Psalm 110

by Mr. Philip Yim Kwok Hung



Introduction: The Purpose and the Methodology used in this thesis

I. Basic Analysis

II. The Change of Traditions in history: Three Themes

III. Conclusion



Introduction: The Purpose and the Methodology used in this thesis

This article tries to analyze Psalm 110 in its own form, then strives to trace the traditional changes in the course of history. I propose that the original psalm is written in an earlier date to promote a mingling of priestly and kingly office. This will give the monarch secular and religious power. Hence the kingship becomes more absolute. This is not accepted by the contemporaries and the Psalm is interpreted differently in according to the needs of the Israelites throughout history. This article will try to link the fragments we have in Israelite history to depict the changes in traditions. Due to this fragmented nature, hypotheses are needed and I am aware of the weakness of this approach.


I. Basic Analysis

A. Textual Analysis

The disputed state of the text in MT has induced a lot of corrections and conjectures. The text is corrupted and lacks of smoothness that led some scholars to doubt its unit. Studies in ancient Near East help us to see the special nature of the OT kingship. The questions of textual criticism and in history-of-religions problems have not been settled.

I will discuss only two textual problems in v.3.

The first phrase in MT reads, Your people (is) spontaneity.” What is the meaning of it in accordance to the context? G. Widengren has suggested, Your people are willing” or Your people are volunteers." This translation is not easily fit to the context. Kraus has followed the reading of Gk. (nn) and translates the phrase as Round about your (stand) noblemen.” Since the context of v.3 is military usage , I suggest to elaborate it further as, “‘Your troops surround (you) in your day of battle.”

The second phrase in MT reads, From the womb of the break of day, already the dew of your childhood is yours” Kraus suggested emendation on the last word of the verse, based on Origen and some Greek texts, he eliminate two words and translate: “ On holy mountains, from the womb of the rosy dawn, have I begotten you.”


B. Translation to the text

Of David. A psalm.

C. Literary Criticism

At a glance, we can see the following picture:

v.1 The LORD says (Oracle , or Utterance of Yahweh)

vv.2-3 The LORD will...

you will...

v.4 The LORD has sworn (Oracle , or Utterance of Yahweh)

vv.5-7 The Lord is

He will...

The introducing words of Yahweh in v.1 and v.4 clearly show the basic structure of this Psalm. Kraus has suggested the I-statement of Yahweh in v.3 reveals the second introduction of this Psalm. This suggestion demands his emendation of the MT texts, and makes the structure become very unbalanced. V.3 introduces an idea which is not picked by v.4 which speaks about the priesthood. Besides, as Kraus admits, v.3 has no special introduction that is very odd comparing to the formal introduction of v.1 and v.4. Therefore, it is more likely the Psalm has a two-fold structure. The later part, vv. 4-7, has poetic ambiguity - deliberate multivalence, imposed on it.

I propose there are two pictures under a united theme. The theme is the authority bestowed by Yahweh to his selected one. The first picture is kingship as reflected in the word my lord’ (adonai) which clear point to a king in this context. The second image is the priest of the God Most High (Gen. 14:18-19), which is denoted by Melchizedek. Both pictures are validated by the promise of victory in wars. The kingship is bestowed by God and the king acts as the priest between God and his people. The dual identity of king can be seen in this Psalm. This is common in the pre-exilic times.

D. Form Criticism: Sitz im Leben

Kraus suggests the meter of this psalm as follows:


This psalm was originally a royal song, composed at a time when under the kings of Judah national enthusiasm was still a living and unbroken force. It had a close resemblance with Psalm 2. The two divine oracles (vv. 1 and 4), are made probably by one of his court prophets , or cultic official in charge of the ceremony. This Psalm was later understood messianically.

II. The Change of Traditions in history: Three themes

I will discuss three important traditions specially related to the Psalm: Sit at the right hand of God, Melchizedek, and Zion.

A. Sit at the right hand of God

The right hand of the king is of special honor (Ps. 45:10), and the Jerusalem king may take his place at the right hand of the God-King.” The concept of Right hand of God” is widely used in both O.T. and N.T. The word yamin” (right hand) is a very important word. The Right hand of God is said to be majestic and powerful (Ex. 15:6,12.) It expresses the omnipotence of God especially on behalf of his people Israel. His right hand is depicted as an instrument for delivering his people from their enemies (Ps. 98:1). Then it becomes the hope for God's people in time of need (Isa. 41:10). His right hand also strengthened Israelites to conquer Canaan (Ps. 78:54.) At the right hand” of God is depicted by Ps. 16:11 as a place where godly people taste eternal pleasures and delights. I have found that the Psalms have the highest frequency of using this word. Standing in the right and the left of God is first mentioned in 2 Ch. 18:18, but sitting in His Right Hand” is first introduced by Ps. 110:1. Jesus had referred to this in Mt. 26:64, saying "Hereafter you shall see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power.'" This is actualized in Acts 7:55. When we study the usage of yamin” in the bible, it is used more frequently in Psalms, and later prophets like Jeremiah, Zechariah, and third Isaiah (Isa. 40-66). Echo to this observation, some later Jewish writings do speak of person seated to the right of kings, e.g. 1 Esdr. 4:29-30; Ant6. 911.9] 235 when re-telling 1 Sam. 20:24-33; Sir. 12:12. This is possible that the significance of right hand” is picked in post-biblical Judaism and influences the Christian understanding of Jesus’ heavenly role. For example, the Wisdom of God is depicted as sitting beside God's throne in Widsom of Solomon 9:4. Echo to this, in Rom. 8:34, Jesus is said to be on the right hand of God.

V.1 has caused a difficult problem in New Testament times. Luke has followed the exact wording of the Septuagint, and it becomes "The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, till I put thy enemies under thy feet.” Then "David's son” has become "David's Lord.” In the Hebrew text Yahweh speaks to the king, who is called lord” (adonai). This word is translated as kyrios (lord) and the sentence as the Lord said to my lord.” This dilemma is solved in the dual nature of Jesus Christ. This psalm may have been interpreted messianically in the past. This interpretation is suppressed and only later revived, and may flourish in the New Testament times. The messianic understanding is a direct threat to the Davidic monarchs. After the removal the Davidic dynasty, it changes to a hope for the people. This kind of linkage can also be seen in the interpretation history of Melchizedek (See the following section B. Melchizedek.)


B. Melchizedek

V.4 has become a famous saying because the quotation made by the author of Hebrews. The word Melchizedek” (malki-sedeq) can be found only in Gen. 14:18 and Ps. 110.4. This word is formed by melek” (king) and sedeq” (righteous) with the transitional hireq yod. If it is a construct (possessive) relation, it would mean king of righteous [one?].” But if it is the first personal singular pronominal suffix, it means my king is righteous.” Salem” probably refers to Jerusalem. The geography of the campaign in Gen. 14 and the name Adonizedek” (in Josh. 10:1) is similar to it. But little information on the man mentioned in Gen. 14 is known. The use of Melchizedek in Ps 110:4 relates to the identity of king of Jerusalem.”? The appearance of Melchizedek in the text may relate to the monotheistic view on God. Monotheist Abraham (Gen. 18:25) identified him as priest of the same El Elyon (God Most High), whom he worshipped (Gen. 14:18-20). What is the relationship between the Genesis legend and the Psalm?

Gen. 14 can be divided into two parts that are subdivided into 3 units:

vv.1-16 Three battle reports:

vv.17-24 Confrontation between Abram, the king of Sodom, and Melchizedek;

The tradition of Melchizedek is taken by some scholars as an integral part of J or even from E. Melchizedek seems to take the role of the mediator between the king of Sodom and Abram. Besides, as Wenham argued, Melchizedek is neatly done in v.18 with a conjoined chiasmatic clause Melchizedek brought” linking back to v.17 came out...king of Sodom.” Therefore he rejects that vv. 18-20 is an insertion, and proposes that it is a pre-J material. If J belongs to the times near to the fall of the southern kingdom, then this Melchizedek tradition may belong to the reign of David, or before 850-800 B.C. (Jehoram), but more likely near to the times of Josiah (642-609 B.C.). This Psalm may be written at a much earlier time, for example, before David's times.

The tradition about Melchizedek proves that long before Ornan the Jebusite transferred title of the rocky Mount Moriah” to the crown (2 Sam. 24:18-25; 1 Chr. 21:18-30), there is a true worship on God Most High in Jerusalem. Melchizedek is a representative of Jebusite kingship, which mingles two offices: kingship and priesthood. Does it mean that it is also true for the Judean kingship? Though the Judean kings took part in the cult (2 Sam. 6:13-18; 1 Kg. 8:14,55f), there had no evidence for this dual office in them. The appearance of Melchizedek in Psalm 110 may propose a special role of the Judean kingship: the combination of the priesthood and the kingship. If this is compared to that of the ancient Chinese kingship, the so-called priesthood’ of the ancient Chinese kings is seen in the occasions of worshipping the Heaven.' The role of Solomon in dedication of the Temple in 2 Chron. 6 and 7 reflects the role of a high priest or a mediator. This is certainly a late tradition. Does it reflect a real situation of the original setting or an idealized scene of the author? The king as a pious mediator and almost equals to the ideal of the priestly king, Melchizedek. I propose that the ideal of Melchizedek is first appeared in Ps. 110, but is not successful accepted among the people. The Genesis account has used Abram to highlight the significance of Melchizedek and tried to pull up this image. This priest-king role is opposed by the priests whose authorities are confined by this kind of kingship. The prophetic traditions cannot tolerate this absolute and supreme authority exercised by a king. Therefore, this is lost or intentionally changed by the people who invent new traditions to re-interpret it in times of needs.

In the inter-testamental times, the Jewish messianic hope is depicted through some superhuman figures, e.g. Elijah, Enoch, Melchizedek, and the Son of Man). They bring the salvation of God to human beings or act as mediators. In Jubilees 13, Melchizedek is depicted as the personification of the Levitical clergy. But in the 11 Q Melch, melchizedek appears as a god, who is opposed by the angel of darkness or the devil. In the Qumran community, they expect two Messiahs, one kingly and one high-priestly. Outside this community, this double expectation occurs only in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarches. This psalm is re-interpreted in later times, referring to a pious individual, human leaders, or to supernatural figures (like the heavenly Melchizedek). Judaism after A.D. 260 has applied it to the messiah, Abraham or other men. Hence, David Hay suggests: "it seems fair to suppose that in the NT era a messianic interpretation of Ps 110 was current in Judaism, although we cannot know how widely it was accepted." The interpretation used in Hebrews may give us a clue. The author respects the OT text, and sticks to his vorlage as far as possible. Though the author uses the contemporary exegetical methods at times 59,but he avoids pesher, midrashic and allegorical 60 approaches. 61 In contrast to them, he uses the Christocentric perspective 62 within traditions of the Christian church; except the combination of two "kinds" of Messianism. This may reflect the current Christian trend of combining the two, but we have no evidence to sustain this claim.


C. Zion.

According to Concise Columbia Encyclopedia, Zion (z儦en) or Sion (s儦en), is a part of JERUSALEM. It is defined in the BIBLE as the City of David. There is controversy about its exact location. The name is symbolic of Jerusalem, of the Promised Land, of Israel's hope of returning to Palestine (hence the term ZIONISM), and, among Christians, of heaven.” The definition has summarized the all the meanings attached to this word. Before David's conquest of the city it has existed for a long time. David may have spared the inhabitants and the institutions, especially the cultic ones, has retained their influence. This may have a political and religious reason. The shrine in Jerusalem has a long tradition and may be respected by many peoples, which may include the Jews at that time. Besides, ancient shrine is easier to gain respect than the new one. In order to gain the support from the people, it is better to have a shrine in the capital because other shrines and local altars are still competing for the loyalty of the Israelites.

The religious traditions in the city may include three gods: Sedeq, Shalem, Elyon (or El). The name Melchizedek can means ‘(my) king is (the god) Sedeq.” The name of Jerusalem king, Adonizedek, in Josh. 10, means ‘(my) king is (the god) Sedeq.” The name Zadok is derived from this. The Psalm has assumed Yahweh rules from Zion. This is clearly derived from the time of Solomon or later. Before the establishment of the Temple, the Ark can be moved around in any place. Thus the God of Israelites does not confine Himself in a particular place (1 Sam. 4-6; 2 Sam. 6). After the Ark is placed in the Holy of Holies, it has lost its significance as the sign of Yahweh's presence. The temple has taken this role. In the dedication of the temple, Yahweh is believed to be dwelled in the Temple for ever ( 1 Kings 8:12f). Jerusalem is originally take as foundation of the god Salem’, and now it means the city of Yahweh.” A synergy of gods can be seen. It is highly probable that Yahweh may be seen by the Israelites as the Head of all gods, or even the same god as Shalem, Sedeq and Elyon. In Gen. 14, it is clearly that Yahweh is taken as the El Elyon. Melchizedek is the priest of God Most High” and he calls Abram as Abram of God Most High (v.19).” When Abram answers the king of Sodom, he swears to the LORD God Most High.” This is a blending of the two. The righteousness (related to Sedeq) is repeatedly attributed to Yahweh without any hesitation, the combination of Sedeq and Yahweh is evident. The Israelites in Solomon's times or later may have taken the three gods as Yahweh Himself. The Genesis account may reflect this attitude. The Psalm 110 has expanded this to the Jerusalem-centred understanding. Yahweh as the Head of gods is evident in the psalms. In 136:2, Yahweh is taken as the God of gods and He is seated among gods (92:1). He is above all gods (135:5; 95:3; 97:7,9; 96:4,5) and David sang to Him before the gods (138:1.) There are no gods like Him (86:8.) According to this understanding, the Israelites in these times took Yahweh as the Highest God not the exclusive only true God (c.f. the Golden Calf Event.)

Yahweh rules from Zion. He dwells in Zion and it has become the place where his throne is set. The psalms of Zion intensify the close connection between Yahweh and Jerusalem. Yahweh dwells for ever’ in his house (1 Kgs. 8:12f, an exilic view). The Lord is believed to live in Mount Zion (Ps. 9:11 [MT. 9:12]) and sets out from it for His theophany (Ps. 50:2). If the translation for v.2 is correct, then the city may be taken as invincible. It is the dwelling place of God. It will never be taken be enemies. Thus, it says, Your mighty scepter may Yahweh send forth from Zion! Rule in the midst of your enemies!” This belief is intensified when the city is besieged by the Assyrians and eventually saved from destruction! This is why the destruction message of Jeremiah is not accepted by his contemporaries. The central status of Jerusalem has not changed even after its fall in 586 B.C. It has influenced the Zionism and resulted in the establishment of the State of Israel in A.D. 1948. Now Zion has become the place where many pilgrims dreaming to go.

  III. Conclusion

We have studied three important themes in Psalm 110, namely sit the right hand of God, Melchizedek, and Zion. The right hand of God symbolizes the importance of the person referred. The use of this phrase is mostly found in Psalms and later prophets. V.1 has caused a controversy of "David's son as David's lord”. This is caused by the translation of LXX. This psalm is later interpreted messianically and the controversy is resolved in the dual nature of Jesus Christ. In section B, Melchizedek is appeared as an ideal priest-king. This model is rejected by the contemporary of the writer of this psalm. This model will produce an absolute power for the king. Melchizedek is re-interpreted differently according to the needs of the Israelites in different times. Zion is taken by David in the establishment of his united kingdom. He used the city as the political and religious center for the whole kingdom. He might have started a synergy of some important gods, like Shalem, Sedeq and Elyon, with Yahweh. Yahweh might be taken as the same as these gods. Besides, He might be taken as the Head of all gods.



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