool (subservient) in verse 1 and the mention again of "Your [the Messiah's] enemies" in verse 2.

David in verse 3 tells his messianic Lord that His people will be "volunteers" when the Lord comes in power. The wording here is "lit[erally] 'freewill offerings,' i.e., they will offer themselves as dedicated warriors to support [the Messiah] on the battlefield.... Accordingly, Paul speaks of Christ's followers offering their bodies 'as living sacrifices' (Ro 12:1) and of himself as a 'drink offering' (Php 2:17)" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 110:3). The latter part of verse 3 apparently depicts the Messiah "as clothed in royal majesty and glory and perpetually preserving the bloom of youth even as the 'womb of the dawn' gives birth each morning to the dew" (same note).

Verse 4 is either another third-person description of a divine conversation or a continuation of the second-person address to the Messiah. God is quoted as telling the divine Messiah, "You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek." Melchizedek (meaning "King of Righteousness") was in Abraham's day the King of Salem (meaning King of "Peace") and priest of God Most High (see Genesis 14:18-20). He was evidently a preincarnate manifestation of Jesus Christ (see "Who Was Melchizedek?" in our free booklet Who Is God?, pp. 32-33). Unlike the later Aaronic priesthood, His priesthood was not established on the basis of His descent within a priestly tribe. Rather, it was by direct divine appointment. Jesus would continue in this priestly role on the same basis. Discussion over this point, citing Psalm 110:4, can be found in Hebrews 5:5-11 and 6:20-7:28.

The declaration in Psalm 110 of the Messiah as a priest was a source of confusion for many of the Jews of Christ's day, leading some to mistakenly think that besides a Davidic Messiah of the line of Judah, there would also be a Messiah of the line of Aaron, who was from the tribe of Levi (and, outside the scope of this discussion, some also believed in a Messiah of the tribe of Joseph). Yet the one Messiah was to be both King and Priest. We will look further into the concept of the Melchizedek priesthood in our later reading of the book of Hebrews.

Note next the opening words of Psalm 110:5: "The Lord is at Your right hand." The Lord (Adonai) at the beginning of the verse is evidently the Messianic King, Jesus Christ, who is at the right hand of the Father (see Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Colossians 3:1). For recall from verse 1 the Father's appointment of the Lord (Jesus) to sit at His right hand. Therefore, verses 4-7 must constitute an address to God the Father about the future rule of the messianic Lord-thus reciting back to God, in hope and trust, what God has revealed. Jesus will execute divine judgment throughout the world and achieve victory.

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