Tag Archives: psalms

Psalm 110: The Unexpected Treasure

I wonder if you’ve discovered the unexpected treasure of Psalm 110 yet?

Of David. A psalm.

The LORD says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.”

The Lord will extend your mighty scepter from Zion, saying,
    “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
Your troops will be willing
    on your day of battle.
Arrayed in holy splendor,
    your young men will come to you
    like dew from the morning’s womb.

The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.”

The Lord is at your right hand;
    he will crush kings on the day of his wrath.
He will judge the nations, heaping up the dead
    and crushing the rulers of the whole earth.
He will drink from a brook along the way,
    and so he will lift his head high. (Psalm 110:1–7)

Have you ever been shocked by how much something is worth? Has the value of something ever left you speechless?

Disney Adventures

I had an interesting experience last year during a COVID lockdown. Perhaps like me, you found yourself spending some time cleaning through old, unused things around the house. And after doing some digging, I came across this box filled with my old childhood Disney magazines. There was a lot of them, like, 135 of them!

Disney Adventures

And I’m thinking to myself: ‘Geez, I don’t want these. And they are just collecting dust and taking up space.’ And so I hefted them over to the recycle bin. But then I paused. I wondered, ‘I wonder if anyone will want these?’ And so I took them all out of the box, and instead of throwing them in the bin, I arranged them in date order and started taking photos. I mean, what have I got to loose? At the end of the day, if no one wants them, that’s fine—I was going to recycle them anyway.

But to my surprise, in less than a month, every single one was sold! Every… single… one. Clearly others saw value in something I had overlooked.

I wonder what you have lying around at home which is unexpectedly valuable? Now, to be clear, the reason I’ve mentioned all this is not because I’m suggesting you go and make a profit selling your things on Gumtree. No, I’ve started this way, because Psalm 110 is one I suspect many of us have metaphorically sitting in a cupboard or a box, collecting dust.

Psalm 110 is Weird

And I get it. Compared with ‘The LORD is my shepherd’ (Psalm 23:1), Psalm 110 is a bit weird. It doesn’t seem to make sense. It’s got ‘dew from the morning’s womb’—whatever that means. And some obscure Bible name starting with ‘M’. It sounds oppressive and violent to our modern cultural ears. My guess is you’re not going to find too many motivational posters at Koorong with Psalm 110 on it.

So what do we do with this weird psalm? Are you tempted to chuck it out? Well before you do, like my old magazines, it’s probably worth checking if others can see some value that might have overlooked.

Psalm 110 has ‘Gone Viral’

And what becomes clear very quickly, is out of all the Old Testament books, the New Testament authors quote the book of Psalms the most frequently. Then if you drill down one more level: Which Psalm is quoted the most in the New Testament? The answer: Psalm 110!

Is that surprising for you? It certainly was for me. Out of all the books and chapters of the Old Testament, this is the one the New Testament used the most! It’s the biblical version of ‘going viral’!

As Justin Dillehay expresses, for the New Testament writers, this messianic psalm was ‘highly significant for their understanding of [who] Jesus [was] … Few psalms are as influential for New Testament writers; none is as often quoted.’1 Clearly they could all see the immense value that we might miss.

The Unexpected Treasure of Psalm 110

Over the years, the more and more I come back to Psalm 110, I’ve come to realise the unexpected treasure that this psalm is. And my hope and prayer is that if you don’t already, you would come to see the immense value of this psalm too, both for our understanding of Jesus, but also what difference this makes for us personally in our day-to-day walk with him.

So I hope you’re excited to jump into Psalm 110! To give you an idea of where I’m going, first we’re going to spend some time zooming into verses 1 and 4, and work out why they’re so both important for our understanding of Jesus. And then with that in our minds, I want to spend some space considering how these wonderful verses can make a massive difference for our day-to-day walk with Jesus. Because they do.

And I’m not gonna lie, we’re going to have to do a bit of thinking along the way. I’m imagining one of those scenes of crime scene detectives trying to solve a case, with a whole bunch of string and newspaper clippings. It might make your head hurt a little, but Psalm 1:23 says a spiritual workout in God’s word is good for us. I believe the payoff will be worth it—trust me.

Detectives solving mystery

1. The King’s King (Psalm 110:1)

Of David. A psalm.

The LORD says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)

There seems to be a lot going on in just one verse here. I wonder what word or phrase stands out for you? Did you notice that there’s quite a few characters in this scene?

There’s the author of the psalm, David. And then there’s the LORD, and then there’s ‘my Lord’, and finally there’s a bunch of enemies being turned into an ottoman. What’s happening here?

Textural Context: Superscript, LORD vs Lord

There’s a couple of important background things that will help us unravel this mystery. First, if you take a look at our psalm, we seem to have a few different titles for it: ‘Psalm 110’, ‘Of David, A psalm’. Plus, possibly another heading, depending on your Bible translation: ‘Sit at My Right Hand’, ‘The Priestly King’, etc.

See the line that says: ‘Of David. A psalm’? This one is part of the original Hebrew text that makes up the psalm. These little headings are sometimes called ‘superscriptions’, and if you flick through the psalms, you’ll notice that over 2/3 have these at the start.

And so from this little line that’s part of the original text, we can see that King David is the author of this psalm. Jesus affirms this (Mark 12:36). This psalm takes place from David’s point of view. And that’s a really significant detail which we’ll return to in just a moment.

The second helpful thing for us to notice here in verse 1, even though the word ‘lord’ appears twice in quick succession, there’s a different Hebrew word for each. Whenever we see the word ‘LORD’ in capitals in the Old Testament, it’s always an abbreviation of the Hebrew name of our God Yahweh. But the second Lord here, is the word Adonai in Hebrew. And this word is a bit more broad in meaning: Adonai can relate to God, but it also can mean a human master, ruler or a person in authority. If you’ve ever watched Downton Abbey, think someone like Lord Grantham. He’s the master of the house, the leader of the town, he’s the boss and people answer to him. Okay, so in verse 1 we’ve got:

  1. David (author)
  2. Yahweh (LORD)
  3. Another master or ruler too (lord)

The King’s King

This gets even more interesting, because remember that David, the author, is the King of Israel. At the time of writing this psalm, David as king was seen as the highest authority in this kingdom under God himself. And yet, somehow David—the highest Master in the land—listens into this divine conversation, and writes:

‘Yahweh, says to my Master.’ (Psalm 110:1a)

Can you see how this is a bit peculiar? David’s the enthroned king, he’s the ‘Lord’ as it were, and so we would automatically assume that God would declare this oracle to him. But it’s not about him. David is clearly not talking about himself. In this psalm, king suddenly recognises someone else as his king. This psalm is about him. This psalm is about the King’s King.

The King’s Son

And if we fast forward to the gospels, Jesus uses this same unexpectedness of Psalm 110 to stump the religious leaders. You see, in Jesus’ day, the expectation was that God would one day send a messiah; a kingly ruler; and he would be a descendant of David.

35 While Jesus was teaching in the temple courts, he asked, “Why do the teachers of the law say that the Messiah is the son of David? 36 David himself, speaking by the Holy Spirit, declared:

“‘The Lord said to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand
until I put your enemies
    under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him ‘Lord.’ How then can he be his son?” The large crowd listened to him with delight. (Mark 12:35–37)

Old vs New

The impact of Jesus’ challenge might be lost on us, because in our culture we intuitively regard the newest things to be the best things. Obviously the iPhone 13 is better than the iPhone 7, because it’s newer. But in a generational, Jewish culture like this, they thought differently. You see, for them, the older something is, the more important it is. Forget about the new, find the old thingthat’s the best.

Western Wall in Jerusalem

I experienced this when I visited Jerusalem a few years ago and saw The Western Wall. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in the first century. And now, The Western Wall is the most ceremonially holy place for Jews to travel to and pray at. And this small section of retaining wall is seen as holy and significant because it’s so old, and people have been praying there for the longest time. A few years ago they opened up a ‘new and improved’ prayer area next to the old section, but hardly anyone goes to the new one. You can guess the probable reason: Why go to the new when you could go to the old?

The King’s King and Son

And so in Mark 12:35–37, Jesus uses Psalm 110 to effectively challenge to the religious leaders’ understanding. He’s essentially saying, ‘Sure, the messiah is a descendant of King David, but David wouldn’t call any mere human descendant his master. Because any descendant of David would automatically be inferior to him. They would all see David as master. And yet, David addresses this descendant as his master. How can that be?’

Jesus opens up this great mystery that the Pharisees couldn’t unravel. According to their own scriptures, their long-awaited messiah could only be someone who was somehow both David’s descendant and someone who came before him, otherwise David wouldn’t call him his master.

Jesus: The Glorious Paradox

There is only person who would ever step into this paradox:

15 John testified concerning him and exclaimed, “This was the one of whom I said, ‘The one coming after me ranks ahead of me, because he existed before me.’” (John 1:15)

In John 8, Jesus was asked by the religious leaders:

53 Are you greater than our father Abraham who died? And the prophets died. Who do you claim to be?” …

56 [Jesus answered] “Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it and was glad.”

57 The Jews replied, “You aren’t fifty years old yet, and you’ve seen Abraham?”

58 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.(John 8:53, 56-58)

Only in Jesus do we also see the divine, eternal son of God, who existed before David, before Moses, before Abraham, before all things came to be (Colossians 1:15–17; Hebrews 1:2). He is greater than David, greater than Moses, even greater than Abraham, the first recipient of God’s kingdom promises in Genesis 12. And then 2,000 years ago, in the hometown of David, a newborn cry is heard as the promised son of David is born.

The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. And we have seen his glory. (John 1:14)

It’s a glorious tension, which continues to blow my little mind. And I hope I’m not the only one. Hillsong Young & Free expresses the magnificence of the incarnation, in their song ‘End of Days’. I wonder if you’ve heard it before. In the verses they sing:

You came to earth that You created
You walked beneath the stars You named…
Jesus Christ the Lord our God…

You authored life and wrote Yourself in
You dwelt in time that You designed
Creator lived in His creation
Completely man completely God.2

The King’s King Sits Enthroned

Of David. A psalm.

The LORD says to my lord:

“Sit at my right hand
    until I make your enemies
    a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110:1)

In Psalm 110, the king’s king sits enthroned in the heavens, up by God’s side. And it’s clear from this psalm that he has complete conquest over all his enemies. They are under his feet (verse 1), he rules over them (verse 2), he will destroy opposing authorities (verse 5), he will cover the nations with corpses (verse 6).

This was certainly the expectation of what the promised messiah would do. In the days of the Old Testament, there were always enemies threatening the people of God: The Philistines, the Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Persians and more. In the time of Jesus, people expected their messiah king to liberate God’s people from the grips of the Roman empire.

David or Violent Jesus?

If we were to conduct a quick study into the life of King David himself, this certainly sounds like the victorious, conquering rule he had (1 Chronicles 18). But wait a second. We’ve already established that this psalm is about Jesus, not King David. And as far as I can tell, Jesus didn’t do any of those violent things.

In fact, in his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us (Matthew 5:43–44). He even willingly let his enemies falsely convict him and execute him (Matthew 26:62–63). Again, we’re left scratching our heads: If this is about Jesus, how can this work? There must be more to the picture. We must have overlooked something. There must be another way of looking at this. And there is.

2. The Permanent Priest (Psalm 110:4)

In amongst all this language of conquest and defeating enemies, in verse 4, we find another mysterious declaration from God to the messianic king:

The LORD has sworn
    and will not change his mind:
“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4)

This King is somehow also a Priest. The King’s King is a Permanent Priest. Now these days, depending on your experience around churches growing up, when we hear the word ‘priest’ we likely have different assumptions about what that is. But in the Old Testament, the priests were quite different. And they had a very important role.

The Enemy of Sin

Right from the start of the Bible it is clear that we have a God who wants to live amongst his people (Genesis 3:8–9). But ever since the fall in Genesis 3, there has been a great enemy preventing a holy God from dwelling with humans. And that enemy is sin. It opened the floodgates for the forces of evil at work in the world and in our own hearts.

And so, priests were in the unique position of being mediators between God and his people. They were representatives of the people to God, and they were representatives from God to the people. This vital sacrificial ministry of these priests acting on behalf of the sinful Israel around them, enabled these men and women to live in fellowship with God.

But sin remained perpetually a problem for God’s people. It’s the cancer of the soul. Even the great king David, for all his military conquests, was undone by his sinful heart (2 Samuel 11:1–12:14). The man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14), would eventually find himself praying in Psalm 51:10, ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God.’

For the people of God, the real enemy wasn’t really the Philistines, or the Babylonians, or the Romans. The true enemy was the force of sin and evil, which no amount of military firepower could defeat. And sin is our problem too. Left to ourselves, we’re no better than those who came before us. We need more than just a king; we need someone who can defeat the power of sin. And so, Psalm 110 declares that the messiah will not only be a conquering king. For him to truly save his people both inside and out, he will need to be a priest as well.

The Defeat of Sin

We need someone who can defeat the power of sin. And this is how the New Testament understands Jesus’ work on the cross. When Christ gave himself in our place, on our behalf, it was a victory, a triumph over the forces of evil and sin. The spiritual enemies of God were defeated. I love how Colossians 2:14–15 and Hebrews 2:14 expresses it:

14 He [Jesus] cancelled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross. (Colossians 2:14-15 NLT)

14 Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil (Hebrews 2:14)

That sounds like Psalm 110 conquest to me. And in 1 Corinthians 15, Paul uses Psalm 110:1 language to show how Christ will defeat the final enemy, death itself:

25 For [Christ] must reign until he puts all his enemies under his feet26 The last enemy to be abolished is death. (1 Corinthians 15:25-26)

All of a sudden, the imagery of defeating enemies in Psalm 110 becomes a bit clearer. We need someone who can defeat the power of sin once and for all. The messiah we need is both a reigning king and a perfect priest.

Multiple Titles: King and Priest

Our culture understands how someone could have two titles at once. It’s pretty normal to have two or more jobs these days. One of my friends is a lovely person who is both an Anglican Priest, and a lecturing Doctor of Engineering. These days most of us tend to have multiple roles and titles, in some form or another. But in biblical times, this was much less common. And particularly for kings and priests.

In fact, if you read 1 Samuel 13:11–14, we see how David’s predecessor, King Saul ultimately lost his crown because he was a king who tried to dabble in the ministry of a priest. You can’t have someone who is both a king and a priest. King David (and Jesus) came from the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14). And according to the Old Testament law, priests must come from the tribe of Levi. And yet, in Psalm 110, God freely declares ‘you are a king’ and ‘you are a priest’. How can this be? The plot thickens, yet again!

What’s with Melchizedek?

But notice the last line of verse 4:

“You are a priest forever,
    in the order of Melchizedek.” (Psalm 110:4b)

Melchizedek? That’s a bit unusual. And you can imagine King David, when he hears this divine oracle… he probably sits back in his chair and starts scratching his head, ‘Melchizedek… Melchizedek… where have I heard that before?’ And he walks over to his collection of scrolls and starts reading through Genesis. Noah… the flood… Abram… Lot… and eventually he gets to Genesis 14:17–18, the only other place in the Old Testament where this name appears:

17 After Abram returned from defeating Kedorlaomer and the kings allied with him, the king of Sodom came out to meet him in the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). 18 Then Melchizedek king of Salem [an abbreviation of Jerusalem] brought out bread and wine. He was priest of God Most High. (Genesis 14:17–18)

Imagine David reading this. He looks up. ‘What did I just read? Melchizedek, king of Jerusalem… he was a priest of God Most High.’ A king who was also a priest.

Melchizedek: King and Priest

Turns out there is such a thing as a Priestly King after all. And what’s more, Melchizedek was on the scene during the days of Abraham, meaning his priesthood and kingship existed way before Abraham’s great-grandson Levi was born, and way before the Levitical priesthood (Hebrews 7:9–10).

Remember what we were considering before about how the older something is, the more important it is? In Melchizedek, not only do we have a pattern of a king and a priest together, but the fact that he also predates the Levitical priests by several generations makes his priesthood infinitely more valuable than theirs too.

And now in Psalm 110, it’s anticipating inauguration day. And God is swearing in a new leader, the messiah. He is the king’s king, and a permanent priest. He’s the trustworthy king we need. He is the faithful priest who will remain in office forever.

Hebrews 7:1–28

The author of Hebrews absolutely loves Psalm 110:4, and he beautifully brings this theme together for us:

19 … [Now] a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.

20 And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, 21 but [Jesus] became a priest with an oath when God said to him:

“The Lord has sworn
and will not change his mind:
‘You are a priest forever.’” 

22 Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant.

23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. (Hebrews 7:19–26)

3. Psalm 110: A Treasure for Us

Hopefully after our deep dive into Psalm 110, you’re starting to see why this psalm was so valuable for the New Testament authors and for us today. But if all I did was just fill your head with interesting stuff, that would be a real waste. Because I truly believe that the implications of Psalm 110 can and should make a real difference in our lives. And so, I want us to now turn to considering what this means for us in our day-to-day walk with Jesus this year. I want to mention just two things now, but I’m sure there’s more.

i. Psalm 110 Reminds Us that Our God is Faithful

Psalm 110 shows us that our God is faithful. I think we’d all admit that these past couple of years have been pretty tough:

  • Our churches have had to close their doors, with physical gatherings banned.
  • National and international fear as a virus silently wreaks havoc on jobs and families.
  • Children forced to teach themselves school.
  • Trusted Christian role models falling from grace.
  • World leaders wielding their power for division, distrust and violence.
  • Australia’s had the worst year for family violence than it has every experienced.3
  • And so many more stories and struggles that will never be told or heard.

Sometimes, we can be tempted to just lose hope, can’t we? But Psalm 110 speaks to our insecurities. We aren’t given the reasons why all these things happened, but we are reminded again and again, that we worship a God who is faithful. God can be trusted. He can be trusted to do what he says he will do.

Why? The fact that God makes a promise in Psalm 110, which see fulfilled in the pages of biblical history, is such an encouragement for me in these times of uncertainty. I love what Peter Adam says about Psalm 110:

The promise to Jesus made by God in Psalm 110… was fulfilled when God’s son became incarnate… when he died on the cross as the effective atoning priest and sacrifice, and when God raised him from death to his right hand, where he continues as a priest forever. The story of our salvation in Christ is the story of God doing what he swore he would do.4

The exhortation that Hebrews draws from Psalm 110 is grounded in the faithfulness of God, who has proved himself faithful:

23 Let us hold on to the confession of our hope without wavering, [why?] since he who promised is faithful. (Hebrews 10:23)

ii. Psalm 110 Reminds Us What Jesus is Doing Right Now

A second thing which Psalm 110 shows us, is the answer to the question: ‘What is Jesus doing right now?’ Have you ever stopped to ask yourself that question? What is Jesus actually doing right now? So often we have such a small view of Jesus that basically reduces him to the guy who died 2,000 years ago and gives us a free pass to heaven—and that’s about it. And so often that’s how we communicate the gospel to others too. But it makes it sound likeJesus just been bludging for the past 2,000 years!

What is Jesus doing right now? Well according to Psalm 110, Jesus is currently sitting enthroned in the heavens as our high priest forever. And since God is faithful, ‘forever’ must mean include right now as well. He holds his priesthood permanently, and according to Hebrews 7:23, that means ‘he always lives to intercede for [us].’

Jesus intercedes for us

What is Jesus doing right now? He is interceding for you. Jesus himself listens to you cry out to him. He hears your gratitude. He forgives you when you bring your daily sin and failures to him. When we say that Christians have ‘a relationship with Jesus’, that’s not a cliché. It is totally and completely true. If you are a Christian, then you have a relationship with an actual person at the right hand of God, right now. How does that make you feel?

Jesus is safe and trustworthy

Maybe you don’t have many friends. Maybe you have had a history of abuse or trauma and just can’t bring yourself to trust anyone fully. Because of Psalm 110, we know that our compassionate God, through the person of Jesus provides ‘at least one real and healthy and safe relationship for each… person’.5 I think that makes a world of difference.

14 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin. 16 Therefore, let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14–16)

I urge you today, as long as it is called today, to cling to our compassionate king and priest. And know that he is for you. Jesus will never leave you, never drive you away, he is our priest and king forever. I’m so thankful for the unexpected treasure of Psalm 110, and may we continue to see its immense value for our journey with Jesus.

I invite you to treat this beautiful song as a prayer to our king and priest.

Citizens & Saints – Before The Throne

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